Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for July, 2008

Human rights abuses: justice versus reconciliation

Posted by CM on July 24, 2008

For a long time there will be a lot of people in Zimbabwe who will want retribution against perpetrators of violence and other kinds of abuse in the last several years.

Many policemen, soldiers and members of various militia who are responsible for all sorts of abuses are widely known. In the event of a political settlement soon, what to do about them will be a thorny issue. Why the answer is not easy is yet another illustration of the complexity of The Zimbabwe Crisis.

“There can be no lasting political solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe without addressing past human rights violations,” Amnesty International is reported as saying. The report further said the international human rights group maintains that negotiations on power-sharing between the ruling and opposition parties should not result in pardons for human rights abusers.

On the surface it is hard to fault such a reasonable call for justice. For more than a century, as Rhodesia and more recently as ZImbabwe, the country has been a place of scattered, mostly low-level but vicious violence by one controlling group or another. At the negotiated end of each of the many stages of violence, the tendency has been to simply sweep the many lingering hurts and resentments under the carpet instead of giving them some kind of public airing in the interests of healing and true reconciliation.

As a result, the society now has generations of walking wounded whose psychological scars are un-recognised but which affect the country in many ways. The friendly, mild-mannered nature of the people that foreigners often remark on co-exists with the anger, resentment and many other effects of the many layers of oppression, brutality and violence the population has lived with for decades.

It is now widely recognised that individuals who have undergone severe physical or psychological trauma need intensive therapy to live ‘normally’ again. But the same logic is not always applied to groups or nations, perhaps because how to apply that therapy to them is not an easy question.

It seems obvious that part of the process of entrenching the sacredness of the idea of human rights in a society is to show the high costs of violating those rights. Clearly a worrying trend of official impunity has built up over the many decades of violence and official oppression by one group or another in Zimbabwe. Rights abusers have now got used to the idea that whenever a lull in one or another of the society’s orgies of violence is negotiated, it will almost automatically include amnesty for them.

A break must be put on this sense of impunity that the society has begun to take for granted and yet suffered so much from in many ways that are difficult to measure. But given Zimbabwe’s messy history, how can this be accomplished exactly? How far back do we go in calling perpetrators of violence to account for their actions?

The recent violence is the easiest to call for justice over, simply because of its raw freshness. But what about soldiers who took part in Gukurahundi massacres in the early 1980s? Should they now be called to account, or is that considered too far back, and if so, why? Should “we were just following orders” be grounds for absolution, or could it be argued that someone can go above and beyond “following orders” in his cruelty in a way that makes him personally accountable for abuses, rather than be covered by the ‘normal’ rules of conflict?

What about known perpetators of atrocities and other human rights abuses in the 1970s’ liberation war? That wasn’t that long ago, and many of the masterminds and actual commiters of abuse could still be tracked down, like Israel still does with Nazi war criminals from WWII. On what basis would rights abusers of today be prosecutable and those of previous ones in recent memory be left scot free?

I know the now very wealthy, now respected business family whose patriarch was given my late grandfathers’ many cattle in the first half of the 20th century when mass land and livestock dispossessions took place under the Rhodesian government. I wouldn’t mind joining in the call for justice if violence and dispossession going back that far was included.

Impunity is bad. Rhodesia and Zimbabwe have had too much of it in ways that harm healing and progress for the country. But that does not mean that agreeing on how to achieve a sense of ‘justice’ is at all easy. In weighing the relative merits of justice and moving forward, the latter is more important, even if doing so successfully partially depends on being seen to have achieved the former.

At the very least those many who have been abused, oppressed and dispossessed need to have their pain acknowledged in a way Zimbabwe has never seriously tried to do. But if ‘justice’ is taken to also mean ‘punishment,’ then Zimbabwe’s history is so messy and bloody that some of those who are very quick to insist on punishment may find they are thereby opening up a complicated can of worms they might well wish had been kept shut.

This is just another of the many difficult ways in which a final resolution of The Zimbabwe Crisis will take so much more than simply groups of politicians making deals with each other. If the many underlying long-term issues are not at least acknowledged, it is doubtful that a political settlement alone would be enough for Zimbabwe to make an abiding great leap forward in achieving true peace and reconciliation.

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Talks:The importance of subverting bitterness in the interests of Zimbabwe’s future

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

The reasons that so many have called for some kind of negotiated settlement to The Zimbabwe Crisis are fairly obvious: there seems to be virtually no hope of any other neat resolution to the country’s deep and multiple divisions and hurts.

It is possible to accept the reality of this long-running impasse and the need for negotiations between the major political parties and yet still have very mixed feelings when those long-called for talks seem like they are finally, actually about to get underway. One of the reasons for this is accepting the need for negotiation is to accept that one will have to give up some things one considers fundamental to one’s position, to compromise on even those things that one considers of immutable principle.

Another reason why accepting negotiation as a way out of a deep conflict such as Zimbabwe’s political divide is because of how either part has to “give” in its sense of whether justice has been achieved or not.

It is the nature of politics for its most aggressive ‘professional’ practitioners to be egotistical and to a large extent motivated by personal visions of grandeur and the desire to exercise control over others. There is no reason to believe MDC politicians are fundamentally different from ZANU-PF politicians in this regard. But aside from the selfish personal motivations of their officials, there is also a broad difference in national vision between ZANU-PF and the MDC.*

This substantive difference means the MDC is extremely reluctant to sit at the same table with a party that has countenanced the beating, torture and killing of its members, and who they believe to be illegitimately occupying power. For its part, there are many ideologues in ZANU-PF who are offended by the very idea of negotiating with what they genuinely consider an upstart group of ‘sell-outs’ who do not ‘deserve’ to rule the country even if they got the majority of votes! Both sides would have preferred some sort of winner-take-all resolution in which they came out on top, but this is precisely what successive messy elections have failed to achieve, and why there is any talk of talks!

The fact that no one has been able to devise and enforce an easy way out of this impasse is presumably why both sides have reluctantly agreed to hold their noses in each others’ presence but agree to try to panel beat an accommodation for the sake of a country that is battered and down on its knees.

Everybody will have to swallow very hard for the talks to be seen to be successful, and then will come the even harder job of implementing what would have been agreed.

But there is a precedent in Zimbabwe for putting aside hard-headedness to try to stop the country from sliding backwards. Ian Smith’s government and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU provided that precedent at the Lancaster House talks that led to the birth of Zimbabwe. They had no particular love for each other and tens of thousands of civilians had perished before they agreed to negotiate. “Never ever” for all  of them became doable and necessary because the situation forced that upon them.

To many white Rhodesians Smith was a hero who was keeping the African barbarians away from the gates of their fairy tale existence. To many Africans he was a racist war criminal, even if “the trains ran on time and inflation was low” under him. To Africans Mugabe and/or Nkomo were towering African revolutionaries who gave them pride, dignity and hope, to most whites they were ‘communist terrorists.’ Still they had to talk and bitter, impassioned loose talk of retribution had to be put aside.

Thirty years later, Zimbabwe is at a pass requiring similar compromises between bitter enemies.

But into this mix is thrown the interfering calculations of those who have bestowed on themselves the right to try to influence events in Zimbabwe in certain ways, not necessarily to support whatever consensus the Zimbabweans decide is in their own best interests.

David Blair, the UK Daily Telegraph’s resident “Africa expert” very nicely shows this potential spanner in the Zimbabwe works with his article A Mugabe deal could land Britain with a dilemma.

