CSOs and the crisis of credibility

It is said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care and I was reminded of this sentiment when I read an editorial comment in The Standard contending that There is a reason for demolitions and berating some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that denounced the on-going demolitions of illegal structures.

The editorial comment expressed suspicion at the motives of the CSOs and having insinuated that the CSOs were insincere the comment all but dismissed entirely, and perhaps with insufficient scrutiny, any and all of the valid concerns that the CSOs had raised in at least two statements, which were conveniently provided on page 12 under the Letters to the Editor section of the 17-23 November issue.

By questioning the motives of the CSOs with regards the stance they had chosen to take on the issue of demolitions, the editorial comment managed to obscure and even invalidate any contribution that the CSOs were making to the debate around demolitions – and it is this disinclination to engage with the ideas that the CSOs were bringing to the table that caused me some discomfiture.

My discomfiture arose from the fact that I like to engage with ideas – even disagreeable ones – yet the dismissive tone of the editorial comment precluded such an exercise by contending that CSOs were motivated by greed, self-interest and it implied that the CSOs’ perspective on the demolition issue (and perhaps any other issue) was neither sincere nor worth interrogating.

The issue of whether or not the CSOs had raised any worthwhile points or advanced any valid ideas on how best to handle the problem of illegal structures or how to protect those who would be affected by the demolition exercise was not even raised because the CSOs’ motives were viewed with skepticism and considerable disdain.

If anything, the tone and approach of the editorial comment proved that one’s perceived motives can matter more than one’s message because motives determine the credibility of the message and motives speak to the integrity of the one conveying the message.

If people don’t trust your motives, they will not trust your message and the credibility and integrity of the CSO sector has over the years taken a severe pasting, mostly at the hands of state-controlled media advancing a ZANU PF narrative that framed CSOs as traitors or puppets of the West and enemies of the State.

….are CSOs in it for the money or to do some much-needed good

The average Zimbabwean would be hard-pressed to say a single positive thing about CSOs as a collective because at the height of the economic meltdown, urban folklore held that forming an NGO was the fastest way to make money and the commercialization of the country’s myriad problems ostensibly became normative.

The problem is not that these narratives or stereotypes about CSOs exist, or that they have led to CSOs being generally regarded with mistrust or that they have caused significant harm to the public standing of CSO actors who are mostly viewed as unpatriotic, lacking in integrity, having little credibility and driven by self-interest.

The problem, in my view, is that CSOs have done little, if anything, to rebut these claims.

Perhaps this is because CSOs believe their work will ‘speak for itself’, which would be rather naïve if it is the case.

What is certain is that if CSOs do not begin addressing the issue of their dented credibility as a sector it won’t matter what the sector brings to the national discourse because any ideas from CSO actors will be treated as fruits of the poisoned tree.

What is also certain is that if CSOs do not take up opportunities afforded them by editorial comments – such as the one carried in The Standard and even the recent comment by Nathaniel Manheru carried in the Herald which referenced and attacked Thabani Nyoni as an individual but scathingly indicted the CSO sector as a collective – to tell their side of the story, these damaging negative perceptions will continue to haunt them.

The need for a CSO counter-narrative or rebuttal cannot be overemphasized especially against the reality of a government controlled by the ZANU PF party which the sector has had and still has a somewhat antagonistic relationship.

If the CSO sector has anything to say for itself in light of past and present public attacks that have cast aspersion on its collective sectorial integrity – the sector should start saying it because it is inarguably faced with a crisis of credibility.

Whilst many in the CSO sector have argued that repressive laws in the country have created a hostile operating environment which has seen many CSO leaders and actors being harassed, arrested or dragged to court on spurious charges (most of which are later dropped) – they have not dealt with the issue of how the public perceives them as a collective.

And they have not dealt with the issue of how those negative public perceptions have significantly hindered their work and/or increased their vulnerability to unwarranted attacks by State actors as the public cannot be relied upon or expected to mobilize or speak up in defense of a CSO sector that they view with distrust.

