Vision in Society

“Without vision, a Nation perishes” states the Bible. In fact that adage applies to virtually all forms of human endeavor. Vision is somehow essential to success in everything we do. No human achievement, no matter how trivial or great, is achieved without the persons responsible pursuing a vision that they hold.

But vision on its own is worthless if it is not followed up by action and management of the processes that are essential to the vision’s achievement. Some are simply swept along by pursuit of a vision that somehow catches the wave at a critical time and flings them forwards at headlong pace. Bill Gates and Microsoft were in that place, as was Nokia and the cell phone revolution that has swept the world. But they are exceptions to the norm and for the rest of us, building a corporate empire or nation on the basis of a vision is just pure slog and hard work. Henry Ford was in that category and even though he caught the vision he was not the one who picked it up and turned it into a global automaker.

I am sure that Mr. Mugabe and his team in 1980 had a vision for this country. I recall having lunch with him shortly after he left detention in 1974 where he outlined his vision for the country. I dismissed him as a fanatical leftist with a Khmer Rouge view of the world. I now know better –he meant what he said but over the decades, this vision has become distorted and degraded.

Last week Mr. Mugabe called for a new vision for Africa. I think this is a great idea and long overdue – but how to undertake such a vast exercise? Certainly, for a start, the new Chairman of the African Union, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, on the basis of his personal record in such matters, is hardly a model for the future. Zimbabwe is in the bottom 3 or 4 countries in Africa in just about everything – governance, corruption, human rights, the rule of law, income per capita, life expectancy and quality of life.

About the only thing that he can offer to the AU, and this has some value, is how not to do things. We are an abject failure as a Country and still a pariah State – a category in which we seem to hold something of a record if we include all those years in the wilderness with Ian Smith.

But although it’s difficult, it is an exercise worth thinking about. What are the key elements in a vision for a Continent like ours?

We need to start with all the basic human needs – shelter, food, education, health and basic documentation and identity. These are all fundamental to the welfare of every human being and the Continent needs to say to itself, we are achieving very little if we cannot deliver these essentials to each African.

Then we can raise our sights a bit and argue that we need to grant every African on the continent a second tier of needs to ensure that they have a decent quality of life. These second tier needs might be gainful employment (some would say a “decent job” but that is difficult to define), then the basic freedoms – association, speech, movement and today we might add, access to the Internet and mobile communications.

Finally we should write into our basic needs for a vision statement the fundamentals that create a successful society and economy. These might include a decent national Constitution, strong governance institutions serving the three main arms of the State – the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary. Perhaps one should also insist on “constitutionalism” and the rule of law and no tolerance for corruption.

Then there are the “higher” values of faith in God, a commitment to family life, security of person, security of property rights and respect for elders. Many would add the rights of the child and equal rights for girls and women in society. In Africa we should specifically emphasise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship for all who live and work on the continent and are committed to its future. There should be no place in a continental vision for either racism or ethnic origins and issues.

Even if you can get all of that into a vision statement for Africa, you then have the responsibility to map out how these lofty goals can actually be achieved. This may seem an awful task and unachievable, but a vision without a plan or road map to take us from where we are to where we want to be in the next decade, is just a piece of paper which, like all the efforts in the past which gather dust on shelves or grace the garbage dumps of our capital cities.

I do not see any value in such an exercise and I hope that no one will give the AU the money to employ a whole tribe of consultants to craft such a statement and then wonder around Africa getting our buy in. It reminds me of “African Renaissance” and “Peer Review” – remember those things?

Or we can do it the Chinese way “It does not matter if your cat is white or black, does it catch mice” and “when you cross a river and cannot see the bottom, you must feel your way with your toes” and “if you are not catching fish, it’s not because there are no fish in the water, your bait is wrong.”.

In other words recognise that what you have been doing for the past 75 years, has brought dignity and a form of freedom to the continent but on the way we have made mistakes and our continent has suffered greatly as a result. Acknowledging our failures may be the toughest task because I do not think that Mugabe’s generation thinks they have failed. But it is essential to start us on our way into the future.

Then to adopt a pragmatic view of the decisions we must make to get progress. We do not have to invent the wheel – others have gone before us and we can emulate their decisions and experience. We must rebuild our reputation as a safe and profitable destination for investment and for people with skills and enterprise to come and live here and make it their home. When we strike a deal we must stick to our word and honor our contracts – to the letter.

We need to take a leaf out of Chinese practice and treat corruption as a major crime against the people. Serious violations by public officials should be met with the harshest penalties we can employ – if we shot a few of these criminals it would engender renewed commitment to doing an honest day’s work and not rent seeking at every turn once you have any sort of power.

Now that’s not that hard is it? We certainly do not need an army of consultants to get ourselves on that road to the future. If we did just that, then my goodness we might actually make some progress.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 7th February 2015