Blair worries what Britain would do if the current talks ended up in a ‘Kenya scenario” in which Mugabe held effective power and Tsvangirai was given the consolation prize of Chief Window Dresser. What on earth would Britain do if Tsvangirai as prime minister came knocking on Bwana Gordon Brown’s door asking for the release of aid to help begin reviving Zimbabwe’s economy?

If a negotiated resolution of the crisis which Zimbabweans themselves can live with is all that Britain wants, as it insists, Blair should not need to worry about what difficult compromises the Zimbabweans agree to make to reach that resolution. But things aren’t that simple, are they? Blair ever so delicately tiptoes around the issue of why, well, even if the Zimbabweans were willing to accept a ‘Kenya settlement’ that Britain would not be able to consistently oppose, the ex-colonial master might decide to not play ball.

The issue for the British, you see, isn’t so much just the ‘resolution’ of the crisis, but the exit of the bitterly hated Mugabe! No, you see, Zimbabwe is completely different from Kenya: both sitting presidents might have stolen the elections they use to justify holding on to power, but Kenya’s Kibaki is clearly a gentleman and a Good African while Mugabe is clearly a Bad African! Surely the world would not expect civilised Britain to continue to live and do business with such a monster!

Even if the Zimbabweans, including the British-friendly MDC, have reluctantly accepted Mugabe’s continuing presence as the price they must pay for moving on? Which consideration would be uppermost in Britain’s course of action: respect for the decision of the Zimbabweans to proceed as they deem fit, or pique at the fact that the all-important goal of Mugabe’s immediate exit from the scene would not have been achieved?

Mr. Blair ends his article with:

Britain endorsed this subversion of democracy and, astonishingly, senior officials cite Kenya as a recent success story. If the same unfolds in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Office will have no grounds for indignation. If prime minister Tsvangirai shows up at Downing Street, he will doubtless ask: “If this was good enough for Kenya, why not Zimbabwe too?”

Blair coyly avoids answering his own question but we all know why for the British, Mugabe is the Irredeembaly ‘Bad African’ Who Must Be Deposed At All Costs.

As so often happens, it was a reader responsdig to Blair’s article that spoke that which Blair left unsaid:

Kibakism, as atrocious as it seems, does not compare to the entrenched evils of Mugabism: Kenya didn’t expel British farmers, confiscate their land and property or terrorize them as Mugabe and his Zimbabwean gendarmes did.

Kibakism, unlike Mugabism, did not mastermind, orchstrate and execute large-scale ethnic cleansing of  minority opposition leaders, members, tribesmen and women. Ethnic conficts broke out to protest election
results supposedly rigged by the Kikuyu-tribe-dominated government; using instruments and powerful
infrastuctures of ethnic-electoral majoritarianism. Zimbabwe’s bloody xenophobic, tribalistic machinery is
a year-round operation, unlike Kenya’s seasonal rage.

The attempted distinctions between why Kibaki should be considered so much better than Mugabe are almost funny. The “large-scale ethnic cleansing of minority opposition leaders, members, tribesmen and women”. the reader offers for the particular un-acceptability of Mugabe were official policy under Smith’s Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, but everyone gushed that the Africans were ever so incredibly noble for reconciling with their tormenters in a way the British would have us believe should now not at all be possible in Zimbabwe!

But I give the reader responding to Blair credit for being honest about why Mugabe is British Public Enemy Number One. Its not the usual sentimental fare of ‘oh, those poor African oppressed and impoverished by one of their own, how terrible.’

Blair’s article and the reader reaction to it are a refreshingly revealing and honest insight into just why Britain is so emotional about Zimbabwe, and about Mugabe in particular.

It ain’t about human rights or democracy!

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UK Times runs startlingly rational Zimbabwe analysis by mistake

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike

The Times newspaper of the UK is notable for the often absurd extents to which it goes to try to paint The Zimbabwe Crisis as the world’s worst disaster, and Robert Mugabe as the devil incarnate. Going to ‘absurd’ extents in this regard is quite an achievement because Zimbabwe is in an awful mess and Mugabe is not the world’s most cuddly leader. That The Times sees a country in the throes of wrenching long-term change and tries to make the difficult situation a thousand times worse is an indication of the deep racial hot buttons Zimbabwe and Mugabe press for the British political and media establishments.

These feelings run so deep and strong that they have paralysed British thinking about Zimbabwe to demonising Mugabe at the expense of calmly, rationally analysing the complicated reasons for why Zimbabwe is where it is today.

This would be easy to ignore or dismiss if it was not for the fact that Britain has chosen to make Zimbabwe its special business. The ex-colonial master has shamelessly sought to interfere in a way that would cause any Briton to justifiably howl with rage if a foreign country tried to influence things in the UK to the same extent.

The British politicians have been encouraged in their old bad colonial habits of not having any idea how to deal with Africans as equals by Africans themselves. There are those who still pine for a paternalistic relationship with Britain. In turn these are the Africans the British are most comfortable with. The “please Mr. Brown can we have some more aid if we behave” kind of Africans.

So they are at a complete loss when they encounter a new breed of Africans who say, ‘We appreciate the relationship with you we have been forced into by colonial history, but we no longer feel like relating to you like your serfs.’

All hell breaks loose when they encounter such rude natives. Mugabe lover! Supporter of the dispossession of sweet, innocent, hard-working (British stock) white farmers! Defender of evil! Excusing genocide! Denier of economic collapse! Excuser of atrocities including babies thrown onto the floor in the name of the Mugabe regime! (a now rather infamous, recently disproved example of how The Times eagerly lends itself to going over the top in its Zimbabwe coverage) ! Racist apologist for the denial of property rights and the rule of law! African who can’t be trusted to uphold the civilised christian values you were lucky we came to colonise and leave you with!

And all the other things that pour out of the British media daily to try to bolster the simplistic, only partially true British narrative of what The Zimbabwe Crisis is about. Oppression, violence and a cynical thwarting of  democracy are all part of the sad reality of Zimbabwe. That the British media says this is all that informs their unprecedented, emotional involvement with the Zimbabwe story does not change the fact that even with all these issues, there are deeper ones which are overlooked or looked at in very narrow ways.

One result of all this lack of depth, nuance and rationality about Zimbabwe by Britain is that despite all the emotion and words expended, the ex-colonial power has even less influence on events there than it ever did. There are Zimbabweans like myself who are desperate for a new way of running their country’s affairs and await the end of the Mugabe era but are deeply suspicious of and alienated by Britain insisting on treating Zimbabwe like its continuing fiefdom.

Part of this means recognising that Mugabe’s charge that Tsvangirai and his MDC are directly controlled from London is self-serving nonsense. But it also means being disgusted by the opposition party’s sloppiness in managing its image in this regard. The MDC often seems inexcusably oblivious of the cost to itself of the uniquely Zimbabwe-specific context of developing good relations with Britain as with any other nation, but of also not so carelessly seeming to be led by the nose by an ex-colonial master whose claims of good intentions should not be automatically trusted, based on solid historical evidence.

Britain seems to have been so blinded by an irrational fascination with hating Mugabe, similar to Mugabe’s own irrational fascination with taunting Britain, that it cannot see that none of its words and actions in Zimbabwe in recent years have had the intended effects. There is the issue of meddling in the affairs of another country in unacceptable ways, but over and above that, doing so in all the wrong ways from virtually any angle! The result: Mugabe is still firmly in place, Britain has been goaded into appearing to have a ‘personal’ spat with Mugabe, the disproportionate concern with white interests in Zimbabwe knocks Britain’s credibility, Tsvangirai and the MDC have been successfully painted as British stooges, British economic interests in Zimbabwe are more endangered and the UK has no diplomatic leverage on Zimbabwe at all.