It is common cause that the dented credibility of CSOs can be traced back to various dynamics in the country including the sector’s embeddedness with opposition politics, its reliance on foreign funding and by extension its perceived susceptibility to foreign influence, which perception has all but coagulated into hard fact in the public’s imagination owing to the ZANU PF-informed narrative of CSOs being agents of the West.

It is a narrative that CSOs have dismally failed to refute; if at all any serious attempt at refutation has ever been undertaken.

The Zimbabwean public largely does not trust the motives of CSOs, neither do other non-state actors or entities as evidenced by the Standard editorial comment which charged that “the CSOs involved [in denouncing demolitions] seem like champions of the poor when all they want is to get their fingers into the jar of donor funding”.

Motives matter. Stereotypes abound with regards the nature of CSOs’ work as they are often viewed as being greedy, unscrupulous and self-aggrandizing non-state actors who earn a living through hijacking the legitimate grievances of the populace and trading in the pornography of pity politics to get money from donors.

This is the public perception. This is the dominant narrative.

And this is how the State, through its various and seemingly captured institutions including the public media, the police who conduct arbitrary arrests and officers of the courts who allow political interests to interfere in how they discharge their duties, have all colluded to frame CSO work as illegitimate, unpatriotic and self-aggrandizing.

Motives matter and CSOs need to begin defending with fervency and sincerity their work and its legitimacy.

Narratives matter too because they frame reality and CSOs need to start providing proof that they do care about people by challenging the notion that they are only in it for the money.

They must prove that their intentions are noble, their motives are pure and their hearts are in the right (read patriotic) place.

Otherwise, whatever ideas or concerns they raise, regardless of how genuine, positive and sincere their contributions may be – their efforts will not be recognized, appreciated or acknowledged as long as the public remains suspicious of their underlying motives.

(First published in the Southern Eye)

Feelings are fragile…

This article first appeared in and was written for the Sunday News – a weekly newspaper based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Feelings are fragile things; they get hurt even when they’re not supposed to. Even when the brain explains to them why they shouldn’t be hurt by a certain action or statement — they still curl up in pain and demand that some reparation be made.

Feelings are fragile things and they should never be left lying around for some random person to carelessly trip over them with some reckless word or deed.

Of course hurt feelings heal but they heal only to a certain extent, in fact, they heal only to the extent that you can guarantee that the same harm will not be inflicted again.

So when someone says sorry the brain has to convince our feelings that the apology is sincere and that the harm will not be repeated in future and that the remorse is genuine so that the emotional pain can subside.

But if you live with someone who never apologises for hurting your feelings, you begin to nurse a reservoir of pain and build a wall around your emotions with layers upon layers of resentment because feelings are fragile things.

I think the only thing worse than a person who never apologises when they’ve hurt your feelings is a person who apologises but doesn’t change his/her behaviour.

It is the apology without repentance that wounds the heart because it says that your feelings are inconsequential.

And many married women live with this kind of emotional torment every single day — pasting smiles on their faces to mask festering wounds in their souls.

I know this is true because of the many married men who have small houses and have no intention whatsoever of ever being faithful to their wives or even bothering to respect their marriage.

Feelings are fragile things and too many women live with men who just don’t care about the hurt they cause.

If the prevalence of small houses has taught us nothing, it has at the very least demonstrated that there is an abundance of unrepentant husbands prowling our streets and by extension there are too many wounded wives living in despair.

When someone hurts you, I think there are usually two options — you either fight or flee but when you’re married fleeing is a very frowned upon course of action and fighting is never recommended (because you have a physical disadvantage in that regard).

So married women are told to hold their tongue when their feelings are hurt, apparently keeping silent is the best foolproof marital elixir.

I doubt that pretending something doesn’t hurt and bottling up one’s feelings makes things better but I am open to being persuaded (since I don’t know it all) as to how having someone hurt your feelings and suffering in silence is supposed to make things better.

