Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘diplomacy’

Ambassador-designate Trudy Stevenson reveals the political incongruities of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on October 15, 2009

While in Harare in August I was startled to read that Zimbabwe was to open an embassy in Senegal. I understand the two countries had embassies in each others’ capitals some years ago, but both had been closed.

African countries tend to put more stock in their relations with their former colonizers than they do with each other, so of course it is a welcome development when they resolve to change this. My surprise was on several grounds:

*The Zimbabwean government makes no secret of it being broke, and the signs of that are abundantly evident all over the country. There have been reports of diplomats in its embassies going unpaid for months at a time. Given all the pressing problems at home for which there is no money, it therefore seems odd that new embassies are being opened up at this time.

*There are few or no economic ties between Senegal and Zimbabwe and that is unlikely to change any time soon. The physical distance between southern and west Africa is vast, and in the case of these two countries there is an even more daunting gulf: language. While many educated Senegalese can communicate in good English, the number of Zimbabweans who have any knowledge of French at all is negligible. So while the politicians and diplomats may be able to address each other at their cocktail parties, these barriers do not bode well for the prospects of any wider and deeper links between the two countries in the short term.

*In recent years Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has made some abortive good-faith efforts to intervene in “the Zimbabwe crisis,” going as far as going to Harare to meet with president Robert Mugabe before those efforts quietly fizzled out. And new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has made a visit or two to the Senegalese capital, presumably to explain his case to the leaders of a country with a good African and international reputation politically, and widely acclaimed for its democratic credentials.

So perhaps the new embassy is being justified on the basis of political links. But is this enough basis for establishing an embassy, particularly at an especially difficult time for Zimbabwe economically? Could whatever diplomatic or political function it is thought the new embassy will serve not have been just as well served from nearby Ghana or Nigeria, where Zimbabwe already has embassies? It will be interesting to see how the new embassy justifies its reason for existence.

According to the Sunday Mail of August 30:

The MDC-M has moved to take up its allotment of diplomatic posts under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the three principals to the inclusive Government by nominating former legislator Mrs Trudy Stevenson for the position of Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal. Mrs Stevenson, the party’s secretary for research and policy and former Member of Parliament for Harare North, is already undergoing training with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as she prepares to assume her new role in the West-African country. The decision to second Mrs Stevenson to the position came after the party’s
first nominee and House of Assembly Member for Insiza South constituency Mr Siyabonga Ncube, declined the ambassadorial post last week.

One interpretation I heard was that the original nominee felt slighted that he had been nominated as diplomat to a ‘lowly’ country like Senegal instead of to a Western country! Unfortunately, if true there would be nothing at all surprising about such colonial thinking amongst the MDC elite!

Ambassador-designate Stevenson has just given an interesting inkling of her thinking. She attended some talk shop in Prague, Czechoslovakia and was interviewed by a newspaper there.


Q: Recently there has been much talk about the EU sanctions. Should they be cancelled or should the EU wait a bit longer?

A: The (EU) sanctions have not achieved a lot. The regime has continued, the violence has continued. In my personal view I would say get rid of the sanctions because then Mugabe does not have anything to beat the EU with. He uses the sanctions as an excuse for everything.

True enough, but it seems very odd for the ambassador of the government run by Robert Mugabe, whose government she will be representing in Senegal, to be continuing to talk as a party official than as a diplomat of the government! If the ambassadors who have agreed to take up these positions (in this case one report claimed Stevenson actually volunteered for the Senegal ambassador-ship after Ncube declined it) are going to continue to talk as representatives of their parties or factions than as envoys of the government, how on earth can this work?!

I have no trouble at all understanding Stevenson’s feelings about Mugabe. But would it not have been more consistent, honorable and tenable to decline to be representative of his government in a foreign land than to accept/volunteer for the appointment and then continue to bad-mouth the appointing authority you have willingly agreed to be answerable to?!

This will be a very interesting appointment and relationship to watch.

Q: What is your experience as a white woman and an opposition politician working in Zimbabwe?

A: It has been a bit lonely, I must say. As you know, I was beaten up (in 2006 until now by unknown perpetrators) but I would have been beaten up whatever my color was. To some extent being white protects me. Because I am more visible. I am certainly more protected than a black woman. Male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more. Because they don’t know how to deal with me. They deal very roughly with a black woman politician in their traditional way where the black women are down. I love politics and it is a like a drug – once you have been bitten by the drug politics, you cannot let go.

Oh boy, I don’t know where to start with this.

If being white protects her because she is ‘more visible,’ and if  indeed she iscertainly more protected than a black womanand if Zimbabwean ‘male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more,’ that is a terrible indictment; proof of the colonial mentality and inferiority complex that must still exist amongst those male politicians.

And how would this special treatment that she says she gets because of her whiteness have affected her? Could this perhaps explain the confusion of accepting a position in the government headed by a man you then expect to keep on attacking in a very partisan way, but expect not to be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency? Does the special treatment Stevenson intimates she gets from her colleagues because she is white perhaps blind her to the awful inconsistency of her current position?

My goodness, how this funny yet sad little story reveals so much about the messy unfinished business of Zimbabwe’s torturous political and racial history, and of how complicated fashioning a new thinking and reality from it is proving to be.