Even when Gordon Brown or David Miliband makes the occasional statement on Zimbabwe I find myself agreeing with, it is often delivered in such condescending “Zimbabwe is in our British orbit” tones that my reaction is then more revulsion than relief or joy that some foreign official is taking up the cause of democratic change in my country.

There seems a complete, astonishing failure to comprehend that revulsion by and opposition to Mugabe is not necessarily the same thing as saying anybody else who shares those feelings must be my friend and has license to talk and act as if they “own” the situation. I am flabbergasted that official Britain seems so oblivious of the strong vein of Zimbabwean sensibility that cannot be neatly reduced to “Mugabe is bad and wrong, therefore his opponents (including Britain) are good and right.”

This certainly makes for the kind of simplistic distinctions the British political and media establishments can use to hide the real reasons for their outrage with regards to Mugabe and the whole Zimbabwe Crisis. But however much this simplicity conveniently and comfortably fits into the picture of what the British would like to pretend the complex Zimbabwe issue is about, it is also wrong, or at the very least an incomplete and shallow analysis of many intersecting crises going far back into the past.

Given how Britain, whether its media or the political establishment, have seemingly lost all sense of proportion and reason in looking at Zimbabwe, it was startling to read the headline  Zimbabwe: Will the West ever learn from its mistakes?

What was even more startling was that the article appeared in The Times, one of the most irrationally blinded by Mugabe hatred that it has long ceased to be a reliable source of news or perspectives about Zimbabwe, despite the hectares of space and feeling it devotes to the subject, a case of lots of heat but very little light shed on an issue they have decided is important to them.

To compound my amazement, the sensible article in question was written by Jonathan Clayton, who has in recent months spent a spell in a Harare jail. He is far from a Mugabe apologist (he couldn’t be and work at the Times anyway, probably not even in the Olden Days when Mugabe was considered a jolly good Englishman who just happened to also be African! The Times has always had the attitude that at best the Africans are retarded children and are best treated as such.)

The point is I would have expected Clayton to take a more rabidly “lets throw everything we can at Mugabe” attitude than even crack British media “Zimbabwe operatives” like Madames Christina Lamb and Peta Thornycroft.

Moments after formally agreeing to enter talks on a power-sharing deal, President Mugabe cautioned against outside interference. “As we embark on the programme of negotiating the way forward … we shall be doing this as Zimbabweans … with South Africa,” he declared.

Less than 24 hours after Monday’s signing ceremony, the European Union – showing an exquisite sense of timing – agreed to broaden sanctions against Zimbabwe. EU foreign ministers said that it was important to keep up the pressure. Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, said: “Sanctions have played a role. We have to keep up that role.”

He could not be more wrong. What the West, particularly Britain and the US, fails to understand is that it is precisely that pressure which has allowed Mr Mugabe to defy predictions and remain at the helm of the country way beyond his sell-by date.

Gasp! Clayton “gets it!”

I thought it was a fluke that this simple wisdom got past The Times’ Zimbabwe censor, but there is yet more startling commonsense about The Zimbabwe Crisis that Clayton inexplicably got away with getting published:

Sanctions – including travel bans on regime officials and the freezing of their overseas assets – have been an unmitigated failure. Most of the elite have been able to ignore them; Mr Mugabe is still in power and the country is in ruins.

For years it has been a perennial refrain from the ruling Zanu (PF) party that Morgan Tsvangirai is little more than a puppet of former imperialists. Many people believe, with commodity prices at record highs, that Britain wants to get its hands back on Zimbabwe’s mineral riches before China takes them. Mr Mugabe has exploited that unease adeptly for years. The West has always proved a willing helper: talking tough, threatening action and making clear its obvious distaste for any deal other than the former “freedom fighter’s” departure. By so doing it has strengthened Mr Mugabe and undermined those regional voices wanting him to step down.

All this has been blatantly obvious for years to everybody but the British politicians and media who just want to be seen to be doing “something” about the hated-Mugabe, no matter how counter-productive that something is to the stated goal! But it is weird to read this in The Times.

The West’s failure to heed the lesson from past errors and adopt a different strategy lies at the heart of repeated failures of its diplomacy since the current Zimbabwean crisis began three months ago. It led directly to humiliation in the Security Council ten days ago when Russia and China vetoed a resolution imposing tough sanctions on Harare.

That vote also reflected the reality of shifting power alliances on the continent. Britain, in particular, has been slow to appreciate how little it can influence events in its former colony unless it has the backing of neighbouring states.

Lord have mercy! Surely Clayton has gone way overboard now! Is he actually suggesting that Britain accept that it is not Africa’s colonial master anymore? If so, breaking it to Messrs. Brown and Miliband in this public, humiliating way through the prestigious medium of the conservative Times is surely the cruelest way to break the news to them. The two gentleman carry on talking like British colonial governors of the 1950s. They will surely not take kindly to Clayton suggesting that they need to learn new tricks in how they deal with the natives. What? Britain needing the backing of lowly African states in order to get its way in Zimbabwe? God forbid!

The Zimbabwe mess is certainly partly about straight forward repression. But it is so much more, including the utter failure by many Westerners, like Brown, Miliband & Co., to fully grasp the many other subtextual issues. Among those is a significant on-going change in how Africans react to once unchallengable ex-masters like Britain.

That Mugabe has understood this and used it in a way that successive British establishments have totally failed to understand is only too obvious in the reductionist, surface daily reports of papers like The Times about Zimbabwe. In focusing in such a jaundiced way only on the seemingly obvious issues and without giving any credence to the reality that there are deeply held opposing views , a lot of significant underlying issues about the bigger earthquake of change that “Zimbabwe” represents are completely overlooked.

That is what makes Clayton’s clarity of analysis, and in one of Britain’s most shallow and un-nuanced papers in regards to Zimbabwean issues, so startling.

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Talks offer Zimbabwe the chance of a new beginning

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

There was a lot of symbolism to digest at July 22nd’s historic meeting between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe looked even more surly than usual. It seemed clear he had been brought there kicking and screaming by the circumstances of his own awkward and embarrassing recent self-coronation and the disgust of even many who have been his knee-jerk sympathisers. Mr. Mugabe did not at all look like a man who was in a triumphant or celebratory mood over the recent election which he “won” by being the only candidate. He was a sorry, sulky sight.

Tsvangirai was pictured grinning from ear to ear, not seeming to believe he was there at all and finally having to be taken seriously by a Mugabe he knows has utter contempt for him.

Arthur Mutambara was pictured in one of his usual bombastic poses, trying a little too hard to look powerful and dynamic. Here is a man who has done little or nothing to justify being taken seriously as a political player, but he somehow worked himself there. The handful of MPs of his small faction of the opposition are how he found himself there of course, but they do not offer any vision or ideological differences from Tsvangirai’s MDC faction. Their participation in the talks will be mostly about making sure they are included in whatever spoils are parceled out: positions, cars and the other normal perks of the parasitic political class.

Poor Simba Makoni couldn’t talk his way there, not helped by the poor showing of his upstart, formed-just-before-the-election political movement. Yet Makoni has been  insisting to anybody who would listen that he was central to the resolution of The Crisis. An AFP report:”I cannot explain my absence from that signing ceremony,” the former finance minister told South African public radio, saying “many Zimbabweans” believed his movement should have a role in both the current talks and the future of the country.

“Many Zimbabweans” possibly being his family and hangers on who would have liked to have been there to simply be in the receiving line for any goodies that may be given out.

