Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Britain-Zimbabwe relations’

Once-colonizing Britain gets a taste of ‘colonization’ and surprise, doesn’t like it

Posted by CM on October 24, 2009

It’s fascinating to watch the uproar in the UK over the wisdom of giving a platform on a BBC TV program to Nick Griffin, leader of the controversial British National Party.

Griffin and the BNP are not afraid to flaunt their anti-immigrant, pro-‘indigenous white British’ basic platform. The furore has been on whether allowing Griffin on to a popular BBC interview program was simply in line with accommodating all viewpoints and with free speech, or whether doing so encouraged hate speech.

There seems little doubt that while the BNP may still be a fringe party with no representation in the British parliament, it has definitely struck a sympathetic nerve in a section of British society that feels inundated by immigrants from Asia and Africa. Many white Britons who would never admit it publicly may well agree with Griffin quips such as that London ‘is no longer part of Britain. There is not much support for me there because the place is dominated by ethnic minorities. There is an ethnic minority that supports me: the English. But there’s not many of them left. London is no longer a city my grandparents would recognise. It is changed beyond all recognition. Many of the ancestral Londoners have left over the last 20 years because they can no longer call it home.’

Griffin’s opponents react with outrage to such comments and point out that London’s increasingly multi-cultural nature is one of it’s strengths, and that the immigrants whose numbers there have been growing for decades have given as much or more to the society as they are perceived to take from it. All this may be true, but I also have no trouble at all understanding the misgivings of ‘indigenous white Britons’ to the speed and scale of the changes that have been caused by the influx in recent decades of immigrants, legal and otherwise, from ‘strange’ cultures.

Compounding the tensions is the fact that the nature of British political-correctness, perhaps influenced by sensitivity to charges of discrimination and racism from Britian’s colonial era, is such that even new and illegal immigrants to that country can claim societal ‘rights’ which would not be expected or granted in most other societies. One result of this is that some groups of immigrants there seem to feel less of an obligation to fit into the mores of the society than would be the case in other countries. So instead of feeling a need to fit into the ‘British way of life,’ many of the immigrants instead demand that their host society go out of its way to accommodate their cultural, religious and other practices. I can well understand how many Britons feel that this politically-correct, bend-over-backwards accommodativeness has gone too far, and that in sections of their society they feel increasingly like the strangers rather than the hosts/natives.

Yet a lot of this is colonial chickens coming home to roost. Many years ago during what used to be called a ‘race riot’ by immigrants protesting some ill-treatment or other, to the question of why the immigrants were coming into a Briton where their reception was then at best mixed and sometimes hostile, replied, “We are here because you were there.”

What she meant was that the links that were now drawing many of the new immigrants to the UK were formed during the heydays of Britain’s colonizing mission, when it dominated and ‘owned’ a good chunk of the world. What the protester was in effect saying was that in a way the tables were being turned and the once-colonizing British had to put up with the waves of immigration as one consequence of their once having ‘ruled the world.’ To different extents, other former colonial powers like France, Portugal and Italy are facing the same issue of large numbers of people from their former colonies regarding their capitals as magnets for achieving life goals which it is thought are difficult to impossible to achieve at home.

There is obviously indisputable truth to “we are here because you were there,” although the fact of that truth is hardly comfort to a Briton who feels that ‘the natives’ (of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, etc) are ‘taking over’ places like London.

I don’t know whether Griffin and his BNP have an official position on ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis.’ But it is a pretty safe bet to guess that they are nostalgic for Rhodesia and are sympathetic to ex-Rhodesians like the white farmers who have borne the brunt of Robert Mugabe’s fury. Yet one irony is that Griffins’s message of representing what he says are the ignored interests of white Britons is very similar to that of Mugabe’s ‘Zimbabwe for the black Zimbabweans’ message. Yet the British right wing loathes Mugabe for his treatment of Zimbabwe’s white farmers in the name of black empowerment and of correcting the ills of the colonial era.

