The Battle over Zimbabwe’s Future!
By Gregory Elich, Global Research/Centre for Research on Globalisation, April 13, 2007
Amid heightened tension, an all pervading crisis is afflicting Zimbabwe. The economy is close to collapse, the standard of living has plummeted, and the political scene is marred by recent violence. To hear Western leaders tell it, it is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who has brought this state of affairs upon his nation through economic mismanagement and repression, and what would have been an otherwise prosperous country is instead on the edge of ruin. The U.S. and Great Britain trade barbs with Zimbabwe, and relations are perhaps at their lowest point, with pressure mounting in the U.S. and Great Britain for harsher measures.
There are many in the West who have joined the chorus denouncing the Mugabe government and call for its replacement with a “democratic government.” The hostile reaction against Zimbabwe is not surprising when one considers that the flood of news reports is notable for its uniformity and lack of context. A single message is repeated in the media. The ruling party, the Zimbabwean African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), rules through undemocratic means, we are told, while the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) enjoys wide support and is kept from power through repression. Western leaders seek only to promote democracy and prosperity in the region. This is the popular image in the Western press, and few question its veracity. How information is formulated, including what does not get reported, demonstrates some of the ways perception is managed and support for policy objectives is generated.
The beating of several MDC members while in police custody following their arrest triggered the latest upsurge of condemnation of the Zimbabwean government. MDC supporters were arrested merely for holding an innocuous prayer meeting, we were told, and the government’s resort to violence was unprovoked.
The “prayer meeting” was in fact a demonstration that was part of the MDC-led Save Zimbabwe Campaign’s month-long “defiance” campaign. By calling the demonstration a “prayer meeting,” organizers hoped to get around the government’s four-month ban on demonstrations that had been instituted after a rally the month before resulted in running battles between the police and crowds of MDC supporters. The “prayer meeting” tag was also useful for managing Western perception. (1)
Troubles began on the morning of March 11 when a handful of demonstrators were arrested as they headed to the rally site. At around noon, a group of MDC supporters attacked three unarmed police officers. One officer managed to escape, but the other two were beaten and suffered serious head injuries.
During the next hour several more demonstrators were arrested as they attempted to enter the rally site, including Arthur Mutambara, leader of one faction of the MDC. A while later, MDC gangs at a shopping center hurled rocks at a bus, smashing its windows, and then attempted set an army vehicle afire. (2)
Despite a determined effort by the police, more than a thousand demonstrators did make it to the rally. When Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of a second MDC faction, arrived with his arms raised in the air, the crowd responded noisily. According to an MDC supporter, “the situation was getting heated” after police attempted to keep Tsvangirai apart from the crowd. “Tsvangirai and the police were arguing, and we were carrying on singing and shouting, louder and louder. In all there were only about thirty police and there were more than one thousand – we were too many for them. They could not control what was happening.” Police lobbed tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd and Tsvangirai and other MDC officials were hustled into two police cars and driven away. (3)
Demonstrators responded by throwing rocks and tear gas canisters at the police, while some in the crowd used slingshots to fire metal bolts. The crowd advanced, as the police fired 19 warning volleys in the air without effect. At this point, one officer aimed his rifle at a demonstrator and shot him dead. “Then everything became worse,” recalled an MDC supporter. “We went on the rampage and we did not even fear for our lives. There was a lot of action” as demonstrators “threw punches.” Chased by the crowd, the police ran to their pickup trucks, but not all of the officers were lucky enough to escape. “About six or eight of them were left with us,” said the MDC supporter. “As they ran some of them dropped their batons so we picked up their discarded sticks and used them to beat” them. “The police were badly beaten,” after which the crowd “left the police on the side of the road and ran away.” (4)
Meanwhile, MDC supporters elsewhere in Harare overturned a commuter omnibus and later stopped a kombi (commuter van). After looting the luggage, they doused the vehicle with gasoline and set it afire. A number of cars were stoned and one was overturned. (5)
Demonstrators who had been taken into custody and were brought to police stations in Avondale and Harare Central were treated with respect. A different fate awaited those taken to the Machipisa station, where detainees were ordered to lay down in the courtyard, whereupon they were kicked and beaten with clubs for about an hour. It is not entirely clear who administered the beatings, and at least one report suggests that it was not police but either a commando group or a pro-government militia that was responsible. (6)
Western governments and media wasted no time in condemning the government of Zimbabwe. The beatings were severe, and several individuals suffered broken bones. Western critics ignored MDC violence and singled out the government for sole blame, making the most of the incident’s propaganda value.
Faced with a barrage of criticism by its Western detractors, Zimbabwe badly mishandled the situation. That no attempt was made to investigate the beatings only fueled the anti-Zimbabwe campaign and handed the opposition a catalyzing issue. The government’s inaction contrasted with the period of the run up to the March 2005 parliamentary election, when President Mugabe declared a policy of “zero tolerance” for political violence, during which members of both parties were arrested for such acts.
It was clear by its behavior that the government of Zimbabwe felt threatened, as it had reason to. Years of sanctions and Western meddling, coupled with an increasingly truculent opposition, had indeed menaced ZANU-PF’s ability to govern the nation. Western intervention followed well-established patterns. Soften the target nation with sanctions and cripple the economy. Blame the resulting economic disaster on government “economic mismanagement,” in order to build support for the opposition. Fund the opposition party and press, as well as anti-government NGO’s, to tilt the democratic process in a direction favorable to Western interests. If the opposition lacks sufficient support to come to power through democratic means, then encourage and sponsor “regime change” through mass action, as in Yugoslavia, Georgia and the Ukraine.
