Friday, 12 November 2010

Come and experience Zim’s wonders, Mzembi tells British tourists

Zimbabwe's Tourism and Hospitality Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi launches his Ministry's new marketing strategy "Zimbabwe: A World of Wonders" at Zimbabwe House on Wednesday at the Zimbabwe Embassy in London.

Zimbabwe’s Tourism and Hospitality Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi launched an ambitious campaign to woo British and western tourists back to the country, saying that tourism should remain as the key bridge maintaining people to people contact even when governments fall out.

Launching the country’s rebranding strategy “Zimbabwe: A World of Wonders” at Zimbabwe House in London on Wednesday, Mzembi said the danger of the international community turning its back on any country “is that you push people to design rules of engagement that have no reference to international best practice.”

Earlier in the day, Mzembi had attended a discussion forum at an influential international affairs thinktank alongside the UK’s Foreign Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham and the UK’s Zimbabwe Ambassador Mark Canning on the question of whether it was now time to promote British tourism to Zimbabwe.

“Both gentlemen gave positive reviews on the state of affairs in Zimbabwe, including the economic progress we’ve achieved under the Inclusive Government. Economically, they acknowledged that we’re looking at upwards of 7-8% economic growth this year. They applauded our engagement with multilateral financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank,” Mzembi said.

The UK government representatives also hailed the Zimbabwe government’s economic stabilisation programmes, the shedding of quasi-fiscal activities by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, as well as progress made on social delivery programmes, Mzembi told guests at Zimbabwe House.

The positive reviews by the British government mark a thaw in relations between the usually antagonistic countries, and Mzembi was quick to acknowledge this as a sign that the British were now ready to engage constructively with their Zimbabwean counterparts.

“They want engagement, there’s no doubt about it. They want to be less critical of Zanu PF and President Mugabe because they cannot endear themselves to (Prime Minister Morgan) Tsvangirai only who is subordinate in the current arrangement to a President in a coalition government,” Mzembi told in an exclusive interview at Zimbabwe House.

Zimbabwean pop duo BKay 'n' Kazz perform at the launch ceremony.

The Zanu PF Young Turk inferred that there was now a new thinking in Britain’s Zimbabwe policy following the fall of New Labour in this year’s UK elections which ushered in the Conservatives-Liberal Democrats coalition government.

 “It is not just me who noticed a difference; even the Chinese government noticed a difference in Prime Minister David Cameron’s approach, which is more constructive, very refreshing and contemporary. I have no doubt in my mind that they find a generational connection with some of us and we must leverage that to advance our own interests,” he added.

Mzembi underscored the significance of British tourism to Zimbabwe, saying that if his country could secure just 30% of the 400,000 British visitors to South Africa annually, Zimbabwe would have done tremendously well.

“British tourism is important as a signal to other traffic in the world and in Europe – if the British come to Zimbabwe it means others will follow. They have 120 years of colonial investment in the country, which they can’t wish away. We have deep, binding ties, as shown in the common nomenclature of our streets and localities.
But nothing illustrates these ties more than the presence of the Zimbabwean Diaspora which is composed mainly of skilled professionals currently serving variously in the British system,” he said.

Relations between Zimbabwe and Britain took a drastic turn when Tony Blair’s New Labour party swept to power in a landslide election in May 1997. Pursuing what it called an ‘ethical foreign policy’ with human rights at its core, the New Labour government took umbrage at President Mugabe’s controversial ‘Fast-Track’ land reform programme in which prime farmland was seized from a minority of just over 4,000 white farmers for redistribution to landless blacks.

Violence and human rights abuses against perceived opposition supporters in general elections since 2000 also stoked British resentment against the Zanu PF government, leading to the imposition of targeted sanctions by the European Union (EU) against members of President Mugabe’s regime as well as several state-owned companies.

Mzembi addressed the EU sanctions saying their removal would help even the playing field between the political players in Zimbabwe and advance relations between the country and the West. He underplayed the prospect of violence erupting around the constitutional referendum and fresh general elections provisionally pencilled for next year.