Q: The Czech embassy may close soon because of savings. have you heard about it? If yes, what was your reaction?

A: I was horrified when I heard about this. Any embassy, particularly Western democratic embassy to pull out now when we are just starting to move forward gives us a very bad impression. It removes a bit of our courage. It makes us a bit nervous: Have we done something wrong?

The presence of the country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage. It seems illogical and to me immoral for the Czech Republic to abandon us particularly as Myanmar is going to set up an embassy and the Czechs are pulling out. This is bizarre.

I found Stevenson’s answer as bizarre as she says she found the Czech decision to close their embassy in Zimbabwe. As the interviewer made clear, the given reason for the closure is a pragmatic one: affordability, to effect savings in government expenditure. In other words, they make decisions on where to have embassies on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, not any kind of mushy sentimentality as suggested by Stevenson’s ‘The presence of a country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage.’

Surely it is an example of the worst kind of dependency mentality to expect the Czech Republic or any other nation to keep an embassy in Harare to give the Zimbabweans courage!!! How many Zimbabweans are even aware that there is a Czech embassy in Harare?!

If the Zimbabwean government made its embassy-locating decisions on the same pragmatic basis of affordability and cost-benefit, would it have made sense to open an embassy in Dakar, or would it have perhaps made more sense to open a Senegal section at one of its other West African embassies?

And Madame Ambassador makes an interesting allusion to part of the courage-imparting presence of a Czech embassy in Harare being from the fact that ‘you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime…

Fair enough, but if Stevenson is suggesting there is an authoritarian regime in Harare to be overthrown Czech-style, I fail to understand why she has just signed up to be it’s representative in Dakar, Senegal!!!

Please don’t call me cynical. Zimbabwean politicians are far more so than I could ever be.

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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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Zimbabwe government shows how to lose friends and fail to influence people

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

The way the Mugabe government mismanaged the abortive Kofi Annan-Jimmy Carter-Graca Machel visit last week shows just how out of control over its image that regime has become, despite ever more strident propaganda from the media it controls..

The proposed visit was a no-win situation for the Mugabe government. To reject the visit of the self-appointed team of “Elders” gave the world all the wrong signals, despite those elder being self-appointed global troubleshooters with no defined role. And yet it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the visitors would earn the government added high-profile negative international publicity by simply stating what all Zimbabweans already know: the situation in their country is becoming increasingly desperate and is showing all the signs of “humanitarian crisis.”

The Mugabe government rather predictably accused the trio of pro-opposition bias. But the fact of the matter is that Mugabe & Co. have over the years conducted themselves with such arrogant callousness to the people of Zimbabwe that even the points on which they might have once been legitimately able to claim a shady “conspiracy” against them pale in comparison to their own misdeeds.

That reputation for callousness was only re-enforced by the government’s mishandling of the proposed visit, or even of the rejection of the visit. It was awkward and bad enough to refuse the visit, but it was worse to then give confusing, conflicting and implausible explanations for having done so.

‘We are busy with talks with the opposition’ was one early excuse for not welcoming the visitors I read. ‘We are busy with the agricultural season now that the rains have started’ is another I heard intimated. ‘We have already done our own assessment of humanitarian needs’ was yet another. And it just seemed to go down from there onwards.

It got worse when the resulting international derision at these weak excuses proved so bad and and made the Mugabe regime seem so insecure that it reverted to its standard mode when cornered: to lash out with insults, particularly at Annan and Carter,  that only further re-enforced an image of thuggishness.

Having analysed that they would get negative publicity either way, on a purely propaganda management  basis it would have probably been better to let the “Elders” in than refuse them entry, even if it meant then tightly choreographing their itinerary. Repressive governments have to do this all the time, and it is fascinating that the Mugabe government believes its image is now so low that it could not get much worse by the entirely predictable firestorm of negative publicity resulting from keeping Annan and Company away. This suggests really having given up the propaganda fight; of having accepted that way beyond the issue of how things got to this point, the situation in the country is so dire that almost no objective observer could rule in favour of the Mugabe government in terms of responsibility for the country’s very worrying state.

Despite the government’s efforts to restrict access to the local and international media, Zimbabwe is enough of an open country and covered well enough by home-based and visiting citizens,NGOs, diplomats, etc that the indeces of dysfunction are fully on display: closed schools and hospitals, the police beating up peaceful demonstrators, whole neighbourhoods that now go for weeks or months without water or electricity, etc. The much publicised cholera epidemic has probably been building up for along time now given the situation with water and electricity; there is hardly anything sudden about it.

So for all but the most gullible or cynical “fact-finders,” the country is in an accelerated crisis mode that is impossible to dismiss on the basis of “ah, but it is all because of the ‘illegal sanctions’ and the worldwide conspiracy against a Mugabe who is just trying to ’empower’ his people.” Too much water has gone under the bridge for that to stand ground for all but very few.

