Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for April, 2007

Mugabe heads East

Posted by CM on April 4, 2007

There is a report today that Mugabe has gone on a few days’ “private visit” somewhere in Asia. The report is accompanied by the usual hopeful speculation that he may be ill and has gone to seek urgent medical attention.

Whatever the reason for the trip, the symbolism is vintage Mugabe. In the last few weeks that he has gloatingly approved the recent orgy of violence against the opposition there have been mountains written about how this time he may have gone too far and may finally be on his way out. There have been un-substantiated reports of an alleged coup, rumours of plots against him within his own ranks have been rife, and so on and do forth.

Whatever else this trip is, it is a way of Mugabe thumbing his nose at the world. It is his way of saying, “I know many of you cannot stand me, but I am confidently here and in your face, what are you going to do about it?” By seeming to nonchalantly travel abroad when many observers say he is at his weakest and most insecure, he sends a message that he is calm and very much in control.

Love him or hate him, unless and until he finally falls, his play-acting symbolism is brilliant.

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The tragedy in Zimbabwe is not for sale

Posted by CM on April 3, 2007

Sometime in mid-March there were two articles in the Botswana paper Mmegi that really got Zimbabwean journalist Tanonoka Joseph Whande fuming. He summarises and responds to them with guns blazing :

African journalists and politicians have always complained about foreign journalists who are dispatched to cover an African country they know little about and return to base with a story. The results were always skewed reports, slanted views of reality and a severe distortion of what was really going on in that particular country.

Thus I was totally flabbergasted to read, in the Mmegi / Monitor (March 2, 2007), two facile and painfully simplistic, not to mention insulting, interpretations of the tragedy in Zimbabwe. Making it worse is that these two obnoxious articles were written not just by Africans but by Batswana, who are our very own people, our neighbours.

Someone, identifying himself as a Mmegi ‘correspondent’, drove, for the very first time, to some obscure place near Bulawayo, bought some beers and drove back to Botswana the very same day. From this half-day-long excursion, the enlightened correspondent concluded that Zimbabwe is “a nation of hopeless drunks.”

“The whites’ hatred of Comrade Bob,” the young pioneer continued, “came as a result of his views on homosexuality and land re-distribution.” Is that all? This from someone
who, a month ago, stepped on Zimbabwean soil for the first time in his life and only for a couple of hours?

Whande is a lucid, excellent writer and he is just getting warmed up :

In the same edition of The Monitor (March 12, 2007), a pathetic victim, or is it admirer, of Mugabe’s murderous psyche wants us to blame Tony Blair and George Bush for Mugabe’s heinous crimes and his abuse of unarmed civilians. I declare myself astounded. The man calls my heartless and cruel president “Africa’s bravest liberation warrior in modern times.” I wonder how much bravery it takes to starve old grannies and to manhandle women and children.

I know who killed my grandma and who torched my chicken run; it was not Tony Blair. I know why there is no food on the shelves and I don’t blame it on George Bush, with all his faults. I know why, in Zimbabwe, there is no Mazoe Orange, our very own proud brand, but there is plenty of it in Botswana supermarkets.

“Mugabe,” wrote a dreamer who woke up late, “is unselfishly fighting for the liberation of Africa and its long suffering people.” What blabber dash! Apparently, for this ‘bravest liberation warrior in modern times’ to liberate Africa, he first has to kill and maim his own people. To liberate Africa, Mugabe has to ravage the economy and strip his own people of the freedoms and liberties that he wants to bestow on Africa. To achieve glory for Africa, Mugabe must refuse to listen to his own handpicked judiciary and shame law and order that he wants to install elsewhere in Africa. Get out of here!

Can you feel Whande’s rage pouring out of his fingers as he pounds on the keyboard of his computer? Phew, this man can express himself!

