Monday, 27 September 2010

Tony Blair’s controversial journey

Tony Blair’s recently published memoir, A Journey, thrust the former British Prime Minister (left) back into familiar territory –the vortex of controversy. Pelted with eggs and shoes at a book signing in Dublin earlier this month, the man with the infamous grin thought better than to face off angry anti-war protesters and proceeded to cancel his book launch party at the Tate Modern in London.

Like Marmite - an extremely salty and savoury British dark brown spread of sticky consistency, with a distinctive, powerful flavour – people either love or hate Blair. As angry anti-war protesters vented their spleen outside Waterstones bookshops, inside hordes of avid readers snapped up more copies of the former premier’s book on the first day of its release than fellow New Labour architect Peter Mandelson’s memoirs sold in three weeks.

The attention directed at Blair is warranted. The middle England magician’s ‘big tent’ strategy – which positioned New Labour on the centre-ground to draw support from both left and right-leaning voters – dispensed with ideology and transformed British electoral politics. As a result, the erstwhile toxic Labour Party coasted to an unprecedented three terms in government after 18 corrosive years in the wilderness of opposition politics.

Adept at navigating the media-saturated landscape of 21st century British politics, with its 24-hour news cycle, Blair’s savvy presentation has spawned ardent disciples among the leading political protagonists in this country, including Tory leader and current coalition government Prime Minister David Cameron and his Lib Dems deputy, Nick Clegg.

On the opposite end, Blair’s deeply hostile, shoe-throwing critics are a harvest of his own specious argument for taking Britain to war in Iraq. The thinking behind both argument and action was of course several years old by the time Blair got to railroad the House of Commons into endorsing Britain’s co-star role in the American-led ‘shock and awe’ of Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad in 2003.

In his memoirs, Blair reveals how the Kosovo crisis of the late 1990’s came to shape the moral crusade that saw him commit Britain to four wars and totter on the verge of declaring one against Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe. In April 1999, he set out his ‘doctrine of the international community’ in a speech in Chicago in which he argued the case for military intervention on humanitarian grounds.

But as the Oxford Research Group observed, Kosovo was a flawed expression of the Blair doctrine, whilst Afghanistan and Iraq were clear violations of it. In the latter case, Blair rode pillion on the American neoconservative doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, which had more to do with taking out perceived American and western security threats before they had materialised than with advancing humanitarian considerations.

An Irish anti-war protester clashes with police at Blair's Dublin book signing event

Quite unsettling with respect to Zimbabwe is Blair’s admission that he wanted to whack the Mugabe regime militarily. On getting rid of Mugabe, he says: “I would have loved to; but it wasn’t practical (since in his case, and for reasons I never quite understood, the surrounding African nations maintained a lingering support for him and would have opposed any action strenuously)”.

In reality though, it was his former Chief of Defence Staff, General Charles Guthrie who persuaded Blair from charging into Harare with guns blazing, telling him to ‘hold hard, you’ll make it worse’.

But rather dishearteningly in his voluminous memoir, Blair completely blanks out Britain’s colonial relationship with Zimbabwe and his discussion of military action against Mugabe is shorn of political context. The two countries’ chequered history – particularly their fallout over land redistribution from the white settler minority to colonially dispossessed blacks after Zimbabwe’s independence – is conveniently missing.

Apart from his glib admission of failure to understand the reasons for the lingering African support for Mugabe, readers are left none the wiser about the alternative arguments that Blair was presented with by those African leaders with whom he was engaged in dialogue. For instance, there’s not a whisper on former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s ‘quiet diplomacy’, to which all western – including British -and African diplomatic efforts on Zimbabwe ultimately deferred, resulting in the establishment of a unity government in Harare in February last year.

Blair’s failure – or reluctance - to engage seriously with these African perspectives on Zimbabwe explains the lack of traction for British foreign policy towards Zimbabwe among the Southern African nations. The most influential of these – South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola - are governed by parties that, like ZANU PF, were national liberation movements that had fought white settler colonialism to gain independence.

Crucially, these countries saw New Labour’s blunt refusal to fund land reform in Zimbabwe as a betrayal by Britain of its colonial obligations whilst simultaneously defending the property rights of white landowners under the guise of promoting human rights.

Sensing the perfect regime survival strategy, a beleaguered Mugabe latched onto his fallout with Britain over land to deploy a crudely edited anti-colonial nationalist narrative – or ‘patriotic history’ - accompanied by much violence, as a buffer against growing domestic opposition led by the MDC.

Adopting an outside-looking in approach, Mugabe and ZANU PF used Britain’s shrill criticism to argue that the crisis in Zimbabwe had its roots in a bilateral dispute with Britain over the seizure of commercial farmland. Unwittingly, Blair and his ministers would on occasion also speak of their support for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC rather inappropriately, thus providing more grist for Mugabe’s propaganda mill.

