Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Hell, they’re just Africans

Posted by CM on February 3, 2009

On Bloomberg:

Starving Piglets Fed to Zimbabwean Crocodiles, Weekblad Says

By Carli Lourens  Feb. 3 (Bloomberg)

A farmer in Zimbabwe fed 700 piglets to crocodiles and slaughtered 250 breeding sows last week to prevent them starving after he ran out of animal feed, Landbou Weekblad said, without saying where it got the information. Farmers are struggling to find food for their livestock in Zimbabwe, which has suffered a decade of recession, the Cape Town-based magazine said, citing Deon Theron, deputy chairman of the Harare-based Commercial Farmers’ Union. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate that was last estimated at 231 million percent in July. At least 6.9 million people, more than half the population, need food aid, according to the United Nations.



Dear Carli Lourens,

Thank you for your sad, interesting Bloomberg story about the starving piglets who the Zimbabwean farmer had to feed to crocodiles.

Too bad none of the many who have written about this have chosen to ask: what about the starving people who would have been happy to have pork for a day, or even just a meal?

Oh well; hell, they’re just Africans.

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In UK reports about Zimbabwe, truth and distortion often co-exist

Posted by CM on December 9, 2008

Zimbabwean villagers have resorted to selling wild berries by the side of the road to buy food

Zimbabwean villagers have resorted to selling wild berries by the side of the road to buy food

The photo above and its caption recently appeared in a story in the UK publication The Independent. The headline of the article was  UN forced to cut food aid to Zimbabwe’s starving people.

It is one of the many articles chronicling the hunger in a once proudly food self-sufficient nation. As reports in the UK media go, it is a fairly “straight” article devoid of any of the hysterics that often accompany stories about Zimbabwe because of the deep, complicated, not always positive relations between the two countries over more than a century.

The reality of Zimbabwe is bad enough, but it is often made to sound even  worse  than it is because of the many overlaying and underlying issues beyond the obvious ones of horrific hyperinflation, hunger, political repression and so on.

An example is the caption accompanying The Independent’s otherwise admirably restrained, sober story. The women pictured are indeed selling “wild berries,” but everything else about the context of the photo and its caption in a story about hunger in Zimbabwe is plainly wrong, and quite probably in a deliberate effort to mislead, not as an error or out of mere ignorance.

The “wild berries” in the picture are called mazhanje in Shona, and are a widely appreciated seasonal delicacy in Zimbabwe. Many people enjoy their rich buttery taste, and they provide additional income to many rural folks who collect the fruit and sell it, often on roadsides. This has been a practice during the brief seasonal window when the fruit ripens for as long as I can remember.

The selling of the fruit by the women in the photo by the side of the road is therefore very much normal practice in Zimbabwe. It is not because they have suddenly “resorted to selling wild fruits by the side of the road to buy food” as a result of The Zimbabwe Crisis. The importance of selling this non-cultivated, freely-available fruit may have increased during these hard times, but it is hardly a practice that has been brought on in recent years  by the current economic difficulties as the caption, photo and placement in the article very subtly and cleverly imply. Mazhanje have always provided easy supplemental income in the areas of Zimbabwe where the tree grows.

The road side selling of this delicacy is such an age-old practice in Zimbabwe that I find it hard to believe that even a ‘parachute journalist’ bravely flying into the country for a few weeks under cover of being a tourist in order to earn their  “I did the Zimbabwe Crisis” stripes would have failed to find this out.

The average British reader, already trained over several years by their media to understand that ‘Mugabe-land’ is the world’s worst hell hole (“if only they had never interfered with the with the innocent, hard-working white farmers”) is naturally horrified at the true evil-ness of a despot who not only ‘unreasonably’ hates Britain, but confirms his nastiness by driving his people to sell “wild fruit” by the side of the road in order to alleviate their hunger. Oh my God, those poor oppressed people must be so desperate: to be driven to such humiliating survival extremes!

So the article, photo and caption together serve their propaganda purpose for an audience that does not have the context to know any better, and is inclined to eat up the thrust of the propaganda anyway, because of how it confirms what they already feel about Zimbabwe, and what they think they know about it.

Except the article in its totally as featured is a clever, subtle fraud. It is not journalism, but propaganda. The text of the article is largely factual, but the powerful graphic and its caption are not correct illustrations or appropriate accompaniments of the text.

