JG - The tragedy of Zimbabwe
The tragedy of Zimbabwe
published: Sunday May 4, 2008
Ian Boyne, Contributor
"An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or black against white". - Robert Mugabe, 1980.
If only that African dictator Robert Mugabe could internalise those words of his, uttered on the eve of independence in 1980, we might have been spared all that canard about "Western colonialism and imperialism," which has been used to mask his naked oppression of his fellow black people in that tragic land of Zimbabwe.
Fortunately, through one of the relics of British colonialism - a competitive electoral system - the people of Zimbabwe might have the opportunity to be rid of him after 28 years. Mugabe's rape of his people and his squandering of their opportunity for liberation provide a sad reminder of the colossal failure of the post-independence leaders of Africa, who are distinguished more by their kleptocracy and autocracy than by any democratic impulse.
The country has sunken
Morgan Tsvangirai, whom all indications show has won over Mugabe in the recent elections, might not turn out to be vastly different from Mugabe, but there are inducements which can be given by the United States, Europe and the Commonwealth which would make life easier for the Zimbabwean people.
Mugabe has sunk Zimbabwe from the fastest-growing African country in 1997, with some of the richest farmland in Africa, to a country where, incredibly, inflation now runs at 165,000 - the highest on the globe. GDP has shrunk by over 45 per cent since 1998 and 80 per cent of Zimbabweans are jobless. The country has moved from one which used to be a net exporter of maize, cotton, tobacco, roses and sugar cane to one which exports "only its educated professionals" as the Atlantic Monthly puts it in an article titled "How to kill a Country" (December 2003). More than one-third of all of Zimbabwe's 13 million population now need food assistance.
More alarmingly, life expectancy has dropped from 61 years in 1990 to 37 for men and 34 for women in 2006. And UNICEF estimates that well over one million Zimbabwean children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Mugabe's disastrous economic policies, exacerbated by his misguided policy of expropriating the land of white landowners, have plunged the country into ever-deepening crisis, complete with his autocratic and criminal rule. The manufacturing sector has almost ground to a halt and gold producers are operating below one-fifth of capacity.
The private sector has been crippled by Mugabe's plans to indigenise 51 per cent of major commercial enterprises. Price controls and other failed economic strategies of the dogmatic Left have guaranteed the ruination of the economy.
Over three million Zimbabweans are estimated to have fled the country, many to neighbouring South Africa. Zimbabwe now needs to be liberated from the man who liberated it from white racist rule. And yet, there are still progressives who feel honour-bound to defend Mugabe against his "Western detractors". In their view, the Zimbabwean economy has been wrecked by the British colonialists and the US imperialists in retaliation over the take over of land owned by white people. The Zimbabwean revolution was going well until the colonialists and imperialists sought to punish Mugabe for exercising his sovereignty.
This kind of mindless, supposed Pan-Africanism and African nationalism can be seen in the magazine New African which, in its May 2008 edition ("Zimbabwe on a knife-edge"), continues the myth-making. Says the main article written by someone reporting from the front lines in Zimbabwe: "The trick has always been to gradually wear down the people of a targeted country via economic hardships and thus push them slowly towards an imaginary 'tipping point' from where they will kick against the government. The tipping point has been almost reached in Zimbabwe and the results of the 29 March elections were just a reflection and confirmation of that fact. In other words, the people voted with their stomach".
Parallels are then drawn with Chile, though the writer noted - apparently with some relief - that in the case of Mugabe he "still managed to hang on and split the vote 50-50 with the opposition", while managing to keep his life, unlike Allende.
Mugabe had been saying since 2000, when he began his forced expropriation of the land of white landowners, that the British were working to overthrow him and that they were funding the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The New African magazine quotes foreign minister Dr Stanley Mudenge as being told by former British foreign secretary, the late Robin Cook : "Stan, you must get rid of Bob (Mugabe)" The magazine says the Zimbabwean foreign minister was shocked. But Cook reportedly went on: "You heard me right. You guys must get rid of Bob". Mudenge then said something which is very significant and which is the sentiment of many in the progressive movement: "So long as you want him out, we want him in."
