Those who have read a bit of satirical poetry will remember the acerbic Alexander Pope famed for his long, four-versions poem, The Dunciad. Itself a strident attack on dullness and tastelessness in art, the long poem was a stout response to Pope’s spiteful opponents whom he accused of impugning bona fide poets so rare in any age, while degrading and decaying national taste and poetic standards through rude, unkempt lines. These rival poets, essayists and critics he called Grub Street scribblers, or simply “dunces” guilty of blighting a whole people through their unrefined, uncreative outputs which he derisively and dismissively termed “doggerel”.
The Dunciad images this epic struggle between creators and cultivators of profoundly genuine tastes in the land, and loud-mouthed charlatans who degraded collective taste, as a fight in which the all-blighting, pompous goddess Dullness, sought to destroy all the highbrow virtues of taste, refinement, wit and decency. Dullness is projected as “Daughter of Chaos and Eternal Night” who sires an endless chain of “dunces”, all of whom abidingly squat on and “rule the mind”. Thus cursed, England comes under a continual spell of soporific and dulling mediocrity, a depressing state so beautifully clinched by the following vintage Pope lines: “Still Dunce the second reigns like Dunce the first;/Say how the Goddess bade Britannia sleep,/And pour’d her Spirit o’er the land and deep.”
One Melusi Nkomo, PhD candidate
This country is catching some bug it has to cough out quickly before its system, its lungs in particular, gets clogged and cankered. As I surfed through NewZimbabwe.com a few days ago, my eye was caught by some piece whose title was a clutter of expletives: “Zimbabwe towards 2018: With clowns as leaders, buffoonery rules”. Surprisingly, the piece’s significance was not its “contents”. Rather, it was the signature of its author which read: “Melusi Nkomo is a Ph.D candidate in Development Studies in Switzerland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>”.
Another, Shonhe, PhD candidate
Yesterday, I read another piece titled: “Leadership condemns nation to poverty.” Towards the end of my weary wordy trudge, all of it borne so patriotically, I was rewarded by the following valediction from or on the writer: “Shonhe is a PhD candidate in development studies.” Being a personification of the hope-flows-eternal philosophy, I chose not to give up on my people. I read yet another piece, this time titled: “Tsvangirai dictatorship split MDC”. Strikingly, unlike the first two articles, there were no adorning laces on its hem, no huge, convoluted claims about its author except a juxtaposed picture of a modestly grinning, light-skinned face of a be-spectacled Welshman Ncube, his trademark upper-row teeth gap still un-mended, so many months after his sound electoral beating. He is a law professor. He is an advocate. He is a politician, possibly a political leader. He was a minister in the ill-fated coalition government we booted out last September. You have to know him in larger life to attach the foregoing appellations. Not to read him.
Mibvunzo mikuru kwazvo
When is one a “Ph.D” or “PhD” candidate? And what does that mean in this simple world? Or do to one’s mental makeup, to one’s mental workings and output, do to one’s argument in an article? And to deserve such a brave forward-thrust akin to a monumental phallus where there are people? Asked differently, when is one not a Ph.D, sorry PhD, candidate? When is anyone not that? What the hell is being communicated by such an appellation, claim, if you want? And why is that which is so communicated not attractive to real PhDs, sorry PhDs, like Welshman Ncube who choose to write under more modest by-lines, than stand such dubious panegyrics? Or have these eminently qualified doctors and professors forgotten who, what, they are? Or is publicity only allowed to Ph.D, sorry PhD pre-, sorry, intenders?