The battle of/for Zimbabwe is being fought on many fronts, and for many more reasons than those stated publicly. Zimbabweans, let us be extremely wary of some of those who claim to be our “we-are-so-concerned-for your-plight”  friends.

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Cholera crisis changes political dynamics

Posted by CM on December 9, 2008

The cholera epidemic sweeping Zimbabwe is mainly a humanitarian tragedy. But it also will have lasting effects on the country’s messy political situation.

It has given Robert Mugabe’s many detractors a more graphic reason to wind up their condemnation of him. International calls for his removal have  reached a crescendo in the last few days, with even prominent foreign religious leaders calling for his forced removal.

While Mugabe has been masterful at deflaying criticism over stolen elections and violence against his supporters by framing them all in an anti-imperialist cloak, that is not so easy to do with the cholera crisis. People dying of cholera cannot be accused of doing it because they are stooges of a Britain bent on re-colonising Zimbabwe!

Some of the muted-ness of the criticism of Mugabe, in Africa in particular, is because of the strong underlying current of suspicion of the opposition MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai. He is a brave man, but one who in recent times has repeatedly blundered by appearing to confirm suspicions that he and his party have become a completely compromised ‘project’ of Western interests with a dishonorable record in Zimbabwe in particular, and in Africa in general. Fairly or unfairly, many have let Mugabe off the hook for his many transgressions of the rights of Zimbabweans on the basis that his main opponent is such a lacklustre character.

But none of this kind of thinking can apply to the cholera epidemic. The horror of ordinary people dying from cholera in a recently highly functional country like Zimbabwe provides some of the most effective anti-Mugabe ammunition for his many detractors in many years. Even those whose ‘interest’ in Zimbabwe is entirely cynical and for ends having nothing to do with the welfare of Zimbabweans have found a particularly effective bandwagon on which to ride in the long fight to depose the widely hated Mugabe.

So Mugabe is faced with a problem that he can not brush away with this standard accusations against all who oppose him. Those afflicted by cholera are ordinary Zimbabweans whose political affiliation has nothing to do with their contracting what should be an easily preventable disease.

Blaming sanctions for the government’s inability to buy water-treatment chemicals sounds absurd. The amounts mentioned in public reports as being needed are not in the millions of US dollars, but in the hundreds of thousands. The Mugabe government merely confirms the accusations of it being totally un-concerned about the welfare of Zimbabweans when it makes those amounts of money available for things like the globe-trotting of Mugabe and his always large entourage, but then claims to not be able to afford basic chemicals essential for public health.

For these and many more reasons, politically things are unlikely to go back to pre-cholera ‘normal.’

Mugabe is dramatically more cornered, isolated and reviled than he was just a few weeks ago. This is saying a lot because particularly in the West, and especially in Britain, he has already long been portrayed as a horned devil, sometimes to absurd extents. But even in Africa, the discomfort level with him has risen dramatically, with increasingly loud critical statements coming from politicians in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya. Utterly predictably, the Mugabe government has dismissed a lot of these criticisms as being from leaders as Western-compromised as Tsvangirai, although the response to South African criticism is a lot more careful.

However the Mugabe government interprets the growing African criticism of the escalating crisis that Zimbabwe has become, the fact is that Mugabe’s international circle is growing ever smaller. Without the support of even his neighbours, his room to even keep his immediate band of supporters becomes more restricted, and whatever remains of his Africanist prestige severely dented.

Whether the MDC-ZANU PF power-sharing agreement was dead before the cholera outbreak or not, it virtually is now. The Mugabe side’s response may well be that they didn’t want to share power with the MDC anyway, and were only willing to consider it if it guaranteed relief from all the international pressures, particularly the cutting off of foreign money. The dramatically increased international criticism since the cholera epidemic began is not likely to make the Mugabe government more inclined to share power with the MDC. Instead they are likely to retreat further into their bunker and say “to hell with the MDC.”

It would not be surprising if the increased international pressure on the Mugabe government caused it to tip over eventually. But it is far from clear that this would necessarily mean the MDC would just walk into government. And if they did under those circumstances, they would be beginning with a terrible millstone on their necks: as indeed the government that was installed in office by Western pressure. This would obviate much of their significant support in Zimbabwe, even if perhaps the initial reaction might just be overwhelming relief at the exit of the Mugabe government.