Thabo Mbeki played it surprisingly cool for a man seemingly on the brink of vindication after years of quietly suffering vilification for his insistence on “quiet diplomacy.”

It was conspicuously an all-African affair despite the valiant failed efforts of Britain and the US to work their way to the center of determining how The Zimbabwe Crisis is resolved. They have all been calling for some kind of negotiated settlement, but it will be interesting to see if they will be happy with a settlement in which they do not dictate the terms!

Gordon Brown, the EU & Co. have also insisted they would not be happy with any deal in which Mugabe remained in power. There is approximately zero prospect of Mugabe agreeing to step down unceremoniously, or even to accept a window-dressing role, so it will also be interesting to hear what sputtering comes from those foreign quarters to a Zimbabwean-negotiated, South African-aided deal that offers much less than they hope: the final exit of a Mugabe who has been a thorn in their flesh, with what kind of ruler he has been for Zimbabweans being a very distant second consideration in their raw, emotional distaste of him. It would be entirely excusable to them if he was merely a despot but who did as he was told, but the man insists on hurling the Anglo-American foreign policy and historical hypocrisies in their faces.

But the worst panic and disappointment at even the slightest hint of moves to resolve The Zimbabwe Crisis will surely be felt by the British media. What on earth would The Daily Telegraph, The Times of London and the Guardian have to write about if Mugabe was taken away from them as a target of their hysteria? Where on earth would they find another such perfect villain to serve as the object of their deeply racial, post-colonial angst? That hysteria is not for the stated reason that Mugabe has become a repressive despot, which he is. His greater sin is being an African native who dares to speak and act towards the Western world like an equal of theirs!

The Western world has insisted their targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his henchmen have been to moderate their behaviour, a claimed goal that over the years has failed miserably. But just when for the first time Mugabe has felt the heat of world pressure and economic trouble at home to come to the negotiating table, the EU under Gordon Brown’s pressure ups the sanctions ante! If sanctions are part of why Mugabe feels under pressure to now talk, how is increasing those sanctions at the point of

Talks don’t mean mean Zimbabwe is out of the words. Many have mentioned how Mugabe’s does not have a good record of negotiating in good faith, how he is accustomed to conceding little or nothing and why Tsvangirai should be on the alert for simply being co-opted as Mugabe has done with other opponents after first softening them up with ferocious violence.

There is also the considerable issue of the genuinely deep ideological divide between Mugabe and ZANU-PF on one hand and Tsvangirai and the MDC on the other. Kenya’s coalition government may be an uneasy one, but there are at least no ideological differences between the two main partners the way there are in Zimbabwe. Nothing is impossible, but even if the two parties agree to give it a try, it is hard to imagine they could really live together for long as co-governing coalition. The many differences between them are vast, deep and wide.

But Zimbabwe is on its knees and desperately needs to stop the bleeding. Any chance to do that must be explored, no matter how great the obstacles to success seem.

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From afar, irresponsible calls for military intervention in Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on July 20, 2008

Everybody in the world has become a Zimbabwe ‘expert’ with strong feelings about events there, and many of those experts are absolutely certain they have ‘the solution’ to what ails the troubled country.

It is a good thing that there is such worldwide concern for the people of Zimbabwe. But in becoming the world’s latest pet project, Zimbabwe also has to suffer the heated attentions of the not so well informed who nevertheless want to be seen to be taking a stand on the fashionable issue of the moment. A result if this is that in keeping up with the mountains of Zimbabwe-focused news and perspectives that pour out every day, one must sift through a lot of dubious material to find the few  articles that offer anything new, helpful or insightful about the situation.

It may take force in Zimbabwe by Joseph Quesnel, writing in the Winnipeg Sun, is an example of the genre of the many self-righteous writers who have strong opinions but little understanding of the situation.

Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe…wants us to believe that human rights violations, politically-motivated beatings and killings, and illegitimate elections are none of the West’s business. This week, he made headlines by declaring that UN sanctions will result in civil war. No, Mr. Mugabe, your starvation policies and thuggish hold on power will achieve that, not UN actions.

Thankfully, many residents of Zimbabwe don’t see it that way, judging by the protests and the strength of political support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. They, like us, are realizing how connected we all are. We can see their suffering through media broadcasts and realize that human rights are not limited by borders. In this case, this does not necessarily mean we should send an army to “liberate” Zimbabwe or send special force units to assassinate Mugabe. It does, however, necessitate continuing a strong, united response and possible military assistance to opposition forces. After all, if force is what is keeping this thug in place, it will take force to remove him.

The writer seems like he has his heart in the right place and is motivated by a concern for the violence and suffering in Zimbabwe that has been broadcast around the world. But his good intentions do not change the fact that “military assistance to opposition forces” is not what Zimbabwe needs now!

It could very well be that if Mugabe continues to close off all doors to even mild dissent, he may force an increasing number of opposition hotheads to conclude that trying to take on the ruling authority by force is the only option open to them. I hope that we haven’t reached that stage yet, because that would surely be a certain path to the destruction of the country. Mugabe would welcome the slightest excuse to clamp down hard militarily on the opposition once and for all with the ruthlessness for which he has become famed, and which he seems to relish.

I can understand how somebody writing from Winnipeg, Canada might not know this, but Rhodesia and its successor Zimbabwe have been in a state of almost continuous conflict for more than a hundred years now. Different groups have been in conflict against each other in that time and before, and the intensity of the conflicts have waxed and waned. The memories of a bloody, vicious liberation struggle in the 1970s and the Gukurahundi pogrom in the early 1980s still run very deep in the society. There has never been any serious effort to find even merely symbolic national healing over all these conflicts. The many unhealed wounds and resentments going back over decades and centuries lurk behind many aspects of the present Zimbabwe Crisis in ways the Canadian writer could not be expected to know.

The Zimbabwean political impasse cannot be suddenly resolved by some sort of hoped-for surgical military strike. It is not quite as simple as a small military clique oppressing a vast unarmed majority.

Crooked as the recent election was, if its figures of a slight majority for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC are how we are to gauge the level of their support, we must deal with the reality that those figures also show an astonishing lingering level of support for Mugabe and ZANU-PF, even if that support were in reality much less than the 40-50% suggested by the official figures.

If we accept these figures as the basis for gauging the relative support of the two sides, then there is an almost even split amongst Zimbabweans about which vision for their country they want. Effectively encouraging civil war in such a situation, which is effectively what Quesnel does with his suggestion of military support, is the height of irresponsibility.

Outsiders would be far more helpful by calling for the de-militarisation of the Zimbabwean impasse, not grandstanding by recklessly urging more of what Zimbabweans have suffered far too much of in their recent history.

An even more bombastic call to arms was West must intervene to liberate Zimbabwe by one Tony Allwright in an article in the Irish Times. Allwright starts off ‘allwrong’ by giving a brief, distorted, simplistic and caricatured recent history of Zimbabwe to show what a nasty fellow Mugabe has always been.

In Allwright’s Zimbabwe view, the Ndebele tribe (which, descended from proud Zulus, historically regarded Shonas solely as a source of slaves, women and cattle) experienced 20,000 deaths when Mugabe, a Shona, sent in his personal, North Korean-trained military hit squad to perpetrate widespread massacres in Matabeland, stronghold of his political opponent Joshua Nkomo.

At this point it is tempting to simply dismiss Allwright as a flake for his broad brushes, but one must remember that there are thousands who would have read his opinion piece and who would simply not know enough about the situation to tell whether it was authoritative or fair, and who would be inclined to believe the account hook, line and sinker.

