Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for September, 2007

Why the sanctions issue is a red herring

Posted by CM on September 25, 2007

The Mugabe government puts tremendous energy into blaming what it refers to as “illegal sanctions” by Western countries for the Zimbabwean economy being down on its knees, causing untold hardship to the majority of Zimbabweans. The claim is that international aid, credit and investment have largely dried up on the orders of Western governments, unhappy with change which took prime land away from white farmers.

When the representatives of the accused countries bother to respond to these charges, it is usually to say that what have been imposed are merely limited “targeted sanctions” against members of the ruling elite. They deny applying any sort of general economic embargo, or seeking to cause “regime change” by trying to instigate popular rebellion over the hardships. They also point to how they continue to contribute humanitarian aid to relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans, despite the diplomatic impasse.

It is quite clear that economically, things have completely spiraled out of the control of the government. There is little prospect of any change for the better happening before next year’s expected elections, and it is not at all far fetched to imagine things might be much worse by then. Short of improving the situation, therefore, the government finds it convenient and necessary to latch on to sanctions as an explanation for its inability to make living conditions bearable.

The hope is that the electorate will find that classic political explanation (“it is the fault of the Great Enemy”) for their economic plight, and the government’s seeming helplessness in the face of it, convincing enough to avoid a feared thrashing at the polls after almost 10 years of steep decline. It is not likely to impress a significant number of the voters who have been fed this line as they watched their lives deteriorate dramatically.

There are several perspectives from which the Mugabe regime’s blaming sanctions for the economic state of Zimbabwe today is weak.

One major problem of arguing “your suffering is the fault of our enemies” is to seem to absolve oneself of responsibility. Yet whether or not there are Western sanctions against Zimbabwe in place, declared or undeclared; legal or illegal, it is still the responsibility of a government to reduce or prevent the deprivation of its people, and to put in place conditions for an improvement in their standard of life. Sanctions would certainly make this difficult, but they would just be one more out of many obstacles to success. The quality of a government can to a large extent be measured by how well and hard it works to work around these sorts of obstacles.

A Zimbabwean voter cannot be expected to accept putting primary responsibility for his economic fortunes on governments in Europe or North America, over that of his own government. He or she would be quite justified to say at election time, “if you find that the sanctions you allege are in place are an insurmountable barrier to doing your job of running the Zimbabwean economy better than this, then I am exercising my right to give another group of people a try.” This, of course, is exactly what Mugabe & Co. fear many voters will choose to do.

But instead of working harder to have them lifted, or to more effectively get around them, the government merely moans louder about the unfairness and “illegality” of those alleged sanctions. This merely entrenches the appearance of complete helplessness and inability to deal with the issue, which is what the average Zimbabwean cares about at the end of the day, regardless of why and how it came about. Screaming “illegal” sanctions ever louder, as things get worse, suggests the authorities have no coping strategies, and have given up. This is not the kind of image a ruling party that has presided over almost a decade of very dramatic decline can afford to go into an election with.

You cannot boast endlessly about your “sovereignty,” and at the same time whine about how your economy’s fate is not within your hands, but in that of your enemies. It must be one or the other. If we are as “sovereign” as Mugabe never tires of reminding us we are, then our economic performance should not depend on what any other countries do or don’t do. If, by crying “sanctions” every other minute, Mugabe and his regime are admitting that we are a small country whose economic fate cannot be divorced from the international diplomatic standing of it’s government, then we are not quite as “sovereign” as we imagine. In the latter case, diplomatic action beyond helpless whining is called for, and yet silly bravado is all we see and hear.

Suppose Mugabe “won” his sanctions argument. Suppose Western governments said, “You were right Mr. Mugabe, we did impose sanctions, and your fine speeches have made us see the error of our ways. We now hereby formally lift those sanctions.”

Do Mugabe & Co. really believe this is all it would take to make money, goods and investment suddenly flow into Zimbabwe, with no other actions on their part? Can they really be so divorced from reality that fail to understand that there are many other factors which make the typical hard-headed investor look elsewhere than the Zimbabwe of today for opportunities?

A question that is not asked often enough: if our economic calamities are because of sanctions imposed over land reform, why didn’t the government foresee and prepare for them? We are often reminded what tough revolutionaries our rulers are. In preparation for the wholesale takeover of farmland, did none of these revolutionaries think for a moment that it would cause a ruckus, and therefore have short, medium and long term plans to prepare for it? Why has the government seemed so surprised by the reaction its actions have received in Western capitals?