The West began to apply significant pressure on Zimbabwe late in 2001. In September of that year, the IMF declared Zimbabwe ineligible to use its general resources, and three months later President George W. Bush signed into law the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001. The law directed the U.S. Treasury Department to instruct U.S. members of international financial institutions to oppose and vote against any extension of any loan, credit or guarantee to Zimbabwe. The law also authorized President Bush to directly fund opposition media as well as “democracy and governance programs,” a euphemism for organizations opposed to the government. (7)
Western financial restrictions made it nearly impossible for Zimbabwe to engage in normal international trade. External balance of payments support was eliminated and nearly all external lines of credit were obstructed. “The current wave of declared and undeclared sanctions is negatively affecting the image of the country, thereby distorting how financial markets assess the risk profile of Zimbabwe,” pointed out Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono. “As a result, Zimbabwean companies are finding it extremely difficult to access offshore lines of credit because of the perceived country risk.” Zimbabwean companies are therefore compelled to deal “with their international suppliers strictly on a cash up front basis, with very minimal credit terms.” If companies are fortunate enough to secure external financing, it is generally only at very high interest rates. “A vicious circle has thus evolved since the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe. The resultant decline in economic activity emanating from the sanctions has given rise to rising external payment arrears, and high country risk, which in turn, has adverse effects on economic activity.” (8)
It was not only the U.S that was using its influence to hamper Zimbabwe’s economy. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw revealed that he was “building coalitions” against Zimbabwe, and he stated that Great Britain would “oppose any access by Zimbabwe to international financial institutions.” (9) British officials threatened to eliminate financial assistance to southern African nations unless they imposed sanctions on their neighbor. President Benjamin Mkapa complained that African Commonwealth members had “endured a bombardment for an alliance against Mugabe.” (10)
The World Bank and IMF played an important role in the economic sabotage of Zimbabwe’s economy, and sought to dissuade others from extending financial credit to Zimbabwe. According to one source in Zimbabwe, “Our contacts in various countries have indicated that these institutions are using all sorts of tactics to cow all those who are keen to assist Zimbabwe.” (11)
For a nation that had to import 100 percent of its oil, 40 percent of its electricity and most of its spare parts, Zimbabwe was highly vulnerable to being cut off from access to foreign exchange. Any modern economy must rely on international financial institutions in order to transact normal trade. But Western nations had largely disrupted Zimbabwe’s ability to do so, and the result was immediate and dire. The supply of oil fell sharply, and periodically ran out entirely. It became increasingly difficult to muster the foreign currency to maintain an adequate level of imported electricity, and the nation was frequently beset by black outs. The shortage of oil and electricity in turn severely hobbled industrial production, as did the inability to import raw materials and spare parts. Business after business closed down and the unemployment rate soared above 70 percent. Inflation raged, driving incomes in real terms to a point so low that people struggled just to survive. (12)
U.S., British and Western European governments sought to exploit the resulting discontent by bankrolling the opposition MDC, supplying it with tens of millions of dollars. But passage of a law in Zimbabwe making it illegal for political parties to receive funding from abroad forced both the MDC and its Western backers to be more circumspect about their relationship. The West had reason to feel that it was not getting its money’s worth, as the MDC’s electoral performance was generally disappointing. Although the party could count on substantial support in urban areas, the more populous rural areas stood solidly behind the ZANU-PF government. There was little appeal for the rural population in the MDC’s program, which called for near total privatization of state owned firms and government services and a return to neoliberal economic policy. The ZANU-PF government, on the other hand, had done away with the land ownership pattern inherited from apartheid Rhodesia, with its extreme concentration of land and wealth in the hands of a relatively few white commercial farmers. The MDC’s adherence to neoliberal principles, on the other hand, posed the potential risk of a reversal of the land reform process, in whole or in part.
Left to its own merits, the MDC would have little prospect of coming to power through electoral means in the foreseeable future. The option of bringing down the government through non-democratic means therefore has considerable appeal for the opposition and Western governments. As early as 2000, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told a rally, “What we would like to tell Mugabe is please go peacefully. If you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently.” (13) The MDC has since that time periodically organized mass actions against the government, including one that Tsvangirai dubbed “the final push.”
Tsvangirai had at one point even contacted a Montreal-based public relations firm led by a former Israeli intelligence official, believing that the company would have contacts with the CIA. Disturbed by Tsvangirai’s requests, the firm taped their final two meetings. The first tape, in which Tsvangirai was more explicit, proved to be inaudible due to nearby construction work, but the public relations firm did warn the Zimbabwean government and the second tape was sent as evidence. Tsvangirai was more careful with his words at the second of the recorded meetings, and it was therefore not entirely clear whether he was seeking the assassination of President Mugabe, as the public relations firm claimed, or a coup d’etat. Tsvangirai talked of the “elimination” of President Mugabe, and worried that the army would take over instead of him in the ensuing “chaos.” Tsvangirai went to trial on charges of treason over the case, but was found not guilty. The tapes were fairly incriminating but not specific enough, and the charge of treason carried the prospect of the death penalty. Furthermore the prosecution’s case was not particularly well prepared. Despite all that, the most charitable view of the content of the tape was that at a minimum Tsvangirai planned to come to power through extra-legal means. (14)
The opposition eventually split over the issue of whether or not to even participate in the electoral process. The MDC was trounced in the last election, partly due to the Tsvangirai faction’s decision to boycott the process and partly due to lukewarm public support for the party. Tsvangirai met with Western officials following the election, after which he announced that the way forward for the opposition would be “an era of democratic mass confrontation with the dictatorship - an era of non-violent mass resistance.” (15) Power was to be seized through “mass confrontation,” which in reality would be neither democratic nor non-violent. Washington and London dreamed of another “color revolution,” such as the one that had overthrown the government in the Ukraine, and the installation in power of a compliant leader eager to take orders.
On January 9 of this year, both factions of the MDC met with U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell, who urged them to unite. Soon thereafter, the MDC launched its “defiance campaign,” marked by a series of demonstrations and sporadic acts of violence, including the knifing of a police officer. By the time of the March 11 “prayer meeting,” the political atmosphere had become highly charged. (16) By relentlessly roiling the political waters, the U.S. and Great Britain had created an intensely contested political culture in Zimbabwe, and it was no secret that the aim was to topple the government. In such circumstances, political passions had reached the point where patience with the MDC and its efforts to bring down the government had worn thin.
Encouraged by the unreserved backing it was receiving in the West since the beatings at Machipisa station, the MDC stepped up its efforts. Arthur Mutambara announced that the MDC was “in the final stages of the final push,” and planned to continue with the defiance campaign. “We are talking about rebellion, war.” (17) This was followed by a flurry of violent acts. A police station in Harare was fire bombed, causing serious facial injuries to two policewomen. The demonstration at the funeral of the slain MDC demonstrator turned violent, and MDC supporters battled with police for several hours. A passenger train passing through a Harare suburb was fire bombed, causing five injuries, and the next day another police station, this time in Mutare, was the target of a gasoline bomb. By the end of a three-week period, the tenth target was bombed, a business owned by a former ZANU-PF member of Parliament. (18) The West’s high dudgeon over the issue of violence was nowhere to be seen and the incidents went without comment. After two gasoline tankers were bombed, a sweep by police nabbed 35 MDC suspects along with more than 50 explosives and two dozen detonators. It was said that the explosives were of the same type as those used against the passenger train. (19) Western media, silent on the wave of bombings, castigated the government of Zimbabwe for the arrests, and falsely asserted that Tsvangirai had been arrested in the sweep.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for a general strike to be held on April 3-4, and the MDC and its Western backers held high hopes that the strike would degenerate into such chaos that the nation would become ungovernable. Relations between the MDC and ZCTU are closely intertwined, and indeed it was the ZCTU that launched the MDC. Tsvangirai was at one time the leader of the trade union organization and in its early years, the MDC used the ZCTU’s offices and facilities. So cozy is the relationship that it is probable that the strike was in fact an MDC initiative. The opposition regarded the strike as part of its larger strategic plan. “You are going to see more of these actions coming,” warned MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa. (20) Expectations, however, were to be disappointed when the strike fizzled as businesses continued to operate as normal.
Internal pressure on the government of Zimbabwe was combined with external threats. The U.S. and Great Britain were once again urging African nations to pressure Zimbabwe. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that African nations should impose sanctions. Western leaders arrogantly lectured African leaders in a demeaning manner, trying to dictate to them how to act, and treated them as if they were mere servants to do the West’s bidding. When the Southern African Development Community (SADC) met to discuss regional matters, the subject of Zimbabwe was high on the agenda. Western political leaders and media did not hide their expectation that Zimbabwe’s neighbors would choose the occasion to join the Western campaign.
