Monday, 3 December 2007

Mugabe's million men march



Zanu PF's million men march on November 30 was full of sound and fury but signifying nothing new. President Mugabe repeated his old mantras of anti-colonialism, bellowing against Britain and the west and reiterating his party's campaign slogan that "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again". Rather, Mugabe's speech was significant for what it sought to deny - that he has run down the country so badly and simultaneously deployed violence against the opposition so much so that millions of Zimbabweans have chosen to vote with their feet and leave the country altogether.

The idea of 'nation' that Mugabe fondly clings to rings rather hollow when one considers its diffusion with respect to the preponderance of Zimbabwe's diaspora both in southern Africa and overseas. The very concept of national sovereignty with respect to Zimbabwe has escaped the rather orthodox and dogmatic interpretation that Mugabe continues to foist on it. The Zimbabwean nation has broken the physical borders of the territory between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. Mugabe is unequal to this reality and continues to deny the existence of this new Zimbabwe. Like the late Ian Smith, he stubbornly clings to a self-righteous perspective by which he regards those that have run away from the violence and economic collapse in Zimbabwe as traitors.

The million men march, itself a product of the state's logistical and material investment (a glaring misnormer in a democratic society where the ruling party must be separate from the state), amply captures the double standards that characterise Zimbabwe's political playing field. No one is under any illusion whatsoever that the opposition could ever be allowed to carry out a similar display of popular power. As usual, the police and other government departments were at hand to offer security and logistical support to the ruling party. Parastatals were diverted from their normal business to assist in Zanu PF's rally.

Only a few months back Morgan Tsvangirai's supporters were shot at, with some killed, by the same police force for attempting to hold a perfectly legal political meeting at the same venue Mugabe has now held his own rally. The leader of the opposition was beaten senseless and the President had the temerity to promise more of the same to anyone who chose to exercise their freedom of assembly and association, even with the support of a High Court order.

Now, is it any wonder that Zimbabweans are running away from such repression and madness?

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Britain's immigration hypocrisy

I was not too surprised to learn that the UK government has won its latest legal battle against failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe. After a similar judgement by the House of Lords with respect to failed asylum seekers from Darfur, it was a foregone conclusion that the Home Office would retain the right to deport those asylum seekers whose claims it would have denied. After all, we have witnessed victories for the asylum-seeking appellants only at the preliminary stages of appeal but never at the decisive ones.

The striking aspect for me in all this, though, is the hypocrisy of the UK government. It continues to exploit crises in such countries as Zimbabwe and Sudan to burnish its credentials as a geopolitical champion of democracy and human rights whilst denying sanctuary to victims of those very same governments’ brutality.

As we speak, Gordon Brown has kicked up international controversy over the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon next month by declaring that he will not attend if Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, shows up. Now, Brown has established himself in UK politics as one seized with an almost missionary zeal for Africa’s development and economic progress.

A Brown premiership is, therefore, to be seen by all Africanists as the best opportunity in a long time to advance the African agenda. Ranging from trade to aid, climate change, immigration and global security, there are no illusions on both sides as to how profoundly pertinent this intercontinental meeting is. And yet it seems Brown is the only European leader so disgusted with the human rights abuses and political repression in Zimbabwe that he is willing to forego his first opportunity as prime minister of Britain to define Europe’ relations with Africa in the 21st century.

For Brown to forego his own proclaimed commitment to Africa over Zimbabwe’s democratic deficit, therefore, one would have to conclude that Mugabe’s atrocities are so grave as to warrant such a high profile boycott. Victims of Mugabe’s repression will no doubt affirm that that is the case. What they do not understand, however, is why the British government then chooses not to believe their accounts of abuse and repression at the hands of Mugabe’s regime.

There are many Zimbabweans roaming Britain’s streets, without a roof to call home or any guaranteed source of food, having been rejected by the British asylum system. I used to be incredulous about such cases until I met a young Zimbabwean man at the Refugee Council in Leeds. He reeked of the street and had all his worldly possessions on his person. His jaded eyes told the long story of a struggle that had mutated to nonchalant resignation.

The British media is complicit in its government’s double standards, for it fails to interrogate this apparent hypocrisy. The perception propagated by the media is that only “failed asylum seekers” are removed from Britain by the authorities, who always make a point of stating in their press statements that they are “committed to protecting genuine cases”. What the media do not mention is that the majority of claimants are summarily dismissed as bogus.