The point here is not that they should only have done what the Western countries approved of. It is, instead, that on having decided to go ahead with measures they knew would be disapproved of by economically powerful countries, they should have had a plan in place to deal with the effects of how that disapproval was expressed. Or was the hoped for “plan”to talk one’s way out of the disapproval with fiery, populist speeches at the U.N.? What naivete for self proclaimed revolutionaries!

Then there is the issue of sanctions busting. Nothing would have earned the Mugabe regime the respect of even its detractors more, than having shown particular agility at the “sovereign” ability to get around the claimed sanctions; to keep things working fairly normally despite them. Or to at least show prospects of even slight recovery after an initial dip, which could then have been explained as merely a transitional hiccup as “the revolution” took hold. This was especially important to show in the agriculture sector, whose overnight wholesale changes were the genesis for all that has followed since. If the government had been able to say, “yes, we know things are hard, but look at all the successes we are beginning to score in the agricultural sector, whose taking over caused the imposition of sanctions in the first place,” people’s reactions to it would have been very different from what they are today.

Comparing the American sanctions on Cuba with those said to be in place against Zimbabwe is pathetic, and ill-advised for the Mugabe government. Cuba has achieved notable successes in areas like agriculture and health despite decades of outrightly declared, strictly enforced U.S. sanctions. They have done this through quite innovative approaches we have not seen our government show in any arena. Cuba’s rulers at least give the appearance of being real revolutionaries, living modestly and wanting to be seen to be sharing any hardships with the people. In Zimbabwe the rulership takes great pride in showing off just how removed from the general populace they are, as if to goad them. So in Cuba one sees some genuine “solidarity” between the governed and the rulers; whereas in Zimbabwe the rulers delight in emphasizing their lordship over the people, “solidarity” being nothing more than a cheap slogan.

It is a pity our opposition parties are so distracted by so many peripheral things. A more focused opposition could have made mincemeat out of the Mugabe government for its attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for the pathetic state of our country with the weak official excuse of “sanctions.”

Chido Makunike

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The Zimbabwe story: from merely tragic tale to sinister agenda

Posted by CM on September 24, 2007

A recent UK visitor to Zimbabwe, writing in the September 24 edition of The Herald (Scotland) had the kind of contemplative, contextual report about the situation there I am crusading to argue has become all too rare in coverage of Zimbabwe, especially in the UK media. British media reports are suffused with an anti-Mugabe emotionalism whose causes are not hard to understand, given the present state of Zimbabwe, and Mugabe’s raw, bitter denunciations of Britain. But understandable as they may be, they distort the sad but complex reality of the implosion taking place in Zimbabwe.

As understandable as the antipathy to Mugabe is, particularly in Britain , we are now often served propaganda as much as we are served news by large parts of the UK media. Things are quite bad enough in Zimbabwe, without needing to embellish and spin them to distort that reality into making it seem even worse, as a lot of the international media frenziedly does.

Ian Whyte’s letter addresses the issue of sanctions, and whether it is correct for new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to have taken the approach of wanting no dealings with Mugabe. But the parts of it that relate to the often feverish, cleverly dishonest coverage of Zimbabwe are these:

The picture painted of Zimbabwe is of a country that has already collapsed. To go around Harare as I did is to find a city that, incredibly, is still functioning. Yes, the economy is dependent on a black market that changes daily and there are shortages (but not emptiness) in the shops. But plenty of cars move around, people go about their business and a white visitor is greeted with warmth and courtesy in a way no different from before.

I do not doubt the violent suppression of dissent, but I saw no evidence of the police and army presence on the streets that I have seen in other countries where civic society has all but broken down. I found considerable anger from my Zimbabwean friends (every one of whom strongly opposes the present regime) over press reports that imply that nothing is functioning or happening, and over some scenes shot by the media which they identify as doctored from outside.

This does a disservice to the amazing resilience that is such a characteristic in Africa, where 90% of the population struggle for food and necessities, and the allocation of farms to select “comrades” has run down agriculture. But when I visited Ghana in 1982 amid an economic crisis, worse shortages and more catastrophic breakdowns had not broken the spirit, nor paralysed activity. So it is in Zimbabwe.

This is what those of us in Zimbabwe, or outside but with umbilically close ties to it, know: there is great hardship, but not the picture of ‘collapse’ that is daily depicted. And the feeling of being picked on by certain media in some particularly ugly ways is one I hear more frequently from Zimbabweans at home and abroad.