Even if Mugabe did now agree to whatever differences are holding up an MDC-ZANU PF power-sharing deal from being effected, would it be wise for the MDC to co-govern with ZANU-PF at this point? There might well be far more negatives than positives for them as a party from going to bed with ZANU-PF, unless the MDC had a clear upper hand in the balance of power, which ZANU-PF is not likely to concede.

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The mishandling of Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic

Posted by CM on December 5, 2008

Nothing seems to be going right for Mr. Mugabe’s government. The sad, horrific cholera epidemic is not just a public health/humanitarian tragedy, it is also a public relations disaster for an already image-battered government.

Mugabe has survived the seemingly un-survivable many times before. There is, therefore, no reason to believe this latest calamity will force him from office the way it would do the administration of a functioning democracy. But still, the cholera epidemic is more of a knock to whatever reputation his government  still had than even anything the perennially out-foxed opposition MDC could throw at it.

The government’s defense has been, “Yes, the water treatment and sewage systems are falling apart, but this is not our fault but that of  ‘illegal’ Western sanctions.”  This is now the standard excuse whenever there is a problem.

But whether one buys the sanctions reason as the reason for the pitiful state of the country or not, there are so many ways in which the Mugabe government has completely dropped the ball in this case, unfortunately as in many others.

The government first disastrously tried to treat the epidemic in an information-control way rather than as an emergency public health issue. It initially denied that there was a cholera crisis. But the evidence was overwhelming so that couldn’t work. Then it tried to downplay the extent of it, just as certain other organisations in the country and outside are trying to exaggerate an already terrible situation for their own fund-raising, propaganda and other reasons.  But the nature of the crisis is such that it could not be easily minimised.

When the weight of  the evidence of the extent of the problem became too clear to deny, the government was grudging about owning up to it in a way that entrenched its growing reputation for callousness.

First it was only the deputy minister of health who came out of the bunker to tentatively, sheepishly admit that there was a problem after all, and that it might well be of a magnitude and of an urgency beyond the ability of the government to handle.  As the crescendo of condemnation of the government increased along with the deaths, the minister of health eventually came out of wherever he had been hiding, seemingly reluctantly.

Some NGOs had been calling for the declaration of a disaster (probably for their own self-serving reasons, as even those with little or no ability to intervene in a public health crisis competed to put out statements showing their ‘concern,’ very useful at fund-raising time with their donors.) The government initially reacted in it’s usual way: with a ‘we can take care of it, everything is under control’ bravado. But the negative publicity against it, the illnesses and the deaths all conspired to force the government to change tack and admit that it had a problem of a scale beyond its ability to handle.  The subsequent appeals for international help were late and sounded grudging, insincere, unconcerned, cynical.

In many countries, even the most notorious dictatorships, a calamity of this magnitude would have shamed the ruler to make at least a show of being personally concerned about and touched by the suffering of ordinary people. Even at a cynical, politicking level, the ruler would have recognised this as an opportunity to claim to be a benevolent, concerned “man of the people.” He would have made a show tour of the worst affected areas to be filmed “with the people” for the evening news shows.

Not Mr. Mugabe. In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, this indictment of his government’s management abilities and this latest shame to its image, he chose to go to Qatar for an economic summit. While there and on his return, not a word did he say about the cholera crisis sweeping the land he wants to continue ruling no matter what. Inappropriately, bizarrely, disastrously, the only comments from him were from Qatar on how he believes developing countries should mobilise funds for their own development bank. Who on earth is going to listen to and respect the opinions of a president on such an issue whose government cannot handle importing water-treatment chemicals or cholera-treatment packages?

His government’s inability to do so cannot be because of “illegal santions.” The money spent on the trip of he, his wife and their entourage to attend a talk-shop in Doha, Qatar would have made a significant difference if it had been instead applied to importing aluminium sulfate for treating water to help prevent cholera, or hydration packages to treat those afflicted. And canceling the trip to instead spend time at home even just pretending to be concerned about Zimbabweans dying of cholera, of all things in 2008, would have prevented the incremental increase in the image of Mugabe as an incredibly small-minded, self-important, deluded despot with no interest in the most pressing problems of his fellow citizens, and of no relevance to addressing those problems.

‘Illegal’ sanctions or not, what the Mugabe government has done with this latest own goal is to show its lack of concern for the citizens it claims it clings to power to serve, and its horribly misplaced sense of priorities at a time of numerous escalating crises.

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An example of the racial narrative in Western media’s coverage of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on September 30, 2008

A recurring theme on this blog is how the British media in particular long ago descended into a deep racial miasma over Zimbabwe. Other Western media are only a little bit less so.