The cholera epidemic is probably no worse than in the DRC or other places on the continent, but that is to judge Zimbabwe by a very low standard. And the government propaganda machinery is probably quite right to say there are no “facts” the elders were likely to “find” that are not already widely known about the extent of the breakdown in Zimbabwe and the suffering it has spawned. There is unlikely to be any more world assistance that would have been mobilised by the three “Elders” than the UN, the Zimbabwe government itself, NGOs and others who are already engaged have been able to raise. Probably quite intentionally, the visit of the three sent out the message that the Zimbabwe government has (1) lost control over many of the basic systems of a functioning modern society of Zimbabwe’s (once) level of “sophistication and (2) that the Mugabe government just doesn’t care very much for the plight of the people in whose name it still claims to cling to power by every gambit imaginable.

Yes, Annan has previously let slip that he has as little use for the Mugabe government as it does for him, so I do not find the regime’s charges of his likey sympathy for the opposition to be far-fetched. And the trio’s claims that they were only going there for humanitarian monitoring purposes sounded hollow for other reasons. It is not possible to separate the humanitarian situation from the failure of the opposing political parties to find some practical way of sharing power as they committed to do way back in September. The extent of the suffering has gone beyond it being important “who is to blame” for this shameful state of affairs, ZANU-PF or the MDC. Flush with his “success” at brokering a political deal in Kenya, Annan a few months ago almost seemed desperate to follow that up with a similar effort in Zimbabwe. He volunteered his services in that regard but no one seemed to take him up on it, hardly surprising given the Mugabe government’s antipathy to Annan when he was UN Secretary General. He was considered either not supportive enough of the Mugabe government, or too critical of it.

In any case, it sounded vaguely disingenuous of Annan and friends to say “we just want to go and see for ourselves how much people are suffering,” as if it is a kind of show to be enjoyed. On many grounds, the stated reasons for the visit were as thin as were the hapless would-be host government’s reasons for blocking it.

There was a lot of to and from between the three and the Mugabe government about when the process of trying to bring about the visit came along. We may never know how the process was begun and how it proceeded before the visit was finally called off when the Mugabe government made it clear it was going to hang tough and possibly even be willing to embarrass the visitors had they gone ahead with the visit even in the absence of a welcome mat. It would have been awful to all concerned, but far from unthinkable, if the three had been turned back at Harare airport if they had tried to use their star power to enter the company. Whereas most other countries would then have sheepishly, reluctantly let the dignitaries in at that point, the Mugabe government might well have been delighted to brush up its bad boy image by turning them back, perhaps roughing them up before video cameras for good measure!

That aside, it was also awkward and ill-advised for Annan and his colleagues to give the impression they would try to barge in even after the regime had made it abundantly clear they simply would not entertain the visit. Purely on a tactical basis, by saying so Annan only pushed the paranoid, cornered Mugabe regime further into its isolationist bunker. It was naive for Annan to think that a regime that is particularly prickly about issues of “sovereignty” would contemplate backing down on and at that point. There was a brief point at which the “elders” insistence on attempting to go ahead with the visit minus visas or an even unofficial guarantee of entry seemed every bit as childish as the Mugabe government’s hot-headed, overdone bravado to prevent it.

I have no trouble seeing how the Mugabe government really must have felt panicky and resentful at having to deal with the additional image headache thrown up by the proposed visit. It has enough to try to deal with given a widely publicised array of many other things not working. But in how it dealt with the difficulties presented by the abortive visit, it took decisions which arguably only made that image, and possibly also therefore the actual situation on the ground, much worse.

The refusal of the visit and the attempts to impugn the reputations of the three visitors, coming as it did at the same time when there is a new barrage of reports about the failure of many systems which had for years been creeping along (hospitals, schools, electricity distribution, water reticulation,etc), has been a big net loss for the Mugabe government.

Carter in particular seemed shell-shocked that he was not able to barge his way into Mugabe-land, perhaps for the first time really coming face to face with the hard-headed “the world can go to hell” toughness that has made Mugabe ride roughshod over all opponents for his almost 30 years in power. Carter and friends then had to contend with meeting Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa, after which the one-time US president then rather lamely said at a press conference that the situation in Zimbabwe was “much worse than they had expected.” “Lame” because of how implausible the given “fact-finding” aspect of the visit was to begin with, given the many sources of readily available information about how much the level of hardship in Zimbabwe has increased in recent weeks and months.

But by design or default, “the elders” have shown how the Mugabe government seems much more concerned with scoring debating points than at actually tackling political, economic or other problems for the benefit of ‘the people’ it still claims are its main reason for ignoring the electoral wishes of those same people!

Carter then also became the latest of a long line of people to predict total “collapse” in Zimbabwe “soon.” Obviously this is somewhat a matter of definition: Zimbabwe continues to work in ways many African countries have still never done, yet there are many grounds on which some might say the country has already “collapsed.” But this is usually taken to mean a general Somali-type breakdown, including not just of centrally controlled systems, but of the state itself. If that is what Carter means, Mugabe has shown for the ten years or so we have been hearing these sorts of predictions that counting him out may be premature, no matter how dire the situation may have become for the ordinary citizen. Carter may have been politically correct for his circles to predict as he did, but outspoken US Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGheeemay may have been more realistically on the ball when he recently said Mugabe may be more firmly in control today than he was a year ago. If “collapse” therefore is taken to mean “Mugabe weak, soon gone,” well, much worse suffering in Zimbabwe now does not necessarily equate to that definition of “collapse” at all!

