HARARE – A long time ago, a thriving agricultural village named Chibagwe existed. Chibagwe was renowned for the huge quantity of maize it produced. With the surplus it replenished its reserves before selling the rest to other communities. With the income, the village set it’s artisans to work, building roads, hospitals and other infrastructure. The village prospered and the residents of Chibagwe were invariably happy.
It all started inauspiciously really, as one resident recalls. The first sighting was of a solitary baboon that had climbed a tree a wee distance from the village and spent hours just observing the community. It was roundabout harvest time and the maize stalks stood tall and proud. The village was abuzz with the excitement one can expect around harvest time with farmers calculating their profits, wives glowing with anticipation of the trinkets that usually come with the profits from their farming husbands. Not many took note of this solitary baboon.
As evening approached the baboon climbed down the tree and disappeared into the distance. Harvest time went without another sighting of the curious baboon. The following season as the community started its preparation for the forthcoming crop, baboon sightings increased. But this time, there was usually more than one baboon. They would take turns to observe the people of Chibagwe, making odd noises and gesticulating as baboons do at times. Some even swore they witnessed these baboons pointing at the village and its vast maize fields before breaking out into delighted screams. As the farmers planted and tended their maize fields the miracle that is nature took root and the stalks stretched forth.
Though the accounts differ, most villagers agree the first arrival of a troop of baboons was around about when the maize had reached the height of the chief’s walking stick. They quietly nestled in a little hill not too far from the village. While the villagers of Chibagwe took note, no alarm was raised by the moving in of these new neighbors. Everyone was busy with the activities of the times, the chief and his royal enclave caught up in their self importance and their now traditional routine of taking foreign dignitaries through their thriving community.
The hardworking farmers, busying themselves with the crop, the artisans running around repairing anything broken and the women playing their supporting roles admirably well consumed everyone’s waking hour. The whole community was distracted.
From a safe distance the troop of baboons looked on munching away at the wild fruit they had picked. As the maize fields grew and the villagers remarked how well the crop was going to turn out that year, no one noticed the frenzied activity from their newly settled neighbors. None of the villagers noticed the increased gatherings and what seemed to be training drills.
Only the fittest alpha males participated, and involved quick bursts of speed before a sudden stop, a quick grab at green plants before speeding back to where the rest of the colony stood. If only someone had taken time to observe the baboon colony, a worrying pattern would have been detected and maybe the alarm would have been raised. The distracted villagers merely attributed the increased excitement and activity of the baboons to their admiration at a job well done by the residents of Chibagwe. The baboons first struck at the dead of night. They struck with a precision that spoke to the duration of their drills.
It was a group of women that had woken up and gone to the well at the crack of dawn that raised the alarm. Where there once proudly stood stalks of ripening maize there only was the uprooted soil. It was not difficult to decipher the architects of this episode as stalks of maize were strewn on the ground all the way back to the colony of baboons.
Amid the resulting mayhem the village chief gathered the elders along with the farmer’s leadership to deliberate on this new threat. A whole host of solutions were proffered none of which was adopted. The village elders wanted more time to deliberate, while the artisans could not be bothered as they felt it was not their fight. The farmers themselves were split into two camps, the ones who had suffered loss, agitated for an attack on the troop of baboons and the ones who had been spared, warned of overreaction.
The weary chief finally called the council to order and asked if anyone was prepared to stand guard at night protecting the fields, arguments erupted with few volunteers. The chief upon advice adjourned the meeting to a later date to be advised agreeing only to form a committee to study the problem and report back to the chief. While more meetings were called, no permanent solution was adopted with members of the committee fighting among themselves about the solution required to deal with the baboons. Each farmer was on his own. So that year nothing was done to counteract the threat posed by these baboons, with villagers returning to their normal every day activities. That year the maize harvest for the first time failed to meet expected targets.
The following season the villagers following recommendations from the committee appointed to look into the baboon menace decided to place scare crows in their fields and increase the hectarage under maize to counter expected foraging from the now thriving colony of baboons. The baboons initially cautiously sent their elite squad of baboons to raid the maize fields, not sure what to make of the ‘humans’ in the fields. When one alpha male baboon threw caution to the wind and charged at the scare crow in an effort to clear a path to the juicy cobs, the other members of the elite squad of raiders looked on from a distance.
The alpha male rammed into the ‘human’ uprooting it’s head from the fallen effigy, causing the other baboons to descend onto the maize fields with deadly zeal. The chief again called another council meeting to seek deliberate. But because of the differing interests of the parties involved, no solution was forthcoming. As a partial compromise it was only agreed that a delegation be sent to try and reason with the baboons, an exercise which met predictable failure as we all know baboons do not yield to reason.
As the seasons progressed the baboon colony grew exponentially, and their raids increased in scope and moved further inland. They became more brazen. Night raids shifted to daytime raids as the baboons chose to sleep at night realizing the humans offered no resistance and were of no danger. It was no longer just the elite baboons that formed the raiding party.
At first the younger generation of male baboons were invited along, with the older less mobile crew being included with the passage of time. Eventually raiding the village became a family out door experience for the enlarged baboon troop. Even the crippled baboons casually made their way into the village’s centre without fear. The villager’s response was only to call for more meetings that almost always ended in an impasse with leaders failing to agree. The net result was inaction on the part of the villagers. During the early years, the maize harvested went down and the village had little surplus to fill up its reserves and for on selling. As a result little income was earned and fewer artisans were employed for village construction and maintenance. Despondency began to set in on a once thriving community.