How does anyone decide that it’s okay for someone to trample all over your feelings, constantly humiliate you and be an endless source of pain to you?

There are many things I find to be outrageous but none of them is as outrageous as the idea that our lives are not within the ambit of our own control.

Your friends see a little clearer… sometimes

If you’ve ever been head over heels in love with a guy, you’ll admit that that guy became your blind spot. And sometimes the only thing standing between us and a horrible heartache-waiting-to-happen kind of relationship is the vigilance of good friends.

When you’re in love with someone (or you fancy them a lot), your emotions cloud your judgement and you need to have good friends whose judgement you can depend on when your own judgement is compromised. It’s easier said than done.

(pic from: forum.xcitefun)

Meeting a new person is great and when you really really like them – you want to make sure all the other important people in your life like him too. And what better way of making sure your friends approve of the new man in your life than to launch a massive marketing campaign in which you highlight how wonderful he is?

When they ask what he’s like, you’re going to be eager to paint a picture-perfect portrait of your newfound Romeo, and occasionally you may be tempted to oversell him. Because the truth is our real friends tend to be non-negotiable in our lives. We never want to find ourselves in a situation where we are forced to choose between our girlfriends and our new man.

So we are desperate to make sure the new man impresses our friends, charms and wins them over because their approval is like a badge we can proudly wear knowing that there are witnesses to our good fortune. We want to feel we’re lucky to have found this guy and we want our friends to validate our feelings.

(pic from: friendship quotes yorkshire rose)

And there is nothing inherently wrong with this, except in those times when we just happen to fall for the wrong guy or for the guy who’s just not right for you. You need your friends to have your back because they’ll be able to see what your blind spot prevents you from seeing. And to say what you don’t want to hear but what you may really NEED to hear.

Friends are good at looking out for us, especially when they know what’s going on with us. Here are few tips to help them spare you a little heartache. You’ll thank them one day.

1) Be frank. If you’re the one actively chasing him, you know there’s a problem right there but you can’t help your obsessiveness because you’re soooooo into him. Confess this to a friend and they’ll scold you out of acting so desperate.

2) Be vulnerable. The funny thing is we get very embarrassed to admit to our friends when we know there’s something dodgy about the guy we like because we know in their protectiveness our friends will work round the clock to pry our hearts out that man’s clutches. Have a little faith in your friends.

(pic from: forum.xcitefun)

3) Don’t mislead. Lying to our friends is not cool so in instances where we feel the truth might not serve our purpose (i.e. marketing the new guy) we go for half-truths. We don’t tell the whole story because we want our friends to see what a great guy he is. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because people’s true colours always get revealed eventually.

4) Don’t fake it. When we like a guy we over-exxagerate how great he is and how accomplished he is. We fake some social credentials to beef up his CV to our friends. Wrong move! Be vulnerable – your friends already know all the dumb shit you’ve ever done and they’ve watched you make a fool of yourself countless times so you can let your guard down. They can’t protect you if they’re ill-informed.

5) Confide. Don’t cover for him – its one of the worst judgement calls to make. Tell your friends what worries you about this guy. The things that just make you feel ill at ease. of course you’re welcome to pretend he is a saint but eventually you’re going to want complain about his faults anyway – you might as well come clean about the things you don’t like about him. Covering up for your man eventually leads to self-isolation and compromises your support system structure because no one really knows what’s going on with you and what you need them to help you through.

6) Trust. Your friends love you, they really care about you and your happiness is serious business to them. So don’t assume they will be out to diss your new man for the fun of it. Chances are they would all really rather see the good side of him for your sake. And they’ll make an effort to like him because you like him. Usually they’ll take your word about his character until they get know him for themselves and make independent (usually more balanced) judgements about him.

7) Don’t get defensive. Your friends know you and they will notice the change that new man brings in your life. They will see the transformations in your personality and priorities no matter how subtle they may be. And when the changes are good, they’ll be rooting for you and for him but if the changes are bad – don’t get defensive. Hear them out because they will never accuse him of being bad for you without the evidence to back it up.