An entirely domestic political dynamic comes into play in deciding asylum claims and it has nothing, in the main, to do with the veracity of the cases. A new fad – that immigration is putting pressure on public services - is driving the anti-immigration cause and putting liberals off course. Mugabe, ever the wily political operator, has tapped into Britain’s domestic quagmire and decided to twist the situation to his advantage.

Returnees, unless they are of high political significance or become active again, seem to be generally spared the wrath of the state. The dire economic conditions in the country are enough to disorientate them and force them to put political activism on the back burner as they struggle for breath. Meanwhile, those already active inside the country are bludgeoned senseless, as the MDC has in the last few days reported to the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating in talks between the opposition and the ruling Zanu PF.

The activists inside the country are reminded by the fate of those just returned from Britain that there is nowhere to run. South Africa continues to refuse to recognize refugees from Zimbabwe, preferring that they roam the streets of Johannesburg as illegal immigrants, who are legally more amenable to deportation. And Mbeki knows this is one aspect of his ‘quiet diplomacy’ that Britain is unlikely to argue against, for Brown is also quietly doing the same.

Chofamba


Thursday, 22 November 2007

Ian Smith denied our African humanity

BORN at the height of the national liberation struggle in the late 1970s, I grew up in post-independence Zimbabwe. Save for hazy memories, I cannot claim to possess a concrete self-consciousness of life under Ian Douglas Smith’s white supremacist Rhodesian Front government. However, having been born to young and unemployed school-leavers of peasant background, my life as a toddler was to be circumscribed in a brutally physical way by the paranoid security policies of Smith’s government.

I spent my early childhood in one of Smith’s concentration camps in a small village called Chibuwe in Chipinge district, on the country’s eastern border with Mozambique. This was a major operational zone for the nationalist guerillas fighting for black self-determination. In order to cut off the guerillas from accessing logistical and political support from the masses, Smith’s government herded African villagers living within such areas into concentration camps, which they euphemistically called ‘protected villages’ or “keeps”.

The rigmarole of concentration camp life revolved around the curfew siren and humiliating security checks. Its barbed wire fence epitomized the erosion of basic rights and freedoms for Africans and stood as an apt symbol of the limits placed in the way of African aspiration under white minority rule. On a broader national level, the fence, represented in the form of the police and the various prohibitions on African movement and domicile, cordoned off African want from white plenty and ensured the uninterrupted flow of white settler culture in Europeans-only enclaves, “far from the madding natives”.

My entire extended family – my grandfather, his sons and their wives and children – lived under the watchful eye of the concentration camp guard and in mortal fear of the FN rifle that swung from his shoulder. Their fertile lands in the rich farming belt of Middle Sabi along the Save River had since been seized and given over to white commercial agriculture.

It was no surprise that two of my older cousins – high on the idealism and fearlessness of youth - found this negation of their humanity and denial of aspiration unendurable and decided to cross over to Mozambique to join the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), whose commander-in-chief was Robert Mugabe. In the neighbouring district of Chimanimani, and in response to similarly dehumanizing conditions, four of my mother’s brothers also crossed over to Mozambique to join the armed struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence.

Meanwhile my father, Goodson Sithole, struggled to find a decent job in order to provide for his young family despite his brilliant GCSE grades. Reluctantly, he found himself cutting sugarcane on Anglo-American owned plantations in the southern Zimbabwe lowveld, later graduating from field to factory. It must have been with an unfathomable sense of anger and frustration that he endured this crass exploitation, reporting to superiors who owed their positions not necessarily to their superior intellect or education but to the colour of their skin.

The advent of independence and black majority rule in 1980 restored agency to Africans as authors of their own history and definers of their own humanity. It opened a whole new universe of opportunity and brought hitherto unfeasible aspirations into the realm of possibility. My father was one of those that took to the opportunities ushered in by independence with gusto. He enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe, benefiting from generous state funding, as I was also to more than 15 years later.

My father’s post-independence rebirth as a professional – a social worker - had an immensely positive impact on our family’s quality of life and the choices that accrued to us. My own family’s experiences of the transformation from white supremacist rule to national independence resonate, obviously with variations, in the lives of many of my compatriots.