The widely, strongly held feelings against the Mugabe regime in many quarters should not make the trash we so regularly read about even non-political issues acceptable. Just one example is the recent story that people were now resorting to eating dogs because more conventional kinds of meat are unavailable, or are too expensive. This was absurd from many angles, the strong cultural taboos against this just being one of them. But for a correspondent determined to submit his or her daily anti-Mugabe dig, these sorts of nuances are irrelevant. And yet it is quite easy to file daily anti-Mugabe stories just on the strictly factual basis of his many failures, without needing to scrape the bottom of the barrel in the manner so beloved of some correspondents.

The Zimbabwean media, which it would have been hoped would counter some of the worst excesses, is vastly out-gunned. Besides,we have become so focused on issues of politics, to almost the total exclusion of anything else, that we don’t pay much attention to how we are allowing who we really are to be caricatured in often crude terms that border on being racist.

In giving accounts of ways in which Zimbabweans are battling to cope with economic hardship and political repression, the most calamitous interpretations are used. A report about how economic hardship has resulted in the abandonment of many pets, a sad enough development, suddenly results in the crafty insinuation, “everybody in Zimbabwe is now eating their cats and dogs because they can’t find or afford beef and chicken!”

The correspondents concerned get away with this trash partly because they are mainly writing for a Western audience that does not know enough about Zimbabwe to be able to easily distinguish straight reportage from the shrill spin I complain about. Sometimes the reports merely entrench racial stereotypes that are already strongly held. The opportunity to use those reports to say ” ah, you see how tough times are forcing the natives to revert to their savage roots?” apparently often proves irresistible!

We often do not seem to notice that those reports are sometimes not just to illustrate how difficult life under Mugabe is, but to go beyond that to make broader, more sinister points about us as a people.

Zimbabweans, on the other hand, obviously do have the ability to know when what they are going through is being stretched, by either hyper-ideological or merely mercenary correspondents. Too often, the writing is not so much to inform, as it is to score points against the hated Mugabe, even if it means painting the rest of us with crude stereotypes.

It is interesting how the many Zimbabwean websites deal with some of the most crude distortions. Why does the Zimbabwean media not more robustly protest and counter the worst distortions? Apart from being out-gunned and pre-occupied with political intrigue, there is widespread fear of being accused of being a Mugabe supporter, one of the worst insults one can hurl against a Zimbabwean in the current climate. Then there is the naive, misplaced feeling that even the distorting, racist sections of the media pouring out reports of complete Zimbabwean dysfunction under Mugabe’s tutelage are somehow “on our side.” Those of our news outlets dependent on donors are also not going to be inclined to go into territory that may make their benefactors doubt the anti-Mugabe credentials that they may have peddled to get their funding in the first place.

So many find it safer to not express the widely felt Zimbabwean outrage at some of the racist takes on events that we increasingly see peddled under the guise of news. The Zimbabwean websites will, therefore, generally simply ignore the more lurid interpretations of events offered by some of the more shrilly ideological correspondents for international media. Those reports are enthusiastically featured as welcome “neutral” signs of not just Mugabe’s incompetence and repression; but also with a cleverly, thinly veiled subtext of general African “savagery.”

It is not enough for us to just ignore these frequent and damaging distortions. We must counter them every chance we get. It is in our interest to make it clear to the world that we may be politically oppressed and reduced in economic status by the mis-rule of our country, but we remain a proud, dignified people despite the many deprivations we endure. The essential fact of the firmly intact Zimbabwean humanity is being sacrificed in the shrill propaganda war, in which we are considered collateral damage.

Ian Whyte very ably captured the holistic view of Zimbabweans’ unhappiness with affairs in their country, coupled with resentment at some of the deliberately distorted depictions that have other agendas than concern for a bruised, oppressed people. Many of the correspondents for foreign media very carefully pick the many indices of hardship to write another story beneath the main story. They could easily feature the more nuanced reality that Whyte does, but that is hardly likely to impress their publications, who already have a standard “Zimbabwe story” position into which all submissions must fit if they are to be published.

More of us Zimbabweans should be seeking to use every forum available to us to tell our own tale as a people, both the joys and the sorrows. We are far too dependent on our collective experience being related by others, whether they are benign, neutral or hostile to us.

Let us relate, explain and interpret Zimbabwe’s sad reality under its present rulership without fear, favour or equivocation. But let us not be afraid to protest when that reality is twisted to make sinister distortions about our basic humanity.

Chido Makunike

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The challenge for Zimbabwean media writers in 2007: conclusion

Posted by CM on September 13, 2007

Chido Makunike

In a previous article published elsewhere, I tried to lay out why I believe the way Zimbabwe’s travails are covered by much of the international media puts special responsibilities on the shoulders of Zimbabweans writing in 2007.

