Mugabe, the West, and “servile” Zimbabweans

I’ve always found it baffling when people (particularly westerners,) discover with shock and a degree of condescension that Mugabe has, and dare I say it, remains deeply beloved by many a Zimbabwean. Fact; the quality of life of the majority of my countrymen downright plummeted during and since our colonization by the British. Oh please, you really want to tell me you believe that hogwash about how colonization brought the three C’s (civilization, commerce, and Christianity) to us in 1890? My ancestors, first the Munhumutapa, and then the Ndebele andRozvi empires did more foreign trade (mainly with Arab merchants and other empires) before colonization than they did since. We’ve always been deeply religious (much more so than we are now–thanks to Western Christendom for creating a schism between our way of life and faith). As for civilization, I’m not even going to address that; it’s nothing but anti-African propaganda, enough said.

No, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going on a blame me everything on West rant. I see major blind spots in many westerners opinions about Zimbabwe, I’m just pointing them out.
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Epistemology; why it is so difficult to understand the Zimbabwean crisis

When I started writing, I wanted to aire the rarely heard Zimbabwean perspective to a much broader audience. I wanted to express the thoughts and feelings that are mundanely exchanged between my fellow countrymen yet remain utterly inexistant to the rest of the world. I have had to make several protestations to my readers (most of whom are western) that they should not assume they can fully understand the Zimbabwean crisis from the casual brushes they have with our story on the news or on blogs (including mine). Many things remain uncovered, and many words remain unsaid; the truth, the whole truth remains pervasive.

A lot of what we see and hear about any situation, especially now in our cyber and media driven society, is just reality. Truth is a different thing altogether. Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher is famous for distinguishing a difference between truth and reality. Here’s my paraphrase: truth is what is; reality is what is now. Like a picture, reality captures a moment; it speaks to the here and now, but never beyond, and rarely to the before. Reality is evanescent. Truth on the other hand, is to me like a word, timeless in its import, and endless in its appeal. It reaches back into the recesses of time while simultaneously projecting perpertually into the future. There is a difference between truth and reality. Sadly, Neil Postman the American philosopher is correct in his assertion that along with unbridled progress on the developmenal continuum, western society is irrevocably shifting from being word and truth based, to being image and reality centered.

It is for this reason that I am not so chaffed when my country’s odyssey is attended to by such institutions of western media as the New York Times, BBC, CNN etc. I tend to be critical of their coverage, not because they always show the negatives in my country or because they treat us like we are bundle of constant problems. Simply put, my exception to western coverage of the Zimbabwean crisis is that they are western and therefore pander to western interests and more importantly relate things from the western perspective which is starkly different from our own here in Zimbabwe. Of course, there are many a time when the western media sometimes correctly report on Zimbabwe I am not arguing that point; my contention is that reporting it right is very different from understanding it from the same perspective as we do. Today’s media are obsessed with reality; in Postman’s words, media today have a “now this just in” mentality.

So it comes as no surprise to me that many people are baffled that I am willing to concede that Mugabe (cruel and regressive as he may be now,) has, in the past, worked for the good of Zimbabwe. I have been sometimes called a ‘marxist’ for admitting self evident truths about the history of Zimbabwe.

I bring all this up now because it sheds an important light on what has happened in my country over the past two weeks and how the west (both government and ordinary people) have interacted with it. (See this if you are not aware of what has taken place in Zimbabwe recently).
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This is disgusting

My friend Sokari the author of Blacklooks alerted me to this galling endeavor. Apparently someone thinks it’s time to hold the world’s first Miss Landmine pageant.

The idea in their own words);

the MISS LANDMINE project puts the global landmine problem and its survivors in the spotlight in a new, celebratory and life-affirming way.

Why?

Angolan culture has a relaxed and open attitude to physicality and sensuality. Furthermore, beauty pageants are a huge cultural phenomenon and a firm tradition in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, not least in Angola. A startling contrast to the politicized, often highly controversial atmosphere that surrounds such events in Europe and USA, African beauty contests are most often an uncomplicated celebration of cultural identity, not unlike Brazil’s carnival tradition (which is also celebrated in Angola)

To say this undertaking is exploitative, patronizing and highly offensive would be an understatement. It is unconscionable that anyone would come up with such a grotesque idea and think they are doing more good than harm. To illustrate the lunacy of this project, let me start off with this proposition: I’m going to change a few variables in the purpose statement put forward by the organizers of Miss Landmine. Can you imagine what kind of reaction this project would elicit if it had the following mission statement:

the MISS HOLOCAUST project puts the global anti-semitism problem and its survivors in the spotlight in a new, celebratory and life-affirming way.