There may not be collapse in that sense, but there seems little doubt that this episode is another major milestone in the Mugabe regime’s many self-inflicted wounds. However long its eventual exit may take, this was a public relations fiasco that in one way or another will contribute to the eventual tipping over.

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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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Levy Mwanawasa, R.I.P.

Posted by CM on August 20, 2008

By the low standards of rulership we have unfortunately had to get accustomed to in Africa, Zambia’s just-deceased president Levy Mwanawasa was a cut above the norm.

Whatever his faults, he seemed a genuine ‘man of the people’ in a way we no longer even expect anymore. He was down to earth, he spoke plainly, one could imagine sharing a drink and jokes with him in a way it is difficult to do with most of the continent’s stiff, self-important despots.

Morgan Tsvangirai was quick to do the right thing and issue a statement of condolence immediately after news of Mwanawasa’s death. There is a level on which this is not surprising given the late president’s expressed sympathy for how Zimbabwe’s opposition has been abused by Mugabe, and Mwanawasa’s abortive attempts to help to mediate the political impasse in his neighbouring country, incurring Mugabe’s wrath in the process. Mwanawasa’s description of Zimbabwe as “a sinking ship” would not have endeared him to Mugabe, and there were the usual hints of his (Mwanawasa) being in the employ of a Western conspiracy against the ‘revolution’ in Zimbabwe.

Despite what must have been bad blood between Mugabe and Mwanawasa, it is still shocking that Zimbabwe’s despot has not had the good grace to personally express his condolences to the people of Zambia on Mwanawasa’s death. It is not good enough for the first and so far  (more than 24 hours after the announcement of the death) only statement from the Zimbabwean government to be one by the minister of information somewhat unconvincingly calling it, “a real tragedy for the entire continent.’ Surely such a sentiment needed to come from the head of state, no matter how disputed Mugabe’s holding of that title currently is.

Sikhanyiso Ndlovu’s statement that, “Mugabe will issue a statement later Tuesday after a weekly cabinet meeting” only worsened the impression of callous indifference by Zimbabwe’s despot at the passing of a colleague who rightly was alarmed at the events in his neighbour to the south. It gave the impression of a Mugabe who was ‘too busy’ to immediately say something about the death, which is absurd. To add to the boorishness of the behaviour, no such statement was forthcoming “later Tuesday” from Mugabe

Mugabe probably did not have warm feelings towards Mwanawasa. Indeed, there was not even a perfunctory statement from him wishing the ailing Mwanawasa a speedy recovery after his recent stroke in Egypt. So perhaps it is entirely consistent of Mugabe to not now cry crocodile tears for a man he did not forgive for daring to criticise him, no matter how gently and obliquely. But Mugabe’s behaviour shows his smallness, his pettiness. It would have cost him nothing to say something, and would have shown him to be capable of rising above his personal feelings on the occasion of the death of a neighbouring head of state. More shame on Mugabe, although he seems incapable of feeling any.

African  presidents have often justifiably been accused of corrupting the essence of democracy in various ways. It is therefore ironic when those who most frequently point this finger then go on to write, “Mwanawasa did not groom a successor.” In a democracy individuals should come and go without the system collapsing. No matter how good somebody is, when he or she goes, no matter how unexpectedly, the laid down process of succession should be able to produce a successor from among the political ranks.

That is what is going to happen in Zambia as various politicians fight it out for the top job in the elelction to be held in the next 90 days, as is stipulated by the country’s constitution in the event of a sudden vacancy of the office of president such as has just happened. And that is how it should be.

Amongst MWanawasa’s achievements are being cited his fight against corruption, including calling his mentor and predecessor Frederick Chiluba to account fr his thieving ways in a manner that is quite unprecedented. He got debt relief which allowed Zambia to use more of itsforex earnings on “development” than on paying off debts. He managed to keep good relations with both the West and China at a time when some Westerners alarmed at the loss of influence over “their” Africans seem to suggest Africa must choose one ‘side’ or the other.

But as some astute African observers have pointed out, for some in the West, and particularly Britain, all of Mwanawasa’s achievements on behalf of his own country pale in comparison to his role as the good African who criticised the bad African Mugabe!

That obsession with categorising Africans on the basis of such crude boxes not only cheapens Mwanawasa’s legacy, it is an attitude that also illustrates why despite the aid and attention lately lavished on Africa by the West, much of Africa is so disillusioned by the whole tone of its relationship with that West. In Africa, the West seems to have very little idea how to win friends and influence people. Perhaps this is partly why they are being beaten at their own game by the Chinese.

Mwanawasa represented the beginnings of southern Africa’s move away from being beholden to liberation-era ‘founding fathers,’ as if we were slaves who owed something to new masters.

Levy Mwanawasa, may you rest in peace.

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I don’t believe the purported South African peace plan stands a chance

Posted by CM on July 8, 2008

The July 7 edition of the UK paper The Guardian had a story about a claimed peace plan for ZANU-PF and the MDC brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki which the opposition party is is said to have been pleasantly surprised it could live with.

The plan which is said to have been presented to Zimbabwe’s political leaders “would allow Robert Mugabe to remain as a titular head of state but surrender real power to the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who would serve as prime minister until a new constitution was negotiated and fresh elections held.”