Instead, the SADC issued a firm rebuff to the West. The statement issued by the organization pointed out that “free and fair democratic presidential elections were held in 2002 in Zimbabwe,” and the SADC “reaffirmed its solidarity with the government and people of Zimbabwe.” South African President Thabo Mbeki would work to facilitate dialogue between the government and the opposition. In a clear message to the Western powers, the SADC appealed to Great Britain to “honor its compensation obligations with regard to land reform,” and called for “the lifting of all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe.” (21) Zimbabwe’s neighbors knew that Western sanctions had inflicted severe harm on the economy and had in large part turned the political environment into a fight to the death that only encouraged violence. If what was wanted was a reduction in violence and political passions, then that could best be achieved by removing sanctions and allowing the economy to recover.
U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell spurned the appeal a few days later by saying that the U.S. would not lift sanctions against Zimbabwe. “It’s simply not going to happen.” (22) The U.S. and Great Britain liked to point to the targeted sanctions against selected officials in Zimbabwe, which consisted of restrictions on travel and financial transactions abroad, claiming that such sanctions could not affect the economy of the entire nation. That claim was disingenuous, leaving out as it did the substantial efforts to block Zimbabwe’s access to foreign currency and international trade. “They use the term targeted sanctions,” observed Zimbabwean information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, “yet any company that deals with Zimbabwe – they have been threatened; ordered not to deal with Zimbabwe. External financial institutions and banks have been told not to deal with Zimbabwe…so that the country does not have foreign currency. These targeted sanctions are a smoke screen.” (23)
Further measures are in the works. In addition to current sanctions, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “it’s really a matter of looking at what else we might do with the international community, and part of that effort is to work with states in the region to get them to increase the pressure” on Zimbabwe. (24) This was confirmed by U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey when he said, “There’s always other tools in the toolbox, though, and I certainly expect we’ll look at those.” (25)
The Western destabilization campaign coupled interference in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe with sanctions. In addition to aid and advice to the MDC, funding is provided to media and NGO’s in support of the opposition. Due to the illegality under Zimbabwean law of many of their actions, the U.S. and Great Britain have generally avoided spelling out too many specifics. But the aim is clear, as indicated by the U.S. State Department: the strategy is “to maintain pressure on the Mugabe regime” and “to strengthen democratic forces,” that is, the MDC. The campaign against Zimbabwe is international in scope, and “the United States emphasized international cooperation and coordination. U.S. officials engaged multilaterally and bilaterally to expand international support of sanctions against government and ruling officials.” The U.S. also sponsors “public events” inside Zimbabwe, which are intended to “discredit” the government’s claim that sanctions are harming the economy, and to shift blame for economic decline onto the government. The U.S. provides what it vaguely refers to as “support” to the political opposition, and which in fact is quite extensive. (26)
Training has been provided to some opposition members of Parliament, as well as to “selected democratically oriented organizations.” The United States also directly funds “a number of civil society organizations” (NGO’s) and provides them “with training and technical assistance to help them advocate to the parliament on issues of national significance.” In other words, so-called civil society organizations are being paid and trained to influence legislation in an amenable manner for Western interests. Opposition media are generously funded in order to “fortify” their efforts to swing public support to the opposition. Nearly a third of a million dollars was given to the U.S. Solidarity Center to establish a program “to assist trade unions in Zimbabwe to become more accountable and responsive to their members.” (27) It would be more accurate to say that the intent was to encourage trade unions to become “more accountable and responsive” to Western interests. Affiliated with the AFL-CIO, Solidarity Center receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. State Department, and it often acts as an extension of U.S. foreign policy. (28) Among the myriad organizations involved in Zimbabwe on behalf of U.S. interests are Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the National Republican Institute, and a host of others.
The interventionist liberal-left in the West has jumped on the bandwagon of support for Bush and Blair’s campaign to topple the government of Zimbabwe. But critics who call for a Western-imposed “transition process” in Zimbabwe forget that the nation already has a transition process -- an election which is scheduled for next year. No amount of imperial posturing can change the fact that it is only the people of Zimbabwe that have the right to choose their government -- not the U.S. and Great Britain. The Zimbabwean people made their choice in the last presidential and parliamentary elections, both of which were deemed free and fair by African observers on the ground. Predictably, the U.S. and Great Britain, having no election observers, condemned the elections from afar as fraudulent even before they took place in a blatant attempt to discredit election outcomes that every poll had foretold. Western condemnation was prompted by the uncomfortable realization that a different outcome could not be imposed, no matter how many tens of millions of dollars were pumped into the coffers of the opposition.
If the Western-funded MDC has been incapable of coming up with a program that would appeal to a majority of voters, it is because the party has preferred to focus its attention on policies that would benefit Western corporate interests. For the Western liberal-left to call for the U.S. to “mediate” in a transition process is nothing less than a demand for U.S. meddling to initiate a coup to remove the legally elected government of Zimbabwe. There is something unseemly in the attitude that the U.S. and Great Britain have the right to dictate the fate of other nations and to determine who shall hold power, and that it is the duty of activists to support imperial domination.
If the police in Zimbabwe have acted harshly at times, it is because Western interference has created a life or death struggle for survival in Zimbabwe. That the U.S. and Great Britain are using every means possible to effect regime change and to encourage the opposition to bring down the government through mass action can only have resulted in a deeply polarized society. The government of Zimbabwe is cognizant of previous Western-backed campaigns that successfully removed the governments of Yugoslavia, Georgia and the Ukraine and installed compliant puppets in their place. Zimbabwe is vigilant against Western attempts to incite opposition supporters to bring about a violent change of government.
It is dismaying that so many would call for U.S. and British intervention in the affairs of a sovereign nation. It was British colonialism that stole the land from the African people and introduced the horrors of the apartheid system in Rhodesia. Over the decades of colonial rule, the British government expropriated untold billions of dollars from the land, labor and resources while depopulating the rich farmland regions and herding those expelled from their homes into the most barren areas. Is it not ironic that the U.S. and Great Britain condemn government violence in Zimbabwe when they have done so much to create the circumstances that almost guarantee such an outcome? Is it not relevant that the West has fostered myriad acts of violence by the opposition? And what could be stranger than for the U.S. and Great Britain to act as self-appointed moral authorities on the subject of violence and democracy as they crush Iraq and Afghanistan under the boot of occupation? Whatever acts of violence may have taken place in Zimbabwe pale in comparison to the vast numbers of victims of Western firepower in Iraq. If the U.S. and Great Britain are as committed to peace, democracy and the rule of law as they claim to be, then let them leave Iraq now, without delay.
Western liberal-left critics demand more meddling by the U.S. and Great Britain in the affairs of Zimbabwe, under the delusion that Western-imposed regime change would be a “democratic”act. It is only corporate and elite interests that would be served, for Zimbabwe’s crime in the eyes of Washington is that it jettisoned the ruinous structural adjustment program several years ago, rejected the neoliberal economic model and redistributed land on a more equitable basis. It is not lack of democracy in Zimbabwe that worries Western elites; it is the fact that democracy has produced a government that those in the halls of power in Washington and London wish to remove. What the West wants is to overturn democracy in Zimbabwe and impose a government of its choosing. Zimbabwe, to its credit, has refused to bend to intense pressure and remains committed to the course it has charted, in which the economy is geared to the interests of its own people, not that of Western corporate interests.