I say the word “flake” to describe him partly because of the condescending, almost comical way Allwright uses the old colonial divide and rule tactic of ‘noble Zulu-derived Ndebele’ versus ‘not-so-noble Shona.’ And he writes about Ndebele raids on Shona territory for slaves, women and cattle as if in admiration of them.

The problem is that once you go down that slippery slope, those on the opposite side of the lunatic fringe that argues like this might say Mugabe’s army’s violence against the Ndebele was sort of a historical tit-for-tat. In the case of that absurd contention, on what basis would a person like Allwright say that more recent violence was any less “noble” than the earlier raids for “slaves, women and cattle?”

To take the argument further, would Allwright be willing to excuse Mugabe’s  permission of violence against white farmers as justifiable tit-for-tat for the (presumably) ‘noble’ violence by the early white settlers against the natives, whether the noble Ndebele or the not-so-noble Shona? In that case the violence and crooked dispossession was not that different from the ones for slaves, women and cattle Allwright seems to find admirable about the Ndebele raids on the Shona, except that the white raiders also wanted minerals, land; basically complete conquest, which they indeed achieved for a brief while. It’s just a hunch, but I suspect that in this case Allwright would not accept this type of division between noble and not so noble violence!

The Ndebele are no less or more noble than the Shona, just like the whites are no less or more noble than the blacks. But from very early on in his article, in going so over-the-top in trying to illustrate what a bad guy he considers Mugabe to be, Allwright has already spoiled his own credibility by getting bogged down in a classic ‘good native-bad native’ comparison. One cannot avoid the feeling that his passion about Zimbabwe is due to his fighting other ‘wars’ than those he mentions in his article! I say so because its suggestion of a tone of condescension about the Shona groups suggests that his ‘problem’ is not just with Mugabe, and that his concern may not be for the general welfare of Zimbabweans, of whom Shonas compose 80%.

So after just his first few paragraphs I am already deeply suspicious of and alienated by Allwright. I will not even bother to go into the issue of how widespread inter-marriage (long after the slaves-women-cattle raids!) between Shona and Ndebele have made largely redundant the fossilised colonial thinking about the real or imaginary differences between them.

Words and mild slaps have been going on for years. If they were ever going to work, they would have done so by now, at least to some extent, but they haven’t.

At the first sight of professional soldiery, you can be sure the Zimbabwe army and police, who have no idea how to deal with anyone who isn’t an unarmed civilian, will discard their weapons and uniforms and simply melt away, Having handed the administration to Morgan Tsvangirai, whom no one but the Mugabe clique doubts won last March’s election, the invading force should then rapidly withdraw.

In Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, words kill, because by achieving nothing, they permit and encourage him to continue his murderous rampage. Thus those who forswear military action should just remain silent, for they are, however unwittingly, on the side of Robert Mugabe. I am not.

It is interesting that Allwright’s attitude to those who see things differently from him is that they “should just remain silent.” It strikes me that this is exactly Mugabe’s attitude, when he says those who oppose him are automatically, necessarily lackeys of “the enemy” and should be silenced! Allwright and Mugabe appear to have more in common than they do apart, including a belief in and love for military force (as long as it is applied by sides they find admirable, of course!)

Many of the earlier arguments against military “assistance” to the opposition apply against the even more alarming idea of Zimbabwe being directly militarily “saved” by Western powers. The shrillest and most militant of those countries in advocating strong action of one type or another against Mugabe not so long ago happily backed Ian Smith’s army against the same population we are told to believe they are now so concerned about they should militarily intervene on behalf of!

What could account for the curious radical change in the concern for the natives in just 30 years? Is it really because of concern for the hardships Zimbabweans are currently going, or is there another “elephant in the room” that accounts for the shrill, unprecedented, condescending ranting of people like Tony Allwright?

I certainly have no trouble understanding that British hate for Mugabe runs especially deep for a number of obvious reasons. But those reasons are quite different from why most Zimbabweans want Mugabe to go. I do not for one moment buy the notion that Allwright urges an invasion of Zimbabwe because he is so passionately concerned about the deprivation of its citizens’ rights. Allwright admits as much by reducing the ‘solution’ to Zimbabwe’s ‘problem’ to the assassination of Mugabe. What I read into this, in conjuction with the rest of his rant, is that he would not at all be concerned about whatever mess was left behind an attempted or actual invasion as long as Mugabe was eliminated and Tsvangirai was put in his place. Zimbabwe’s problems are far deeper and more complicated than this. Perhaps Allwright should take his own advice and “just remain silent” or apply his bombastic wisdom elsewhere.

The idea of a Western military force “handing” the administration to Morgan Tsvangirai would immediately neutralise the legitimacy of his election margin. It would turn against him the many Zimbabweans who support him as an elected alternative to Mugabe, but whose experience of Western political involvement in Zimbabwe is so negative that his assuming office as a military project of a West that has not generally been friendly to Africa would open up vast new fractures.

One of the worst parts of Allwrights analysis of the purported magic of installing Tsvangirai by Western military means is to ignore the aftermath. Suppose the fairy tale went as Allwright scripts it: walk-over invasion of Harare, Mugabe is taken out, installation of Tsvangirai, conquering Western heroes jauntily walk out in a blaze of glory. Is the idea that the country would then live happily ever after? Can Allwright be that naive, or can we deduce that he would not worry too much about that chapter as long as the Mugabe the British hate with such blinding passion was no longer on the scene?

This simplistic nonsense, which is so absurd it is not possible to even credit it with being well-intentioned, ignores the many nuances of the Zimbabwean impasse to only focus on the surface things that seem clear cut.

Morgan Tsvangirai probably enjoys the electoral support of significant majority of Zimbabweans. But this is not the same as saying the intervention of his Western sympathisers is welcome. Robert Mugabe is unpopular and has over-stayed, but many who want him to go also agree with his fierce nationalistic sentiment of African empowerment in all sectors of the economy.

The armed forces are not simply composed of paid mercenaries. There are thousands of its members who took part in the liberation war for reasons of deep conviction. It is naive in the extreme to believe that the spirit for self-determination that in the 1970s saw thousands of young people cross over into Mozambique to join the guerrillas fighting Ian Smith’s army, resulting in more than 30,000 civilian deaths, would just evaporate into thin air in relief at the Western installation of a ruler. If Tsvangirai is popular now, the way of his assuming an office he probably won fairly and squarely that is suggested by Allwright would not be the end of his and the country’s troubles, but the beginning of far worse ones than we are experiencing now. Western military intervention as suggested by Allwright would not be a confirmation of Tsvangirai’s electoral “legitimacy,” but the most effective way to undermine it.

People of goodwill across the world must continue to ask in what ways they can help Zimbabwe solve its problems. But emotional reactions spurred by the deeply buried ideological, historical and racial feelings that Mugabe and Zimbabwe engender in disparate groups across the world do not at all help the situation, and may well make it much worse. With ‘friends’ like Tony Allwright, Zimbabwe doesn’t need any more enemies.

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Exit British/Dutch Shell, enter Malaysian/S. African Engen: investor re-alignments in Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on July 19, 2008

A recent news report by Bloomberg:

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s biggest oil producer, will sell all its petroleum assets in Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe was reappointed last month in a disputed election following a decade of recession.

“It coincides with the political debate but that’s not the background,” Spokesman Rainer Winzenried said  from the Hague. Shell is reviewing refining and marketing businesses worldwide to “see whether they are profitable enough to meet our expectations,” he said.

Shell’s assets, including half of a venture with BP Plc that sells 172 million liters (45 million gallons) of fuel a year, 20.73 percent of an unoperational refinery and 226 fuel stations, will be sold to a unit of Petroliam Nasional Bhd., Malaysia’s state oil company, Winzenried said. BP has first rights to buy Shell’s stake in the venture.