I am an African, a Zimbabwean, and have a culture to subscribe to. With more than half a century of life under successive white regimes and decades of horror under a son of Africa, I refuse to believe that there is decent black person in any country who sings praises to homicidal ‘Afrikan liberators.’ I refuse to accept that in this day of cyber communication, there is a real African that can look at hundreds of orphans, maimed men, women and children in Zimbabwe and blame the victims, telling those children they deserved what they got.

How, really, can any person sing praises about Mugabe? Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, he says, are traitors. And those in Botswana and elsewhere? Just how much money can buy a soul? What is going on in Zimbabwe is painful for all the people, whether or not they support Mugabe.

Regardless of who is at fault, Zimbabwe’s situation must not be trivialized or prostituted for a quick cheque. It is not a laughing matter. People are dying. With all Mugabe’s faults or perceived successes, our government is finding it difficult to care for its own people. And that is very tragic indeed. Arrogance (because of rejection) and frustration (because of failure) are causing untold misery and deaths. This is a tragedy, not a comedy to be parodied for a little cash. Zimbabwe is in distress.

Anything I might add would be completely inadequate, so I won’t. This masterpiece speaks for itself.

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‘Ghosts of change’ : Gamal Nkrumah on Mugabe

Posted by CM on April 3, 2007

Writing in an Egyptian periodical, with an Egyptian first name and a Ghanaian last name, I am guessing Gamal Nkrumah is the son of the late Ghanaian “founding father,” Kwame Nkrumah with his Egyptian wife.

Nkrumah is clearly sympathetic to Mugabe but makes grudging admissions that he has a rather blemished record, to put it mildly. “It seems that his principal crime is that he expropriated white-owned land,” says Nkrumah of Mugabe.

At another point in his essay in Al Ahram, after mentioning how the Zimbabwean economy “is in shambles,” Nkrumah rhetorically asks, “Who, however, is to blame? The West points an accusing finger at Mugabe, who is systematically portrayed as a veritable ‘bête noir’ in the Western media. It is a calculating move, and nothing short of character assassination. After all, he legitimised African civil rights, including the right to own and farm the most fertile lands of the country that in the past were the exclusive preserve of the European settler minority. At least he will go down in history as having smashed the phalanx of racial prejudice.”

Continues Nkrumah, “Zimbabwe is a democracy where political, religious and civic groups have political clout. However much the West tarnishes Mugabe’s image, his stature is quite high in Africa, and few African leaders would dare say a bad word about him. Indeed, they can hardly criticise Mugabe since many of them also habitually beat up boorish opposition figures. It would be a case of the kettle calling the pot black.”

” The beatings may have a practical purpose, but they do Mugabe’s image no good,” writes Nkrumah. “But there are risks in a situation in which all opposition politicians owe their positions to foreign intervention or the moral and financial backing of the European settler minority.”

Perhaps with his pedigree it is understandable that Nkrumah would have as hard a time as his article betrays in acknowledging that Mugabe has “betrayed the revolution.” Many of the criticisms of how Mugabe seemingly started well and then lost it, drunk with power lust, have been made against Ghana’s founding president, Gamal’s father.

We will have made progress when fighting for social and economic justice in peace time is not considered to be license for a government to brutally suppress the very people on whose behalf it claims to be fighting for that justice! Nkrumah seems more worried about the self-inflicted injury to Mugabe’s image caused by the internationally publicised images of police beatings, than he is at the abrogation of citizens’ rights to peacefully protest. “The beatings may have had a practical purpose,” my ass!

Nkrumah is right, however, when he implies that African leaders whose countries and records are not as much under the spotlight of Western attention may for the most part be not much better at respecting civil liberties than Mugabe. The present-day Mugabe is particularly easy for the West to hate and demonize, and not necessarily just for reasons of how he is trampling on his people.

As for “legitimising African civil rights,” why does “the right to own and farm the most fertile lands of the country” have to be at the expense of the right to political affiliation and protest? Is it a case of one or the other right, but not both at the same time?And what does it mean to have “stature” based on an anti-colonial history and stance, when you now show utter contempt for the people you helped “liberate?”