“Zimbabwe is a strategic country for the United States because events in Zimbabwe have a significant impact on the entire region,” points out USAID. (29) Indeed, President Mugabe says that the struggle Zimbabwe has embarked upon is nothing less than Africa’s second liberation. The continent, having freed itself from direct colonial rule, has yet to free itself of economic domination. In Namibia and South Africa, the formal end of apartheid rule has done nothing to undo the concentration of land in the hands of the wealthy white few, while millions of black peasants remain without land. Throughout Africa, the neoliberal economic model has crippled prospects for development. Zimbabwe’s example, were it allowed to flourish unhindered, might threaten to set an example that would make an indelible continent-wide impression. Conversely, the U.S. and Great Britain hope that a defeated Zimbabwe would send a signal that resistance to Western economic domination is futile. There is much that rides on the outcome of Zimbabwe’s struggle against its imperial enemies -- perhaps the fate of Africa itself.
Gregory Elich is the author of Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit
1. “More Arrests, Tension Rises,” UN Integrated Regional Information Network, March 12, 2007.
2. Cesar Zvayi, “It’s the MDC: See, Hear, Say No Evil,” The Herald (Harare), March 15, 2007. “Man Shot Dead as MDC Thugs Attack Police,” The Herald (Harare), March 12, 2007.
3. “Eyewitness: Harare’s Brutal Clash,” BBC News, March 13, 2007.
4. David Samuriwo, “Deal Decisively with Security Threat,” The Herald (Harare), March 16, 2007. “Eyewitness: Harare’s Brutal Clash,” BBC News, March 13, 2007.
5. David Samuriwo, “Deal Decisively with Security Threat,” The Herald (Harare), March 16, 2007.
6. Sarah Huddleston and Dumisani Muleya, “Mugabe’s Henchmen Unleash Torture Fury,” Business Day (Johannesburg), March 15, 2007.
7. “IMF Declares Zimbabwe Ineligible to Use IMF Resources, IMF Press Release, September 25, 2001. “Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001,” Public Law 107-99 – Dec. 21, 2001.
8. Gideon Gono, “An Analysis of the Socio-Economic Impact of Sanctions Against Zimbabwe: Supplement 7 of the Fourth Quarter 2005 Monetary Policy Review Statement, January 24, 2006.
9. “Stop Talking and Start Acting Against Mugabe, Say Tories,” Daily Telegraph (London), March 15, 2002. “Zimbabwe Steering Towards Sanctions,” Afrol News, November 30, 2001.
10. Peter O’Connor, “Zimbabwe Decision Reveals Deep Rift,” Associated Press, March 5, 2002.
11. “Standoff Against Zimbabwe Taken to Extreme Levels,” The Herald (Harare), December 12, 2002.
12. For a detailed account of Western sanctions and the effect on the economy of Zimbabwe, see: Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, Ft. Lauderdale, 2006.
13. Grant Ferrett, “Opposition Warning to Mugabe,” BBC News, September 30, 2000.
14. For a detailed account of the case, see: Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, Ft. Lauderdale, 2006.
15. Tony Hawkins, “Mugabe’s Real Election Victory: An Opposition Split Down the Middle,” Financial Times (London), November 30, 2005.
16. Caesar Zvayi, “It’s the MDC: See, Hear, Say No Evil,” The Herald (Harare), March 15, 2007.
17. Jam Raath, “Mugabe Arms Police as Opposition Prepares ‘Final Push’ to Oust Him,” The Times (London), March 17, 2007.
18. “Harare Base Fire-Bombed, Two Cops Suffer Serious Facial Injuries,” Real Time Traders, March 15, 2007. “Slain Activist Buried Away from Public View,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting (London), March 21, 2007. “Sakubva Police Station Bombed,” The Herald (Harare), March 24, 2007. “Zim Train Petrol-Bombed,” News24 (Johannesburg), March 24, 2007. “Wholesaler Bombed,” The Herald (Harare), April 2, 2007.
19. “Police Nab 35 MDC Activists, Confiscate Arms, Explosives,” The Herald (Harare), March 29, 2007. “Petrol Bomber Arrested,” The Herald (Harare), March 28, 2007. “Seven Petrol Bombers in Court,” The Herald (Harare), March 30, 2007.
20. Craig Timberg, “Few Honor Strike in Zimbabwe,” Washington Post, April 4, 2007.
21. “Communique from the 2007 Extra-Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government Held in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania 28th to 29th March 2007,” SADC.
22. Ndimyake Mwakalyelye, “US Ambassador Rebuffs Southern African Call to Lift Zimbabwe Sanctions,” Voice of America, April 4, 2007.
23. Tendai Maphosa, “Sanctions May be Key to Political Reform in Zimbabwe,” Voice of America, April 5, 2007.
24. Daily Press Briefing, Sean McCormack, Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, March 30, 2007.
25. Stephen Kaufman, “Additional Sanctions Possible, State Department Says,” U.S. Department of State, March 14, 2007.
26. “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: the U.S. Record 2006,” U.S. Department of State, April 5, 2007.
27. “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: the U.S. Record 2003-2004,” U.S. Department of State, May 17, 2004.
28. Alexandra Silver, “Soft Power: Democracy-Promotion and U.S. NGOs,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 17, 2006.
29. “USAID/Zimbabwe Annual Report, FY 2005,” U.S. Agency for International Development, July 16, 2005.
"Zimbabwe's Lonely Fight for Justice" by Stephen Gowans, March 30, 2007
Ever since veterans of the guerrilla war against apartheid Rhodesia
violently seized white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, the country's president,
Robert Mugabe, has been demonized by politicians, human rights organizations
and the media in the West.
His crimes, according to right-wing sources, are
numerous: human rights abuses, election rigging, repression of political
opponents, corruption, and mismanagement of the economy. Leftist detractors
say Mugabe talks left and walks right, and that his anti-imperialist
rhetoric is pure demagogy.
I'm going to argue that the basis for Mugabe's demonization is the desire of
Western powers to change the economic and land redistribution policies
Mugabe's government has pursued; that his lapses from liberal democratic
rectitude are, in themselves, of little moment to decision makers in
Washington and London; and that the ultimate aim of regime change is to
replace Mugabe with someone who can be counted on to reliably look after
Western interests, and particularly British investments, in Zimbabwe.
I am also going to argue that the Zanu-PF government's abridgment of formal
liberties (including freedom of assembly and freedom to travel outside the
country) are warranted restraints, justified by the need to protect the
political program of the elected government from hostile outside
interference. In making this argument I am challenging a widely held, and
often unexamined, view that civil and political liberties are senior to all
other liberties, including rights related to economic sovereignty and
freedom from oppression and exploitation.
Before 1980 Zimbabwe was a white-supremacist British colony named after the
British financier Cecil Rhodes, whose company, the British South Africa
Company, stole the land from the indigenous Matabele and Mashona people in
the 1890s. British soldiers, who laid claim to the land by force of arms on
behalf of Rhodes, were each rewarded with nine square miles of territory.
The Matabele and Mashona -- those who weren't killed in the British land
grab -- were rewarded with dispossession, grinding poverty, misery and
subjugation. By the turn of this century, in a country of 13 million, almost
70 percent of the country's arable agricultural land was owned by some 4,500
mostly white farmers, many descendant from the original British settlers.
