By Teddy Ncube and Brian Maregedze
Dr. Obert Mpofu has ignited a vigorous debate on the definition of democracy in Zimbabwe. In his autobiography titled “On the Shoulders of Struggle, Memoirs of a Political Insider”, he argues that the template of democracy needs to be decolonised. In this call to decolonise the template of democracy, Dr. Mpofu distinguishes himself from the conventional decolonial scholars who write from a position of agitation and disempowerment. As an insider of a successful revolutionary movement, Dr. Mpofu rationally argues that, decolonizing democracy should not be mistaken for the refusal of democracy, instead it should be viewed as a humanising exercise which seeks to locate the role of the African in the historical, contemporary and future discourses of democracy.
As well, unlike the first generation of post-colonial thinkers who mistook decolonisation for the re-location of the African to some aboriginal past and leaving him/her there; Dr. Mpofu suggests that the best way to re-invent an African is to firstly disrupt the West’s privilege over the discourse of democracy, he alludes that what generally forced him to pen his autobiography is the need for someone to take up a stand and challenge Western hegemonic narratives that have abused the discourse of democracy to fence neo-colonial interests. Dr. Mpofu’s autobiography therefore offers a refreshing submission which locates the African in all the historical dimensions of democracy and human rights.
Let us decolonise democracy
The humanistic prose of Western democracy reflects the social struggles of the Western citizen. But given the domination of the West over the rest of the world through such repressive historical moments as the slave trade and slavery, colonialism and currently neo-colonialism, this very same literature tends to opt for silence or ambivalence or downright collaboration when talking about struggles of previously disenfranchised communities.
Despite the few liberal Western writers who show great sensitivity to the social evils perpetrated against other peoples, if taken as a whole Western literature still cannot avoid being affected by the Eurocentric basis of its world view or global vision, and most of it even when sympathetic, cannot altogether escape from the racism inherent in Western epistemologies. Against such a background, the framing of democracy has been a cocktail of struggles affecting citizens of the Global North and deliberate speculations about the struggles affecting the Global-South citizen. To this end, the African struggle has been interpreted using a very western body and mind. It is this western body and mind that has imposed itself on the actual identity of the African giving birth to a whole range of bastardised identities in Africa. It is on this context that “On the Shoulders of Struggle, Memoirs of a Political Insider” asserts the missing African struggles whose bric-a-brac can be used to construct the real African identity.
Dr. Mpofu’s autobiography ignites a debate on the form and content of democracy in contemporary Zimbabwe. In chapter 11 of his book, Dr. Mpofu outlines the pitfalls of adopting a model of democracy which is governed by specific western historical conditions and then later exported to the Global South as a ‘handed down robe to fit all’
Dr. Mpofu further argues that, if the African is to rethink the idea of democracy, he/she reaches the conclusion that democracy is currently about what the Euro-North American designs expects the Global-South to do than the other way round. The African realises that he has been reduced into being a perennial student of what the Global-North perceives to be good for Africa. For it has been the pattern throughout history that whosoever brings the new order knows it best and is therefore the perpetual teacher of those to whom the new order is being brought to. If the west is to be right about democracy in Africa, then the African people can only accept whatever these know-all tutors have to say about the African.