Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

An alternative explanation of the Zimbabwean situation

Posted by CM on August 1, 2007

by Chido Makunike

The Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG) is a Canadian group that describes itself as a non profit organization and “an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists.”

It’s website recently featured a fascinating article by one Brendan Stone entitled “Zimbabwe’s Different Path and Penalty Incurred.” Stone questions the very nature of “the problem” in Zimbabwe, and particularly the British/Western/MDC explanation. He argues that Mugabe’s repression and the severe economic problems the country is experiencing are the manifestations of a concerted effort to punish Mugabe and his government for daring to go against the economic wisdom and political desires of the Western powers.

Some of the examples he gives of what he intimates the West considers Mugabe’s waywardness are of course the confiscation of white-occupied land and the rejection of the IMF’s structural adjustment programme.

But Stone’s essay is not necessarily a defence of Mugabe. He shows a deep understanding of the country’s history and does an admirable job of dispassionately laying out his case, which is basically that although Mugabe may be a nasty fellow, he has been forced into being that way by neo-colonialist forces whose interests he threatens in Zimbabwe, and by the larger symbolisms of his “defiance” of the West. One would have to read the article to understand how Stone makes his argument, but without sounding like an apologist parroting Mugabe’s rhetoric.

People at “ground zero” in Zimbabwe and struggling to get by day to day and die hard MDC supporters will probably not have much time for Stone’s arguments. To be able to take in Stone’s carefully built arguments requires a certain physical/psychic distance from the situation, as well as a non-partisan open-mindedness.

Stone writes well and clearly but his essay is long and and plodding in parts. For the many who I suspect will not have the patience to read through all of the original, below I am giving some excerpts to give the highlights and the flavour of the essay. But a lot is lost from reading them disjointed from their context, so I would encourage saving the original article and reading it when one has time. The portions I have highlighted do not necessarily reflect those I agree with the most, but rather those I think come closest to distilling the essence of his essay.

The point isn’t so much whether one agrees with all or most of his points. Apart from that, what Stone manages to do very well is to point out how ill-served we generally are by the international and particularly the British media with its many Zimbabwe-axes-to-grind, and to remind us of the long history and the full complexity of the “Zimbabwe crisis.”

Stone’s article succeeds in showing that while the rest of the world can afford to simply stop at the level of being pro/anti Mugabe, or government vs. opposition in regards to Zimbabwe; for us the Zimbabweans the reality is so much more complicated. Understanding this complexity will hopefully greatly help us avoid making simplistic, knee-jerk choices when the “crisis” stage is finally over and we enter recovery mode.

It will not be difficult to pick holes in some of Stone’s arguments, but overall I found his article to be very good food for the brain.

article excerpts…

Zimbabwe does not suffer from any single problem. …the country’s problems, complex and interlinked, result from multiple causes.

Mainstream scholarship and media claim that Zimbabwe is not a western-style liberal democracy, but rather, an autocratic dictatorship. If ‘democracy’ is a political system, as in the United States, in which constituents are said to elect, through ‘free-and-fair’ elections, representatives from competing political parties, in which the power of
the government is divided in executive, legislative, and/or judicial branches, then Zimbabwe meets these procedural requirements.

Elections in Zimbabwe are a contentious issue, but only because the corporate media
amplifies complaints that often have little or no basis. The instances of political repression are more overt and, while they are real, Western audiences are not given the full details. Most of the Western public remains unaware that Zimbabwe’s government faces a very real security threat from external forces that are far more powerful in economic and military strength.

the physical confrontations between the government and opposition are manifestations of a larger geo-political conflict spurred on by the non-conformity of Zimbabwe’s government with existing U.S., U.K., and IMF dictates. The considerable Western interference in Zimbabwe’s internal politics to a large degree explains the measures undertaken by the government. Western media and states would likely consider these measures justified were they employed by a country friendly to the United States.

While some authors… place the majority of the blame for Zimbabwe’s problems on the population’s electoral choice, Robert Mugabe, …others…argue that the British conquest and subjugation of Zimbabwe’s people, and creation of the repressive settler state of Rhodesia, stunted the economic and political growth of the country and its indigenous people. Colonialism created a “dual economy” in which the African population inherited the unprofitable, subsistence side of a dual-economy. There, crowded small-scale farmers suffered together on arid land.

Rather than land reform as a major cause for Zimbabwe’s economic woes …others demonstrate that Zimbabwe’s choice to adopt IMF economic reforms was most responsible for harming the country’s economy. The land reform is not so much harmful in itself, as it serves as a lightning rod, galvanizing metropolitan (Western) hostility to the Mugabe government. Moreover, the gap between agrarian reform goals and realities is partly a result of internal opposition by the white farmers.

Fears of the implications of Zimbabwe’s land reform for other countries, such as South Africa, as well as the ZANU-PF’s counter-hegemonic discourse, led the Anglo-American powers and allies to suppress Mugabe’s government, in the hopes that a more friendly client regime could be installed.

… while Zimbabwe is technically a liberal democracy, widespread economic sabotage, an international campaign of demonization, and direct, artificial, foreign support for the domestic opposition has prevented Zimbabweans from enjoying the positive features of this system of government to the fullest extent.

The negative foreign pressure stems not from pre-existing anti-democratic ‘sins’ of the government, but rather the very serious ‘sin’ of pursuing an independent foreign, domestic, and economic policy, one that notably involves reclaiming land that fell into white hands during the period of colonization. This argument is particularly compelling in light of the fact that the U.S. supports a number of anti-democratic governments in Africa, particularly Rwanda, without complaint, while creating a media fanfare about events in Zimbabwe. In other words, there is a reversal of cause-and-effect for Zimbabwe’s problems. Zimbabwean government repression did not lead to Western economic sanctions and political sabotage, but rather the obverse.

Those who criticize Zimbabwe for being undemocratic because of repression against foreign interference, as well as patronage, and corruption, should be ready to explain which countries are more democratic in this respect.

What the alleged “evidence” of “genocide” – as a result of housing demolitions, no less – indicates is that Western publications, and internal opposition in Zimbabwe, have a tendency to magnify the country’s problems.

A consistent ‘anti-Mugabe’ view exists structurally within Anglophone media. …several British journalists assigned to Zimbabwe were actually former Rhodesians, who had worked for the colonial newspapers prior to Zimbabwe’s independence.

…Zimbabwe has received more attention from BBC documentaries than any single country. The British media focuses heavily on Zimbabwe’s elections and alleged government crackdowns, and frames its reporting in such a way that ‘heroic’ journalists take ‘risks’ to interview members of the ‘opposition.’ A few British newspapers have gone so far as to spread allegations of ethnic cleansing in Zimbabwe so opportunistic that even the anti-Mugabe Labour government denied them. This British media coverage is important, since … the media has assumed the role of defining Africa, a job previously left to anthropologists. In other words, a heavily-biased media is the organ most responsible for informing the English-speaking world about events in Zimbabwe.

…”the jettisoning of (the IMF Structural Adjustment Programme in 1981) only added to the sense of outrage among Western leaders.” It was at this time that Western sources began transferring substantial sums of money to the MDC opposition.

the problem of land reform has not gone away, and, under the sanctions, has only become more severe. Any party wishing to replace Mugabe will need a clear program for solutions, if it wishes to gain electoral support.

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