After a long campaign for national liberation, independence talks were held
in 1979. Talks almost broke down over the land question, but Washington and
London, eager for a settlement, agreed to ante up and provide financial
support for a comprehensive land reform program. This, however, was to be
short-lived. Britain found a way to wriggle out of its commitment, blocking
the march toward the national liberation struggle?s principal goal.
George Shire's grandfather Mhepo Mavakire used to farm land in Zimbabwe,
before it was handed to a white man after the Second World War. Shire argues
that "The unequal distribution of land in Zimbabwe was one of the major
factors that inspired the rural-based liberation war against white rule and
has been a source of continual popular agitation ever since." (1)
"The government," says Shire, "struggled to find a consensual way to
transfer land," but with inadequate funds and insufficient assistance from
London, land reform made little headway. (2) Frustrated, and under pressure
from war veterans who had grown tired of waiting for the land reform they'd
fought for, Mugabe embarked on a course that would lead him headlong into
collision with Western governments. He passed legislation enabling the
government to seize nearly 1,500 farms owned by white Zimbabweans, without
compensation. As Zimbabwe's Foreign Affairs Minister from 1995 to 2005, Stan
Mudenge put it, at that point "all hell broke loose." (3) Having held free
and fair elections on time, and having won them, Mugabe now became an
international pariah. Overnight, he was transformed into a dictator, a
stealer of elections and a thug.
Displeased with Mugabe's fast track land reform program and irritated by
other economic policies the Mugabe government was pursuing, the EU concluded
that Mugabe would have to go, and that he would have to be forced out by
civil society, the union movement or NGO's, uprisings in the street, or a
military coup. On 24 January, 1999, a meeting was convened at the Royal
Institute of International Affairs to discuss the EU?s conclusion. The theme
of the meeting, led by Richard Dowden, now the executive director of the
pro-imperialist Royal African Society, was "Zimbabwe - Time for Mugabe to
Go?" Mugabe's "confiscating" of white-held land compelled an unequivocal yes
to the conference's rhetorical question. Dowden presented four options:
1) a military coup;
2) buying the opposition;
4) subverting Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
A few months later, Washington weighed in. The US State Department held a
seminar to discuss a strategy for dealing with the "Zimbabwe crisis." Civil
society and the opposition would be strengthened to foment discontent and
dissent. The opposition would be brought together under a single banner to
enhance its chances of success at the polls and funding would be funnelled
to the opposition through Western backed NGO's. Dissident groups could be
strengthened and encouraged to take to the streets. (4)
The Milosevic Treatment
The program the US State Department prescribed to rid Zimbabwe of Mugabe and
his land reform politics had been used successfully to oust Yugoslavia?s
president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The basis of the program is to
pressure the civilian population through a program of bombing, sanctions or
military threat, in order to galvanize the population to rise up against its
government, the proximal cause of its discomfort. (In Zimbabwe, the hoped
for response is: If only Mugabe hadn?t antagonized the West, we wouldn?t be
under this pressure.) This was illustrated by US Air Force General, Michael
Short, who explained the purpose of the NATO?s 1999 bombing campaign against
Yugoslavia was to create disaffection with Milosevic. "If you wake up in the
morning,? explained Short, ?and you have no power to your house and no gas
to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in
the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo,
what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?'" (5)
Paired with outside pressure is the enlistment of a political opposition and
grassroots movement to discipline and organize the population?s disaffection
so that it's channelled in the direction of forcing the government to step
down. Western powers create the pain, and inject a fifth column of
"democracy" activists and a "democratic" opposition to offer the removal of
the current government as the cure. In the end, the people administer the
cure themselves. Because the Milosevic treatment is typically deployed
against the leaders of revolutionary societies (though the revolution may
have happened some time ago), the opposition can be thought of as a
counter-revolutionary vanguard. The vanguard has two components: a formal
political opposition, whose job it is to contest elections and cry foul when
it doesn't win, and an underground grassroots movement, mandated to carry
out extra-parliamentary agitation and to take to the streets in planned
?spontaneous? uprisings, using allegations of electoral fraud as a pretext
for pursuing insurrectionary politics.
In Yugoslavia, the underground movement, known as Otpor, was established,
funded, trained and organized by the US State Department, USAID, the US
Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy (which is said to do
overtly what the CIA used to do covertly) and through various NGO?s like
Freedom House, whose board of directors has included a rogues? gallery of US
ruling class activists: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Otto Reich, Jeane
Kirkpatrick, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Steve Forbes.
Otpor has been the inspiration for similar groups elsewhere: Zubr in
Belarus, Khmara in Georgia, Pora in the Ukraine. Otpor's Zimbabwean progeny
include Zvakwana, ?an underground movement that aims to . undermine? the
Mugabe government and Sokwanele, whose ?members specialize in anonymous acts
of civil disobedience. (6) Both groups receive generous financing from
Western sources. (7) While the original, Otpor, was largely a youth-oriented
anarchist-leaning movement, at least one member of Sokwanele is "A
conservative white businessman expressing a passion for freedom, tradition,
polite manners and the British Royals".(8)
Members of Zvakwana say their movement is homegrown and free of foreign
control. (9) It may be homegrown, and its operatives may sincerely believe
they chart their own course, but the group is almost certainly not free of
foreign funding. The US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, signed
into law by US President George W. Bush in December 2001, empowers the
president under the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to "support democratic
institutions, the free press and independent media" in Zimbabwe. It's
doubtful Zvakwana has not been showered with Washington?s largesse.
Zvakwana's denial that it's under foreign control doesn't amount to a denial
of foreign funding. Movements, political parties and media elsewhere have
knowingly accepted funding from Western governments, their agencies and
pro-imperialist foundations, while proclaiming their complete independence.
(10) Members of these groups may genuinely believe they remain aloof from
their backer's aims (and in the West it is often the very groups that claim
not to take sides that are the favored recipients of this lucre), but
self-deception is an insidious thing ^ and the promise of oodles of cash is
hard to resist.
There?s no doubt Zvakwana is well-financed. It distributes flashy stickers,
condoms bearing the movement?s Z logo, phone cards, audiotapes and packages
of seeds bearing anti-Mugabe messages, en masse. These things don?t come
cheap. What's more, its operatives study videotapes on resistance movements
in Poland, Chile, India and Serbia, as well as studying civil rights tactics
used in Nashville. (11) This betrays a level of funding and organization
that goes well beyond what the meager self-financing of true grassroots
movements -- even in the far more affluent West ^ are able to scrape
If Zvakwana denies its links to the US, other elements of the Western-backed
anti-Mugabe apparatus are less secretive. Studio 7, an anti-ZANU-PF radio
program carries programming by the Voice of America, an agency whose
existence can hardly be said to be independent of promoting the aims of US
capital around the world. The radio station SW Radio Africa, the self-styled
"independent voice of Zimbabwe", broadcasts from the UK by short-wave radio.