Zimbabwe’s sad descent and the inflamed passions it has aroused across the world have increasingly led to a much distorted picture of Zimbabweans. Groups that find that what Zimbabwe stands, for according to them, can be used to support their positions selectively choose what they feature about the country, and how, in a way that I think harms us collectively. It is therefore the responsibility of Zimbabwean writers, who are hopefully motivated by artistic professionalism as well as the well being of their country, to provide the better context and more complete picture of the Zimbabwean reality.

This has for too long been the predominant preserve of non-Zimbabwean opinion shapers. Their interest is sometimes not merely relating the facts and explaining the situation, but sometimes to project particular agendas. This is obviously their right, except in the instances where advocacy and opinion masquerade as straight journalism. But distortion, unwitting as well as deliberate, has increasingly crept in because of how the issue of Zimbabwe gets so many groups of people of various ideological positions so worked up.

It is often said Mugabe enjoys much support in Africa (outside his own country) and in much of the developing world. But there are not many of such supporters who would put their money where their mouths are, and actually choose to live under a dispensation where so many things are so obviously going wrong. What such supporters may like are what Mugabe and/or Zimbabwe represent for them about the colonial past, the present and the future, not the actual reality of what is! We, the Zimbabweans, have our own lives tied up in that sad reality, and so cannot afford to be swayed by the mere appeal of the symbolic. Like Ghana’s Nkrumah in an earlier era, in Mugabe we see a despot inspiring lofty sentiment in those afar, but being reviled by most of those who actually have to bear the consequences of his autocracy and economic failures.

In giving a fuller picture of the Zimbabwean story than many partisan or foreign correspondents are interested in doing, non-aligned Zimbabwean writers are uniquely positioned to provide the sober perspective that seems so often lacking. My clarion call to my fellow Zimbabwean writers is that it is further our responsibility to play this role.

On the one hand you have the likes of the government-owned The Herald, which no longer makes any pretence of being a newspaper in any respectable sense of the word. In reading it, I often think that if my brief were to churn out propaganda for the Mugabe government, I would consider The Herald a particularly embarrassing and ineffectual representation of the craft. Its praise-singing of the government is so poorly, childishly over-done that it is sometimes hilariously entertaining. But it is almost never credible, even from a propaganda viewpoint, let alone a professional, journalistic one.

In The Herald’s version of Zimbabwe, anyone who disagrees with how the country is being ruled must be “slammed” and tarred as an enemy. Just on the basis of “all those who disagree with us are necessarily unpatriotic,” you throw out your seriousness as a paper, because everyone intuitively understands that life is not that simple. Yet the whiff (at least) of credibility is the essence of believable, effective propaganda, a basic principle mysteriously lost on The Herald and other branches of the state propaganda services. Then you have the expensively hired rear-guard of the side, such as Baffour Ankomah of New African magazine.

But on the other side, and of equal harm to the cause of explaining the complexity of “the Zimbabwe crisis,” you have the sections of the UK and other foreign media who are so rabid in their hatred of Mugabe that they lose all semblance of calm when they hear his name! It has gotten to the point where I am as suspicious of the “journalism” of the UK Daily Telegraph as I am of the Zimbabwe Herald, though for diametrically opposed reasons. While The Herald is now widely understood to be a propaganda sheet, and a rather miserable one at that, a paper like the Telegraph largely enjoys the reputation of being a serious, even if obviously ideologically slanted, newspaper. That, and the greater global reach it and others of similarly apoplectically anti-Mugabe ilk enjoy, makes their type of propaganda even more harmful than the amateur efforts of The Herald.

The historical and political reasons for the emotionalism of the coverage of the two sides may be obvious, but they both do tremendous harm in distorting the issues and events in Zimbabwe. We, the Zimbabweans, are the greatest losers, but the many across the world who may not get particularly emotional about it, but who, nevertheless, follow the Zimbabwe saga and just want to be well informed and understand it better are also poorly served.

One could argue that The Herald and New African are being honest in a way; in not pretending to be anything other than “hear no evil, see no evil” advocates of Mugabe. Much of the rabidly anti-Mugabe sections of the UK and international media, on the other hand, still try to hide their advocacy behind the façade of serious journalism, making their distortions even more effective and damaging. Perhaps The Herald could borrow a leaf from them in the art of subtlety, although that is increasingly being supplanted by the shrillness of their anti-Mugabe coverage.

Those of us Zimbabweans who also oppose Mugabe may tend to let distortions about the country that paint our political nemesis in bad light slide. But this is short-sighted, and collectively harms us more than it helps our ccause. It is time for us to make a distinction between our dissatisfaction with how our country is being mis-ruled, and how the country and its people overall are portrayed.