Comparisons between life under white rule and present day Zimbabwe are insultingly simplistic in their reductionism. Comparing the state of supermarket shelves in 1977 to 2007 serves only a limited anecdotal purpose and does not even begin to capture the people’s overall existential narrative then and now.

Some media, reporting on Smith’s death, rhetorically asked whether the current crisis under Robert Mugabe had vindicated Smith’s self-fulfilling prophecy that black rule would ultimately fail. What they failed to give equal emphasis to was the implicit racism in Smith’s diabolic predictions, made on no sound evidence but rather out of his own malicious conviction of the innate incapability of the African to assume self-government. “Not in a thousand years”, is how he infamously put it.

Zimbabwe is where it is today because of Mugabe’s unlimited greed for power and penchant for violence and not, as Smith suggested, because he is black. Beginning with the slaughter of thousands of the Ndebele in the first years of independence, Mugabe has over his very long rule gathered the full range of atrocities imaginable into his quiver.

No one ever suggested that the achievement of black majority rule was itself a sort of “end of history”, a kind of nirvana in which politics would cease and everyone lived happily ever after. Rather, independence marked the beginning of the arduous challenge of nation-building, of constructing the institutions of democracy that colonial administrations either eschewed or, where they existed, applied only to the affairs of the white settler minority.

Ironically, the greatest challenge pro-democracy activists have faced in Zimbabwe has been in the form of the leviathan that Smith’s Rhodesian Front government built – the security state. Its raison d’etre continues predominantly to be the partial exercise of law and order clearly for the maintenance and reproduction of sectional interests.

From the murderous Central Intelligence Organisation to nefarious legislation such as the Law and Order Maintenance Act, now rechristened POSA, Smith bequeathed Mugabe an extremely handy toolkit guaranteed to frustrate popular attempts at building a genuinely democratic society. But more fundamentally, Smith denied our African humanity.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Listen to my VOA comments on Yar Adua's statement

I gave an interview to the Voice of America's Ndimyake Mwakalyelye on the Nigerian president's statement on the breakdown of the rule of law. Follow this link to listen to the interview:
http://www.voanews.com/english/Africa/Zimbabwe/2007-11-05-voa38.cfm

Monday, 5 November 2007

Yar Adua breaks ranks with African leaders on Zimbabwe

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has broken with Africa's time-honoured convention of blind solidarity by slamming violations of the rule of law by President Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe. Speaking at a press conference in Germany to mark the end of the third Germany/European Partnership with Africa, he said, “I want to emphasise that what is happening in Zimbabwe is not in conformity with the rule of law. I do not subscribe to this."
Such forthright criticism of the Zimbabwean regime has not been heard in abundance from the African elite. The conventions of African politics appear to place a higher premium on elite solidarity above principled leadership. As such, leaders have unashamedly chosen to ignore the suffering of African people under the brutal leadership of some of the world's most heinous dictatorships in the name of Pan-African solidarity. Thus stripped of its noble objectives, Pan-African solidarity has come to mean the adoption by African elites of a laager mentality vis a vis the very people they lead as well as external critics. It is no surprise, therefore, that the prevailing consensus among African pro-democracy activists is that the continent's international organisations and regional blocs tend to behave as trade unions for political leaders.
It is also quite telling that the most rabid proponents of Pan-African solidarity are usually those leaders with disgraceful human rights records in their own backyards such as Mugabe. The argument that solidarity is the necessary counterweight to prevailing threats from an unrelenting imperialism are routinely used as justification for stalling Africa's democratic consolidation and advancement.
It is refreshing, in this regard, that a leader of one of Africa's powerhouses should come out in such a public manner against the violation of democracy in Zimbabwe. Indeed, it gives the long-suffering people of Africa a glimmer of hope as to the direction their continent could take in the future under a principled leadership. The realpolitik of silence as a strategy for resolving problems wrought by dictators, as pursued by South African president Thabo Mbeki, sends out confusing signals about the values to which Africa should aspire.
Ironically, Mbeki himself is the author of the ambitious African Renaissance drive, an intellectual paradigm that has inspired the continent's blue-print for development - the New Partnership for Africa's development (NEPAD). As Mugabe prepares to rig and murder his way to "re-election" in March 2008, Africa's leaders must make it abundantly clear that they will not be roped into defending the indefensible. Yar Adua has shown the way, hats off to him.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Mugabe, Brown and the-EU Africa summit

I gave an interview this morning to the Voice of Africa radio station (www.voiceofafricaradio.com) which broadcasts in London. As I told VOAR's breakfast show host, Sir Richie, I think that British PM Gordon Brown has come out badly in the stand-off with Robert Mugabe over the latter's invitation to attend the Lisbon summit later in the year. German chancellor Angela Merkel who is off on a tour of Africa, has indicated the summit must not be held back because of Mugabe's possible attendance. The suggestion of a fissure within the EU over this matter is something the Mugabe government must be feeling quite chuffed about.