One can immediately see why MDC leaders would eagerly find an easy way out of their problem of failing to budge Mugabe out of power in such a plan and jump to embrace it. Indeed, “Chris McGreal in Harare” quotes his MDC source as saying “all the basic ideas of the MDC are there”, including a recognition of the results of the first round of elections in March won by Tsvangirai, which would be met by making the MDC leader an executive prime minister.

“The important thing is that it recognises the outcome of the March 29 election, and that any government will be transitional on the way to new elections,” the article quotes the source as saying.

As an aside, it is interesting how the The Guardian seems to have embedded itself within the MDC and become the party’s official mouthpiece. One can see how the recent call for military intervention under Tsvangirai’s byline mysteriously appeared in the paper, only to be hastily repudiated by Tsvangirai and quickly taken down from the paper’s website. The MDC’s closeness to The Guardian may yet come back to haunt it.

It seems incredibly far-fetched to believe Mugabe would accept any power-sharing plan that gives real power to Tsvangirai and merely ceremonial power to him. The very thing about the plan that Tsvangirai and the MDC would find so attractive is precisely why any such plan would be rejected out of hand by Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

If Mbeki did indeed present such a proposal, it would represent a fundamental misreading of the reasons for Mugabe’s intransigence about gracefully leaving power. The plan seems to assume that it is merely a matter of ego, and that Mugabe would respond to growing international pressure on him to accept some kind of deal with Tsvangirai by a ‘face-saving’ offer to give him a title with no real power. There is nothing at all in Mugabe’s past to give any inkling that he could live with an arrangement in which he was a window dresser. This is especially so in a situation where real power was held by someone for whom he has as much genuine contempt for as he does for Tsvangirai.

The egotistical reasons for Mugabe clinging on to power only partly explain his actions. Power for him  and his cronies has to a large extent become a matter of access and retention of privilege and impunity it is true, but it would be a mistake to under-estimate their genuine determination to resist any arrangement that threatens a wholesale reversal of “the gains of the revolution.”

What gains in a non-performing economy, one may ask? The main one they would find difficult to swallow would be the wholesale return of farms to their previous white occupiers. And this is a worry that would be shared by many of the recipients of land who are not Mugabe supporters. Focus is usually on the relatively few well-developed farms that were taken over and often run down by the politically well-connected. But what is forgotten are the many more bare pieces of land that many ordinary people of all political persuasions also eagerly applied for and received.

Many of the very same people who voted for Tsvangirai and the MDC and would be happy for them to form or dominate the next government would be up in arms at the idea of their land simply being returned to the white farmers. Assuming the MDC could pull that off at all, it would be politically crippled before it even got started, seeming to confirm the constant Mugabe refrain that the MDC was nothing but a  black-fronted project for British and white interests.

The bitter apathy to the MDC by Mugabe and ZANU-PF diehards is not just selfish and personal. It is also deeply ideological in a way that Mugabe would be very unlikely to accept a power-sharing arrangement such as that The Guardian says Mbeki is proposing.

Perhaps no one will ever know whether the long-delayed results of the March 29 election were genuine or not. Initially the MDC claimed that its own figures showed Tsvangirai breaching the required minimum of 50% of the vote and earning the right to be declared president at that first round. The official figures showed Tsvangirai several points ahead of Mugabe, but without achieving 50% of the votes cast, hence necessitating the infamous run-off election that Tsvangirai pulled out of at the last minute. And the official results also show an almost 50/50 split between the two main parties in parliamentary and senatorial seats.

What this means is that in the unlikely event that Mugabe and ZANU-PF were to accept a junior (as opposed to equal or more senior) role in any power-sharing arrangement, things would be far from easy for a Tsvangirai-led government. For one thing, half the cabinet seats and other formal spolis of power would be retained by ZANU-PF. For another, all the security forces who wield the guns would likely remain loyal to ZANU-PF. I am not sure Tsvangirai would be able to wield enough patronage-dispensing power of his own to break this ZANU-PF lock on the support of the security forces, even those who are tired of Mugabe but deeply suspicious of Tsvangirai. This is not merely a matter of Mugabe having tried very hard to keep his top military men happy over the years, but also because of shared experiences and ideological/nationalistic orientations from the liberation war that cannot just be bought off with positions, cars and houses.

I would not be surprised if the MDC’s strongers backers, the British government, have not already cooked up a scheme as part of their proposed aid-to-Zimbabwe-under-a-Tsvangirai-government plan to helpfully “professionalise” the armed forces for us, but that’s a rant for another day, my blood pressure is constantly high enough over my homeland as things are already.

I’m sticking my neck out and guessing that there is no way Mugabe would accept being figurehead president to Tsvangirai’s executive prime-ministership. At the very least, Mugabe would insist on equal power with Tsvangirai, which would cause all kinds of problems for the coalition because of the deep, fundamental incompatibility of the two men and their parties, and the upper hand ZANU-PF would continue to enjoy in many unofficial ways.

I would actually even be surprised if such a power-sharing proposal really did emanate from Mbeki. Whatever his faults, I believe he knows more than most what Mugabe would be likely to accept or reject.

