A friend of mine recently asked me why I haven’t written about the situation back home. He said he “wished I was still back home because I’d feel more acutely the pain of the situation and write some good pieces”. I tell him that I, like many others, am tired. Fed up with the stupidity and arrogance which drives this situation.
Yet, if conversations could run for pages long, I would have simply shared the following piece which I wrote at the end of November 2017 but never shared- till now.
A week after Zimbabwe offered the world what may be the most civil coup ever, you are still reading articles, think-pieces overanalyzed op-ed pieces on the ‘rise and fall of Uncle Bob’. You are still interested despite the repetition, despite the dread the writers generally project of what next. You are still interested because in reading those pieces you are encouraged that someday (hopefully soon) your own Mugabe shall fall, or be toppled… whichever way would do.
But a week later you come across new information, details of the largess which characterizes Mugabe’s pension upon forced retirement. His presidential salary will continue as is, he receives a lump sum of 10 million USD, maintains all properties acquired as president, health coverage, and several other benefits. An obviously generous pension considering whatever his family had already looted. The generosity baffles you; this cannot possibly be the sanction for dictatorship, this cannot be the sanction for forcing millions of your people into exile and holding the growth of a whole nation hostage. This cannot possibly be what people marched for. You are not Zimbabwean, so you read the comments.
Most say they’re fine with it, that it is better than having him in power. That Zimbabwe must move on. That they do not need to fight with the tyrant. One particular comment stands out: “Zimbabwean’s should forgive the bastard not for him but to free themselves”. The comment tugs at your memory, you have heard that before. You have heard it on several occasions. You heard it when Gambia’s Jammeh lost “Don’t mention prosecuting him, just let him go so you can move on…” You heard similar last year and dozens of times before when a Cameroonian immigrant woman you know was told to forgive her abusive husband for the sake of her kids “Don’t put those children through the court process in this country ooo. These people will ask them all sort of questions. We are not white people. Settle this in your family so you can move on with dignity.”
You have heard this so many times, linked to scripture like whole countries are of one faith. Like forgiveness can be demanded. A commodity one can order.
Yet this time, perhaps because you are reading the articles expectantly looking to Zimbabwe as a beacon of hope for the potential toppling of your own dictator, you are upset by the extravagance of black forgiveness. You recall the first comment you made upon learning of black petting zoos, and how black children were caged to be observed like animals. You said: We have forgiven too much. We have. And we have forgiven on behalf of too many, who never did and never may get closure.
You also recall the Charlottesville shooting and the quickly offered, widely publicised forgiveness of Dylan Roof. You had wondered then as you wonder now, who gave them the authority to forgive. Yes, they were related to the victims, just like those who now forgive are Zimbabwean, but the evil was done to us all, has marked us all, has built anger in us all… who and what quenches the fire of injustices when one forgives for the whole. And why are we the ones always forgiving? We Blacks, we Africans, we Women. Why does the victim get told “to forgive is divine”, like victimisation made one saintly, propelled them into the realm of divinity.
And if we must forgive, which is just fine by the way, do we not deserve to get an apology first? No repentance? No justice? Do we just bury the pain like a secret hidden in a chest for another generation to dig and discover? Does the dictator get a scholarship named after him like Rhodes so three generations pass and our children know him as a benefactor rather than an abuser?
Above all, as you contemplate this exceedingly gracious treatment of a fallen dictator you wonder what it means for you and yours. As you look at Zimbabwe as an example, if no longer a beacon, you wonder why one should bother decrying the exploitation, mismanagement and abuse of Cameroonian government officials who would be so readily forgiven. If on one hand, African leaders who leave power ‘with good will” receive a boon by way of the Mo Ibrahim Prize effectively congratulating them for doing what the constitutions they swore to uphold said they ought to do…and those who don’t leave get generous retirement packages like Mugabe, promises to be left alone and not tried for crimes like Jammeh, or promises of lifelong Party leadership positions like dos Santos… if those are the options why denounce your Mugabe.
If those are the options they have to choose from, they never really fall. And justice is never really served, definitely not implemented by us. For we forgive.
Our forgiveness is expected, extravagantly gracious, shortsighted and shallow. Doing an even greater injustice to the memory of the injustice done to us. It is our forgiveness that has descendants of abusers, still enjoying historical privilege yet forming trade unions and denying that apartheid was an injustice. It is our forgiveness that has Kanye West saying slavery was a choice. It is our forgiveness that leaves our Cameroonian children unable to name the revolutionaries which fought for our independence. It is as a result of our profligate forgiveness that fifty years on, we have more statues and schools named after colonial figures than we do of our own heroes and heroines. Still, even when we do make monuments to honor our own we bastardize it.
Our forgiveness is alcohol drunk to induce forgetfulness, feign celebration and wellbeing.
And with this piece shared I would hope my friend understood my reluctance to write about the crisis without me stating it. Hope that he would comprehend that my not being at home physically is not the reason I have not written. Rather, that I struggle to write because I have begun to doubt what good could come from it. Because I have begun to question if the grandmothers who have been burned alive during scorch earth operations by the Cameroon military will ever get justice. If the scores of men women and children who have lost their lives since this crisis begun will ever receive some sort of consolation- if we will ever even know all their names to offer some recognition.
Or if we shall once again forgive; offer their blood and the sorrow of their ruined lives like a cake glazed with pleas for Biya to just go and stay gone in exchange.