The reason that media goes off the handle over Zimbabwe, and over Robert Mugabe in particular, is not because the country’s problems, as bad as they are, are the worst world crisis, but because Mugabe has made no secret that the country’s troubled racial and colonial history very much inform his world view and actions. More so than any other leader in modern times, he has pilloried the creeping revision of British colonialism as a sort of gentle, benign enterprise by good white people ‘helping’ the backward natives. And he has not been shy or diplomatic in doing so.

This is unheard of, a breaking of all the unspoken rules. Of course the British understand that the Africans cannot have the view of their subjugation as being one they should remember fondly. But the ‘deal’ that almost all African countries have made with their former colonial powers is that if they behave themselves and talk and act like good boys and girls, they will be rewarded with handouts and ‘development aid.’ And the really good natives might qualify for a ‘state visit’ by some British minister. The best natives might even be invited to Buckingham Palace in order to enjoy the privilege of bowing before the English queen.

Most African leaders, including Mugabe in the days when he was still a good native, find these kinds of inducements simply irresistable. One of the continuing scars of colonialism on the African psyche is to have ambivalent feelings about the former colonial master but still pine for his approval. Mugabe only rejected this when he himself was rejected by the British for whom he once had a sick, slavish affection. He was considered as being increasingly ‘wayward’ in his speech and actions, especially against Zimbabwe’s once all-powerful white farmers.

This breaking of the rules of engagement that are accepted by most of Africa’s weak, donor-dependent states is why the British political and media establishment so revile Mugabe, not that he is a cruel, ruthless despot to his own people.

So outraged have that UK establishment become over the outspoken Mugabe they cannot think straight on anything to do with Zimbabwe. The racial feelings Mugabe stokes in them are so strong that they are largely incapable of any longer being able to analyse Zimbabwe calmly and outside the straitjacket of their deep Mugabe antipathy.

Here is an interesting story from the Scotsman newspaper. It is tragic, but also a funny illustration of what I mean about racial feelings being on full display in how much of the British and other Western media writes on a lot of aspects of The Zimbabwe Crisis.

Farmer’s daughter mauled by Zimbabwe ‘guard lions’

An eight-year old Zimbabwean girl was mauled by a lion and a lioness her white farmer father kept to deter attacks by supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe. Courtney Sparrow, who suffered a hole in her throat and serious injuries to her arms, face and head, has undergone ten hours of surgery in Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg.

Her father, Ron Sparrow, one of a handful of whites still farming in Zimbabwe, said he used the lions after the farmhouse in Zimbabwe’s south-eastern Masvingo district was subject to four attacks by so-called war veterans loyal to Mr Mugabe over the past three months.

The “war vets” began invading and appropriating white commercial farms in 2000, when there were 5,000 white farmers in Zimbabwe: now there are barely 200 on much reduced acreages.

Mr Sparrow told the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport that while he was away on business in neighbouring Mozambique, his wife, Margaret, had secured the farmhouse.

But two lions broke through a weak window and the lioness attacked Courtney. A domestic worker, whom Mr Sparrow did not name, was injured when she tried to rip Courtney from the lioness’s grip. When Courtney tried to run away, she was attacked by the male lion. A black farm labourer, also unnamed, beat off the lion with a stick.

Courtney was first taken to a Zimbabwean hospital but it had no painkillers.

I could have understood the ‘whiteness’ of the girl being mentioned in passing, since the angle the paper chose was to illustrate this as yet another manifestation of how ‘Mugabe’ has caused Zimbabwe’s once all-dominant, poor rich white farmers great misery. But her whiteness is not centrally material to what happened to her or to relating the import of the story. The emphasis of the fact that she is white therefore comes across as being quite heavy-handed.

The Scotsman’s chosen spin on this story is political, rather than human interest, so it is understandable that they do not delve into the irresponsible recklessness of a man endangering his family’s life by ‘protecting’ them with a pair of wild lions. But for me what leaped out of the story was the utter foolishness of what is carefully, deliberately described as the girl’s “white farmer father” and in the next paragraph, as “Ron Sparrow, one of a handful of whites still farming in Zimbabwe.”