When everyone is a candidate
Of course everyone, anyone, is a PhD/PhD. That includes the unborn, the just born, the dying and the dead, the last if you believe in the biblical brave new world that exceeds the current one we inhabit, a brave world in which, we are told by the great book, everything is possible. Candidature is a mere intention, mere ambition, a doubtful effort, even a pretence preceded by some clerical ritual involving a registrar at some institution calling itself some university. It is not a fact, let alone an achievement; it is at best the promise of one, at worst a loud brag by the failed and failing. And in-between, it is a pathetic attempt at intimidation, at browbeating and extorting reader adulation and reverence you know you can’t earn and thus don’t deserve. It is charlatanism best begot by goddess Dullness. No wonder so many expletives from a fop who claims to have seen a Swiss book on development studies. Stop this despicable humbuggery Zimbabwe! Stop it! It’s so unseemly to so literate a society that we are. Do you hear me Pedzisayi? Finish and graduate, and you will not need that demeaning adjective called “candidate”. Or to have to foist it on an unimpressed readership. Stop it, or else “Dunce the second reigns like Dunce the first”, condemning this land to continual mediocrity.
And to Horrible, sorry
Talking about dunces, you sometimes wonder why fickle politics rewards us with toads for gods. Oh Zeus! Honourable Chamisa sits in Parliament. There is a presumption of probity and intellect accompanying such a placement. You think an X baptised through the ballot box yields a righteous product. One day this week the said Honourable rose to ask which planet President Mugabe inhabits. This followed an indication from the President the economy is showing signs of a rebound. I got the distinct sense he didn’t find this straightforward message from the President too esoteric for his comprehension. Or doubting that it deserved a response deeper and better than obligatory opposition he perforce is required to fulfil as a member of the opposition.
Flights of boyish fancy
The Honourable served under the President as a minister of Government. Not only did he come face to face with the President’s sheer brilliance and leadership; he publicly testified to it, in bold black and white, even against his inherent demeanour and etiquette as a member of a party that rivals the President and his Zanu-PF. That testimony did worse damage. It wrote off his own principal, Morgan Tsvangirai, the man to whose loyalty he now so gratuitously and fawningly pledges. For, is it not a philosophical fact that nothing is great or small except by comparison? But on this particular day this week, Chamisa sought to know why and in what frame of mind the President saw signs of recovery in the economy. Fair question it would have been, if only, if only matters had ended there. No they did not. Spurred, buoyed and catapulted by boyish enthusiasm, he further asked if the president lived on this planet.
I suppose that is what it means to be a PhD “candidate”. You are “taught” that recovering economies do show bodily! All the warts, pimples and furrows on your body must smoothen instantly, that your body must sweat abundance even, amidst and as part of signs of a recovering economy. And looking at the young man, indeed that might just be happening, what with his lately found portly body, rotund cheeks, shimmering and filled-up forehead, all of these wellness symptoms acquired long after leaving government. It seems you don’t have to be a minister. Or does he want to tell us why he persistently thrives amidst a collapsing economy? Which planet, which dish, Sir, do you eat, to look so obdurately plumb?
Readings from a rich man’s compound
One key endowment of leadership is honestly discerning trends still in incipience, or more difficultly, still in promise. But even that hard-to-come-by skill is needless in our situation. There is something so ineluctably evident about our situation now, such that even if you are not a Ph.D candidate, or a President, you are bound to see it. Things are beginning to look up, and the world sees and says so, whatever our daily bodily experiences. Much like visiting the home of a man of big harvests, bigger herds and wealth. You meet buzzing flies, choosing to see these flies as evidence of a dirty household or an place for a big man who eats. Except a reading of dirty poverty forgets no fly visits a hungry home, save on that one last time when its denizens are moodily carted to the cemetery. But the one blessed with the last reading readies to wash his hands bodily, all in gastronomic readiness.
When the sun rises first on those standing
Agriculture has been on a spectacular rebound, a reality Honourable Chamisa may not be permitted to acknowledge without peeing on his party’s (or what remains of it) anti-agrarian politics, on his party’s manifesto. Key infrastructural investments and projects are either underway of coming on stream. Check progress on methane gas and visualise what that wonder gas does to this economy. Kariba South. National Railways, the roads. At another level, the mighty wheel of beneficiation is beginning to stir, soon set to turn. All these give you three pillars of Zim-Asset. Soon this country will be on a gallop, much like a gay steed, which is why big guys like Old Mutual, CABS and, surprisingly, Standard and Barclays, are beginning to accost people for loans and projects spanning over decades. Dying economies attract investors who cut and run, never deep sea fishermen. Of course you can never see all this, standing on a small anthill drowning in a vlei. Did he not say, I mean Chinua Achebe, say that the sun rises first to those who stand, before it shines on those sleeping under the roof. Wake up, Sir, and behold, it is a lovely day!
