The Changing World

I was born into a world that was literally at war with itself. This tiny country joined the global conflict that became known as World War Two with an enthusiasm that was not matched by any other country in what was left of the British Empire and now constituted the Commonwealth. At the age of four I can recall the streets being empty of men – they were all away at war.

Eventually victory came and Europe was rebuilt by its new leadership who together constituted some of the most extraordinary men and women ever to have such awesome responsibility and opportunity. Russian hegemony over much of Europe became established and the Iron Curtain fell – dividing Europe into vastly different ideological and political spheres.

Social Democracy became the dominant political culture of much of Europe including Germany, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. Reconstructed nations looked very different to their pre war character and Europe entered a period of protracted and rapid growth. But what many of those who lived through this period of history did not see or appreciate was that the world had changed and would never be the same again.

The changes laid the foundation for the conflicts of ideology and economic policy between East and West and the rise of Marxist regimes across the globe appeared irreversible and the communist bloc unassailable. But the forces of freedom – freedom of choice in economic terms and freedom in political and social terms, proved to be unstoppable and universal and in 1987, the leaders of the “Free World” were eventually able to watch as the Soviet empire disintegrated and associated regimes across the globe collapsed and were transformed into varying forms of democratic regimes.

When the World changed, those who were prisoners of the past failed to see it coming. In Rumania the communist totalitarian dictator climbed onto a podium to make a speech, he was interrupted by an elderly woman who shouted that he was a “liar”. In minutes it was over and the regime was swept away by the tide of change. My son travelled to Germany – denied a visa to visit East Germany by the Embassy in Harare and while asleep in Berlin, the wall collapsed and the regime in the East was swept away. In the following year I visited the reunited Germany and found the former East German Ambassador who had denied my son a visa, selling fast food and wearing a paper hat in a fast food outlet.

The world still has the power and capacity to shock us all – when that informal sector vendor lost his means of livelihood to the greed and avarice of the local Police, he stood on the street, poured petrol over his body and set himself alight and the Arab Spring was born. Now here we are, three years later and Gaddafi has gone, Mubarak is in Prison and there is hardly a country in the Arab world that does not suddenly feel vulnerable to change.

What astonishes me is that those who were embedded in these regimes had no clue about how vulnerable they were or how easily their world would and did change. They simply did not see it coming – for them they were secure in their belief that their grip on power and their control of their regimes was simply going to go on forever. They all had their own succession plans and ideas about what sort of future lay ahead.

The regime in North Korea is a good example, its 25 million people cowed by decades of totalitarian leadership and control. Its leadership totally confident that life as they have always known it would not change and that they could carry on in defiance of the changes that are taking place all around them, especially in China. They appoint new leadership in the form of the youngest son of the previous dictator and he now struts the world stage like an over fed cockerel. We watch from the sidelines and can see the forces of change rising like the tide all around them and are fascinated as they continue to play on the beach as if the tide of change was not coming.

In many ways the same thing is happening here in Zimbabwe, the remnants of the regime that brought us our Independence in 1980 and who hold that they have a right to govern in perpetuity, are refusing to recognise that in fact the world around them has changed and the circumstances under which they now live are shortly going to push them off the stage in Zimbabwe and into political oblivion.

It is pathetic to see their propaganda machine churn out the same old mantras and their statements reveal clearly that they have little understanding of what the changes in the world around us mean for themselves. The only hope of such regimes is change – radical change in both leadership and policy and failure inevitably leads to what we have witnessed all over the world in the past 70 years.

But they refuse to recognise the need for change and are therefore condemned, not by the forces ranged against them but by the tide of history that we are all vulnerable to.

Regional states that have always held the power to influence and even direct events here are united behind the idea that the only way to resolve the seemingly endless crisis in Zimbabwe, is to force democratic change. This is now happening and when elections are finally held later this year, the old regime, fighting with their old, unreformed leadership and policies, will face the tide of change and find that they are helpless to save themselves when they are swept away onto the rubbish heap of history.

We are all debating the legacy of Margaret Thatcher in the UK but take it or leave it, her great contribution to the life of Britain was to recognise that the “old Britain” had to change or die. Britain was in many ways the same country that had fought and “won” the War but while the rest of Europe had rushed to reform the way they did things and how they organised their society and leadership, the UK had remained locked into a political and economic culture that was largely unchanged. New Britain and even “New labour” is in many ways her creation and with it she brought Britain into the new World order and in doing so restored her dignity, power and influence. This is the essential failure of Zanu PF and they are about to pay the awful price.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 12th April 2013