Mugabe’s “stature” has for too long been based on nothing more than being able to so well articulate the many resentments of the African world. Those resentments may be widely and deeply held, but looking for never-ending forms of emotional release for them is not enough.

“Stature” must be earned on the basis of more concrete achievements than being able to humiliate and dispossess “the white settlers” and hurl abuse at George Bush and Tony Blair. It would be one thing if this kind of juvenile “stature” was accompanied by an improvement of the situation of Zimbabweans. But when it comes at the cost of their material well being and dignity, to hell with this kind of “stature!”

It is time for stature based on achievement and progress, not on resentment and wallowing in self-pity over the past.

Chido Makunike

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Peter Godwin on ‘showing Mugabe the door’

Posted by CM on April 3, 2007

Peter Godwin gets an opportunity to give his perspective on how hard it is proving to be for those who would like to see Mugabe gone in the NYTimes of April 3. Once again we see a high-profile author writing in a high-profile medium about “the Zimbabwe crisis,” but saying absolutely nothing new.

Godwin gives a chronology of Mugabe’s violent streak and how the West for much of his reign found it convenient to ignore it, as it has done with so many other despots. Basically the article is a hand-wringing exercise about how few options the West has against a Mugabe they detest so strongly. “Zimbabwe lacks the two exports necessary to interest the United States in direct intervention: oil and terrorism,” he writes.

He limp-wristedly closes with : “The real key to the Zimbabwe stalemate is to be found in South Africa, which has an economic choke hold on its landlocked northern neighbor.But thus far, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has refused to do anything about Mr. Mugabe. His policy of “quiet diplomacy” has, in truth, been a silent one. And he has paid a high price for such tacit support of Mr. Mugabe, whose embarrassing exploits ensured that Mr. Mbeki’s much-vaunted African Renaissance was stillborn.”

South Africa under Mbeki has repeatedly said they are not going to exert any economic, political or military pressure on Mugabe and there is absolutely no reason to doubt them. They have scrupulously remained faithful to that pledge, even when many think it is harming their own interests. However misguided many observers, including myself, believe Mbeki’s “solidarity” with Mugabe is, that very solidarity means Mbeki is only inclined to resist western pressure to “do something about Mugabe” even more. There is simply no way in which Mbeki can be seen to be bowing to US or British pressure to take a stronger line against Mugabe and still “save face” in Africa.

Surely Godwin must know this. Any analysis that does not take off from an acceptance of this reality does not help us to understand the situation better, or contribute much to ideas on how to move forward out of it to the western audience Godwin addresses with his article.

Chido Makunike

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The two-toed people of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on April 2, 2007

I stumbled across this account about a group of two-toed people in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe. Their condition is said to result from a known genetic condition called ‘ectrodactyly,’ in which the middle three toes on each foot are missing.

I will not reproduce the whole article here…(full article)

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Work stay-aways as a political strategy

Posted by CM on April 2, 2007

I have always had mixed feelings about work stay-aways like the latest one announced for this week. Being the owner of a business in Msasa for several years, I always respected them, even though it was difficult to gauge if they achieved anything. The workers rarely had any strong feelings in support of them either, although many of those who walked to Msasa from Epworth would be scrupulous about “staying away” because of what they said were pro-stay away “ushers” who prevented them from joining the usual caravans of people walking to walk. The intimidation seemed to get stronger with each stay-away.

As I recall, part of the problem was that few people really understood what was hoped to be achieved by the work stoppages. In this particular case I understand it is the very understandable and reasonable protest against inflation and wages that don’t come anywhere near keeping up with inflation of close to 1800%. Certainly, unofficially it is also a peaceful, generalized expression of extreme unhappiness with the overall management of the country.