The ‘persecuted white farmer’ angle is far more important to the story as written than the issue of what the hell Sparrow was thinking to have “kept” these dangerous predators as guard animals. But the story makes it clear that so nightmarish is the life of a white farmer in the Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe that one such white farmer felt driven to the desperate act of ‘hiring’ a pair of untamed lions to ‘protect’ his family from Mugabe’s marauding war veterans.

The blame for the poor girl’s near fatal encounter with the lions is therefore the fault of…you guessed it…old Robert Mugabe, not her father’s dangerously reckless decision to ‘keep’ the animals. There you have it: You see what a nasty chap Mugabe is?! Geez, the fellow must be really satanic, driving innocent white farmers to depend on wild lions for a sense of security for their families.

One could ask if the lions were not much more dangerous to Sparrow’s family than any threat from ‘Mugabe’s war veterans,’ but the story did not seek to pursue what would seem an obvious and very relevant question. And while we are often told of how the irresponsible, starving natives are ill-treating and killing the country’s wildlife for meat, no question is asked about the propriety or legality of Sparrow “keeping” a pair of prized wild animals as sentries, although those reluctant sentries turned on his own child.

The race of the farm labourer who eventually beat off the lions that broke into the house to attack the child would seem to be totally irrelevant to the story as well. In any case, we all know that in the plantation model of commercial farming that existed in Zimbabwe, any labourer working for a white farmer would necessarily be black. But for some reason the writer of the story wants to be sure we are in no doubt about this, and is very careful to refer to him as “a black farm labourer.”

The white farmer, his wife and child are all humanised in the story by being named. A ‘domestic worker’ who tried to protect the child and the ‘black farm labourer’ remain nameless, identity-less. Yet these two anonymous characters are the true heroes of the piece, the literal saviours of the child from its ‘white farmer parents’ extremely poor judgment, which almost caused the death of the child.

The story calls for sympathy not so much for the girl who almost died from her parent’s irresponsibility, nor does it focus on the heroics of the two workers, both of whom we can safely assume to be black, although only explicitly (and irrelevantly) told so about the labourer, not the ‘domestic worker.’ No, the one we are strangely called to sympathise with is the white farmer, for having to go to such foolish extremes because of his suffering at the hands of Mugabe’s war veterans!

Don’t tell me the shrill telling of the story of Zimbabwe in “the international media” is mainly about concern for ‘economic collapse’ and ‘human rights’ for the natives. Subliminally or otherwise, it is centrally and primarily a deep racial narrative.

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Mugabe vs. BBC, CNN

Posted by CM on September 29, 2008

A report by AFP:

Zimbabwe’s information minister has castigated western media for their coverage of President Robert Mugabe’s speech at the UN General Assembly, state media reported Friday.

Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said CNN and the BBC gave US President George W. Bush full coverage when he criticised Mugabe in his address to the Assembly this week, but denied Mugabe similar coverage for his speech.

“The so-called champions of press freedom, CNN and BBC cut the live broadcast when the President was hitting hard, full throttle, with a volley of intellectual punches left, right and centre,” Ndlovu said.

“Bush was given full coverage to demonise our President and our nation but our President was not given equal time to defend himself and his country.

“They always claim that they give balanced information through their media but they have proved themselves to be suffering from inexactitudes and stretches of imagination. I know why my predecessor threw them out of Zimbabwe.”

In his speech at the UN, Bush said the people of Zimbabwe needed help to free themselves from suffering under a “tyrannical regime.”

Mugabe hit back saying Bush “has much to atone for and very little to lecture us on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” adding that the US leader’s hands “drip with the innocent blood of many nationalities.”

The propaganda war continues at full throttle.

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After deal-signing, forwards or backwards for Zimbabwe?

Posted by CM on September 20, 2008

Normality and stability in their broad sense are obvious outcomes all Zimbabweans hope for after the recently signed political deal between the country’s political parties brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki.

But there seems to be no unanimity about the details of the nation Zimbabwe seeks to now become, beyond obvious things like goods in the shops at reasonable prices, low inflation, more employment opportunities and so forth. None of these are minor goals to aim for, and a government that is able to deliver any of these in  the next few years would have done very well.

Prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangrai began his term of office by pleading for international aid. No doubt a lot of assistance from the world will be needed for years to come. But by making this his first serious indication of what his orientation is to problem-solving, he suggests that he has no vision of Zimbabwe as anything other than a donor-dependent banana republic, on a continent already full of such weak, under-achieving states.