More than three years after Blair’s departure from office, the unresolved question of whose responsibility it is to compensate dispossessed white farmers in Zimbabwe continues to cast a dark shadow on relations between Britain and Zimbabwe.

A recent report by the UK Parliament’s Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group (AAPPG) declared that “the narrative that Britain betrayed its promise at Lancaster House has no basis as no agreement was reached on land in 1979”. It urges Britain to do more to counter this ‘perception’.

In an as yet unpublished response to the report, a Zimbabwean land expert wrote: “It is clear that the AAPPG report is meant to respond to the Global Political Agreement demand that the UK Government be approached to contribute to paying for the land reform, and that its purpose and conclusion is to reinforce earlier British arguments that the UK has no bi-lateral obligation to pay for the land.”

But according to former Commonwealth secretary-general and key player at the Lancaster House talks in 1979, Sir Shridath Ramphal, ‘solid assurances’ to fund land reform by Britain and the US were indeed recorded in the documents of the conference and notified to all Commonwealth countries, although no sum of money was specified.

Ramphal’s authoritative, contrasting account of what was agreed at Lancaster House burns a huge hole in the AAPPG report and robs Britain of the foolproof final word it had hoped to achieve on the land matter. When Britain does finally decide to engage the Zimbabwe government directly on land issues, it is best advised to do so with more tact than Blair’s government displayed when they took over in 1997.

And as for Blair’s contribution to British foreign policy on Zimbabwe, thank God Almighty for General Guthrie’s advice, for military intervention in Zimbabwe would certainly have made things worse

Friday, 17 September 2010

No improvement in state of rule of law in Zimbabwe – experts

The state of the rule of law in Zimbabwe has not improved and the culture of impunity on the part of the police and the state security forces remains unchanged since the signing of the Global Political Agreement in 2008, according to a report by international legal experts.

 Masterminds of violence: Zimbabwe's notorious security chiefs

The report, "A Place in the Sun", follows an investigative mission to Zimbabwe late last year by the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association, the Bar Council, the Bar Human Rights Committee, and Avocats Sans Frontières. The mission was told by interviewees that the state of the rule of law had actually grown worse.

Incidents of extra-judicial killings, kidnapping, torture and other serious human rights abuses have been pervasive in Zimbabwe for years but assumed epidemic proportions during the Presidential run-off elections of June 2008. Such human rights abuses continue to occur and they also remain un-investigated by the authorities.

The report notes that the culture of impunity among the police and security forces has deteriorated, with the army appearing to have extended its operations to unlawful diamond extraction and trading in the diamond fields of Marange. The Kimberley Process, an international initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds, recently allowed Zimbabwe to resume trading its gems from the controversial diamond fields.

In a disconcerting finding, the report notes that “by far the majority of the senior judiciary remains fundamentally compromised by state patronage, grants of land and other gifts given to them by the former government. The present government
has not sought to claw-back such inducements from the senior judiciary nor has there been any policy initiative directed at re-establishing the integrity of the senior judiciary in the eyes of the public.”

Magistrates, who for years have endured threats and intimidation, including arrests and prosecution when they displease the authorities, continue to face the same adversities in the line of duty. In one case cited in the report, a magistrate in Eastern Zimbabwe was himself prosecuted by the authorities as a result of having granted bail to the Deputy Minister designate for Agriculture, Mr Roy Bennett. However, their resilience under such difficult conditions has made them unsung heroes in the eyes of many ordinary Zimbabweans.

The report also detailed how the physical infrastructure for the teaching of law is crumbling, stating that "the mission saw for itself the dilapidated state of the Law Faculty of the University of Zimbabwe." The mission was also "deeply disturbed by accounts it received that the Central Intelligence Organisation had infiltrated the student body in the Law Faculty, with the result that the content of lectures and open debate in seminars was circumscribed by fear of the consequences of candour."

Encouragingly, though, the Law Society of Zimbabwe continues to represent its membership against a background of intimidation and harassment of, in particular, human rights lawyers.

“The Law Society stands out as an organisation prepared vocally and committed actively to oppose measures which are anathema to the rule of law and to support its membership in the discharge of their duties as lawyers,” the report observes.

The mission also found that access to justice for indigent people facing criminal prosecution is virtually non-existent because the legal aid system is ”so starved of funds that the Legal Aid Directorate is itself on the verge of collapse”.

The mission concluded that there has been no improvement and quite possibly a further decline in respect for the rule of law since the signing of the Global Political Agreement.