I am more forgiving of this stay-away than I have been of previous ones because if successful, it is a dignified way for people to “speak” their unhappiness by with holding their labour, a respected form of protest in most countries. Any more active forms of protest are brutally put down, as we have graphically seen in the last few weeks. But such a mild form of protest can only appeal to the conscience of a ruling authority that has one. This is not the case in Zimbabwe. There have been reports during previous stay-aways of people being beaten up in their homes for not being up and about during business hours!

Perhaps as a letting off of steam it is better than nothing, but it is difficult to conceive of anything positive coming out of it even if it is “successful.” In the beginning stay-ways had some symbolic significance by showing the level of dis-enchantment of the people with their rulers, but this is now widely known by both those rulers and by the world.

Paradoxically, people may be beaten for staying away, but they are also beaten for being out on the streets protesting! It is not the nature of the protest action that invites a heavy-handed response, but daring to protest in any fashion. But I think the Mugabe government is past caring if people choose to stay at home than be at work. It is beyond being moved by the daily economic loss to the country of lost production and such technical arguments.

Also, if the stay-away was “successful” not just in terms of large numbers not going to work, but say by the extremely unlikely event of the government agreeing to inflation-pegged wage demands, what then? Have another stay-away next month when the new wages have been gobbled up by hyper-inflation?

If the stay-away achieves anything, even just any measurable symbolic victory, I would say “more power to you.” Given the pressure-cooker that Zimbabwe is today, any ventilating in which people are not abused or killed is welcome. In normal countries it would be considered ordinary, normal to have a raucous, stone-throwing demonstration, so a mild form of protest like a work stoppage is not much to ask for, although given the taste for brutality we have seen in Zimbabwe, I could be proven wrong.

But the biggest danger of these symbolic gestures is that when they repeatedly fail to achieve anything, people become more disillusioned and less inclined to participate in any future actions.

Chido Makunike

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Not yet Uhuru for Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on April 2, 2007

Are things at a “tipping point” for Zimbabwe’s defiant but embattled Robert Mugabe? This question has been asked repeatedly in the last few weeks. Most who have attempted to answer this question have given some variation of “yes.”

But whether the violence of the last few weeks represents a watershed in the country’s politics will only really become clear in hindsight, perhaps years after major change has taken place, whatever form it may take. The feelings against Mugabe are so strong in many quarters at home and abroad that many are too eager to believe that some ill-defined “tipping point” has been reached.

Certainly the last few week’s shocking events are seminal in Zimbabwe’s deterioration over the last several years. Just when we think things cannot get any worse politically or economically, like clock work they have. So I don’t question that we will always look back at this period as a particularly big step on the way down. Whether it can be seen positively in the sense that the sooner we hit bottom, the faster we can start climbing back up, I am not at all sure.

Western commentators and journalists, particularly of the British variety, are simply generally too blind in their enraged hate of Mugabe to ask and answer the “tipping point” question dispassionately. Many of us Zimbabweans may also be too desperately eager for change to look at this neutrally.

Here is an analysis from Siphamandla Zondi with the Institute for Global Change in South Africa : “My view is that it is just another level in the continuing deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe that started as far back as the beginning of the 1990’s when you had massive student uprisings and workers picketing all over the place…so I see this as just a logical step in the continued consolidation of state power and the use of state
power to stifle opposition and discontent. Just another symptom of a state that feels pushed into a corner. That is frustrated. That is in panic. That treats everything as some kind of a political ploy from some big brother somewhere,” he says.

Is the opposition a true threat to President Mugabe? Zondi says, “We have to accept that it is not yet the tipping point. It’s not yet the beginning of a collapse, the beginning of a crisis. It’s certain not so for a number of reasons. One is that the ruling party is still well entrenched in Zimbabwe politics…and is assisted by the failure, dismal failure of the opposition to build its base and use it to launch an alternative in Zimbabwe.”

He says that external pressure won’t work on Mugabe until there’s a strong, united opposition that can challenge the ruling ZANU-PF party in rural areas and in ZANU-PF strongholds. That opposition needs the support of SADC, the Southern African Development Community.

