The Transforming Power of Ideas

“No army can withstand an idea whose time has come.”

Victor Hugo penned those words in 1852. I can imagine him sitting in a sparse room in France, elbows resting on a large wooden desk, fingers blackened with ink from his quill with a candle close by, just offering enough flickering light to illuminate his page but casting the rest of the room in ominous darkness. Although more than 50 years removed from the French Revolution the power of ideas and their ability to overthrow any oppressor would have still been imprinted on those who bore witness, Hugo included.

The veracity of these words has been tested. History can attest to that. Well documented accounts of tyrants, despots, dictators, oppressors and destroyers of ideas, abound. These men, and even some women, have used their strength, of body and mind, to rise to the top and stay there. Their armies have been used and their people have been bruised. All to suppress ideas.

But armies die and tyrants are relegated to the pages of history and all that remains in their ashes are ideas, left to rise up like the mythical Phoenix.

161 years after Hugo’s infinite wisdom was put to paper we no longer fear the tyrants he was fighting. The tyrants of our day, however, still fear the same ideas: freedom, justice, the rule of law and above all, the power of each and every individual to make a difference.

As I sit at my wooden desk, not in France but in Harare, my fingers not clutching a ink-soaked quill but moving freely over a keyboard, I am writing about the same surviving ideas that Hugo held so dear. And I am not alone.

Zimbabwe has been held hostage. For the past 33 years it has felt the fist of one man repeatedly come crashing down upon it. It has bent, it has buckled and it has come perilously close to breaking but it holds on. In 2008 the country suffered through the flames of violence, of oppression, of fraud and of a government who cared more about self-preservation than of upholding sacred ideas. It has wallowed in its own ash for five years. Ideas that were crushed and pounded into submission have been simmering and just like the phoenix, are ready to burst forth in glorious power, revealing its true strength. If only people are brave. For an idea cannot come to fruition without bravery. Without a brave people, an idea’s time cannot come.

Tomorrow Zimbabweans will vote. It will be a truly historic event no matter the outcome. The only difference will be in which annals of history it will be kept; in tragedy or victory?

I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies, V for Vendetta. It is a story about the power of ideas and their ability to overthrow any oppressor. The similarities to present day Zimbabwe are too much to ignore. In this particular scene, one of the main protagonists, V, makes a speech. He says:

“There are those who do not want us to speak… But why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning and for those who listen, the enunciation of truth. The truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression, and where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have sensors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity…”

Today, new allegations of rigging and fraud in regards to Zimbabwe’s electoral system were brought to light. Tribal leaders have been said to have received incentives to force their villagers to vote a certain way. Mass communication has been tampered with and mass SMS messaging has been cut off completely. Riot police are mobilizing all over the country, truncheons firmly in hand.

No one know’s what will happen. Things have remained peaceful to date but with strong tensions left simmering it will not take much to tip the balance and send the whole country hurtling once again into flame. But there is hope. There is always hope. Hope that tomorrow the sun will rise and a people will wake up feeling brave. Bravery does not come easy, or cheap. It can be downright painful. But bravery is what an idea needs to survive, and thrive.

And we all know what can happen when an idea’s time has come.

Until next time!




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