It recommended the end of the culture of impunity on the part of the police and state security forces; a transparently composed and genuinely independent Judicial Services Commission with the power to appoint all judges, magistrates and the Attorney General; ensuring lawyers can practise without harassment or intimidation; and providing indigent defendants in criminal proceedings with free representation by a properly qualified lawyer.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

London Letter: High literacy rate belies declining quality of education

In the past fortnight British parents and pupils have been celebrating yet another fruitful year of record-breaking passes in the GCSE ‘O’ and ‘A’-level examinations.

Overall, seven out of every 10 GCSE entries were awarded at least a C grade. It is the 23rd year in a row that pass rates have been rising in the UK. The pass rate for A-levels rose for the 28th year in a row, with 97.6 per cent of entries gaining an E or above.

I couldn’t help making comparisons with the state of my own country’s education sector, which is largely modelled on Britain’s.

A recent conference convened in London by the Link Community Development and the Commonwealth Consortium on Education afforded the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture Senator David Coltart the chance to brief international development partners on the state of Zimbabwe’s education sector.

Coincidentally, shortly before the conference the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had published a report putting Zimbabwe at the apex of Africa’s literacy tables.

We had leapfrogged Tunisia to land at a whopping 92 per cent literacy rate. Many Zimbabweans at home and abroad felt a deep sense of pride at this new achievement. It confirmed our long-held pride and self-confidence as the continent’s most educated society.

However, upon closer inspection there appears to be quite a few issues to worry about concerning the state of our education sector. For a start, the UNDP’s literacy tables are determined by considering school enrolment and attendance figures – they do not interrogate the quality of the education that pupils receive, including such key aspects as the school curriculum.

Senator Coltart and his Minitry officials came armed with a detailed assessment report of Zimbabwe’s education sector and a draft interim strategy that seeks to respond to and resolve identified challenges.

To put this discussion in context, I should state that Zimbabwe’s education sector continues to tower head and shoulders above most countries in Africa. But outside of that broad comparative context, there is scope to explore our current situation against our own previous standards and in relation to our future projections.

As things stand, our education sector faces a myriad challenges that demand urgent solutions if Zimbabwe is to avoid spawning a generation of ill-equipped and poorly educated young people.

For starters, 10 to 15 per cent of children are not in school at all. According to UNICEF, Grade 7 examination pass rates declined from 53 per cent in 1999 to 33 per cent in 2007. Figures from 2009 showed that almost 50 per cent of Zimbabwe’s children graduating from primary school were not proceeding to secondary school.

Books and learning materials are in short supply and secondary schools in particular have been hit hard by the flight of teachers abroad, especially to neighbouring countries, leading to a severe shortage of teachers in key subjects such as maths, science and technical subjects.

More than one quarter of teaching posts are not filled by a qualified teacher. Moreover, there is a highly distorted distribution of qualified teachers, with some provinces having over 45 per cent of posts ‘vacant’. To cap it all off, the Ministry describes its curriculum as having ‘lost credibility’.

But it is the remuneration of teachers that poses the greatest challenge to the quality of education in Zimbabwe. Beginning teachers are paid a measly $176, with head teachers taking home $212. The physical infrastructure of schools, including water and sanitation provision, is in poor shape.

The Ministry’s top priority in the short term is to improve the status and morale of teachers, through raising their basic remuneration and improving housing and sanitation conditions for rural teachers.

The UNICEF-managed Education Transition Fund (ETF), through which donors are channelling funds for the provision of textbooks and basic learning facilities, is a useful interim measure. But it does not extend to the provision of recurrent expenditure, such as the improved salaries without which the professional status of teachers cannot be restored.

As Senator Coltart explained at the London conference, donors do not trust his government sufficiently to give it direct budgetary support. As long as the government is seen as corrupt and lacking transparency and accountability, there will not be any direct financial support from donors and other international partners.

This, of course, is only half of the real issue at hand.

The crux of the matter is that the inclusive government, with its enduring melodrama of conflict over unfulfilled promises, is seen internationally as a capricious creature whose character is defined largely by the previous order under ZANU PF. That order is discredited does not command confidence among donors and international lenders.

For Zimbabwe’s education sector to be fully restored and improved, therefore, the inclusive government would have to cut a clear trajectory towards unbridled governance reform in order to attract much needed international support.

Otherwise, the country will have to look to its own resources to plough into the education sector to ensure that Zimbabwe remains not only the most literate nation in Africa, but also one with the best quality education on the continent.

London Letter: Dual citizenship is key to engaging the Diaspora

The ongoing constitutional reform exercise comes at a time when there's been a marked transformation in the spatial distribution of the Zimbabwean nation. Estimates vary, but there's a general consensus that up to a quarter of Zimbabwe’s population – over three million people - now live in exile.

The Zimbabwean Diaspora is scattered across four continents, but with discernible concentrations in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Driven by the country’s protracted economic and political crisis to seek opportunities and refuge elsewhere, Zimbabweans in exile have nonetheless remained connected with their homeland.
The majority lead parallel lives in which they exert themselves emotionally and materially to sustain livelihoods both in their countries of domicile as well as in Zimbabwe.