“We have a responsibility to package our own elections in a manner that does not impinge on the national programmes that are currently running. But if we want to play to the international gallery it will obviously take centre stage, unnecessarily so,” he said.

However, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party is incensed by Zanu PF’s refusal to honour the powersharing agreement signed between them to establish the current inclusive government. Last month he wrote to the UN and to European governments to complain of a constitutional crisis in Zimbabwe, urging those authorities not to recognise unilateral government appointments made by President Mugabe.

Of late, media reports in Zimbabwe have quoted both senior Zanu PF ministers and military generals suggesting that they would not transfer power to the MDC even if it won next year’s elections, calling it a ‘sell-out’ party. The MDC has also expressed strong reservations with the lethargic pace of security sector reform, and human rights activists have decried the presence of the military in Zimbabwe’s diamond industry, particularly in the newfound Marange diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe.

Mzembi denied that the military threatened the integrity of the electoral process by playing an overtly partisan role in support of Zanu PF, defending their role in national politics as legitimate.

“I don’t find anything unique in the military also advancing their own interests in securing national security. They are an intrinsic part of Zanu PF because they’re ex-liberation fighters and a lot of them actually had commissariat roles during the war. So why should they turn their backs on the party when they’re an intrinsic part of it?” he queried.

After nearly two years of powersharing, the MDC and Zanu PF look set to part ways after Mugabe and Tsvangirai both expressed readiness to hold fresh elections next year and revert governance of the country to a single democratically elected party. A constitutional reform exercise billed as a precursor to fresh elections ran into controversy amidst allegations of violence after the political parties jostled to control its outcome during the public outreach phase. Lately, Tsvangirai has suggested a negotiated draft constitution saying the current process is now marred by illegitimacy.

Zimbabwean tourism players exhibiting at the World Travel Market in London this week expressed reservations on the proposal to hold new elections next year citing the high prospects of political violence erupting once more. They feared that the negative international publicity whipped up by the new elections could destabilise the country’s fledgling economic recovery and set the economy reeling backwards yet again.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Zimbabwe must be allowed to sell its diamonds

       Diamond mining at Marange.

The opposition to Zimbabwe’s right to sell its diamonds is deeply troubling and must be exposed for what it really is without pussyfooting or beating about the bush. It is instructive to note that the opposition to approving Zimbabwe’s sale of its diamonds stockpile, consisting of some 4.5 million stones valued at around $2 billion, is led by the US, Canada and Australia.

Ancillary to this western states-led opposition is a network of human rights organisations based in the west or deriving their funding from the west, which effectively makes them one and the same. In August, the U.S.-based Rapaport Diamond Trading Network, an industry diamond price and information provider, vowed to expel any member who knowingly traded gems from Zimbabwe’s Marange fields — where it alleges that labourers have been killed and children enslaved. Curiously, this was after KP monitor Abbey Chikane had certified their sale.

Human Rights Watch, which previously charged Zimbabwean troops with killing more than 200 people, raping women and forcing children to search for the gems in Marange, says the Zimbabwe government still has not kept its word to withdraw soldiers completely from the Marange fields. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is also in agreement with these organisations in characterising the Marange stones as ‘blood diamonds’ and calling for a ban if mining is done in the context of human rights abuses.

I do not want to pretend that I’m interested in the convoluted arguments being presented by these organisations. From the outset, anyone not possessed with the inclination to be deliberately dishonest will agree that the definition of ‘blood diamonds’ has been creatively embellished in order for it to cover Zimbabwe’s diamond industry. The anti-Zimbabwe diamonds lobby has deployed a disingenuous moral relativism trading on the much abused human rights agenda that in all honesty is lacking in their approach to the global trade of a vast range of primary products and manufactures by a host of other countries.

There’s no global ban on the trade of Congolese coltan by the mobile phone and computing industry despite the deaths of millions of civilians and the systematic rape of tens of thousands of women in the Congo. No one’s raised any issues with the presence of international oil companies in Nigeria’s Niger Delta despite ongoing armed conflict and the environmental disaster being wrought on local communities by the same big fish in their search for super profits.