Another irony of the resentment of that section of white Britain at the ‘colonization’ of places like London by African/Asians/Middle Easterners/etc is that there are many ways in which the British colonization of the ancestral homes of today’s immigrants was similar. Griffin speaks for the white Britain that is worried not just about the numbers of immigrants, but about how they often stick to and propagate aspects of their culture more than they learn and take on the ‘British culture.’ Yet there was rarely ever any question of British colonialists feeling the need to learn the languages of ‘native’ peoples or bend to their cultures, let alone adopt them. As a matter of course the natives simply had to learn the language, culture, religion, etc of the mighty colonizer Britain, case closed. In this regard then, the new African/Asian/Middle Eastern/etc ‘colonizers’ of the British are much more benign: at least they speak English, many of them have taken on European religions and so forth. So the new colonizers are being much more accommodating of their British ‘subjects’ than the once-colonizing British were of theirs!

It will be interesting to see how the British debate on immgration progresses, and to observe how the BNP influences it. But it seems clear from a historical point of view that what the uneasy-at-immigration Britons are experiencing is a version of “what goes around, comes around.”

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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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Zim situation is way beyond issue of relations with Britain

Posted by CM on December 8, 2007

The Zimbabwean government insists on casting the fundamental root causes of the country’s problems as being that of its relations with Britain.

All the issues of shortages of basic goods, violence against the opposition, declining agricultural productivity, hyperinflation and so forth are explained as somehow being merely manifestations of the fact that the British don’t like Mugabe for dispossessing white farmers of land. And those mass farm takeovers are also Britain’s “fault” because it did not honor its commitments to fund an a gradual land reform process over the years.

The details and veracity or otherwise of these points is almost immaterial here because they are mainly made for propaganda purposes, not so much in the hope that they will lead to any particular action on the part of Britain or anybody else.

The only effect of this propaganda “victory” on the part of Mugabe’s government has been to somewhat side-track onlookers, particularly those who respond more favourably to his anti-colonialist rhetoric than they do negatively to the mess he has made of the country he rules. For them the emotional satisfaction of the rhetoric is enough. They do not feel compelled to go on and say, “having made us feel so good with your rhetoric on what you tell us are the evils of the West, why don’t you then set an example of a successful effort to build an African country that is the antithesis of all those evils?”

The mess that Zimbabwe has become under Mugabe has little or no connection to what Britain does or doesn’t do. And in any case, it is silly to expect that Britain might virtually capitulate to Mugabe in the diplomatic stand-off with Zimbabwe and say, “we accept you were right all along Mr. Mugabe, we will now do whatever you demand.”

If Britain were to now accept to compensate the former white farmers as part of its colonial responsibility, what difference would that make to Zimbabweans now? A big part of the original idea of such British compensation was in order to have a minimally economically disruptive process of land reform. Now that that is water under the bridge and the disruption has taken place, any compensation now would understandably be welcomed by the white farmers, but have none of the national benefit that was envisioned for a “smooth” land reform process.

So even if Britain made the major concession of paying the ex-farmers, Zimbabwe’s current problems would in no way be ameliorated by such a gesture.

If the British really surrendered to Mugabe, they would also agree to give Zimbabwe significant aid, however both parties found it convenient to explain it: goodwill gesture and formal end to hostilities, development aid or whatever. The likelihood of this happening under Mugabe’s government is pretty much zero, but even if it did, this would not resolve the Zimbabwean political stalemate, nor the economic stagnation over non-productivity in agriculture and the many associated effects of that.

So the focus on the centrality of Zimbabwe’s relations with Britain is a sign of a colonial mentality that anti-colonialist rhetoretician Mugabe should be called on. If his “Zimbabwe will never be a colony” mantra is to mean anything, it must include not looking to Britain for any special relationship or favours.

But then again, the whole “this whole spat is merely a bilateral spat between us and Britain” slogan is not meant to be logical or consistent. It is merely another front in the propaganda war from a tired regime that simply does not have realistic solutions to the issues at hand.

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