There are many examples in Africa of countries that are darlings of ‘the donors’ for one reason or another, but that are not substanitally ‘developing.’ That requires hard and smart work by the public and private sectors working together, as we have seen from the many examples of real ‘development’ in Asia.

Africa has become so donor-dependent structurally and psychologically that aid has become one of the most insidious ways of preventing African progress, rather than of promoting it. The continent’s best and brightest and its most powerful, people like Tsvangirai, spend more time and energy trying to figure out how to get ‘aid’ from Europe and the U.S. than they do on how to make their economies more productive.

Robert Mugabe’s many sins and errors are well known and do not need repeating here. But one of his legacies will be daring to try to effect the idea that Africans must be masters of their economic destiny, and that they need to contemplate possibly enduring hardship to overcome the interests who would rather keep them dependent and weak. That ideal was soon over-run by cronyism, cynicism and the sheer failure to achieve the noble goals that stirred the hearts of many Africans (and enraged many Westerners for all sorts of reasons.)

But if Mugabe the man is now fading into political oblivion, rejected as a despot, a failure and an anachronism, his original focus on genuine African economic empowerment still rings as true as ever. Due in large part to his own excesses, it will take a long time for the positive parts of his legacy to be separated from the negatives and the failures, but it will happen eventually.

Tsvangirai’s conventional, dull vision of aid-dependent recovery may bring relatively quick relief from the deep economic pain being suffered by Zimbabweans. If so, he will receive the accolades of grateful Zimbabweans who have been reeling from a rapidly imploding economy for a decade. And he will be a hero to Westerners uncomfortable with Mugabe’s sharp, continuous recantations of the need to address the many lingering aspects of the unfinished business of colonial exploitation and oppression, which is ‘ancient history’ to Westerners but very much a part of their present-day reality for Africans.

A West relieved at the exit or (hoped for) sidelining of Mugabe will certainly back up its gratitude to Tsvangirai with all sorts of aid. It will be partly humanitarian, partly ‘thank you Tsvangirai for getting rid of or weakening Mugabe,’ and also a way of making sure the new government is malleable.

But this route to ‘normality’ will not and cannot address the underlying structural economic and developmental issues of countries like Zimbabwe. Who really owns the wealth of the land? From what date in the past do we effect ‘the rule of law’ (such as who owns what land?). What is an ‘equitable’ sharing of riskand profit between citizens and foreign investors? And so on and so forth.

Mugabe made his answers to these sorts of questions very clear. His answers and the way he tried to effect them delighted many Zimbabweans and Africans, as much as they frightened and enraged many Britons and other Westerners. For a whole host of reasons, Mugabe’s populist answers to the deep questions of the post-colonial era have not in the short term translated to the hoped-for results.

This makes it easy for Tsvangirai to come in with ‘I hold the keys to Western aid’ as his main trump card. Even among those who recognise the dangers of this approach, disgust with Mugabe and despair at the hardships of recent years has meant many Zimbabweans look to Tsvangirai’s implied promise of aid-funded relief and ‘recovery’ with anticipation.

This is quite understandable, but it does not in any way solve or remove the underlying difficult issues that contributed to Zimbabwe finding itself where it is now. After the euphoria of achieving a kind of ‘normality’ has abated, these questions will arise again, along with the ghost of Mugabe.

We have the strange situation where in the short recent term Zimbabwe has been very rapidly sliding backwards. Yet in forcing the society to ask difficult questions that go far back into the past with a view to finding answers for the future, the society was setting a stronger foundation for that future. A strong economic foundation partly rests on more risk-taking and wealth-creation by Zimbabweans; more ‘ownership’ of the process of ‘development’ by the locals than we have generally seen in a weak, donor-dependent Africa.

Mugabe largely failed to back up his empowerment rhetoric with practical, successful examples of it. But it is to take the wrong lesson to abandon the dream, rather than to pick it apart for where it went wrong and try to fix it. Tsvangirai would be relieving the immediate problems by attracting a lot of ‘donor aid,’ but not addressing the long-term issues of how to overcome the complex legacies of colonialism (land ownership patterns being just the most obvious one), and how to spur true ‘development’ and empowerment based on production-led economic growth.

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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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Zimbabwe should put ‘special relationship’ phase with Britain behind it

Posted by CM on April 8, 2008

President Mugabe in recent years has talked forcefully and endlessly about defending Zimbabwe’s “sovereignty.”