Zimbabwe “still has good infrastructure which we believe will form the basis of renewed economic growth once the current political situation is resolved,” said Rashid Yusof, chief executive officer of Petroliam Nasional’s Cape Town-based unit Engen Petroleum Ltd. The Malaysian company is also known as Petronas.

In a recent post I asked: Would a pullout of Shell Oil from Zimbabwe amount to anything?

The gist of my post was that a pullout from Zimbabwe by Shell and other oil “majors” would not mean much as an economic sanctions measure because of how drastically reduced their influence on the country’s oil supply has become in recent years. A pullout by them as a sanctions measure would therefore not be felt much by the economy or by Mugabe’s government. I made the point that they were probably not benefiting from their investments there, and were holding on in the hope of better times when the country’s politics have been resolved.

I believe the Shell spokesman when he says the company’s decision to pull out of Zimbabwe “coincides with the political debate” but is not necessarily the reason for it. It must be pretty clear that Mugabe is not going anywhere any time soon, and that this is almost necessarily means economic normality is not on the immediate horizon. Shell’s are therefore not likely to begin earning the company dividends again any time soon, particularly when the “majors” have lost a lot of their formerly dominant market share to many smaller players.

The remark about Zimbabwe’s still good infrastructure (and the base this represent for possibly quick economic recovery in the post-Mugabe era) by Engen’s CEO is one reason why companies like Shell have held on to their non-performing investments for several years.

An interesting thing the pullout of Shell and the deeper involvement of Engen represents is the shift from the country’s sole dependence on Western investors, to the increasing stake taken in Zimbabwe’s economy by players from China, Malaysia, South Africa and other “emerging economies” who do not have quite the same political distaste for Mugabe’s government as Western countries do, and who think more in the economic long term.

The full implications of the fundamental re-alignments that are taking place will probably only become fully apparent in hindsight years from now.

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The legal and diplomatic precedents set by the issue of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on July 19, 2008

Blogger Stephen Ellis of  the “Afrika Studie Centrum” in the Netherlands explains particularly well how some important precedents in international relations could be set by how The Zimbabwe Crisis is handled in the coming months:

Whatever happens in, or to, Zimbabwe over the next few months, it will surely set an important diplomatic and legal precedent.

President Mugabe (as we must still see him) has staked his political claim on the principle of state sovereignty.  He also makes great rhetorical use of the ideology of national liberation, the foundational charter of his government.  Yet a resolution of Zimbabwe’s crisis seems bound to involve international mediation in some shape or form.  It is precisely because President Mugabe’s claim has been stated so forcefully, on behalf of a political party that has often been represented as a model of national liberation in Africa, that the resulting clash of principles will be heard with particular clarity.

The least likely candidates for international mediators are actually the United States and the United Kingdom.  The USA has little leverage over a country that has never been squarely within its sphere of influence, while Britain’s leverage has been neutralized to a considerable extent by Mugabe’s tactical astuteness.  The relative powerlessness of these two powers is in fact a good illustration of the practical limitations that result from the increasingly fossilized appearance of the United Nations Security Council.  Including some of the major emerging powers (India, South Africa) as core members of this club would have enabled the Security Council to have thrashed out an approach to Zimbabwe that would have carried more weight, and Mr Mugabe would have been less able to defy the Security Council with impunity.  The same broadly holds for the Group of Eight, which looks increasingly absurd without China.

Somewhere behind it, the African Union.  Neither has gained much credibility from its handling of the Zimbabwe crisis to date. Yet the African Union charter is actually quite interventionist… An AU mandate for international action to restore some sort of normality to Zimbabwe will further enhance its interventionist record.  In this regard, the AU’s great weakness is not so much a refusal to meddle in the internal affairs of its members but its lack of resources to carry out such a policy

Lurking close to this absence is the possibility of an effective collaboration between the AU, which has legitimacy, and those external powers that can provide resources.  There is much lip-service paid to such a combination, but it has not been very effective to date.

Zimbabwe is an extreme example of the many African states that base their legitimacy on the claim to have liberated their people from colonial rule.  Zimbabwe at least has a robust state apparatus it is the economy that has collapsed, not the state.

There are already quite a few governments that have precious little real control of the instruments of sovereignty, constituting what has been called a ‘quasi-state’.  Zimbabwe’s future may further undermine the real power of such governments.  This need not be viewed as a tragedy: it could be the start of more effective forms of partnership between African powers and their external partners.

I cannot imagine the AU intervening militarily in Zimbabwe, as things stand there now. Ellis makes the point that the AU has actually been quite interventionist, but not once in any situation similar to Zimbabwe’s. That situation may be ugly, with government-sanctioned (or at least government-ignored) militias involved in violence and killings against supporters of the MDC party. But not even the chilling accounts of the opposition party and the graphic images from Zimbabwe suggest the situation has reached levels that could yet justify armed intervention by any quarter.

This could well change, but in the short term the change in the political environment is actually towards more calm as Mugabe’s government perceives itself to be less threatened and feels more secure, and as talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC take place in South Africa.

But still, Ellis is very astute in his reading of the situation, such as his pointing out the relative powerlessness of Britain and the US to influence things in Zimbabwe. The UN sanctions resolution they sponsored at the UN and its veto by China and Russia is just one sign of that lack of their lack of influence on and in Zimbabwe.

Ellis did not say, but perhaps the fervent but dubious efforts of Britain and the US to portray the mess there as a threat to international security is partly to make sure that a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe does return to their “sphere of influence.” We saw how useful this was for them during the recent Kenyan upheavals that not only threatened to tear that country apart, but also threatened the considerable economic, geopolitical and military interests of Britain and the US. They quickly weighed in very heavily with various effective threats to make the opposing political parties sit down and form a unity government.  Kenya can be said to have been “saved” at least partially by these interventions, but so were the British and American interests there.

The material interests of the UK and the US are not nearly as great in Zimbabwe as in Kenya, but certainly the potential for them to be is clear, as would be the symbolic importance of the country having a government that was more amenable to diplomatic and economic pressure than Mugabe’s has proven to be so far for Britain and the US.

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Another explanation of Russia’s veto of the UN Zimbabwe sanctions resolution

Posted by CM on July 19, 2008

The US and British governments are still seething over China and Russia’s ‘double-veto’ of the UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on president Mugabe and his closest associates, and to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

Some Zimbabweans are also disappointed at what was seen as a reprimand that would have carried great moral and symbolic authority; as a statement of the apprehension of much of the world at events in  Zimbabwe. Others are glad the resolution failed because they saw it as a hypocritical ganging up on Zimbabwe by countries that are quite happy to look the other way at the actions of governments as repressive or more so than Mugabe’s.

British officials have reacted very testily to the suggestion that the resolution was ill-advised, and that it should not have been presented without its promoters being absolutely sure of support for it to pass. The argument is that it would have saved the US and Britain the loss of “face” of having a motion they pushed so hard for defeated. Part of the response to that has been effectively ” the sneaky Russians had suggested they would support the motion but then stabbed us in the back at the last minute.”

That still leaves open the question of why it was not obvious that the probability of at least a Chinese veto was very high from the beginning, for reasons of that government’s relations with Mugabe’s and China’s own less than stellar democratic credentials. The undiplomatic way that Brown & Company tried to blackmail countries by almost daring them to oppose the motion (ironically, very much Mugabe tactics!) could not have helped the pre-vote lobbying efforts to get unanimity. Official Britain seems to have a very hard time accepting that as influential as that country remains in world affairs, the days of it being able to hector other nations is long past, and that the tendency to do so rubs many of those nations the wrong way. When those nations are increasingly powerful ones like China and Russia, they delight in the opportunity to flex their muscles and defy those who have ruled the world unchallenged in recent times.