I regularly see many examples of the sloppy reporting and the distortions I refer to virtually everyday, but one particularly infamous one stands out. It was the report several months ago by since disgraced former CNN star Jeff Koinange, about how “the Zimbabwe crisis” had made citizens resort to eating rats as a beef or chicken substitute. This aroused howls of outrage amongst Zimbabweans, who took it as a low blow against them in the propaganda war between the Mugabe regime and a sore, score-settling CNN that had been barred from operating in the country.

I have no reason to believe mouse-flesh protein is nutritionally inferior to cow or chicken-flesh protein. And there are people in Zimbabwe and all over the world who consider rat or mouse meat a delicacy, as the embattled Zimbabwean ambassador to the US wasted his time trying to say in response to CNN queries. Likewise, there are any number of other kinds of “exotic” meat that are regionally considered delicacies, but that many of us would shiver with disgust at the thought of eating. A few examples are dogs and snakes in parts of Asia, and snails in France. It has nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of the meat, but the cultural conditioning of a given setting.

Having said that, rats in the modern Zimbabwean setting are not widely considered a socially desirable kind of meat. Such is the level of revulsion at the idea that even in hard times, there are not a significant number who would knowingly eat rat flesh, let alone seek it out. And that there are some who do cannot necessarily be extrapolated into “this is what Zimbabwe has been reduced to.” Hence the widespread Zimbabwean reaction to Koinange’s suggestion, that an example he found (or deliberately sought out) of a Zimbabwean who does happen to enjoy rat meat was an indication of the people’s level of desperation, was understandably one of outrage.

Early this year, while in Nairobi, I was fascinated by a picture in a Ugandan paper I bought, of a Karamajong man dangling a mouse he had caught, ready for cooking. There was no big story accompanying it, it was just a human interest picture of what is generally an unusual, though far from unheard of, predilection.

Even if this had come to the attention of Koinange and CNN, I very much doubt they would have found it a juicy (pun intended) story important enough to play up for the world as an example of the economic situation in Uganda. For whatever reason he caught the mouse (possibly indeed including economic hardship for him) this was treated as an interesting example of one person about to enjoy his mouse meat, the way a Frenchman would look forward to tucking into his escargot.

Ditto points for a recent, graphic picture close-up on the BBC’s website, of a man in India roasting a rat over an open fire. It was not part of a crisis story, but an actually rather interesting photo feature titled “Gastronomic adventure,” in which food writer Stefan Gates featured “unusual” culinary practices from across the world. The caption does mention that it is not a meat of choice, but one forced on a particular group of people by circumstance, as might indeed have been the case with the Zimbabwean mouse eater Koinange discovered. There was no suggestion of a larger “India in crisis” angle to the roasted rat picture.

My point? For some globally influential media, anything that can be spun in an anti-Mugabe way is fair game. But that is no longer journalism, and in many ways we the “innocent” Zimbabweans, as well as just plain truth, are the real “victims” in this war of attrition. In the somewhat light-hearted case of Koinange’s story, it was so poorly Herald-style that despite the embarrassment that image-conscious Zimbabweans may have felt, there was arguably as much harm done to him and CNN by their over-stretching an isolated example to take a pot shot against the much reviled Mugabe.

We have a pretty good idea that much of what we read in The Herald and the rest of the State media is fiction and propaganda in defence of Mugabe. But on the opposite side, if the Koinange story was an example of what is considered fair game in more serious stories about Zimbabwe by heavyweights of the likes of the Daily Telegraph, CNN and many others, what proportion of what we read and see about Zimbabwe is journalism, and what proportion is out and out propaganda? Even if you think they are fair game against Mugabe, what about the way the distortions impact on us who are caught in the middle; whether emotionally, in terms of image, collective nationhood or otherwise?

In reporting about Zimbabwe, there are many basic factual questions that should be asked about many of the stories we read that are no longer being asked, leading to an increasing acceptance of the sloppiness I alluded to earlier. If you report that eating mice has become a widespread trend because of Mugabe-caused economic hardship, that is a fascinating phenomenon. It deserves to be backed up by more serious investigation than citing the example of what could have been a person who happens to enjoy mouse meat. Show us the evidence of the links of your interesting,claim!

So, Zimbabwean writers, we really have our work cut out for us: to navigate this vicious propaganda minefield and present the sad tale of our country, but with a detail, context and sensitivity that many of the propaganda warriors on either side have not the slightest interest in doing, to our great cost as a people.