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Probably not what many of us want to hear, but it is hard to fault the man’s logic.

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Why Africans are apathetic about bad governance

Posted by CM on April 2, 2007

Here is an interesting thesis by Charles Onyango-Obbo, a managing editor at Kenya’s Nation Media Group:

An observer of the goings-on in Africa called from the US to ask me a tough question : “Why is it,” he wanted to know, “that African strongmen tend to seem more powerful and entrenched at the point when their political record is at its worst?” It had always puzzled him, he said, because at the point when African residents are presiding over flourishing economies and therefore have the money and groceries with which they can buy support, they also seem to be weak.

But when they turn their countries into a shambles, with inflation soaring close to 1,800 per cent as in Zimbabwe and nothing to bribe their people with, everyone seems helpless to remove them. Today, the Zimbabwean government cannot maintain the army and police in the style hey are accustomed to, yet they are more zealous in cracking the skulls of the opposition than when life was better.

East Africa offers some answers. In the bad old days of military ruler Idi Amin in Uganda, for example, we learnt that when an economy collapses, the few parts of it that are still working are almost always in the hands of regime officials and supporters. The opposition supporters have nothing, and therefore they can’t fund anti-government politics. The opposition needs an economy that is doing well to thrive, which is the lesson we glean from Kenya today.

The only problem with that is that there may not be enough anger, because things aren’t bad enough, to cause enough people to kick the government out at elections. And by the time matters are bad enough and there is sufficient anger, there is no economic infrastructure to support rivals.

A situation where people have nothing, however, is fertile for armed rebellion. Therefore, if people don’t take up arms or resort to drawn-out street action (as in Kenya during Daniel arap Moi’s rule), then the strongman will survive. Militant action brings results (though not always) partly because there is a limit to how long policemen on empty stomachs can chase demonstrators around, or hungry soldiers can dig in against rebels.

It might give us another explanation for the apathy of many Africans in the face of bad government. There is a view that peoples who have endured the long and painful history of slavery, which then gave way to colonialism, have a strong tendency toward self-preservation. For that reason, of all the people in the world the African is the least likely to be a suicide bomber. An offshoot of this is that many of us cannot easily be persuaded to put our necks on the line and die in the process, in the hope that the lives of our children will be better.

Moreover, one senses that because a lot of the liberation wars and “people power” revolutions that have swept corrupt and brutal old-style governments out of Africa in the past 20 years have failed to bring a better life, the distrust of politics among ordinary people has grown deeper.

Where the line between the good and bad guys is fuzzy, it is always the bad guys, like Mugabe, who benefit.

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As interesting as Onyango-Obbo’s ideas are, they do not explain why, using the case of Zimbabwe, people were able to overcome their strong sense of preservation and take part in a brutal armed conflict against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. But his overall point may still be valid : the collective societal remembrance of the brutality of the war may very well account for Zimbabweans’ extreme reluctance to slide back towards anything similar. This is particularly so when the Mugabe government has gone out of its way to show it would not only be willing to use any measures against protest, but may even be itching, eager to do so.

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Can Zimbabwe destroy its agriculture and still develop its economy?

Posted by CM on April 2, 2007

I spend much of my professional time searching for, reading, analyzing and disseminating news of agricultural developments in Africa. There are immense problems but I am pleased to say that there is also tremendous agricultural progress being made all over Africa. The picture is far from as bleak as is often portrayed, particularly in the western media.There are exceptions to this encouraging picture of hope. I regret to say that my own beloved homeland, Zimbabwe, is one of the exceptions. I know only too well how hard Zimbabweans work, how agriculture is deeply ingrained in the culture. And I don’t just mean subsistence agriculture either. The agricultural model of huge, intensely mono-cropped farm estates may have been fairly recently introduced (in the last several decades), but even at the small-scale level, farming both for family food security and extra to sell has always been a way of life as well as a source of pride.