“Hands off Britain, you have no right to comment on our affairs, we are a sovereign nation,” has been his constant refrain. He has also often talked about how Britain did not live up to its promises in regards to land reform. The most notorious example of this he cites is the now infamous 1997 letter from one time UK minister Claire Short to then Zimbabwean agriculture minister, Kumbirai Kangai.

What were considered the offending sentences were, “…we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.”

The rest is history.

Mugabe reacted to this with outrage, leading to the long chain of events that have led Zimbabwe to where it is today, and official relations with Britain plunging to somewhere between non-existent  and rock bottom. Zimbabwe eventually pulled out of the British Commonwealth and Mr. Mugabe uses every opportunity he can to take rude potshots at Britain. It is not at all surprising that the British political establishment and media seem to want Mugabe to go even more feverishly than Zimbabweans, which is saying quite a lot.

For all his talk about ‘sovereignty,’ in becoming so obsessed with and emotionally hung up about the British, Mugabe unwittingly and ironically gives them far more influence on Zimbabwe’s affairs than they should. The British may actually still be in power in Zimbabwe because they seem to control the president’s heart, mind and soul. Instead of thinking about what is good for Zimbabwe in what he says and does, Mugabe instead seems to mainly be motivated by the thought, “what will annoy the British the most?” This is giving them effective control over his actions.

Mugabe constantly rails, “Zimbabwe must never be a colony again.” How many Zimbabweans could disagree with this? After stating the obvious as if it was some great revelation, he then contradicts his own rhetoric by showing in his obsession with the British that he has allowed them to colonize his mind.

Here is my proposal: Let us set the British free from any sense of obligation for anything in our ‘sovereign’ Zimbabwe. By so doing we will also be setting ourselves free from the colonial idea that our former foreign ruler can or must try to solve our problems. Whether it is how to organize and fund a type of land reform that works for us or anything else, we would then first look inward for answers before we look outwards for assistance. That would be truly showing maturity, independence and ‘sovereignty.’

Britain should be just one of the many countries we have good relations with. All this talk about a big post-Mugabe aid package in which Britain plays a leading role in providing money, reform and training of the security forces and all kinds of other things should be put aside. It is merely to revive the old dysfunctional donor-recipient, master-native relations that began our record of sorry relations with Britain. Relations with the former colonial power that are centrally tied around aid have not only not significantly helped Africa move forward, they also deepen a sense of dependency by the recipient and give the donor rude notions about still wanting to control the natives.

We should not have negative relations with Britain; that is not my point. But neither should either party put any special expectations on the other. Our relations with the British should be cordial but no more so than those with any other distant nations like China, Russia, Pakistan or whichever.

Let us set the British free, in the process also setting ourselves free as a nation.

But whether Mr. Mugabe can ever free himself of the pitiful British colonization of his whole being that obviously causes him so much rage and anguish is questionable. The poor man is haunted, tormented by thoughts and visions of the British. It is so tragic and ironic how Mugabe has allowed Britain to so effectively compromise his personal sovereignty.

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Pius Ncube owns up to adultery

Posted by CM on March 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike
The following story about Pius Ncube finally admitting that he did indeed mess around with a married woman is nauseatingly self-congratulatory and really doesn’t have too much substance.
Much is made of how Ncube was “secretly” filmed in a “final, exclusive” interview before he flew out of Zimbabwe for The Vatican in Rome. But Ncube has always been quite brave to speak his mind, so the need for “secrecy” in interviewing him sees utterly contrived.
The appearance of heroic effort to talk to him is given, when the “secrecy” that is probably being alluded to is just that the interviewers sneaked into the country under some non-journalistic  cover because of Zimbabwe’s ridiculous media laws.
Apart from their ineffectiveness in the age of easily accessible, high-technology communications tools, the silliness of those laws is shown in this case by how they allow a foreign crew doing a mediocre interview can paint themselves as brave super-heroes in doing so.
In addition to Ncube’s admission of his not keeping his priestly vows of celibacy, we are told The Vatican summoned him to Rome after last year’s scandal and ordered him to “stop speaking out about conditions in his devastated country.”

“It is true, I do admit that I did fail in keeping God’s commandment with regard to adultery,” he said in the filmed interview. “Having failed in keeping the Seventh Commandment Thou shalt not commit adultery, I would like to apologise to you, I’d like to apologise that so many of you were praying for me, for the fact that so many of you standing with me in fact suffered so much.”