These binding ties mean that the Diaspora, quite rightly, considers himself an intrinsic and indispensable member of the Zimbabwean family and not merely a disparate person who traces his or her origins to Zimbabwe.

The inclusive Government’s draft Migration Management and Diaspora Policy acknowledges that Zimbabwe has in the past decade suffered its worst brain drain since independence in 1980.
It cites a study undertaken by the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC) in 2004 on the causes and effects of the brain drain in Zimbabwe which concluded that the level and trend of the brain drain in the country has reached unacceptable and unsustainable heights.

For instance, between 2000 and 2002 Zimbabwe was the UK’s fourth largest supplier of health workers after the Philippines, India and South Africa.

These figures are old and the reality today lies far beyond this.

According to the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture’s draft interim strategy, at least 24 per cent of teaching posts lie vacant, especially in science, maths and technical subjects, and the education sector is way under-supervised with 40 per cent of District Education Officer posts, covering 29 districts, unfilled.

Relatively recently, a discourse has emerged on migration and international development concerning states who manage emigration by reaching out to and engaging with their nationals abroad.

These diaspora engagement policies consist of a diversity of measures aimed at producing and reproducing citizen-sovereign relationships with expatriates. Current discussions revolve around how sending countries can engage diaspora populations in order to maximise remittance and impact development in their homelands. Evidence shows that  both foreign direct investment and international development aid is significantly lower than remittances from diaspora communities to their homelands.

For example, the Chinese and Indian diasporas have fuelled development in their countries via both cash remittances and their direct engagement associated with the remittances. Many sending countries have sought to develop policies to maximise the amounts of remittances sent back and to stimulate investments by migrants.

Over the past decade, many sending states have embarked upon more inclusive diaspora engagement policies through extending special political and economic rights to emigrants and allowing dual citizenship.

This extension of rights to and extraction of obligations from non-residents has allowed states to exercise transnational power through fostering ties with migrants and their descendants, improving banking systems and improving competition on remittance markets.

The Moroccan state, for example, has been rather successful in stimulating remittances through a combination of diaspora engagement policies, the creation of a network of banks abroad as well as macro-economic, fiscal measures favouring migrants to remit money.

The inclusive government’s draft migration policy also notes that the key benefits of migration for countries of origin if properly managed include knowledge and skills-transfer when migrants return home on a temporary or permanent basis, relief from unemployment and underemployment, and increased levels of indigenous entrepreneurship through new opportunities in the private sector by those in the diaspora.

A significant key to unlocking benefits from the Diaspora is the extension of dual citizenship. Evidence from elsewhere on the continent bears this out. Remittances from the Nigerian diaspora averaged at $800m per annum from 1990 to 2001 but increased considerably on attaining dual citizenship in 1999 to $5.4bn at the end of 2006. Nigeria has developed advanced remittance tracking mechanisms, which are able to disaggregate consumption remittances from investment.

Zimbabwe has also started addressing the loss of human skills, particularly through the Taskforce on Human Skills Identification, Deployment, and Retention, which was established following the adoption of the National Economic Development Priority. The Institute of Continuing Health Education (ICHE) at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences also has an initiative whereby some doctors in the diaspora are returning to Zimbabwe at their own expense to lecture, moderate examinations and provide clinical services.

But the haemorrhaging of Zimbabwe’s skills base continues, and there’s a danger that these skills may become permanently lost over time. For instance, over the last two years alone, the number of Zimbabweans getting UK citizenship rose by 35 per cent in 2009 to 7,705, and the country’s nationals are consistently in the top ten nationalities acquiring British citizenship.

The constitutional reform exercise presents Zimbabwe with an invaluable opportunity to engage its scattered population across the globe through a new social contract that recognises the spatial distribution of its people and acknowledges them as an intrinsic part of the Zimbabwean nation. Globalisation has made it easier for people to traverse the globe in search of opportunities, and it requires imagination to keep a leash on our national resources to ensure that Zimbabwe continues to benefit from them, wherever they might be.

Professor Arthur Mutambara, addressing an infrastructure and investment conference hosted by Zimbabwean engineers in London recently, pointed to the need for Zimbabwean professionals to return home to contribute to national development, but also to stay put in their new domiciles and, through their presence, leverage opportunities and professional networks for the benefit of their country.

The challenge of developing Zimbabwe in the 21st century is not confined to the territorially resident population. Rather, it falls on all hearts that beat to the rhythm of Zimbabwe to invest their creativity, resources and networks for the building of a robust nation that is capable of holding its own in the topsy-turvy and highly competitive global era where sovereignty is no longer defined in the narrow sense of a state exercising its jurisdiction over a bounded community.