I stumbled across this fascinating article by Peter Timmer entitled “Why Zimbabwe  cannot leap-frog agriculture,” in which he asks whether it is possible for Zimbabwe to make any significant progress without the large-scale commercial farming sector which it has all but destroyed carefully, deliberately and piece by piece since 2000. I think this article should be required reading for every Zimbabwean, regardless of how “unsexy” a subject agriculture may be. It should certainly be read and filed by all politicians.

The article is short and jargon-free, but for those without the stomach for the original,
here’s a distillation : He starts off by playing a game in which destroying agriculture was not the by-product of the Mugabe government’s campaign against the MDC-supporting
white commercial farmers, but was a deliberate effort by that government to no longer
have the economy dependent on agriculture. The supposition is that the country would
be in a position to import all its food needs by engaging in more foreign-currency lucrative activities that would make it possible to do this. I know this sounds absurd now, given the fact that for many years we have struggled to import basic things like fuel, when many poorer countries have not had a fuel crisis, but let us indulge Timmer and play along with him – he is making an important point to the future of Zimbabwe, after the current madness is over and we are ready to rebuild.

He answers his own rhetorical question with,” Historically, the answer is clear. No country has been able to sustain a rapid transition out of poverty without raising productivity in its agricultural sector (with the special exceptions of Hong Kong and Singapore.) A dynamic agriculture raises labour productivity in the rural economy, pulls up wages, and gradually eliminates the worst dimensions of absolute poverty.”

This lays the foundation for other kinds of growth, paradoxically eventually making agriculture less important as other more lucrative opportunities become more sustainably available to the population. He say, “Ten years ago, Zimbabwe seemed headed down that path of sustainable development.”

He continues, “Viewed from this historical perspective, Zimbabwe now seems to be making a tragic mistake by destroying its commercial agriculture. Not only is the country no longer the bread basket of Africa, it is dependent on increasingly skeptical donors for food aid to feed its own people.”

He goes on to talk about how Zimbabwe’s unique experience of self-destruction will be pored over by development economists for the lessons it provides to the world. Timmer says the Zimbabwean “experiment” at destroying commercial agriculture and trying to replace it with communal agriculture “is likely to end badly,” an understatement if I ever heard one! It seems to me that we have gone way beyond the “experiment” stage to the harsh, frightening reality of economic decay and hunger.He ends by saying Zimbabwe’s is a story of the economic and other effects of “tragic political miscalculation.”

It is fascinating to me that this kind of very relevant discussion of Zimbabwe’s experience, and its lessons for the country’s reconstruction phase, is being carried out thousands of miles away by some American, instead of pre-occupying the thoughts and time of the politicians in Zimbabwe, as well as of all those Zimbabweans who spend time so much time discussing their country’s future. It is by deliberating on “unsexy” issues like these, not those that so often pre-occupy us, that eventual reconstruction in Zimbabwe will depend.

Chido Makunike

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What I learned in Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on April 2, 2007

Despite the volumes that are written about Zimbabwe all over the world every day, there is surprisingly little that is new. Everybody seems in a mad frenzy to repeat what everybody else has already said, and what passes for analysis is often speculative, wishful thinking.

I find that as a trawl through the mountains of daily Zimbabwe news to just keep up with what is happening at home, some of the most interesting articles I read are the impressions of ordinary, non-journalist visitors there. The following, by a briefly visiting South African, is not particularly deep or analytical, but it has a refreshing, humane honesty and poignancy.

He marvels at the juxtaposition of extreme poverty and opulence in Victoria Falls. He writes about how surreal it was to enjoy an excellent safari experience while knowing that in other parts the country was crumbling. He wonders which is “the real Zimbabwe.” He does not wrap up his article with a summary lesson as his title “what I learned in Zimbabwe” promises, but it is a good read about the bizarre co-existence of the normal and the abnormal in Zimbabwe.

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