It also deals a blow to EU efforts to foster a common foreign policy. It appears now that Brown had struck out on his own without having fully consulted his European counterparts, who are overwhelmingly of the view that trade relations between two continents must not be sabotaged by differences with one country. My own view is that the PM should never have taken this position in the first place. Rather, the proposal to have Zimbabwe discussed as a human rights issue at the summit should have been marketed as the quid pro quo that secured Mugabe's attendance. The African Union would have had no reason in principle to boycott the summit, and Mugabe would have felt under pressure to forego the the trip to Lisbon of his own volition.

Britain's symbolic gestures and moral hectoring of the Mugabe government, which were the mainstay of Tony Blair's policy towards Zimbabwe, have not produced any positive result in over 10 years. If at all, they have been used by Mugabe to criticize British foreign policy as influenced by colonial hubris and kept his African peers staunchly buffering him from western condemnation. A new approach, one inspired by diplomatic engagement, starting perhaps at a lower level, would have been more effective in stalling repression in Zimbabwe and ending the crisis. Through the agency of South Africa, Britain could have arranged contact with both Zanu PF and the MDC and underwritten any agreement between the two political foes with pledges for economic assistance whilst avoiding the temptation to revert to megaphone diplomacy against the Mugabe government. The reason why this approach would have produced real results on the ground is that despite the rhetoric and ideological posturing, the Mugabe government is keen to be on good terms with Britain and the west once more in order to staunch the economic recession which, if it continues unabated, will inevitably torpedo it from power. As reported on the Zimonlione website recently, the Look East policy is not producing any meaningful economic dividends with the country having suffered a massive trade deficit with China in the first half of this year (http://www.zimonline.co.za/Article.aspx?ArticleId=2092.).
The appearance of taking a moral stand against the Mugabe government plays well with the British public but sadly, it does absolutely nothing to end the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe nor has it weakened Mugabe's dictatorship. The evidence available shows that Zimbabwe is in a worse position today than it was when New Labour came to power over ten years ago. It is not surprising therefore that there is now a new thinking emerging on the Zimbabwe question which favours giving dialogue a chance. The respected think-tank, International Crisis Group (ICG) has in its latest report on Zimbabwe called on the international community to support current mediation efforts on Zimbabwe being carried out by South African president Thabo Mbeki (http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5083&l=1).
The Commonwealth has also weighed in on the EU-Africa summit in favour of Mugabe's attendance if only to facilitate dialogue on how to end the crisis in his country (http://uk.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUKL1159172820070912).
It is instructive to note that the Commomwealth secretary, Don Mckinnon, who was previously in favour of Zimbabwe's isolation until it reformed, has now come round to the idea of opening up pathways for a negotiated disposition of this long-standing crisis. If Brown continues with the same policy that has failed to produce positive results for New Labour in Zimbabwe since it came to power, there is no doubt that he will certainly meet with failure. The opportunities for British influence on the outcome of the Zimbabwe crisis lie in engagement and not continued isolation. There is incontrovertible evidence on the ground to suggest that the endgame for Mugabe is here and for Britain, it's an opportune time to suss out the potential leaders of a post-Mugabe dispensation.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Starting out...

It's taken quite a while for me to finally get started on blogging. I'd flirted with the idea of starting my own news website for some time now but the more I waited the more Zimbabwean news websites popped up on the net! It'd all been to do with the kind of resources required to run an effective news website and in the end I just resolved to write my own observations and comments on news developments both in Zimbabwe and out here in England, where I'm based. I'm still not sure about the full range of articles readers of this blog can expect. I suppose I'll leave that to time to determine! All the same, I have to congratulate myself in the interim for finally getting this off in the first place!