It may call itself independent, but the broadcaster is as independent as the
British Foreign Office is, which, one suspects, is one of the principal
backers of the "international pro-democracy groups" that fill the station's
coffers with the cash that allow it to operate. (12) The radio station?s
website evinces a fondness for British Prime Minister Tony Blair?s take on
Zimbabwe, which happens to be more or less equivalent to that of the formal
political opposition in Zimbabwe, which also happens to be more or less
equivalent to that of foreign investors, banks, and shareholders. That the
station operates out of studios in London -- and it seems, if it had its
druthers, would not only put an end to Harare's crackdown on foreign
meddling in Zimbabwe's internal affairs, but see to it that policies
friendly to the rent, profits and interest of foreign owners and investors
were allowed to flourish -- should leave little doubt as to who's behind the
"international pro-democracy groups" that have put SW Radio Africa on the
In late March 2007, Robert from SW Radio Africa contacted me by e-mail to
find out if I had been hired by the Mugabe government to write an article
that appeared on the Counterpunch website, titled What's Really Going On in
Do you promise (cross your heart) that you received no money from Zimbabwe's
Ministry of Information (or any group acting on their behalf) to write this
The rhetoric does sound awfully familiar.
From your e-mail address I take it you work for UK-based SW Radio Africa,
which broadcasts Studio 7, the Zimbabwe program of the Voice of America,
funded by the US government.
I don't receive money, support, assistance -- not even foot massages -- from
anyone in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean government or any of its agents or
Now, do you promise (cross your heart) that you receive no money from the US
or British governments or from the US Ministry of Truth, viz., the Voice of
America, (or any group acting on their behalf)?
Your rhetoric sounds awfully familiar.
Robert replied with assurances that ?We are, in truth, totally independent,
sponsored by a variety of groups that support democracy and freedom of
expression", but didn't explain how Radio SW Africa could be "totally
independent? and at the same time dependent on its sponsors. When I asked
who the station?s sponsors were, he declined to tell me.
An equally important component of the counter-revolutionary vanguard is the
formal political opposition. This to be comprised of a single party which
unites all the opposition parties under a single banner, to maximize the
strength of the formal political forces arrayed against the government, and
therefore to increase the probability of the anti-government forces making a
respectable showing at the polls. The united opposition is to have one goal:
deposing the government. In order that it is invested with moral gravitas,
its name must emphasize the word "democracy" In Serbia, the anti-Milosevic
opposition united under the banner, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. In
Zimbabwe, the opposition calls itself the Movement for Democratic Change.
This serves the additional function of calling the government's commitment
to democracy into question. If the opposition is "the democratic opposition"
then what must the government be? The answer, of course, is undemocratic.
Integral to the Milosevic treatment is accusing the government of electoral
fraud to justify a transition from electoral to insurrectionary politics.
The accusations build and build as the day of the vote approaches, until, by
sheer repetition, they are accepted as a matter of indisputable truth. This
has a heads I win, tails you lose character. If the opposition loses the
election, the vote is confirmed to be illegitimate, as all the pre-election
warnings predicted it would be, unleashing a torrent of people onto the
streets to demand the government step down. If the opposition wins the
election, the accusations are forgotten.
The US, the European Union and international human rights organizations
denounced the last election in Zimbabwe as tilted in favour of the governing
party. The evidence for this was that the state controls the state-owned
media, the military, the police and the electoral mechanisms. Since the
state of every country controls the military, the police and the electoral
mechanisms, and the state-owned media if it has one, this implies elections
in all countries are titled in favour of the governing party, a manifestly
absurd point of view.
So far the Milosevic treatment has failed to achieve its desired end in
Zimbabwe. One of the reasons why is that the formal political opposition has
failed to execute the plan to a tee. The lapse centers around what is know
as Plan B. The Los Angeles Times describes Plan B this way: Insiders are
asking what happened to the opposition's "Plan B" that they had designed to
put into operation the day after the March (2005) elections. The plan called
for (the MDC leader, Morgan) Tsvangirai to claim a confident victory, with
masses of his jubilant supporters flooding the streets for a spontaneous
victory party -- banking on the idea that with observers from neighbouring
African countries and the international media present, Mugabe's security
forces would hesitate to unleash violence. (14) (Note the reference to the
planned "spontaneous" victory party.) That Plan B wasn't executed may be the
reason Tsvangirai is no longer in control of a unified MDC, and is vying
with Arthur Mutambara, an Oxford educated robotics engineer who worked as a
management consultant, to lead the opposition.
Countering the Milosevic Treatment
roblem, from the perspective of the US State Department planners who
formulated the Milosevic treatment, is that if you do it too often, the next
victim becomes wise to what you?re up to, and can manoeuvre to stop it. With
successes in Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine, but failure so far in Belarus,
the element of surprise is lost, and the blatancy of what the US government
is up to becomes counter-productive. So obvious has the Milosevic treatment
become, US government officials now express surprise when the leaders
they've targeted for regime change put up with it. (15)
Mugabe, however, hasn't put up with it, and has imposed a number of
restrictions on civil liberties to thwart destabilization efforts. One
measure is to ban NGOs that act as instruments of US or British foreign
policy. NGOs that want to operate in Zimbabwe cannot receive foreign funding
and must disclose their sources of financial support. This stops Washington
and Britain from working within the country, through proxy, to meddle in the
country's internal affairs. For the same reason, legislation was put forward
in Russia in 2005 to require the 450,000 NGOs operating there to re-register
with the state, to prevent foreign-funded political activity. The
legislation?s sponsors characterized ?internationally financed NGOs as a
OEfifth column? doing the bidding of foreigners.? (16)
In a similar vein, foreign journalists whose reporting appears to be
motivated by the goal of promoting the foreign policy objectives of hostile
nations, like the US and UK, are banned. CNN reporters are prohibited from
reporting from Zimbabwe because the government regards them, with
justification, as a tool of US foreign policy. What reasonable person of an
unprejudiced mind would dispute CNN?s chauvinism? Given that one of the
objects of US foreign policy is to intervene in Zimbabwe?s affairs to change
the government, the ban is a warranted restraint on press freedom.
Limitations on press freedom are not unique to Zimbabwe, although those
imposed by Mugabe are a good deal more justifiable than those imposed by the
West. In the wake of the March 2006 re-election of Belarus president
Aleksandr Lukashenko, the US planned to sanction 14 Belarus journalists it
labelled "key figures in the propaganda, distortion of facts and attacks on
the democracies (i.e., the US and Britain) and their representatives in
Belarus" (17) In 1999, NATO bombed the Serb Radio-TV building, because it
said Serb Radio-TV was broadcasting propaganda.
Laws sharply curbing freedoms of the press and public assembly, citing
national security? were enacted during the 2002 elections. (18) Mugabe
justified the restrictions as necessary to counter Western plans to
re-impose domination of Zimbabwe. "They want our gold, our platinum, our
land," he argues. "These are ours forever. I will stand and fight for our
rights of sovereignty. We fought for our country to be free. These resources
will remain ours forever. Let this be understood to those in London." (19)
Mugabe's warning about the danger of re-colonization "underpins the
crackdown on the nation's most formidable independent forces, pro-democracy
groups and the Movement for Democratic Change, both of which have broad
Western support, and, often, financing," as the New York Times put it. (20)
(Note the reference to the opposition being independent even though it's
dependent on broad Western support and financing.)