Likewise, western companies are deep in business with oil-rich countries with unflattering human right records in the Middle East. And did we see any opposition to the parcelling of lucrative oil contracts to western companies in Iraq amidst a raging storm of bombs and bluster?

In his critically acclaimed novel ‘Sea of Poppies’, leading Indian writer Amitav Ghosh, a trained anthropologist and historian with a doctorate from Oxford University, reveals that under the British Raj, an enormous amount of opium was being exported out of India until the 1920s. Of this curious trade Ghosh says, “I had no idea that opium was essentially the commodity which financed the British Raj in India.” Presently, hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of Afghanistan’s opium is finding its way into Britain. Of course, Chancellor George Osborne will not stand at the Dispatch Box in the Commons to announce Britain’s net gains from this clandestine trade!

We are not stupid, and Rapaport, Crisis in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch and these western countries must not underestimate our intelligence on the workings of the real world.

I accept that the abuses that occurred in the process of the Zimbabwean army’s takeover of the diamond fields from gangs of illegal panners and international smuggling syndicates must be thoroughly investigated by the Inclusive Government and the perpetrators brought to book. But I do not accept what I believe to be spectacularly specious allegations that there are ongoing mass killings at Chiadzwa, or egregious human rights abuses warranting the attachment of the tag ‘blood diamonds’, thereby placing Zimbabwe in league with such violently riven countries as Sierra Leone during that country’s dark episode of resource-fuelled civil conflict.

Such a characterisation belongs to a politically driven syntagm whose main import is to deny Zimbabwe any chance of economic recovery on terms other than those approved by those that govern our globe. To be blunt, which I fully intend to be without as much as a whiff of apology, this whole charade over compliance with the Kimberley Process is no more than a strategy to hamstring Zimbabwe’s trek from the economic woods in order to keep it beholden to the hope of securing a frustratingly conditional sip from the poisoned chalice of international financial institutions.

The Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, has already admitted that hoping for international financial assistance to revive our economy is akin to waiting for Beckett’s Godot: hapana chichauya (we will get nothing from them). This business of hiding behind a purported love for the well-being of ordinary Zimbabweans whilst promoting a disingenuous human rights agenda whose sole purpose is the furtherance of western foreign policy interests in our part of the globe must be resisted and openly repudiated.

I note with disappointment that the MDC party is actively contributing to this trickery through its deafening silence on this important matter. I have some simple advice for them: the west will not change its foreign policy interests simply because there’s a different government in Zimbabwe. As they have been rudely awakened on the sanctions issue, the well of western conditionalities runs deep, too deep, and it will not run dry if or when the MDC comes to power.

Just as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai welcomed the KP’s certification of trade in August and officially opened the resultant auction, so too must he speak out against the ban on the sale of our diamonds. Further, as government’s key representative in Parliament, he must lead calls for Parliament to be given direct oversight on the mining activity at Chiadzwa. This nonsense of barring Parliamentary inspection of Chiadzwa, as we’ve witnessed before, must be challenged, but in Zimbabwe and by the Zimbabwean Parliament as well as genuinely Zimbabwean civil society groups.

I’m speaking my mind as a citizen, and what I would like to see is a focus on building transparency in our diamond industry. Barring trade drives the industry deeper into the arms of the military, and there is no chance of ever building openness if this highly lucrative industry is forced to continue operating clandestinely. Besides, it nurtures a corporate interest in our security sector and any hope of ever establishing democratic politics in which the military is not a decisive player will forever remain illusive.

Lastly, if the lobbyists succeed in frustrating our diamond sales, I’m all for doing away with the Kimberley Process altogether and taking our diamonds straight to the market. In the UK, Tony Blair justified the payment of a staggering £1bn bribe to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia in order to secure the £43 bn Al-Yamamah arms deal. The UK’s Attorney General Lord Goldsmith halted investigations by the Serious Fraud Office saying the deal was in the national interest. Likewise, selling Zimbabwe’s diamonds regardless of KP objections is in the national interest and anyone who doesn’t think so needs their head examined!