A legitimate question that must be asked is whether Zimbabwe’s mess can be considered a threat to international security, one of the grounds for the Security Council to force its way into a country’s governance. On that shaky legal basis alone the resolution had a low chance of passing. It would have set a troubling new precedent in how “threat to international security” is defined, probably ushering in a new era of interventions on rather dubious pretexts going beyond what the world has witnessed in Iraq, for instance.

Apart from all the other selfish reasons China and Russia had for vetoing the sanctions resolution, I can also see solid international law justifications for their actions. If the main goal of the sanctions were to send a moral message to Mugabe’s government and to the world, arguably the UN’s own rules would seem to suggest that a Security Council resolution was not the appropriate vehicle for doing so. It has always been countries like Britain and the US imposing their own interpretations of “international law” on the rest of the world. But in this case the contrary explanation of whether the threat to international security  requirement was met by the Zimbabwe crisis carried the day.

Now if the EU chooses to apply the same sanctions that Brown & Co. had wanted to be imposed by the UN, as Brown is pushing for, arguably they are on firmer ground. The EU does not have the UN’s narrow restrictions on taking sanctions actions on the basis of “threat to international security,” but can justify its actions with its own reasons.

Of course it is not difficult to understand why UN sanctions would carry far greater symbolic (and practical) “weight” than the same sanctions imposed by the EU. One could be explained as “the world” speaking to reprimand Mugabe, while EU sanctions would be dismissed by Mugabe as merely another manifestation of what he claims to be a Western conspiracy to remove him.

An indignant analyst writing on a blog devoted to Russian foreign policy issues titled his post Russia was right to resist Zimbabwe sanctions!

Have I been completely missing something or has everyone lost their minds regarding this whole Zimbabwe sanctions situation?

… now Britain and the US have been openly questioning Russia’s fitness to belong to the G8. Normally level-headed commentators have been feverishly proclaiming their disappointment in Russian collusion with dictators.

… the situation today in Zimbabwe is reminiscent of 1993/1996 Russia — violence to the opposition (Yeltsin’s bombing of the White House); massive voting fraud (1996 election); hyperinflation — or any number of contemporary Central Asian states. None of these have had sanctions imposed on them.

In the following rant, which reflects solely the ill-considered opinions of its author, allow me to introduce some reality into this moralistic, anthropomorphic hysteria:

1. The UN security council is a forum for international law and diplomacy, not a morality police. It is not the business of the members to tell other countries what political system they ought to choose.

2. Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe has indulged in political abuses but it has not killed, tortured or imprisoned any more people than has China, Morocco, Congo, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Nepal or [insert authoritarian developing country here].

3. The UN Security Council is not designed to impose sanctions on states that rig elections. The vast majority of countries in the world rig their elections; others, like practically every Gulf and Central Asian state, don’t even bother to hold elections. Many more others suffer from hyperinflation, violent repression of the opposition and economic collapse.

4. Sanctions almost never work anyway.

5. Countries aren’t people. They aren’t good or bad, and they don’t have feelings or morals. They are entities with interests. Condemning Russia for the Zimbabwe sanctions on grounds of morality is childish and dangerous.

One may not agree with all the author’s points, but they are legitimate matters for debate. They are also very useful reminders of how on a lot of issues which the Western world considers “clear cut,” there are many people from other parts of the world who view them through a different lens.

Zimbabwe is definitely in a mess, that much is sure. But it is a complicated mess with many shades of grey, not one as clearly black and white as it appears to some.

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Why foreign firms tough it out in Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on July 13, 2008

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, said: “With Gordon Brown making such tough noises on Zimbabwe, it would be grossly hypocritical if a Labour peer had not ensured that the company on whose board he serves is not upholding both the spirit and the letter of government policy.

“Companies like Weir need to look closely at whether their investments assist Mugabe’s regime in any way, whether through providing much-needed foreign exchange or direct revenue to the government.

“…assists Mugabe in any way” is a very tough call. Obviously these companies pay taxes, for example. Does that fit the definition of “assisting Mugabe” or not? If it does, then the UK can only be consistent if it not only encourages its companies to pull out of Zimbabwe, but orders or squeezes them to do so. Yet it is not clear that this is the policy.

The limiting of action to ‘targeted sanctions’ on the rulers and the arms embargo that were at the heart of the UN sanctions resolution were partly justified on the desire not to hurt ordinary Zimbabweans. In evaluating the effects of a company’s withdrawal, how dos one gauge between the harm in throwing people out of work versus “assisting Mugabe?”

Robertson defended the company’s deal, saying: “Weir inherited Warman’s small office in Bulawayo which has insignificant business of £500,000 a year and the group has not invested in Zimbabwe since the acquisition. In no way could this give comfort to Robert Mugabe.”

And perhaps giving a hint into the real reasons UK policy on Zimbabwe will likely continue to clash with private business does, Weir’s chief executive Mark Selway has said he believes opportunities in Zimbabwe would be “quite significant” in the medium term.

South African firms are having as tough a time operating in Zimbabwe as all other companies, although there is obviously no pressure from their government over their investing there. Despite the tough environment, an AFP report headlined South African firms tough it out in Zimbabwe reiterates the point that they are holding on for perceived lucrative future gains.

They are resisting the urge to pull out of Zimbabwe despite an increasingly hostile business climate in the hope they will be in prime position to benefit from a future upturn.

Zimbabwe has become a nightmare for foreign businesses in recent years with the annual inflation rate now well into eight figures and the government trying to impose prices for goods and services.

But analysts say the dozens of companies — ranging from mining giants and banks to tourist operators — which are still clinging on are confident that things are bound to get better at some stage.

South Africa’s largest supermarket operator, ‘Pick n Pay,’ is also keeping its foot in the door through its 25 percent stake in Zimbabwe’s TM chain even though it has not received any dividends in the last four years.

While few are making much money in the current climate, Rossouw of Vector Securities and Derivatives says many businesses are prepared to absorb short-term losses and avoid leaving the door open for their rivals.

“By pulling out now, companies are likely to find it hard to establish themselves all over again once the situation stabilises,” he said. “They also fear opening up opportunities for the competition.”

This is not the kind of news that sits easy with people who like to see things in blackand white terms. But The Zimbabwe Crisis is much more complicated, difficult shades of grey than clear cut black and white, a factor that in the over-heated media onslaught now only occasionally sneaks through reports such as the two I have cited here.

It is hard to imagine that the picture of the country that is daily painted by papers like The Times is the same one that UK companies controlled by prominent members of the British establishment are reluctant to let go of. That speaks volumes about why Zimbabwe is so significant economically, politically, symbolically and otherwise, particularly to Britain.

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Who is minding Zimbabwe’s agriculture?

Posted by CM on July 13, 2008

by Chido Makunike

One of the most alarming things about the total pre-occupation on maneuvering for power of Zimbabwe’s political parties is the continuing neglect of of the country’s agriculture.

This is dangerous not only because of the worsening hunger, but of the generally agreed on idea that a dramatic improvement in agricultural production is still the most realistic means of stemming the economic slide and eventually helping to reverse it. If serious enough attention were paid to agriculture to just get the country to feed itself, that would be an important achievement with wide-ranging benefits for the rest of the economy.