This fortress-Zimbabwe strategy has been strikingly effective. According to
a poll of 1,200 Zimbabweans published in August (2004) by South African and
American researchers, the level of public trust in Mr. Mugabe's leadership
has more than doubled since 1999, to 46 percent ^ even as the economy has
fallen into ruin and anger over economic and living conditions is
Mugabe, his detractors allege, secures his support by focusing the public's
anger on outside forces to keep the public from focusing its anger on him
(the same argument the US government and anti-Castro forces have been making
about Castro for years.) If this is true, the groundswell of opposition to
Mugabe?s government that we?re led to believe threatens to topple Mugabe
from power any moment, doesn?t exist; it?s directed at outside forces.
Consistent with this is the reality that the US-based Save Zimbabwe Campaign
?does not have widespread grassroots support.? (22)
Implicit in the argument that Mugabe uses anti-imperialist rhetoric to stay
in power is the view that (a) outside forces aren?t responsible for the
country?s deep economic crisis and that (b) Mugabe is. This is the view of
US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell, and many of Mugabe?s leftist
detractors. "Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe?s
decline. The Zimbabwe government?s own gross mismanagement of the economy
and corrupt rule has brought on the crisis." (23)
Yet, in a country whose economy is mainly based on agriculture, the idea
that drought hasn?t caused serious economic trouble, is absurd. Drought is a
regional phenomenon, whittling away at populations in Mali, Ethiopia,
Malawi, Mauritania, Eritrea, southern Sudan and Zimbabwe. Land
redistribution hasn't destroyed agriculture in Zimbabwe; it has destroyed
white commercial, cash-crop farming, which is centred on the production of
tobacco for export.
Equally absurd is the notion that sanctions are economically neutral.
Sanctions imposed by the US, EU and other countries deny Zimbabwe
international economic and humanitarian assistance and disrupt trade and
investment flows. Surgical or targeted sanctions are like surgical or
targeted bombing: not as surgical as their champions allege and the cause of
a good deal of collateral damage and suffering.
Left critics of Mugabe ape the argument of the US ambassador, adding that
Mugabe's anti-imperialist and leftist rhetoric is, in truth, insincere. He
is actually right-wing and reactionary -- a master at talking left while
walking right. (24) But if Mugabe is really the crypto-reactionary, secret
pro-imperialist some people say he is, why are the openly reactionary,
pro-imperialists in Washington and London so agitated?
Finally, if Mugabe uses outside interference as an excuse to keep tight
control, why not stop interfering and deny him the excuse?
Mugabe's government also denies passports to any person believed to be
travelling abroad to campaign for sanctions against Zimbabwe, or military
intervention in Zimbabwe. The justification for this is the opposition?s
fondness for inviting its backers in Washington and London to ratchet up
punitive measures against the country.
No country has ever provided unqualified public advocacy rights, rights of
association, and freedom of travel, for all people, at all times. Always
there has been the idea of warranted restraint. And the conditions under
which warranted restraint have been imposed are conditions in which the
state is threatened. There?s no question the ZANU-PF government, and the
movement for national liberation it champions, is under threat.
Archbishop Pius Ncube tells a gathering that ?we must be ready to stand,
even in front of blazing guns, that ?this dictatorship must be brought down
right now, and that "if we can get 30,000 people together Mugabe will just
come down. I am ready to lead it." (25) Arthur Mutambara boasts that he is
"going to remove Robert Mugabe, I promise you, with every tool at my
disposal? and that he?s not ?going to rule out or in anything ^ the sky's
the limit." (26) If I declared an intention to remove Tony Blair with every
tool at my disposal, that no tool was ruled out, and I did so with the
backing of hostile foreign powers, it wouldn?t be long before the police
paid me a visit.
Why the West wants Mugabe gone
It's not Mugabe per se that Washington and London and white commercial
farmers in Zimbabwe want to overthrow. It's his policies they want to be rid
of, and they want to replace his policies with their own, very different,
policies. There are at least five reasons why Washington and London want to
oust Mugabe, none of which have anything to do with human rights.
The first reason to chase Mugabe from power is that in the late 90's his
government abandoned IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs ^ programs
of bleeding people dry to pay interest on international debt. These are
policies of currency devaluation, severe social program cuts ^ anything to
free up money to pay down debt, no matter what the human consequences.
The second is that Mugabe sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to
bolster the Kabila government. This interfered with Western designs in the
The third is that many of Mugabe's economic policies are not congenial to
the current neo-liberal orthodoxy. For example, Mugabe recently announced
the nationalization of a diamond mine, which seems to be, in the current
climate, an anachronism. If you nationalize anything these days, you're
called radical and out of date. The MDC ^ which promotes the neo-liberal
tyranny -- wants to privatize everything. It is for this reason that Mugabe
talks about the opposition wanting to sell off Zimbabwe's resources. The
state continues to operate state-owned enterprises. And the government
imposes performance requirements on foreign investors. For example, you may
be required to invest part of your profits in government bonds. Or you may
be required to take on a local partner. Foreign investors, or governments
that represent them, bristle at these conditions.
The fourth is that British companies dominate the Zimbabwean economy and the
British government would like to protect the investments of British banks,
investors and corporations. If you read the British press you'll find a
fixation on Zimbabwe, one you won't find elsewhere. Why does Britain take
such a keen interest in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe? The usual answer
is that Britain has an especial interest in Zimbabwe because it is the
country?s former colonial master, but why should Britain's former colonial
domination of Zimbabwe heighten its interest in the country? The answer is
that colonization paved the way for an economic domination of the country by
British corporations, investors and banks ^ and the domination carries on as
a legacy of Britain's former colonial rule. If you?re part of the British
ruling class or one of its representatives, what you want in a country in
which you have enormous investments is a trustworthy local ruler who will
look after them. Mutambara, who was educated in Britain and lived there,
and has absorbed the imperialist point of view, is, from the perspective of
the British ruling class, far more attractive than Mugabe as a steward of
Finally, Western powers would like to see Mugabe replaced by a trustworthy
steward who will abandon the fast track land reform program, which apart
from violating sacrosanct principles of the capitalist church, if allowed to
thrive, becomes a model to inspire the indigenous rural populations of
neighbouring countries. Governments in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand
also look askance at Mugabe's land reform policy, and wish to see it
overturned, for fear it will inspire their own aboriginal populations.
Mugabe's government accelerated its land redistribution program in the late
90s, breaking with the completely unworkable, willing buyer, willing seller
policy that only allowed the government to redistribute the country?s arable
land after the descendants of the former colonial settlers, absentee
landlords and some members of the British House of Lords were done using it,
and therefore willing to sell. Britain, which had pledged financial
assistance to its former colony to help buy the land, reneged, leaving
Harare without the means to expropriate with compensation the vast farms
dominated by the tiny minority of white descendants of British colonists.