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Very strange Zimbabwe-Venezuela coincidence in the blogosphere

Posted by CM on September 9, 2007

On August 30 I wrote “The lessons of Zimbabwe for Venezuela.” In that article I gave examples of the many parallels between where Venezuela under Hugo Chavez is likely to be headed, versus where Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has found itself.

Well, strange things happen in the fascinating, democratic world of the blogosphere.

Today I stumbled across a blog post dated September 9 and rather derivatively titled, “Wondering how Venezuela will look like in a (sic) near future? Just take look (sic) at Zimbabwe by one Peter Von Saints.

You guessed it: different words, different examples here and there culled from Wikipedia and a much longer post, but basically using the same sort of comparative analogy to make the same points. But despite the rather oddly striking similarity, there is no reference to my earlier post, so one must presume that this is just a very strange coincidence!

The funny things one comes across in the wild, wonderful, untamed blogosphere!

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The ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome*

Posted by CM on September 8, 2007

by Chido Makunike

One of the lingering effects of the great clash between the western world and Africa since the days of slavery and colonialism, has been how the formerly oppressed have interacted amongst themselves, and how they respond to their former oppressors. In one way or another, that has been the theme of several articles I have written recently.

One of the most fascinating manifestations of the strong, lingering feelings of the black world towards its hitherto mostly unfriendly relations with the white West, is what I refer to as the ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome. In it, one’s ‘revolutionary’ status is measured in terms of how strongly one expresses animosity to the white western world, and in terms of strong identification of one’s blackness with a state of victim hood.

If either of these clash with the reality of the life of the ‘revolutionary,’ well, it is hoped that it won’t be noticed. An African minister will express great pride and joy at the marriage of his child to a white westerner, but because of the political environment, he will feel the need to utter the most rabid, racist drivel against the race of his new in-law to prove his ‘revolutionary’ credentials. An African businesswoman will talk in the most crude but currently politically correct fashion, about her desire to violently “taste” white blood, hoping the public will forget that as the former wife of a white westerner, it becomes a little awkward and unconvincing for her to play the ‘blacker than thou’ card. A minister who for many years did rather well for himself while working for western donor organisations, now finds it politically and personally convenient to pose as the great gate keeper of his society against the dangers of interaction with western donors.

It is necessary to bend over backwards to distance oneself from his/her former benefactors to prove one’s new political credentials. Many people loved the hot anti-western rhetoric of Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma in Johannesburg recently. Yet both men almost entirely flaunt their power and prestige using symbols of the white West they never tire of telling us are diabolically evil in both intent and action.

But perhaps the most bizarre recent example of the ‘blacker than thou’ syndrome was of Anne Matonga, a white British woman recently arrived in this country, who is married to the new chief executive of public bus company Zupco. This couple had the good fortune of being granted a farm for free, and Mrs. Matonga, having quickly learned the rhetoric that will go down well with the natives, justified her windfall and the eviction of the white occupiers on the grounds that they were racist colonisers who had stolen “our” land. I must admit that it was the first time I had heard of a white person so brazenly using the ‘blacker than thou’ ethos to such cynical advantage, and getting away with it too, because absurd as it sounds from so many angles, it fits the times!

There are two central issues in my arguments about the task facing blacks in their efforts to overcome the long legacy of subjugation at the hands of the West. One, that economic strength is key to blacks having the power to match their numbers, and two, that the regaining of lost dignity and pride can only be done through black effort. The various ways that are found to flex rhetorical muscle at conferences, summits and other fora may be very effective for temporarily letting off steam, but they mean absolutely nothing if Africa, and blacks in general, remain as economically weak as they are.

I therefore find little benefit in the rantings of old school African leaders like Mugabe and Nujoma while their economies become steadily weaker. Rant and rave all you want, bask in the glow of the applause as long as you like, but if your rhetoric is not backed up by economic power, it means nothing. This is why we experience the embarrassment of African leaders breathing anti-western fire one day, only to sheepishly accept handouts from the targets of their fire the next day.

A writer calling himself ‘Joseph Neusu’ ripped into me for these sentiments a few days ago in the The Herald (1 October). The immediate cause of his ire was my column in The Standard’s edition of 15 September, but I’ve been making these kind of arguments for a long time and in doing so have probably left poor Joseph absolutely apoplectic with rage, if his article is anything to go by.

In The Standard article in question, I talked about the accolades many African American youths get from their peers when they behave in a way which shows defiance of ‘the man,’ even if that behaviour is harmful for them, and I drew a parallel between this and the rhetoric of some of our aging former revolutionaries in Africa today. I made the point that because of the deep seated resentments among the formerly oppressed, these shows of defiance could sometimes mask the more meaningful means of regaining one’s dignity.