After realizing the village leaders were not committed in coming to their aid, the farmers who had plots on the outskirts chose to abandon farming as they were most affected by the raids. The combined effect of less hectarage of maize planted and an enlarged colony of baboons conspired to reduce the maize harvested that forced the leaders for the first time in the village’s history to drawdown on their strategic reserves. As the years progressed and the baboon menace swirled out of hand, the strategic reserves gradually whittled down a situation exacerbated by the baboons also raiding the reserves, until there was nothing left.
A few alert and less virtuous members of the village in cahoots with members of the chief’s family noticed that all the raids were blamed on baboons. Realizing an opportunity to take advantage of the baboon epidemic, they started raiding the maize fields at night knowing their acts would be blamed on the baboons. It initially proved a brilliant idea where they could live like royalty without the indefatigable toil that one associates with such living. Some of the baboons further entrenched themselves into the villager’s way of life by moving into some of the huts and living among the residents. There was apparently nothing to fear.
The village elders began to introduce coupons to ration the little maize they could save from the marauding baboons. It became inevitable that the system would be abused by those with access to it. When the other villagers caught onto the acts of the less virtuous among them, it became a free for all, characterized by quarrels that often turned violent. Most villagers that were originally farmers realizing the futility of continued farming joined the artisans who had turned to scavenging the area for something edible to feed their starving families. It was not long before, the residents began to blame their chief for their circumstances. They bitterly complained of how the chief continued to live opulently through ruthless taxing of the little maize some die hard farmers continued to grow.
The chief was not deaf to the villagers grumbling. He was bitterly disappointed with the farmers for what he viewed as the capitulation in the face of a few obstacles. He reacted by decreeing that the farmers must farm and deliver all their produce to his granary or face certain imprisonment. Furthermore he ordered that every family must now consume only two meals a day and livestock were not to be fed maize, to conserve the little maize that was still available.
But in as much as he was willing to force other villagers to minimize their spending, he refused to acknowledge the contradiction that his lifestyle and that of his close entourage displayed. As his fear grew, he recruited inadequately qualified relatives and individuals into high offices and turned a blind eye to their hoarding of scarce resources in an effort to placate them and ensure their loyalty.
In the face of coercion, the farmers resisted the chief’s efforts and pointed to his failure to organize farming into a profitable enterprise once more as the reason for their reluctance to take him to his word. His final act was to try and decree the price of maize, an act that was to prove his undoing, as the farmers rose up and demanded he relinquish his authority to another. The chief acceded and tearfully apologized that though he meant well, the farmers had conspired and bitterly let him down.
Something sinister also started taking place. The young children no longer played games where they pretended they were farmers or artisans, but instead started strutting around pretending to be alpha male baboons and making all manner of sounds mimicking the male baboons. The most vulnerable of the community were left to their own means, as the community was drained of its once famous charitable spirit. The young male boys turned to banditry, while the more incorruptible ones moved to other societies where they virtually became indentured slaves. The young girls turned to prostitution as a way to survive and have access to the few luxuries available.
A wise old man who happened to pass through the village he once visited as a child, could no longer recognize the once thriving village of old that in its place had been replaced by the dilapidated infrastructure. On seeing his old friend the deposed chief, the old man shaking his head wondered what had transpired to bring about such a breakdown in the social and economic way of life of this once successful village.
Meeting a group of former artisans he asked what went wrong, the artisans blamed the poor job market. The old man posed the same question to women he saw gathered gossiping and they replied that their husbands had failed to provide for them. He then challenged the farmers to pick up their ploughs and set to work. The former farmers shrugged off the old man and informed him that they were not going to work the soil again as that would amount to chasing the wind.
To which the approaching deposed chief replied, “the baboons started this mess, no one stood up to fight, we just quarreled amongst ourselves and offered token resistance. Now we scavenge like the baboons, indeed we have become the baboons! What’s worse, no one trusts each other and what is commerce without trust, indeed what is a community where trust has fled!”
The little story recounted holds so many lessons and draws so much similarity to present day Zimbabwe. A journey through Zimbabwe will reveal to you a menace that makes no distinction between political party, religious leaning, carouser or non-carouser, rich or poor, the baboon in our fictitious tale. Like the deadly virus it paralyses society’s ability to defend itself and negates the positive efforts of the good majority. It destroys the way of life as we know it and in its stead introduces a society that preys on itself.
Like a hoard of baboons descending on a villager’s maize field these social, economic and political charlatans have become more daring with each passing season when the villagers and their leadership have through inaction encouraged these baboons destructive behavior. The villager’s only recourse has been to plant less and less maize (as a result becoming less productive) until the villagers like the baboons become scavengers and start to prey on one another.
Like in the baboon story, if you ask the different groups as to the cause of our country’s economic and social malaise, each will give an answer that panders to their interest and absolves them of the blame. Their disingenuousness can be evidenced by their proffering of solutions that will aid the elevation of their constituencies. The men of the cloth thunder from their pulpits to the congregation about the moral and spiritual decay and the need to turn to Jesus and not to forget to bring their wallets along. The political actors quibble and blame one another for the unfolding mess. One group blames foreigner’s interference along with their internal enablers. At the other political extreme, the group blames the ruling government of the day for creating an environment that has disenfranchised the majority of the people. In ant case, if a society is to subsist and thrive, needs to be governed in a manner that ensures the promise of opportunity is available to all those who exhibit the requisite qualities in the attainment of their dreams. Societies are by and large governed by example. It allows the citizens of that nation to cultivate hope. ….. FinX
This is a revised narration of an article first run on FinX Zimbabwe. The original article is only available on request