The two planes that never landed
My real subject, Malaysian MH17, Ukraine, Russia, America, Europe, China and Gaza. In between Britain. Judging by our media, we seem to face a comprehension problem. Or is it a problem of angling a breaking foreign story, so daily snowballing? I wonder. News is founded on framing, and framing is about inserting the reader into a preferred perspective. It is this process which makes news so political, so ideological, so value-laden. You expect this to be mundane, elementary knowledge in newsrooms, elementary to gatekeepers of the national knowledge industry. But first, the broad picture. A civilian passenger plane belonging to Malaysian Airlines fell from the sky, over contested territory of riven Ukraine, very close to Ukraine’s border with Russia. Ukraine is at war with itself, this following a major directional shift in political terms, a shift which has already claimed a democratically-elected government, installed an unelected one whose legitimacy and vision has been militantly contested by the citizenry, to levels threatening the break-up this vast country. Already, Crimea has fallen off, with a whole eastern part of Ukraine fighting to follow suit.
These dissenting republics seek association with Russia, well away from European Union as preferred by the junta now in charge of greater Ukraine. While the authorities could not stop the falling off of Crimea, they appear determined to resist a further breaking away of this eastern part, which is why war has broken out in that part of the country. It is a brutal war, a high-tech one too if one sets aside feelings of humanity momentarily, to admire human ingenuity at self-annihilation.
Like some coiling Leviathan
But the whole matter embroils the West, principally America and the EU, better described as NATO countries, which seem intent on creeping closer and closer to the Russian borders in order, from the Kremlin point of view, to contain or destabilise it. It is a menacing creep into Russia’s backyard, something no superpower ever looks at with indifference. We saw it in the 1960s when the then Soviet Union sought to turn Cuba into a deadly beachhead. The world teetered on the brink, for menaced America would not have it. It still will not have it. Ukraine wishes to join the EU, which means NATO: a military alliance built in history against the old Soviet Union, now maintained against Russia, successor to the Soviet Union. President Putin maintains the western programme of containing Russia never stopped since the Soviet days. And he is right, judging by how NATO has been courting former allies of the Soviet Union, coiling around the margins of Russia like some hungry, intending Leviathan. For Russia, it is now a matter of survival; for the West, a question of finishing off an old enemy, firstly felled by Reagan in 1989 when its ramparts fell. These are the dimensions which make the conflict in Ukraine so portentous, so menacingly foreboding to world peace. For behind the fighting proxies are planetary powers, between which lies all of us — puny states and peoples, Zimbabweans, Malaysians, Palestinians, included.
Mischief it commits or condones
And to be in-between is never to be snugly cradled or safe. To be an in-between is to be available for a trample by an mighty hoof, playful or agitated. I devote this piece to a mental hoof that is trampling on us, we the global in-betweens. What has happened to Malaysia rends the heart of any human being. MH17 is the second plane to bring air tragedy to this dashing, peace-loving Nation. The first disaster struck sometime in March this year and, to this day it remains a mystery what became of MH370, and its whole human cargo. Harder to swallow is the claim that there is a blind corner on this planet, a planet so ruled by such an omniscient giant. Does America — our god on this earth — ever blink, ever sleep? How would it not see anything under the sun, except the mischief it commits or condones? I swear by my dead mother, the Americans do know what happened to MH370. Of course in-betweens are allowed no respite. Another air disaster has struck little Malaysia yet again, all of it blamed on Russia, with Russian counter-charges slamming Ukraine. How these charges and counter-charges have been flying is what brings out the trample, the recklessly stomping hooves, upon our poor backs.