I have no problem with spotlighting the plight of landmine victims. What I cannot mouth is inappropriateness of the vehicle chosen to do that. Yes, beauty pageants are “cultural phenomena” in much of Sub-Saharan Africa (including Zimbabwe), but the organizers could not have picked a more inappropriate way of honoring the survivors if that is truly their goal.

I have attended many a beauty pageant. In fact, the first time I attended a beauty pageant I was only 10 it was held in conjunction with a talent show of sorts. The event was held to celebrate and honor the talents of my scho0lmates. In essence, it was a celebration of the diversity of my primary school.

Every single time since then that I’ve attendend either a Miss Schools, Miss Harare, Miss Zimbabwe etc. the mantra of those events has been to honor and celebrate the culture of the particular locale from which the women come hence the names “Miss Zimbabwe” etc. Without the schools, the cities, and nation from which these participants emerge, these women are stripped of the unique place, institution, and people they represent. Of course, we still could hold beauty pageants; they just wouldn’t representative of the culture and therefore could not correctly assume such universal titles as “Miss Zimbabwe.” It’s about the culture, and people not just the beauty of three women.

Conversely, when one is chosen winner at these pageants, they are automatically conferred with the honor and responsibility of representing the locale of their origin.

This raises an unavoidable problem for the Miss Landmines pageants. What locale do the contestants represent? What culture are they showcasing? Going by convention, if Miss Zimbabwe represents Zimbabwean people and culture, is Miss Landmines meant to represent landmine people and their culture? I don’t need to expound on the absurdity of that proposition.

There is absolutely nothing fashionable, celebratory or life-affirming in the aftermath of landmines (or the holocaust). To try to infuse or deduce some kind of positivity out of the predicament of survivors such human rights abuses is nothing but a not so subtle affirmation of the destruction wrought by landmines. There are many other things people can do to stop the horror of landmines; see this and this for ideas.

YOU CAN DO SOMETHING! Email the director the Miss Landmine project here: morten@miss-landmine.org

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ICG Report on Zimbabwe creates buzz

International Crisis Group (ICG), a global political think tank released a report on Zimbabwe that has generated a lot of attention in cyberspace over the past 48 hours. Here’s the important stuff, the recommendations ICG makes in the report,

To the Government of Zimbabwe and ZANU-PF:

1. Abandon plans to extend President Mugabe’s term beyond its expiration in March 2008 and support SADC-led negotiations to implement an exit strategy for him no later than that date.

2. Negotiate with the MDC on a constitutional framework, power-sharing agreement, detailed agenda and benchmarks for a two-year political transition, beginning in March 2008, including:

(a) adoption of a constitutional amendment in the July 2007 parliamentary session providing for nomination in March 2008, by two-thirds majority, of a non-executive president, an executive prime minister and de-linking of government and ZANU-PF party positions;

(b) a power-sharing agreement leading in early 2008 to a transitional government, including ZANU-PF and the MDC, tasked with producing a new draft constitution, repealing repressive laws, drawing up a new voters roll and demilitarising and depoliticising state institutions in accordance with agreed timelines and benchmarks, and leading to internationally supervised elections in 2010; and

(c) implementation of an emergency economic recovery plan to curb inflation, restore donor and foreign investor confidence and boost mining and agricultural production, including establishment of a Land Commission with a strong technocratic base and wide representation of Zimbabwean stakeholders to recommend policies aimed at ending the land crisis.

3. Abandon plans for a new urban displacement program and act to redress the damage done by Operation Murambatsvina by:

(a) providing shelter to its homeless victims; and

(b) implementing the recommendations of the Tibaijuka Report, including compensation for those whose property was destroyed, unhindered access for humanitarian workers and aid and creation of an environment for effective reconstruction and resettlement.

To the Movement for Democratic Change:

4. Proceed with internal efforts to establish minimum unity within the party and a common front for dealing with the government and ZANU-PF and contesting presidential and parliamentary elections, while retaining reunification as the ultimate goal.

5. Hold internal consultations between faction leaders to adopt a joint strategy aiming at:

(a) finalising negotiations with ZANU-PF over constitutional reforms, a power-sharing agreement and formation of a transitional government in March 2008; and

(b) preparing for a March 2008 presidential election if negotiations with ZANU-PF fail, and President Mugabe retains power.

To Zimbabwean and South African Civil Society Organisations:

6. Initiate legal proceedings in South African courts to attach any assets stolen from the Zimbabwean government and transferred to or invested in South Africa and to obtain the arrest and prosecution of egregious Zimbabwean human rights abusers visiting South Africa.

