How can legal research ever reflect what you see on the ground and hear people say in far, far away places? I wonder how I can communicate in words, adequately, things that are so cultural and embedded that you can only observe them with your eyes wide open and you can only see them if you have lived an aware life.
My research concerns stock exchanges in Africa. They have them and they are cool. They raise money, privatise companies, resolve disputes and even have trouble with fraud. While Africa is an awesome place, the raison d’être for my thesis is that I love exchanges-wherever they exist. This is important to state outright. Americans have a singular relationship with Africa and it is a long way away from thinking about stock exchanges.
My research does not focus on the Zim stock exchange directly but uses it as a contrast to what is happening in East Africa, which is my focus and equally cool but for other reasons. This year I went to Zimbabwe at the height of the cholera epidemic and not because I thrill seek. I just have a healthy disbelief of things journalists say. They serve a purpose in society, but it isn’t always to tell the truth.
I met my varungu friend there and he showed me a country that is gorgeous and vibrant. I met very many happy people who were out having lunch or taking care of kids, selling their tomatoes or having a beer. It just was not the tragic place described by the press. There is a sense of impending doom but I could never tell if this was reality or my overactive Southern California imagination.
We travelled in a Land Rover, far and wide, from Harare to Chimanimani and back. I almost died due to a gully or two. There is a strong sense of history-of happier (wealthier) times as well as of strife and oppression. What struck me the most is how deeply, deeply, he loved this place. He stayed in Zim for a reason and not because he could not join the Diaspora and this was significant. I wanted my posh American and English friends to visit and travel with him and appreciate the mountains and trees and understand what happened here. Not so that they would donate to the nearest charity, or adopt a baby, but because it would make them see and hear and feel. That is, of course, a luxury, but one that exists in my part of the world.
There is a great deal of talk at academic conferences about not romanticising the local. I have not tried to sell Shona art where I live-yet. I do want, however, my research to reflect the local.
Otherwise, what use is it?
Legally, Zimbabwe is peculiar and fascinating. It chooses to disregard SADC Tribunal rulings on land ownership and is soon embarking on the creation of a new constitution while the Unity government struggles.
I do not pretend to understand Zim, but I see it.