Mountains of lies, knolls of truth
Across the national media, the Malaysian plane is being reported as downed. This began well before anyone reached the crash site, well before the black box had been found and secured, well before any investigations had been mounted, let alone completed. To this day investigations into MH17 have not yet commenced. America led the charge, and the whole world, except the accused Russia, the bereaved Malaysia and the sceptical and phlegmatic China. America’s Kerry went hysterical, claiming “mountains and mountains” of evidence the knoll of which we are yet to see. Like faithful repeater stations we danced along, chiming America’s riotous line. That was the first line of mental hoofing of the in-betweens.
Theory of relativity in politics
When no evidence was forthcoming from America, the script changed, with omniscient and omnipotent America telling us there was no evidence linking Russia directly to the crashed plane. In fact the plane had been downed by “Russian-backed separatists”, with Russia only guilty of “creating the conditions” for the air disaster. Again and obligingly, we repeated America’s new message, imbibing its language and phraseology unquestioningly. Framing language at that. But how are the rebels in that contested part of Ukraine any more “Russian-backed” in the way the junta in Kiev is not “US/NATO-backed”? And if backing indicts, why is America and Europe not guilty, not sanctioned? If backing indicts, why is America not guilty of the deadly misdeeds of “American-backed Israel” which have so far claimed over 800 lives in Gaza, nearly threefold what this air disaster claimed? And Malaysia, itself a Muslim country to which this bald American propaganda is aimed at, is not supposed to use this comparison to measure the depth and sincerity of American compassion? Further afield, why was such language not used in respect of American and European-backed separatists in Libya under Gaddafi? Now in Syria? Who creates conditions and when do these indict and invite sanctions?
Good dead, bad dead
Beneath all this barrage of American propaganda is a death hierarchy. There are some good dead, some bad dead, never mind that both may be Muslims and dead. The few who perish in Ukraine deserve more American concern than the many fatally assaulted by Israel in Gaza, to the nodding satisfaction of Kerry who sees the operation in Gaza as one conducted with “pin-point accuracy”. Pin-point accuracy which claims Palestinian toddlers, Palestinian mothers, Palestinian students hiding in a UN school compound? Statistics of the dead are even more damning: 800 Palestinians dead, only a handful of whom are combatants; 35 Israelis dead, 32 of whom are soldiers. Where is the pinpoint accuracy between these two sets of figures? For America death is not the issue. What is at issue is a given death’s political and diplomatic use value, nay hegemonic use value. For America, it is not about air safety; it is about sacrificing it to cause a no-air-Defence zone against the rebels, for an unremitting rebel slaughter by the Ukrainian junta flying its deadly Sukhois. Come on, how does an all-seeing America which can tell me the number of times I make love to my wife, claim it had no spy satellite trained towards this high-stakes zone at the time of this air disaster? Simply, they have suppressed those images to allow preconceived and preordained charges and sanctions against Russia to stick. Is it not shameful that such a superpower stands before us armed with twits from the social media as evidence in dealing with such a high-stakes disaster? Come on, we are no tweets they want us to be.
Repeater mental stations
And this is where I want to pay real tribute to Malaysia, a very friendly country. They have refused to join America in its blame game, insisting that investigations be completed first for a more informed judgement. Is that too long, too much, for a superpower to bear? I pay tribute to Malaysia for simply refusing to allow America to misappropriate its crashed plane, its dead, for cold, selfish ends. A real defilement of the dead, much worse than the abominations invented against the rebels. The least tribute we can pay to ourselves as the in-betweens of this cosmic conflict is to refuse with our dead, to deny them an opportunity for fawning calculated compassion using our dead. The temptation on Malaysia was enormous. Standing cozily next to a pretending superpower can be rewarding. Echoing its lies is definitely a boon. The Malaysians could have had millions for such complicity. They have refused, showing the world a value-led foreign policy we have yearned for in a long time. And the choreography will not end. Why are we not being shown a beeline of glistening hearses out of Gaza, to the Palestinian cemetery? Why? Because Muslim death in Gaza is not strategic? Whatever world order America hopes to carve through such air disasters, death and killings is not worth inhabiting. And we aid and abet its emergence by allowing America’s propaganda hooves astride our minds, turning us all into analogue repeater stations.