To SADC and South Africa:

7. Engage with the U.S. and the EU to adopt a joint strategy for resolving the crisis that includes:

(a) mediation by SADC of negotiations for an exit deal on expiration of President Mugabe’s term in 2008 and of an agreement between ZANU-PF and the MDC on a power-sharing transitional government to oversee development of a new constitution, repeal repressive laws and hold internationally supervised presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010; and

(b) understandings on the use by the U.S. and EU of incentives and disincentives to support the strategy in regard to targeted sanctions, political relations with the transitional government and resumption of assistance.

8. Engage with the Zimbabwe government to facilitate talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC leading to the above steps.

9. Convene an urgent meeting of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation to consider the regional consequences of the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe and recommend action by the Heads of State summit to deal with the situation.

To the United States and the European Union:

10. Engage with SADC countries to adopt the above-mentioned joint strategy, including understandings on timelines and benchmarks to be met by the Zimbabwean authorities in restoring and implementing a democratic process.

11. Increase pressure on President Mugabe and other ZANU-PF leaders if they do not cooperate with efforts to begin a transition and restore democracy, including by taking the following measures to close loopholes in targeted personal sanctions:

(a) apply the sanctions also to family members and business associates of those on the lists;

(b) cancel visas and residence permits of those on the lists and their family members; and

(c) add Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono to the EU list.

12. Portugal, holding the EU Presidency in the second half of 2007, should not invite President Mugabe and other members of the Zimbabwe government or ZANU-PF on the EU targeted sanctions list to the EU-AU summit unless significant reforms have already been undertaken.

13. Increase funding for training and other capacity-building assistance to democratic forces in Zimbabwe.

To the United Nations Secretary-General:

14. Assign a senior official – a new Special Envoy to Zimbabwe, the Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Africa or a high-level member of the Department of Political Affairs – responsibility for the Zimbabwe portfolio including to support the SADC-led initiative, and monitor the situation for the Secretary General.

To the United Nations Security Council:

15. Begin discussions aimed at placing the situation in Zimbabwe on the agenda as a threat to international peace and security.

To the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or in the alternative the Human Rights Council:

16. Initiate a follow-up investigation on the Tibaijuka Report, including plans for a new urban displacement campaign, arrests of informal miners and political repression, and recommend actions to the member states, the Security Council and the Secretariat.

To the Commonwealth Secretariat:

17. Encourage Commonwealth member countries in Southern Africa to help mediate a political settlement for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, setting benchmarks for a return of the country to the organisation.

18. Establish a group of Eminent Persons to engage with Zimbabwe, using the good offices of its regional members to facilitate access.

19. Work through Commonwealth civil society organizations to build up civil society capacity in Zimbabwe.

I can’t say the report, recommendations, or all the attention it is getting have me jumping out of my seat. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to dismiss the report either, there’s clearly been a diligent effort by the group to document the status quo in Zimbabwe today.
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Eddie Cross: The responsibility to protect

For almost all of the 20th Century, a basic dictum of international diplomacy was “non interference in the internal affairs of other States”. Even today, Mugabe angrily denounces all attempts to even discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe at international gatherings as “interference in our internal affairs.” At the SADC summit last month he stormed out of that gathering and flew home 24 hours early when leaders insisted that the Zimbabwe situation be discussed in a closed session.

Today in Darfur the international community faces a fresh challenge – the Sudanese government is flatly refusing to allow more effective UN surveillance of the situation in Darfur and is continuing to try to subjugate the people of Darfur by means of armed force using both State resources and informal armed forces. The international media is still allowed into the Sudan and so we can see for ourselves the effects of this situation on the ordinary men and women of the western region of Sudan. We can see the refugee camps, the fresh graves; hear the stories of those whose lives and rights are being abused by a dictatorial Islamic regime.

In recent times the issue of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States has come under scrutiny. People are questioning the dictate and saying that where a government is threatening the fundamental human and
political rights of its people, the international community has the responsibility to act in solidarity with the poor and defenseless. So today we are seeing really tough talk at the UN about Darfur and we are also seeing more and more prominent people from all walks of life saying that the international community has the responsibility to interfere.

In southern Africa we have been there as well – both the Rhodesian and South African governments used the dictate to argue that outsiders had no right to interfere. But eventually, the gravity of the crisis and the threat to the
stability of the region persuaded those with power to take action. In both cases the international community appointed a “point man” to take responsibility for coordinating and directing the resolution of the crisis. In both cases they were successful. Henry Kissenger was the point man on Rhodesia and Margaret Thatcher the point “man” for South Africa.