This is rather pathetic, after Ncube so strenuously denied the allegations at the time. He needs to apologise for not having coming clean after having been caught or trapped, whichever was the case. Misleading his well-wishers even after the scandal broke may have been even more of a “sin” than messing around with a consenting adult.

The article claims Ncube’s apology “was directed to the people of Zimbabwe, where the majority of Christians are Catholics.” This rather grand assertion seems absurd when one considers that the article and film are for a foreign audience. There are any number of more effective ways Ncube could have directed an apology “to the people of Zimbabwe,” such as through the pulpit or the local media. But the claim may have more to do with the self-importance of the Scottish newspaper in which the article is published, or the “secret film interviewers” than with Ncube himself.

And as for whether the majority of Zimbabweans who call themselves Christians are Catholics, is this true?

It was only in his final filmed interview that Ncube revealed he was going to Rome. He added: “I’m disturbed. I’m very traumatised by this situation. My mouth just dries up. I did fail my vows. The problem is how do you repent, how do you turn round, how do you regain your integrity?

You do not regain your integrity by continuing with denial of the veracity of the allegations against you for months, and then only owning up in a “secret interview” with a dodgy crew of foreign journalists! That is not facing up to your Zimbabwean flock and supporters.

Zimbabwe has lost in the immediate term what was one of the most courageous and best-known voices of opposition to Mugabe. In the longer term, the controversy will inevitably raise questions about the gap between how prelates in Rome believe the faithful in Africa should behave, and the reality on the ground.

It is no great secret among those who live in Africa that Roman Catholic priests on that continent often honour the vow of celibacy as much in the breach as in the practice. Some priests have children, while others listen to the quiet advice of their bishops to practice birth control. Roman Catholic nuns sometimes defy papal doctrine and freely distribute condoms to their flocks to help counter the HIV/Aids pandemic, which is cutting a swathe through Africa. Many Zimbabweans and other Africans are likely to see as disproportionate the Vatican smothering of a powerful focus of opposition to Mugabe on account of an all too human failing – one that the Zimbabwe regime was bound to spot and exploit.

The question for me is why Africans continue to so slavishly hold on to imported dogmas they clearly have large areas of disagreement with. If you agree to be a Catholic or whatever other flavour of religion, you either accept its rules or work to change them from within. If you can’t, why is it so important to still hold on to the self-identity of “Catholic” (or whatever) when doing so means living a lie or a contradiction? There is increasing discussion the world over about the Catholic injunction of priestly celibacy, but if one does not agree with it, one is not forced to be a Catholic priest!

I have long respected Ncube for his outspokenness against the depredations of Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe. The truth of Ncube’s message against Mugabe is not in any way lessened by Ncube’s philandering, even if his moral image is severely dented. As the article points out, Mugabe, who also tightly holds on to the self-identity of a Catholic, is not qualified to point moral fingers at anybody on the basis of sexual indiscretion!

But the idea that Ncube is so chastened and faithful to a Catholicism that we now clearly know he does not strictly adhere to that he would accept to be “silenced” by The Vatican to me is alienating. Why not consider the period of having been a Catholic priest as just a phase of his life, quit and move on to doing something else, including continuing to speak out against Mugabe and fostering healing in the post-Mugabe era. He could do all this just as effectively once freed from the clutches of the Church of Rome, perhaps even much more so.

And he would be able to openly and honestly indulge his very natural sex drive, though hopefully not with married women! For me what was so much more of a pity was that he had to have furtive sex with married members of his flock, not the fact that he broke silly medieval church vows that long ago needed to be discarded. Quit the Catholic church, get a girlfriend and continue with your important work of speaking out against Mugabe’s political repression.

It is time for Africa to not feel beholden to swallowing whole philosophies, rituals and dogmas that are products of particular periods in Western history. The time when how “civilised” we were considered to be depended on how faithfully we copied and regurgitated what we have absorbed from Western culture should be behind us now. What Africa needs are people who can help us fashion a new, more functional and relevant-to-us synthesis of the new/imported and the old/indigenous.

Priests who are dressed up in elaborate garb, mouthing obscure European liturgies, observing quaint old European religious rituals and pretending to believe in strange, dysfunctional customs like priestly celibacy are simply an embarrassment to the new Africa we should be trying to build. Africa should now be at a level of self-confidence where it does not feel the need to force itself into these bizarre, outsider-imposed and now African self-imposed strait jackets.

The article based on the “secret” interview appeared in the Scottish Sunday Herald .

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