The Chris Kabwato Column | Of state looters and the false nostalgia of the Mutapa Empire

The creature called the politician needs a psychological study. We need to establish whether this venal, conniving, posturing, shameless and thieving being is nurtured by society or is naturally born with the DNA of a black mamba.

You can take your pick from any country globally and you would find some leader that lives in a parallel universe whilst inflicting pain on ordinary citizens. In Africa, we have had our fair share of murderous lunatics such as Idi Amin (Uganda) and Emperor Bokassa (Central African Republic) or top tier kleptocrats like Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire/DRC), Paul Biya (Cameroon) and Teodro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea). The interesting thing is how all these depraved men come to power and speak the language of “our culture”, “authenticity” and “return to our roots” whilst living ostentatious lives that mimic their former colonial masters. Of course, they are never accountable for anything. They can even blame the Rhodesian “bond note” for the currency woes of 2024 Zimbabwe.

Vene and the narrative of the Mutapa Empire

To buttress their mantra of “Nyika inovaka nevene vayo”, the intellectual gurus of the Second Republic have dug into their history books and decided to make a connection between the modern Zimbabwean state and the ancient Mutapa Empire. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with a country peddling some foundational myths that give the lie of continuity from an ancient time. It is fine for a country to create symbols that all can see themselves in and feel an emotional connection to a glorious past whilst building a collective future.

However, the Mutapa history merchants in the corridors of power are recreating and attempting to narrate the glorious past only to justify looting. It is telling that the new director of the Mutapa Sovereign Wealth Fund holds a PhD qualification from some online website masquerading as a university. The Washington International University is an unaccredited something registered in the Cayman Islands.

It is red flags everywhere from the very structure of the Mutapa Looting Vehicle to the deviation from public procurement policy and procedures. It would have been more honest to say to the people of the Republic, the Mutapa Sovereign Wealth is the perfect vehicle to pay homage to war raids of the past, as in kutapa. Hey, here we are raiding, robbing, and enslaving Zimbabweans. Kutapa Cabal Wealth Fund.

A Mutapa nation that is also a Christian nation

Whilst we are now the modern day Mutapans, apparently, we are also a Christian Nation. A debauched and alcoholic nation suffering under the decibels of Sunday evangelists and their raucous choirs now wants the equivalent of their own sharia law. For good measure, notwithstanding their colonised hips that cannot dance mbakumba let alone Sungura, they throw in “our culture”. Apparently, “Zimbabwean” culture and right-wing Pentecostalism are one. If you cannot resolve a contradiction, pretend it does not exist.

Whilst proclaiming to be the progeny of the Mutapa, there is also the blue and white uniform of the church being worn proudly and a dubious businessman attending his sole service to make an offering of a “mere” one million dollars. This is unscripted tragicomedy.

Zimbabwe has become the Glorious Republic of the Shameless where absurdity is the order of the day. The daily gaffes come flying from a challenged information secretary to a minister of gastronomic tourism, to a luddite of a minister masquerading as an AI expert. There is, of course, the designing of a “national dress” that somehow always fails to catch the imagination of the “nation”. Long live the Republic of Sagging Bellies and Pea-brains.  Long Live!

Hegemony and consensus – the nightmare of those who bear arms

Whilst the Mutapa merchants gloat and flaunt their wealth, deep down there is a fear. You can take a horse to the river, but you cannot make it drink. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”, warned Comrade William Shakespeare four hundred years ago in his play Henry IV Part II. This sums up the anxiety and frustration of those who rule by the gun, rig elections and loot the national cashbox.

The conundrum of the state and government that tries to coerce a country to be a nation without doing the necessary hard work of making all feel loved, valued and worthy of sharing in the national cake, is that you create conditions for deep resentment, bitterness, and alienation. This in itself is a recipe for disaster. Whilst it may take decades for the dam wall to break, it could take one seemingly minor incident to unleash a whirlwind that we could have avoided through astute and empathetic leadership.

A sober warning from Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall was for a long time a Professor of Cultural Studies at the Open University UK. A Marxist, he was a foremost thinker on identity, culture, hybridity, globalisation and multiculturalism. He would have enjoyed analysing the Vene ‘ideology’ especially its narrow, self-serving and crude character. He would have framed it under narrating the nation, invention of tradition, foundational myths, and continuity and timelessness. Professor Hall would have repeated his observation: ‘Those who do not see themselves reflected in national heritage are excluded from it.’

The excluded watch from the sidelines as they are pauperised and jeered at by leaders, senior civil servants and thieves who daily distribute cars like confetti. Something will have to give. Some day.