Evan Mawarire is a young Zimbabwean father who could not bear the thought of failing to answer when, in twenty years, his daughters would ask him what he did when his country was at its worst. Yesterday, he was arrested for inciting violence and disturbing the peace after weeks of mobilizing Zimbabweans all over the world on social media to hold the government accountable for the worsening economic situation and rampant corruption.
He called for people to stay at home in peaceful protest on July 6th, 2016 – businesses in the nation’s cities closed their doors and many Zimbabweans stayed at home. His calls for peaceful demonstration did not contravene the one sovereign document with which the country should be governed – the constitution of Zimbabwe makes allowances for citizens to engage in demonstrations and present petitions peacefully. The constitution is not a suggestion, and it is not meant to be a political plaything that is discarded and distorted for expediency. And yet, Evan is in prison in Zimbabwe right now.
When I woke up to the news of his arrest yesterday, I thought a lot about what the last year with my classmates at the Blavatnik School of Government has taught me about service, integrity, and kindness.
The school’s call for “a world better served” was perhaps the thing that brought me to the school. I remember writing in my personal statement about wanting to build responsive governments whose leaders did not opt out of poor public services, but worked instead to make them the kinds of places they want their children to be educated and treated. Our world is better served when calling for accountability for missing resource revenues represents an imperative for government to recalibrate and destroy the leakages, not the citizens raising their voices asking them to do better. Our world is better served when, if citizens are sharing their disappointment in a pension system that has let them down in their old age, or their dejection at not being able to find jobs anywhere, our governments get to the work of solving problems rather than wishing them into oblivion by silencing their people. The temptation when we are faced with a plethora of economic and social problems is to lament the dearth of new, effective approaches to solving the problems – I have certainly been one to argue that we could think and problem-solve and technocrat and innovate our way out of these problems. Yes, the ideas, the economic planning, the stakeholder management, and implementation vehicles are important. But, our governments do not get to the right economic plans, the right social programs, and any of the right answers if they do not listen to the questions and heed the concerns of their citizens. For a government to serve and lead and govern better, it must first listen and engage. For a government to listen to its people, to not opt out of its responsibilities, it must respect and care deeply for its people.
So, today, I am thankful for Evan Mawarire for his courage, for his integrity, and for giving many Zimbabweans a microphone through which to exercise their political rights through the #ThisFlag movement. I am grateful also for the BSG students who reminded me of the importance of listening and kindness. I am grateful for the classmate who approached her political ambition with a delicate thoughtfulness and reflectiveness about her suitability for the role, rather than the desirability of the role. I am, though angry, disappointed, and energized by what is unfolding in my country, also hopeful that if men and women like Evan one day find themselves face-to-face with a government that really should be doing better, they will find the ear of reflective leaders, listening leaders, leaders with the care and respect and conviction to serve the world better.
Rutendo Chigora is a Rhodes Scholar from Zimbabwe and she is currently studying for an MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government.