Perhaps it is just The Guardian flighting a trial balloon on behalf of the MDC to see if it could actually stay afloat! It sure as hell is interesting to see that paper increasingly become the party’s public relations arm.

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On Britain’s condition for Zimbabwean economic aid

Posted by CM on July 7, 2008

I have made no secret of my deep cynicism about the reasons for the unusual interest of the British government and media in “the Zimbabwe crisis.”

Not only is that country’s history in Rhodesia and in Zimbabwe messy and dishonorable, the shrill racial (to sensitive readers, sorry, but it is impossible to discuss Britain and The Zimbabwe Crisis without race looming large) reaction of the English establishment to Zimbabwe in general and Mugabe in particular is not only not helping the situation, it is worsening it.  Zimbabwe is in even bigger long term trouble than it is under Robert Mugabe now if it is to be “saved” by Britain.

Eager British foreign minister David Miliband is in South Africa for some meeting or other. Over the weekend he went to a camp of the victims of SA’s recent violence against African migrants to shed crocodile tears over the plight of Zimbabweans and take some pot shots at Mugabe.

It was “imperative” that a solution be found to the worsening crisis in Zimbabwe, Miliband is reported to have said after visiting the camp, which housed people from many nations, but whose propaganda value for him was clearly Zimbabwe.

Miliband is said to have added that Britain would intensify its efforts to ensure Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s regime was not seen as “a legitimate representation of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.” He is said to have also called on the international community to support United States-proposed sanctions on Zimbabwe to be tabled at the United Nations Security Council in New York.

Largely harmless enough twiddling of the thumbs by Miliband.

But it is the last line of the June 7 article by SAPA, the South African Press Association, that made me sit up and take notice:

Britain does not want Mugabe to be part of any power-sharing deal, as a condition of economic aid.

Now SAPA does not explain if this has been explicitly stated by any British official, but it would not be surprising if this were the official position of the British government on conditions for releasing the one billion pounds they crudely dangled as aid during both the March 29 and June 27 elections if the right result was achieved. Clearly the Brown regime wants the Mugabe regime to go, and this is not at all surprising, quite apart from whether or not Mugabe has stolen another election. The British have many other reasons for hating Mugabe’s guts than the fact that he has been disastrous for Zimbabwe.

And I guess they are entitled to impose their own conditions for aid. But if the last sentence of the SAPA article is official UK policy, it helps to firm up my increasing opposition to Britain having any appreciable or special role in Zimbabwe, now or in the future.

Who are they to demand who will or not be part of a power-sharing deal? Mugabe may be a nasty fellow, but the over-riding concern of Zimbabweans is to find a resolution to their all-encompassing crisis. Mugabe is the person with the guns now and he is not willing to quietly go off into the sunset. As things stand now, therefore, it is simply not possible to totally rule out a role for him in some sort of power-sharing deal for the sake of moving the country forward.

What the British position suggests is that if the MDC looked at its options and decided to swallow its pride and unhappily accept a power-sharing deal that includes Mugabe (one that doesn’t seems unrealistic now, except perhaps in the minds of Brown and Miliband), Britain would with hold its toys and go off and sulk in anger at not having been able to completely ‘regime-change’ Mugabe. If this is the position, it is not only incredibly arrogant intervention in the nuts and bolts of how Zimbabweans choose to find a way out of their political impasse, it compromises the hapless, bungling MDC even more than before.

The MDC-led government that received British largesse under these conditions would do so with the deep suspicion and resentment of Zimbabweans like myself, who want Mugabe to go but who are disturbed at how the British establishment treats Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC party as their poodles, with not a squeak of protest from the poodles! Sure Mugabe must go, but what the hell would Tsvangirai be getting us into?

It is bizarre how Mugabe’s self-serving rhetoric about Zimbabwe never being a colony again rings true when the bungling British government and the MDC seem determined to make his pronouncements a self-fulfilling prophecy!

This is why people like me feel politically homeless. There is a sense of despair about the country’s prospects with every additional day under the ruinous Mugabe, and yet there is increasing worry about what a compromised Tsvangirai would do.

The British anti-Mugabe agenda is driven partly by racial “kith and kin” considerations occasioned by Mugabe’s unprecedented drive against the white farmers (the Western world is used to dismissing ‘natives’ mistreating or killing other natives, or white people killing natives, but all hell breaks loose when white people are also brutalised by natives, especially led by one as ‘uppity’ as Mugabe). Their all-consuming ‘no deal at all with any dispensation in which Mugabe is a part’ is churlish and would significantly reduce the options that Zimbabweans must keep open to resolving their problems.

In the most polite way, I suggest we say to the British “thanks but no thanks for your bribe of aid, but your conditions for it are unacceptable for the difficult task ahead of us.”

The bloody, arrogant cheek!

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A predictable but fascinating AU summit in Egypt

Posted by CM on July 1, 2008

I am surprised that there are some people who really hoped African leaders attending the African Union summit in Egypt would pull some kind of Zimbabwe crisis “solution” out of a hat.

The AU is not famed for taking strong stands on anything, for one. Two, the AU has no real leverage over Mugabe. Even if they had uncharacteristically chided him publicly, how would they effect any decision taken against him?