Friends are good at gathering evidence and usually their main evidence is YOU and how you’ve changed. Every relationship changes you because every relationship requires some degree of behavioural modification that is specifically tailor-made for that particular new person who’s entered your life.

(pic from: friendship quotes and poems)

Not all friends will be able to look out for you because some of them don’t want to offend or hurt your feelings. And sometimes they just know you’re stubborn and figure the best way is to let you see for yourself what a loser this new guy is. But sometimes, friends do see a little clearer – trust their judgement. They may not know him like you do – but they sure as hell know YOU. They may not be authoritative sources when it comes to him but they are expert sources when it comes to YOU.

Of faith, marriage and baskets!

I just came across this article I wrote over 4 years ago; bright-eyed, eager and hopeful. I resisted the urge to edit it for fear that I may taint its sweet sentimentality with traces of the bile skepticism and cynicism that I have unfortunately picked up over the years.

Marriage is the highest form of faith.

It is the unrelenting faith in the potential and good inherent in another person. It is to open one’s eyes and accept the faults of another. It is to entrust to another that which you can least afford to gamble with – your heart.

Marriage is like a basket.

...ready to gamble? Don't let go of your end...and I'll hold on to mine.

It is the only basket that requires you to put all your eggs in it. Because if you hold on to some of them, you’ll need both hands to make sure they don’t break. And so, with two hands shielding some precious eggs, there’s none left to hold your end of the basket.

Marriage is when two people, who owe each other nothing; decide to owe each other everything. To spend their lives paying a debt they never incurred, because a marital relationship is the one interaction between two people with the greatest degree of intimacy, bonding, sacrifice and exposure.

Marriage is a culmination of the voluntary exposure of two beings, who strip themselves naked in every possible way, physically, emotionally, mentally and share their deepest and most vulnerable thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears and dreams.

I suppose that is why losing a spouse is as good as losing an integral part of your life, because marriage intertwines two people’s destinies into one.

Marriage meshes and interweaves the goals and aspirations of two people into one – they become a team, supporting, defending, caring for and loving one another. They both sacrifice their energy, material and emotional resources and time to improve one another.

I guess that’s where faith comes in.

To believe that the other party will not go back on their promise. To believe the other person will keep their end of the bargain. To believe the other person won’t just let go of their end of the basket and smash every one of your eggs.

There are no guarantees.

Life is a journey... question is: are you gonna walk alone?

Just the hope that things will work out. Just the hope the other won’t stumble and crush some of the eggs. Marriage is the highest form of faith.

Because we know God is faithful, but men at times are not.
But still we believe we can beat the odds and find a perfect partner.

For if we never keep the faith alive, then we’ll never place our eggs in a basket. We’ll carry them in our hands, walk the journey of life in solitude, fearing to stumble because we’ll lose the eggs we’re clinging on to.

Rather we carry this basket together – you and I.

If I should stumble, forgive me for the crime of being human. And believe in me, in my good intention not in my wrong-doing. And if you stumble, may I be strong enough to still believe in you and I. To have enough faith to hold on to my end of the basket. So that at least, some of our eggs remain.

This basket is ours – you and I.

In it we’ve placed so many eggs: we’ve invested our time, our emotional resources, our passion, our aspirations, our dreams, our hopes and also our faith.

I believe in you, but more than that; I believe in who you can become.

An error is when one does what is not in their nature, when they act out of character. I know when you stumble, it ‘s not because it’s natural for you to stumble; it is only because it’s natural to err.

So I’m holding on to this basket, we’ve carried through so many trials and hardships.

At times you’ve had to carry it alone, when I was too weak to hold on, too hurt to be strong and too afraid to believe.

But I believe in you and I.

I believe you are the one, the only one I want to stumble with, to conquer with in the duel of life.

Marriage is the highest form of faith.

I’ve got enough faith to see us through a lifetime, may you have enough faith to hold on lest I should stumble.