Zimbabwe finally abandoned the "willing buyer, willing seller" formula in
1997. The formula was crippled from the start by parsimonious British
funding, and it was a clear that the program?s modest goals were more than
Great Britain was willing to countenance. In a letter to the Zimbabwean
Minister of Agriculture in November of that year, British Secretary of State
for International Development Clare Short wrote,"I should make it clear
that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the
costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.? Referring to earlier British assistance
funding, Short curtly stated, "I am told that there were discussions in 1989
and 1996 to explore the possibility of further assistance. However that is
all in the past." Short complained of "unresolved" issues, such as "the way
in which land would be acquired and compensation paid ^ clearly it would not
help the poor of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor
confidence." Short was concerned about the interests of corporate investors,
then. In closing, Short wrote that "a program of rapid land acquisition as
you now seem to envisage would be impossible for us to support, as it would
damage the OEprospects for attracting investment".(27)
It was only after Mugabe embarked on this accelerated land reform program
that Washington and London initiated their campaign of regime change,
pressuring Mugabe's government with sanctions, expulsion from the
Commonwealth, assistance to the opposition, and the usual Manichean
demonization of the target government and angelization of the Western backed
The MDC, by comparison, favours a return to the unworkable willing seller,
willing buyer regimen. The policy is unworkable because Harare hasn't the
money to buy the farms, Britain is no longer willing to finance the program,
and even if the money were available, the owners have to agree to sell their
farms before the land can be redistributed. Land reform under this program
will necessarily proceed at a snail?s pace. The national liberation movement
always balked at the idea of having to buy land that had been stolen from
the indigenous population. It's like someone stealing your car, and when you
demand it back, being told you're going to have to buy it back, and only
when the thief is willing to sell.
One thing opponents and supporters of Mugabe's government agree on is that
the opposition is trying to oust the president (illegally and
unconstitutionally if you acknowledge the plan isn't limited to victory at
the polls.) So which came first? Attempts to overthrow Zimbabwe?s ZANU-PF
government, or the government's harsh crackdown on opposition?
According to the Western media spin, the answer is the government?s harsh
crackdown on opposition. Mugabe's government is accused of being inherently
authoritarian, greedy for power for power?s sake, and willing do anything ^
from stealing elections to cracking skulls -- to hang on to its privileged
position. This is the typical slander levelled at the heads of governments
the US and UK have trouble with, from Milosevic in his day, to Kim Jong Il,
Another view is that the government's authoritarianism is an inevitable
reaction to circumstances that are unfavorable to the attainment of its
political (not its leaders'personal) goals. Mugabe?s government came to
power at the head of a movement that not only sought political independence,
but aspired to reverse the historical theft of land by white settlers. That
the opposition would be fierce and merciless ^ has been so ^ was inevitable.
Reaction to the opposition, if the government and its anti-colonial agenda
were to survive, would need to be equally fierce and merciless.
At the core of the conflict is a clash of right against right: the right of
white settlers to enjoy whatever benefits stolen land yields in profits and
rent against the right of the original owners to reclaim their land. Allied
to this is a broader struggle for economic independence, which sets the
rights of investors and corporations abroad to profit from untrammelled
access to Zimbabwe's labor, land and resources and the right of Zimbabweans
to restrict access on their own terms to facilitate their own economic
The dichotomy of personal versus political motivation as the basis for the
actions of maligned governments recurs in debates over whether this or that
leader or movement ought to be supported or reviled. The personal view says
that all leaders are corrupt, chase after personal glory, power and wealth,
and dishonestly manipulate the people they profess to champion. The
political view doesn?t deny the personal view as a possibility, but holds
that the behavior of leaders is constrained by political goals.
Even George Bush who rigs elections and manipulates news in order to stay
in office and who clearly enjoys being "the War President" wants the
presidency in order to carry out a particular program with messianic
fervor, points out Richard Levins. ?He would never protect the environment,
provide healthcare, guarantee universal free education, or separate church
and state, just to stay in office.(28)
Mugabe is sometimes criticized for being pushed into accelerating land
reform by a restive population impatient with the glacial pace of
redistribution allowed under the Lancaster House agreement. His detractors
allege, implausibly, that he has no real commitment to land reforms. This
intersects with Patrick Bond?s view. According to Bond, "Mugabe talks
radical -- especially nationalist and anti-imperialist~(to hang on to power)
but acts reactionary. He only does what's necessary to preserve his rule."
If we accept this as true, then we're saying that the behavior of the
government is constrained by one of the original goals of the liberation
movement (land reform) and that the personal view is irrelevant. No matter
what the motivations of the government's leaders, the course the government
follows is conditioned by the goals of the larger movement of national
There's no question Mugabe reacted harshly to recent provocations by
factions of the MDC, or that his government was deliberately provoked. But
the germane question isn't whether beating Morgan Tsvangirai over the head
was too much, but whether the ban on political rallies in Harare, which the
opposition deliberately violated, is justified. That depends on whose side
you?re on, and whether you think Tsvangirai and his associates are earnest
citizens trying to freely express their views or are proxies for imperialist
governments bent on establishing (restoring in Britain?s case) hegemony over
There's no question either that Mugabe's government is in a precarious
position. The economy is in a shambles, due in part to drought, to the
disruptions caused by land reform, and to sanctions. White farmers want
Mugabe gone (to slow land redistribution, or to stop it altogether), London
and Washington want him gone (to ensure neo-liberal ?reforms? are
implemented), and it's likely that some members of his own party also want
him to step down.
On top of acting to sabotage Zimbabwe economically through sanctions, London
and Washington have been funnelling financial, diplomatic and organizational
assistance to groups and individuals who are committed to bringing about a
color revolution (i.e., extra-constitutional regime change) in Zimbabwe.
That includes Tsvangirai and the MDC factions, among others.
For the Mugabe government, the options are two-fold: Capitulate (and
surrender any chance of maintaining what independence Zimbabwe has managed
to secure at considerable cost) or fight back. Some people might deplore the
methods used, but considering the actions and objectives of the opposition ^
and what's at stake ^ the crackdown has been both measured and necessary.
More about Zimbabwe and Demonization in general (in French) :
1. The Guardian (January 24, 2002)
3. Zimbabwe's Land Reform Programme (The Reversal of Colonial Land
Occupation and Domination): Its Impact on the country's regional and
international relations. Paper presented by Dr I.S.G. Mudenge, Zimbabwe
Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Conference 'The Struggle Continues',
held in Harare, 18-22 April 2004.
5. Globe and Mail (May 26, 1999)
6. ?Grass-Roots Effort Aims to Upend Mugabe in Zimbabwe,? The New York
Times, (March 28, 2005)
7. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)
9. New York Times (March 27, 2005)
10. See Frances Stonor Saunders, ?The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the
World of Arts and Letters,? New Press, April 2000; and ?The Economics and
Politics or the World Social Forum,? Aspects of India?s Economy, No. 35,
September 2003, http://www.rupe-india.org/35/contents.html
11. New York Times (March 27, 2005)
12. Globe and Mail (March 26, 2005)
13. ?What?s Really Going on in Zimbabwe? Mugabe Gets the Milosevic
Treatment,? Counterpunch.com. March 23, 2007,
14. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)
15. New York Times, (December 4, 2005)
16. Washington Post (November 18, 2005)
17. New York Times (March 29, 2006)
18. New York Times (December 24, 2004)
19. Globe and Mail (March 23, 2007)
20. New York Times (December 24, 2004)
22. Globe and Mail (March 22, 2007)
23. The Herald (November 7, 2005)
24. Patrick Bond, ?Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Like a Reactionary:
Zimbabwe?s Descent,? Counterpunch.com, March 27, 2007,
25. Globe and Mail (March 23, 2007)
26. Times Online (March 5, 2006)
27. Gregory Elich, "Zimbabwe's Fight for Justice", Center for Research on
Globalisation, May 6, 2005, globalresearch.ca/articles/ELI505A.html
28. "Progressive Cuba Bashing," Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 19, No. 1,
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