The point I was making, of course, was that after 22 years of being at the helm of a country, ostensibly to move it forward from its colonial legacy, Robert Mugabe’s rhetorical posturing while his countrymen’s standard of living continues its steep decline neither fools nor impresses me. It is time to refuse to be hoodwinked and blackmailed into silence by the possibility of being called ‘Uncle Tom’ and all the other choice names the failed African rhetoreticians regularly hurl.

Says ‘Neusu’ of me: “…outrageously contemptuous of the black race…feels trapped by his non-white skin….exhibits ethnic self-hatred” and the coupe de grace, “his desire is to see the world purged of all forms of blackness and the colour of Africans.”

Ouch, ‘Neusu’, I had no idea I was that messed up!

He accuses me of putting the blame solely on African Americans for some of the destructive behaviour that still plagues many poor urban neighbourhoods in the US. He was so blinded with indignation at my sentiments that he missed the point of my article-that it actually transcended the whole concept of ‘who is to blame.’ It went beyond the mere issue of blame, to state that whatever the source of the problem of the American black underclass, or of an Africa that is getting poorer under the Mugabes, no amount of time and energy spent on telling the white westerners how sore we are at them, regardless of how pleased we are with ourselves for having done so, will make one bit of difference to our fortunes.

The “perpetual bouts” of self-pity that he alleges I suffer from, for not being impressed with leaders who can’t run their countries in such a way as to make available to their people such basics as bread, mealie meal, sugar and petrol, is exactly what disgusts me so much about the likes of Mugabe. Always whining about the past, while failing to correct it to the benefit of people they are supposed to serve; never owning up to one’s own shortcomings but finding scapegoats for failures, and when challenged, simply bringing out the old “we are the original liberators” jargon, which is yet another manifestation of the ‘blacker, more African than thou’ attempt to silence criticism.

No, Joseph Neusu, there is no “dignity, humanity and manhood” in talking strongly about the evil coloniser-neocolonialst-imperialist white man and then having to go back to him three days later for handouts to stave off mass starvation. The best way Africans can stand up for themselves is by moving out of the kind of social and economic indignity that we have been reduced to by failed rhetoreticians like the fierce and tough Mr. Mugabe.

If ‘Neusu’ was moved to vent such steam in response to that particular article, I shudder to think what he must have thought of the following week’s one in The Standard, in which I continued with my misguided efforts to examine the present pitiful state of Africa, and look inwards and forwards for solutions, rather than outward and backward, as many of our loser politicians urge us to do.

Looking forward to your next response in the The Herald, Joseph! I grudgingly admit that you throw some good insults, I wonder who your coach is.

Finally, I thank my fellow scribes and comrades at the The Herald for not only allowing ‘Joseph’ to vent his spleen, but in the process, helping to spread my message about the failures of the Mugabe regime further and wider, including to those parts of Zimbabwe where The Standard may be banned. Thanks for your support!

*first published in The Zimbabwe Standard, October 2002

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The psychology of blacks’ support of Mugabe

Posted by CM on September 8, 2007

I am using this site to feature perspectives about Zimbabwe that I think are interesting and important, but that for one reason or another one are unlikely to find featured on most Zimbabwe-dedicated sites. This consists of articles I run across from across the world, some of which I will comment on, and others that I will feature without comment.

In addition to new articles I will sometimes write, I am also going to use this site as a repository for old articles of mine previously published elsewhere. This is not merely about my ego, although a part of recycling these articles is to begin the process of compiling them for myself, and for old and new readers who may still find them interesting and relevant.

Another reason for using this site as a repository for them is that some of those still-relevant or interesting articles (a great advantage of a blog is that one gets to decide for himself what qualifies as relevant and interesting!) are no longer available in the online archives of the publications that first featured them.

CM

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Zimbabwe Standard (Harare)
OPINION
May 10, 2002

by Chido Makunike

JUST before the presidential election, and since then, we have seen and heard many non-resident Zimbabweans, and blacks from various parts of the world, being given space in the state print and broadcast media to go to town in defence of President Mugabe while trashing those who disagree with his policies and methods.

Whether they are hired guns or volunteers to the cause, I have been fascinated by blacks who vociferously defend Mugabe, without qualification, for his recently adopted anti-Western stance, while showing all the signs of personal enjoyment at what the West has to offer. What motivates these “revolutionaries” of afar?

We often hear from them ringing denunciations of the West for all sorts of things-slavery, colonialism, trade practises, racism, you name it-they spout it. What then keeps so many of these long distance “revolutionaries” not only far from the scene of action, Africa, but cocooned in the West, a place they attack so strongly?