What happened after their intervention was critical, but it was their (often unsung) actions that actually broke the logjam and made all else possible. If you had told me that South Africa would go through the process that led
to the 1994 elections without serious violence and upheaval – I would have said you were nuts. But it happened and the key element was a carefully planned and executed political action backed by the threat of the use of
power. Such threats are only credible when they are real and can be backed up by action if needed.

Today it is 30 years since Henry Kissenger flew into South Africa and held talks with a team of Ministers led by Ian Smith at Union Buildings in Pretoria. He came with a plan agreed by key African leaders and the backing
of the global community at the time. He arrived when Rhodesia was in the throes of an armed struggle with the armies of Zanla and Zipra who were demanding one-man one vote (democracy). 150 000 men were under arms and the
ordinary population of the country was being brutalized by all sides. The economy was in dire straights and there was no end in sight for the conflict. There were fears the conflict might spread into South Africa itself. Smith was totally in charge and even the South Africans were wary of taking him on politically.

Kissenger persuaded the South Africans that there was no future for Rhodesia under Smith. That backing the Smith government was not only a waste of South African resources but was having a negative impact on the survival and prosperity of South Africa itself. He was well prepared and the US had used its considerable intelligence capacity to ensure that he could argue this case with some force and conviction.

Kissenger sympathized with Smith – recognised his courage and determination and even his love of the country he led. But he also understood that he was never going to win and that if the final defeat came any way other than
through negotiation, it would be a disaster. He presented his plan to the Rhodesian team and after they had debated it amongst themselves for a while, they rejected it. At that point the President of South Africa came in and
said to the Rhodesian delegation that if they walked out of that room without an agreement, he would cut off their essential supplies and all future support would cease. Smith went on to call it the “Great Betrayal” but in fact what those two foreign leaders did that day was to rescue the country from itself and open the way to a new beginning.

The Rhodesians flew home and Smith went on television 30 years ago on the 23rd September 1976 to say they had agreed to a transition to real democracy. It took 3 more years but when Zimbabwe was born on the 18th April
1980, Henry Kissenger was, in a very real sense, its father.

Today the international media are banned from Zimbabwe and unless someone has the courage and the equipment to film something clandestinely – the world cannot see what is happening here. That does not excuse leaders. They
should not require pictures to make decisions on situations like Darfur and Zimbabwe. Unfortunately very often that is the case – but it should not be so. They know what is happening – they have other resources, reports,
intelligence and their diplomats.

The crisis in Darfur is serious, but it does not compare to the situation in Zimbabwe where a criminal class is in power, is terrified of its past and is fighting to stay in control at any cost. The consequences are there for all
to see – GDP down by half, exports by two thirds, life expectancy by half in a decade, elections a sham, the media totally controlled and all forms of opposition ruthlessly put down by armed force and violence. We are a threat
to regional stability and prosperity; our economic and political refugees are drowning the social and economic systems of our neighbors. Our leadership is unrepentant – even of genocide and the mass destruction of homes and livelihoods. They are guilty of the theft of national assets and income on a scale that has not been seen in recent years in the rest of the world.

Like Burma and North Korea they have built up a military State that is able and willing to maintain itself on what remains and can continue to do so indefinitely. The only recourse of its beleaguered and embattled population is flight or a form of national “house arrest”.

The Zimbabwe situation is one that is wide open to international intervention. The failure by African leaders, the South African leadership in particular, demands that the international community itself takes a fresh look at what is going on and what can be done to get things back on track. Unlike Darfur, Iraq, Burma and North Korea – Zimbabwe is vulnerable to international action. It is a small country with limited resources – none of them really strategic, it is land locked and its neighbors hold the key to the survival of the regime.

This is a problem that can be fixed. For the sake of its people, the international community has an obligation to interfere. It does not require military intervention of any sort, just coordinated and concerted action by the leaders of democracies in Africa and abroad.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 2nd October 2006

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Emergency Famine Alert

The Famine Early Warning System of the relief agency US Aid issued an emergency alert for Zimbabwe. In a Special Report regarding the Southern Africa Food Crisis they pointed out that “in Zimbabwe, general economic collapse, severe food and fuel shortages, hyperinflation, destruction of illegal settlements, and the effects of HIV/AIDS make the situation unlike any other food insecure country in Africa, with the highest potential to deteriorate into famine conditions.”

The Shocking Price of Groceries

This Is Zimbabwe has reproduced a shopping basket, illustrating price increases between 14 August and 23 September this year – a period of just over 5 weeks. One highlighted statistic:

Please note that there has been a 53% increase in the price of 1kg of potatoes – potatoes being the vegetable that there is apparently plenty of and which Mugabe says we should all eat! Move over Marie Antionette!