The question of what to do about land reform is a long-term issue. The question of who is “running” the country’s agriculture is posed here in the immediate term, the planting season that will begin this coming October/November. It is already getting late for that season to not have plans in place for seed, fertilizer, fuel, equipment and so forth. Yet it is hard to imagine that in the current uncertainty over everything anything is being seriously done in this regard.

The large scale commercial farming model has largely been destroyed and there is no prospect of that situating turning around tomorrow even if the political parties pulled a miraculous rabbit out of the hat of their negotiations. But it must be remembered that even at the height of commercial farming as practiced by large scale white farmers, it was small scale farmers who produced most of the nation’s maize, which is the main food security crop in Zimbabwe. The small grains like sorghum and barley have also been grown mostly by small scale farmers, as have most vegetables for local consumption.

So while reviving commercial agriculture is important for supplying industry many raw materials and for export, achieving food security does not necessarily depend on settling the difficult question of what to do about the large scale commercial agriculture model that has been mostly dismantled within the last 10 years. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that diligently enabling the small scale producers with the appropriate inputs, incentives and sense of security could in one season have a dramatic effect on the country’s food security situation.

Year after year there have been the announcement of plans to ensure all inputs were in place for the country’s main cropping season. And year after year those plans turned out to have been much less than announced, or to have floundered for one of many reasons to do with the economy’s many inter-linking crises.

One of the things that is so puzzling about the Mugabe government’s failure to seriously tackle this issue is that it would be the most effective way of justifying a land redistribution exercise that has been largely judged to be a colossal failure, and to be characterised by cynical cronyism.

Yet there is no sign that there is any re-doubled commitment to addressing the problems of agriculture.

Zim agriculture now a disgrace in the Financial Gazette makes sad reading:

When the (tobacco auction) floors opened for sales in May this year, farmers almost staged an ugly riot over poor prices and there was no activity for days. Since then, after the sales resumed and stopped only to restart again, just over 26 million kilogrammes have been delivered at the country’s three auction floors. Overall, a mere 75 million kg are expected from farmers by the close of sales later this year compared to a seasonal flow of well over 200 million kg before the year 2000.

“Right now it’s dark. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Jabulani Gwaringa, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union director, trying to forecast the country’s grim agricultural future. But he believes that in terms of food security Zimbabwe can recover in a single season if the farmers, especially those in communal and A1 resettlement areas make preparations in time, with timely access to inputs, because they have since independence in 1980, supplied more than 90 percent of the staple maize to the Grain Marketing Board.

The factors required to make this happen again are not completely independent of the country’s present crisis. For instance, hyper-inflation, fuel shortages and the overall sense of fear and uncertainty would affect the best laid production plans in many ways. But it is also true that a more serious commitment to addressing the production constraints would likely result in dramatic gains in a single good rain season.

Besides agriculture being crucial to Zimbabwe’s food security, farming should bring good returns for all the hard work farmers put into it , be they communal or commercial. Many communal, small scale resettlement and commercial farmers have already sold this year’s produce and spent the cash on items that have no bearing on the coming season while hyperinflation is fast corroding the cash still in hand.

It is unfortunate that for the nation’s many eager farmers, agriculture is fast becoming a futile enterprise. At the tobacco auction floors farmers are paid in part by cheque plus $200 billion in cash. Cashing their multi-trillion-dollar cheques is a living nightmare.


“There are some retail shops that are very keen to accept our cheques, but they double the price of any item we buy. It’s a take it or leave it game. They say by the time our cheques mature they will have devalued due to inflation,” said a farmer from Guruve who chose to remain anonymous.


“We are buying useless items that don’t help us to continue farming just to convert our cheques into cash. I would not mind the retailers doubling the price if they were selling me fertiliser because it is a critical ingredient in tobacco farming. But if you go around, there is no fertiliser and our money is losing value every minute,” he lamented.

In February this year, the government distributed, among other things, hundreds of tractors, ploughs; thousands of animal-drawn scotch carts, harrows, grinding mills, generators, planters and cultivators; as well as combine harvesters and diesel.


While these efforts to revive the ailing sector are commendable, some farmers have accused the government of somewhat misplacing its priorities. “If the government imported and supplied the local fertiliser manufacturing industry with all the critical inputs such as potash required for fertiliser manufacturing, would it not be cheaper and make more economic sense than importing the fertiliser?” asked one industry expert who declined to be named.

As commendable as the move to promote greater efficiency and productivity through mechanization was,  there are several factors that mean that even those well-intentioned efforts could not on their own cause a dramatic turn around in the country’s agricultural fortunes, and they didn’t.

Tractors and other such equipment are mainly meant for the benefit of the very few present and aspiring medium to large scale farmers. The problem is that in the present climate, there are many other things working against the success of these farmers: fuel is hard to come by, hyperinflation makes operating difficult at every level, they need credit which is hard to get, labour is a problem because wages are not worth the effort in the hyper-inflationary environment, and so forth. Tractors and other such equipment are not the most important limiting factor to production. Therefore, it is possible to have them and still not see big productivity gains, because the real, most significant current constraints to production are still in place and largely unaffected by whether a farmer has a tractor or not.

For now, the tractors would be much more useful if they were used to till for large groups of small scale farmers than they are in the hands of individual medium to large scale farmers who cannot presently use them optimally even if they are very committed. The present mess in the country simply means that for many reasons, the best hope of production gains in agriculture rests with supporting the small scale farmers, who do not have the crippling costs and many other burdens of large scale farmers.

Small scale farmers often rely on family labour, they often use their own rather than commercial seed, they have small enough holdings that for some crops they could rely on manure and compost for fertility enhancement, rather than expensive and hard to get fertilizer. They use inefficient, back-breaking hand cultivation, but in the present climate where a farmer with a tractor can’t get fuel for it, obviously the small scale farmer can get on with business in a way the other farmer cannot.

Various ways of helping the small scale farmer on whom the nearest prospect of food security rests include favorable overall policies and market-driven prices (or the total lifting of crop price controls to spur production, although this is controversial because of the effects on the consumer. But in Zimbabwe, shortages caused by depressed production have shot prices sky-high anyway. So we have shortages and high prices, hardly an ideal situation for the consumer.)

There are many other things one would have on a wish list for aiding small scale farmers, such as affordable transport to market, better storage facilities, etc. But these and many others are not realistic in the current environment. Yet even with minimum assistance, or even just minimum interference in the things that make small scale farmers want to work hard to produce, yields of many crops would boom, with positive effects on food security, inflation and an overall revival of confidence in the country’s future by its own people.


Continues the FinGaz article, “Agriculture used to generate a lot of foreign currency, but other sectors such as mining and tourism propped it up too. So, is the government properly channelling the little available foreign currency to the key areas that need a little investment to make them tick again? There might be other impediments, but internal co-ordination is lacking. Proper organisation is lacking and mired in too much bureaucracy,” the agricultural expert said.


He cited the involvement of the military, under the Operation Maguta programme, as being absolutely unnecessary since there are structures in place such as the Agricultural Extension Services and farmer organisations that can perform better if empowered.


“A farmer will think twice before entering an army barracks to collect seed or fertiliser. Why doesn’t the government give these responsibilities to those who have agriculture at heart? “Some politicians take advantage of this disorganisation. They delay the distribution of inputs to farmers until the people are desperate, just to gain political mileage.”


Unfortunately, at the end of the day, extricating agricultural issues from politics at present is impossible, as the two have become wedded in unholy matrimony that has left millions on the verge of starvation.

It is ironic and tragic that the ‘politics’ that were said to guarantee wider ’empowerment’ and greater possibilities for food security and wealth creation have done the exact opposite.

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