I often chuckle to myself when I read how such and such an eminent analyst, journalist or “revolutionary” based in Europe or elsewhere in the West has blasted his adopted home and come out in support of “comrade” Mugabe for his “defiance” of the West.

Why don’t more of them have the courage of their convictions and come back to Africa to put their expressed beliefs about the ‘revolution’ into action? Why are they so fervent in their verbal support of the Mugabes of Africa in their fight against what they say is attempted recolonisation by the West, while enjoying the comforts of that same West? Does this not compromise the effectiveness of their defence of the excesses of Mugabe and others?

There are very few blacks anywhere who do not feel some kind of emotional pull towards restoring the dignity of blacks elsewhere. The history of the often unfriendly interactions between Westerners and non-Westerners, blacks in particular, is well documented. So to the extent that Mugabe’s words and actions are designed to remedy the inequalities resulting from colonialism and its after-effects, all blacks will support them.

But how is it that some blacks who chaff under the often hostile and racist conditions of the West, find it so easy to excuse all sorts of brutalities against the very intended beneficiaries of the ‘revolution’ back home?

I believe that the psychological state of siege that being black in the West often entails provides part of the answer.

No matter how educated, wealthy or prominent a black person in the West becomes, in most Western countries they are still very much ‘the other,’ with all the associated humiliations. Yet the West also offers the kind of freedom and material comforts to even the rank and file of its inhabitants, including the ‘second class’ immigrants, that would be unthinkable back home.

So on the one hand, the black person in the West suffers the daily psychological wounds of not being fully respected there, but continues to be lured into continuing to stay there by the many inducements and advantages of Western life. Generally speaking, the West can be a very cold, hostile place for a black person, particularly an African, but one that is also very seductive materially and for the freedoms it offers.

Whether the seductions of life there make up for the humiliations is a question many feel they can not afford to spend time pondering, and the answer differs from person to person.

One way to compensate for this contradiction is to adopt a more radical attitude than all those around on all issues involving differences between Africa and the West. So you find Africans and other blacks firmly ensconced in life in the West physically, or steeped in Western traditions back in Africa, but verbally expressing a hatred of the West and all it stands for!

So an African comfortably based in London, and enjoying the freedom to bitterly attack virtually everything about his host adopted country, will defend the anti-Western posturing of Mugabe partly because it gives him a carthatic release from many of his resentments about his treatment in the West. If that defence of Mugabe means having to support him even when back home, he limits the freedoms the pro-Mugabe defender so cherishes in the West, well, so be it. But while you may have the freedom to scream your head off about the frustrations of being black, African and foreign in the West, you do not have much power to change conditions there.

A person like Mugabe with his anti-white rhetoric of recent years, and the generally torrid time he has been giving whites, gives a black person in the Diaspora the vicarious satisfaction of knowing ‘blacks are on top,’ in a way they cannot be as a group in the West. Black empowerment in the West ultimately depends on the acquiescence of the white majority. Even if those whites tried to put themselves in the shoes of a non-white person, it is unlikely that they would sufficiently understand the reasons for, and the depths of blacks’ multi-faceted grievances.

In Mugabe, blacks resident in the West see a black man who is aggressively pushing the black cause without asking for the the blessing of whites, a necessary condition for any change in the situation of blacks in the West with their minority status there.

So even the fact that Mugabe’s version of aggressive, spite-the- whites black empowerment actually hurts and disadvantages many of those same blacks can be ignored. They are seen as mere ‘collateral damage’ in the process of the revolution. If some people have to starve, be beaten up, raped or killed in the wonderful cause of telling off the West, well, oops, sorry, ‘you gotta break some eggs to make an omelette.’

Except it is so much easier to defend the breaking of those human eggs while enjoying the comforts of London or New York, far away from the line of fire, and from the hardships that will accrue to those least able to fend for themselves in the upheavals that ensue. Despite their anti West spoutings, Mugabe and his aides show a rather enthusiastic appetite for things Western, while hurling insults at that West and those of their citizens who would like to afford those same things.

As long as the West, and by extension local whites, have been shown ‘who is boss in Zimbabwe’ a way that it is impossible to contemplate in a group sense in any Western country, then according to the thinking spawned by this psychology, Mugabe can do no wrong.

Any blacks who support the general cause of empowerment and correction of historical wrongs, but disagree with methods that seem to result in the continued suffering of the intended beneficiaries, can be dismissed as being short-sighted, squeamish or lackeys of the West, even by our intrepid revolutionaries whose very lives would suggest rather deep involvement with the West!

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