Three, our old colonial masters the British and the current world emperor the US have just never learned how much their treatment of Africans in the not too distant past still elicits very strong emotions against them when they are perceived to be throwing their weight around . The shrill carping from their capitals of UK prime minister Gordon Brown and US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice about what the gathered AU leaders “must do” about Mugabe was not at all helpful. It simply gave the leaders a splendid reason to withdraw into their “anti-colonialist” psychological bunker.

Why is it that despite centuries of close proximity to us as our lords and masters, the Western world has learned so little about the lingering psychic effects of their controlling every aspect of our lives, and the instinctive resentment against a perceived replaying of old roles? If they really wanted to be helpful at the AU summit, they went about it exactly the wrong way.

Is it really possible in 2008 that Mr. Brown and Madame Rice, herself of African stock, did not understand that their kind of megaphone ‘diplomacy’ of ‘you must do this to Mugabe’ would not only fail, but even cause the defensive rallying around Mugabe of even those AU leaders who realise how much catastrophe the man has caused?

Four, very few of the AU leaders have electoral credentials that are any better than Mugabe’s, so it was rather optimistic  to expect that they would take him on. Prior to his departure for Egypt he had effectively blackmailed the AU leaders by challenging those who felt they had cleaner electoral records to speak up, with a rather predictable silence as the response.

Prime minister Raila Odinga of Kenya, the only leader to publicly lament the crooked electoral process by which Mugabe claimed his 6th term in office two days ago, was strangely but not surprisingly not in Egypt to face the fierce Mugabe, who loves a brawl and is not at all embarrassed to fight rough.

Previous mild critic Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who predictably was called all sorts of names by Mugabe regime officials when he correctly referred to Zimbabwe as a “sinking ship” last year, would have sat next to Mugabe at the summit, according to alphabetical seating by country name.

But strangely the ailing Mwanawasa, 59, suffered a stroke immediately on arriving in Egypt and spent the duration of the summit in hospital! It was almost as if the thought of sitting next to the fit, spry and currently livid and combative Mugabe, 84, was too much for him.

Did Madame Rice really expect that the best Arab friend of the US, Egyptian host president Hosni Mubarak, no stranger to fixed elections in his 27 years in power, was going to be in a position to spank Mugabe for holding a crooked election?

The predictability of the summit not taking any kind of strong stand against Mugabe did not mean the meeting was dull or lacked drama.

Some British journalists provoked Mugabe into a sputtering rage by one of them asking him how it felt “to have stolen the election,” and by what right he claimed to be president of Zimbabwe.

Oh boy, that did it, as the journalists knew it would. Mugabe’s enraged response and the journalists being wrestled away by security staff were filmed for posterity and broadcast around the world. At home Emperor Mugabe is accustomed to only being asked reverentially posed softball questions by a compliant state propaganda media. But apart from that, Mugabe would have found the ‘provocation’ of being asked what he called “stupid questions” by British journalists, and at an African Union summit, a little too much to bear. The apoplectic Mugabe’s voice shook with rage as he found yet another excuse to rail against the British.

If the journalists were looking for gripping footage for their news broadcast, they got it alright. No doubt many of their viewers in the UK and much of the West and in many sections of the rest of the world will find the exchange to be confirmation of their view of Mugabe as a rogue. But I’m willing to bet that there are also many parts of the world where the British journalists handed Mugabe a major propaganda coup.

To the ‘Mugabe is right’ brigade, his ‘performance’ was classic, vintage Mugabe at his best and precisely what they love the man for: telling off the British.

The drama with the journalists could not have been expected, but everything else that happened was entirely predictable.

As far as contributing anything meaningful at all to the resolution of “the Zimbabwe crisis” the AU summit  was an absolute, predictable non-event.

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Britain’s diplomatic ineptitude in Africa

Posted by CM on May 25, 2008

by Chido Makunike

The article about Malloch Brown in The Guardian’s May 9 edition (Malloch-Brown’s vision for Africa: having an aid policy is not enough) shows what is so wrong with Britain’s general engagement with Africa.

Malloch Brown may be the UK’s grandly titled “foreign office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN,” but it is not for him to have “a vision for Africa.” Someone please kindly tell his lordship that the idea of a British “vision” for Africa is outdated by, oh, about 50 years. That is what the end of colonialism was about, for natives to do their own visioning! That the process is wrenching and difficult does not at all alter the desire of people all over the world to determine their own destiny.

Interestingly, within hours of its initial appearance, the heading of the article was changed to From the UN to Whitehall, with a will to change our view of Africa. Perhaps someone at The Guardian or at Whitehall noticed just how patronising the original heading was.

Malloch Brown seems to think his title is an excuse to think and talk like a British colonial governor of old. Alas Lord Malloch Brown, I doubt that the natives today will take kindly to this. I am one native who does not.

The article mentions Zimbabwe as “the immediate preoccupation.” Whose? If the suggestion is that it is Britain’s special “pre-occupation,” that is utter nonsense, and a sign of how successive British governments have failed to get over a patronising colonial hangover with regards to Africa.

The Guardian says, “Britain, as the former colonial power, has to tread delicately.” The emotional British political and media frenzy over Zimbabwe in the last few weeks hardly qualifies as treading lightly. Zimbabwe is in deep distress but it is no longer Britain’s particular responsibility. British concern over events in Zimbabwe should not go beyond that of any other member of the world community of nations. It should not be that of a mother hen-picking a recalcitrant child.