Cook then told him, according to the report: "Don't say we didn't warn you. If you don't get rid of Bob, what will hit you will make your people stone you in the streets!" And then New African ends, "Cook's words nearly came to pass on 29 March!"
Africans, who have suffered under the cruel and tyrannical hands of the white colonialists, and the progressives throughout the world, who have understood how Western imperialism has suffocated the lives of large numbers of people, have to find a way around a knee-jerk support for dictators with black faces and those with an anti-Western posture. That you are anti-colonialist and an anti-imperialist does not give you the right to oppress people, deny them freedom of association and freedom of expression.
This is why I have always maintained that Cuba must stand condemned, despite its impressive human development indices, because of its denial of civil liberties and human rights. Man shall not live by bread (or cassava!) alone. For too long the "anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist" flag has been waved as a distraction from the brutal oppression of the masses by the criminal and corrupt class of political leaders.
And, too often, they have carried out their atrocities under the shield of "territorial integrity" and "national sovereignty". What gives political leaders the right to oppress and commit crimes against people simply because they are locked up in borders over which they have political control? The debate which is raging in international law and politics over the Westphalian notions of sovereignty and "non-interference in the internal affairs of states", as opposed to "the responsibility to protect" people in the global commons from human rights abuses must continue - for the good of humanity.
Countries have signed international treaties and conventions and they must live up to them or face punitive actions from the international community. The African Union has been impotent in dealing with the barbarities of African countries, because of the legalism over territorial integrity and sovereignty. Mbeki has been engaging in quiet diplomacy for a long time, while Mugabe continues his plunder of people's rights and to murder his opponents.
There is too much hypocrisy and double-standards among African leaders and progressives when it comes to principles. For many, it is not the principles themselves which are sacrosanct but which side happens to be espousing them.
If the United States and other Western countries do certain things or behave in a certain way, then they are wrong and must be condemned, but it is okay if our friends and ideological allies do those very same things.
As the International Herald Tribune says in its April 17th edition ('The Silence of Mbeki'), Despite the fact that in late 2007 Mbeki presided over secret negotiations between Mugabe and the Zimbabwean opposition on a new constitution which included major reforms and democratic safeguards, Mugabe rejected Mbeki's efforts and conducted the elections under the old constitution. (And he still does not want to give up power though he has lost on all counts.)
Says the International Herald Tribune: "Mbeki's refusal to condemn Mugabe and lead a regional diplomatic front to pressure him to honour the vote - either by holding a fair runoff or stepping down - is particularly disappointing because he and other anti-apartheid activists condemned Western countries for precisely that sort of softball diplomacy during the 1980s. When the African National Congress called for universal suffrage and sanctions against the apartheid regime, the Reagan Administration, instead, pursued a gradual policy of 'constructive engagement'". And that, of course, was condemned.
Says the Council on Foreign Relations October, 2007, report titled Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, "Many within Zimbabwe and in the international community had pinned their hopes on the South African Government for effective international action to help resolve Zimbabwe's crisis. South Africa has leverage as Zimbabwe's most significant trading partner and is a major supplier of electricity to Zimbabwe. But its policy of 'quiet diplomacy' has been a loud failure to the Zimbabwean masses."
China also has been propping up the Zimbabwean dictatorship, being birds of one feather in terms of sharing a common authoritarian ideology. (In the midst of the Zimbabwean terror, China recently shipped more arms to Mugabe.)
Zimbabwe's sadness is shared by many of us. I remember sitting close to Mugabe, the African freedom fighter, in the canteen of the then Agency for Public Information (now JIS) in the 1970s when he was brought here by Michael Manley. He spoke passionately of his desire to liberate his people from white oppression and to bring a new day to Zimbabwe. That day has turned into a nightmare under his misrule.
Many of us might recoil from the right-wing vituperation of George Ayittey, distinguished economist at American University, set forth in his 481-page book, Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa's Future.
But we can't go on blaming all of Africa's ills on colonialism and imperialism. That would be a cruel disservice to the people who have to live under the tyranny and corruption of some in the African political class.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist who may be reached at email@example.com