Malloch Brown holds forth on Zimbabwe’s recent controversial election. In arguing for a run off election between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, which the opposition leader has now accented to, Malloch Brown makes the valid point that because of the closeness of the presidential election’s results, a run off would hopefully produce a decisive winner, “to prevent a weak compromise government.” He then shockingly goes on to pick sides with “the cleanest way is for a second round that gives a decisive victory to the opposition, which seems the likely result.”

That may indeed be the likely result, but in what capacity is Malloch Brown, an appointee of a foreign government, showing a partisan hand like this? Is this an example of Britain treading lightly? This is shoddy from someone who earlier in the article speaks somewhat boastfully of his international experience at the UN. Regardless of Malloch Brown’s or official Britain’s preferred Zimbabwean ruler, surely they should limit any comments to a process that gives a decisive victory to the Zimbabwean people by enabling them to make their choice freely and having it respected. That choice may well be, and probably would be for the opposition but it is not Malloch Brown’s business to say so.

That Britain cannot stand Mugabe is no secret. Malloch Brown is probably not far off when he guesses that “true support for the MDC is running at 75%.” But how is that Malloch Brown’s business? Particularly given Britain’s unhappy engagement with Zimbabwe and Rhodesia before it, it is hard to see any way in which his haughtily speaking of the country’s electoral mess from the vantage point of a colonial administrator discussing events in a territory he governs helps. Not only is this an inappropriate role for the official of a foreign country, it is just such unhelpful comments from British officials over the years that have so compromised Tsvangirai and the MDC. One does not have to be a supporter of Mugabe’s to find Malloch Brown’s whole tone offensive, as I do as a Zimbabwean.

Malloch Brown says Southern African leaders “probably” have a better finger on the pulse than Britain does. Those leaders have fumbled helplessly over how to assist in trying to help prevent Zimbabwe’s implosion. But Malloch Brown’s casual insult disguised as a back-handed compliment is rich, given Britain’s long and continuing diplomatic ineptitude towards Zimbabwe. Whatever the Southern African leaders’ faults, they certainly do not suffer from the colossal British failure to understand African sensibilities in regards to Zimbabwe. That failure includes not being able to distinguish between the antipathies of many Zimbabweans to their ruler from a desire to determine their own fate without interference from other countries, least of all ex-colonial master Britain.

If his job is primarily that of a diplomat handling his country’s relations with other countries, it is hard to see how Malloch Brown’s comments and whole attitude can do that in regards to Zimbabwe. That attitude is why Britain’s levels of goodwill and influence in Africa do not match the level of “help” it renders.

Britain’s bond with its African ex-colonies has left enough in common between the two sides that in the post-colonial era could have been cultivated to build positive, mutually beneficial relations. That this has not happened is partly a result of Britain’s surprising failure to learn to deal with those countries in ways that foster genuinely good relations built on mutual respect even when there are areas of disagreement.

Added to the failure of many African countries to “grow up” into the responsibilities of self-determination has been Britain’s failure to get beyond thinking of Africans as still being under its charge. Even a supposedly enlightened “Africa hand” like Malloch Brown shows this attitude, which has helped make relative Johnny-come-lately China leapfrog over countries like Britain in its diplomatic and increasingly commercial relations with Africa. Despite all the unknowns of the developing ties with China, African countries have embraced relations with a country which is so much “stranger” to them than Britain partly because of how they chafe at Britain’s continuing nanny attitude.

Having no small role in the history of countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe that has partly contributed to their present-day turmoil, Britain largely fails to influence developments in them positively. The Guardian refers to frustration, apparently by bwana Malloch Brown, “that Zimbabwe is hindering a repositioning of Africa in the eyes of the west, as not just being this broken problem, this dependency region of catastrophe, aid and climate change.”

One wonders how much Malloch Brown has his finger on the pulse if he attributes Africa’s image in the Western mind, developed over centuries of stereotypes, to Zimbabwe’s travails of the last few years. Many elements of the turmoil in Zimbabwe are unfortunately the “normal” state of being in many African countries, though for some reason without quite the same level of British “concern” such as that purportedly being shown by his lordship for the oppressed Zimbabweans. The unusual levels of cynical British “concern” for Zimbabwe belie Malloch Brown’s contention in The Guardian’s article that “the dispute is no longer seen as between Mugabe and the colonial power, but between Mugabe and the world.”

In terms of image, Mugabe has increasingly become his own worst enemy, but the thinking of official Britain exemplified by Malloch Brown’s blatantly partisan and interfering comments leave one in no doubt that it has “concerns” in regards to Zimbabwe that go beyond the neutral, the benevolent and the humanitarian. To make that so apparent, as Malloch Brown does, is merely the latest example of the kind of diplomatic ineptitude that has helped leave Britain with little or none of the kind of leverage it would wish to have in Zimbabwe and others of its former colonies.

Perhaps if Britain tried much harder to get its finger on the African pulse it might have better relations with the natives, thereby also serving its interests better than even throwing aid money in order to buy influence has been able to do.

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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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