Zimbo’s in America

Stanford Mukasa (Ph.D), is the most vocal of Zimbabwean citizen in the US. He pens this “Letter from America” for SW Radio highlighting recent efforts of Zimbos in the USA

Representatives from two US-based advocacy groups had a first- hand experience of just what the United Nations can or cannot do on the Zimbabwean crisis. But they also successfully lobbied for a discussion and resolution on bad governance and corruption.

The North American District of the MDC or NAD and the Association of Concerned Citizens in North America (ACZ) had been invited to participate at the informal interactive hearings to review the program of action for the Least Developed Countries and held at the United Nations. NAD will soon become the North American Province of the MDC.

Both NAD and ACZ had planned to have the Zimbabwean crisis placed on the agenda in the hope that the issue would be taken up by the Security Council or the General Assembly. The delegates had brought toughly worded statements calling for the United Nations to use its institutional resources to bring pressure to bear on Mugabe.

The ACZ statement contained five recommendations.

First, ACZ noted that, because the Mugabe regime is aware that is has lost the support and the legitimacy to rule the country it is now unrestrained in its use of force and coercion to maintain its rule in the country.

The United Nations has an international obligation to take effective measures to ensure the return of the rule of law, democracy and democratic governance in Zimbabwe.

ACZ appealed to the United Nations deal with the root causes, rather than symptoms, of the problems. While collecting information such as the impact of the destruction of people’s homes was a necessary responsibility of the United Nations, the world body must go beyond this information gathering routine.

Information documented by human rights groups, the United Nations and other individuals shows clearly that the Mugabe regime is in violation of a
number of United Nations conventions.

The ACZ noted that the United Nations has taken measures to deal with former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, and other human rights violators.
In the case of Taylor the United Nations set up a tribunal to try him. The same happened with Slobodan Milosevic.

ACZ called upon the United Nations to document a possible prosecution of Robert Mugabe for crimes against humanity in Zimbabwe. The organization also recommended that the United Nations should establish a coalition of willing nations and individuals who will make a relentless push towards resolving the crisis of governance in Zimbabwe. The UN Security Council must be convened to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe and take appropriate measures including sanctions if Mugabe refuses to comply.

ACZ also called on the United Nations to take an inventory to assess and document the capacities and skills of Zimbabweans in Diaspora with a
view to (1) keeping those skills updated through training sessions and (2) encouraging the Zimbabweans to return home once democracy and the rule of law have been established.

ACZ recommended that the United Nations work through non governmental agencies to extend relief to the people of Zimbabwe, especially opposition supporters who have been denied, on political grounds, internationally donated food.

ACZ also asked that it be granted an observer status at the general assembly, in order to counter the propaganda from the Mugabe regime.

However, during the pre-consultation orientation the Zimbabwean delegates learned that the procedure for the hearings would focus on themes of poverty and underdevelopment in the least developed countries or LDCs.

There are 50 LDCs. Zimbabwe is not among them, although a UN committee recommended recently that Zimbabwe be downgraded to an LDC.

Ironically, Zambia, Uganda and Mozambique which have stronger economies than Zimbabwe are listed as LDCs.

For a while it appeared the Zimbabwean crisis was going to be sidestepped altogether. However lobbying, especially by Nicholas Mada of the NAD, bore some results. In addition, statements by both NAD and ACZ were
allowed to be circulated among the delegates.

Another procedure at the hearings was that only 12 people would be allowed to make presentations. None of the Zimbabwean representatives was among the selected presenters. Preference was given to delegates coming from the LDCs.

However, the Zimbabweans were able to lobby the selected presenters to make presentations on their behalf. Presentations were to be theme-based rather than country-specific.. Presenters were not expected to talk about
their countries but to discuss problems of poverty and development as a theme.

One of the 12 selected presenters agreed to take the Zimbabwe-specific case of bad governance and corruption for presentation. Thus while the Zimbabwean crisis per se was not discussed as a subject the problem of bad
governance and corruption was presented at the hearings. To this extent the Zimbabwean delegation can claim some limited success in forcing this issue on the agenda.

During the hearings the under secretary general and high representative for the LDCs, Anwarul K. Chowdhury said in response to the question on bad governance and corruption that the United Nations expected the governments to have the primary responsibility to improve the lives of
their people. In the case of Zimbabwe, which was not mentioned by name during the discussions, this meant the UN holds Mugabe and his regime
primarily responsible for the return of the rule of law, free and fair elections and economic and development policies that benefit the nation as a
whole.

Chowdhury’s remarks were immediately challenged. What if the government was corrupt and incapable of serving its citizens well and
fairly? He was asked.

Chowdhurey said in such cases of government corruption and incompetence it was up to the civil society to put pressure and lobby their government.

He was again asked: What if the government is hostile to civil society? — a clear reference to Zimbabwe. Chowdhrey said national civil
societies could seek to involve regional civil societies in their campaigns.

In his assessment of the state of poverty in the LDCs Chowdhurey said that the program of action to reduce poverty in the LDCs, and which was launched in Brussels in 2001 had so far failed to meet its objectives.

He said that while LDCs had experienced growth rates of 5.5. percent this was less than the anticipated 7 percent and poverty in the LDC was on the rise. He said 100 million people in the LDCs were expected to join the ranks of 370 million poor people in the LDCs. Since the plan of action to reduce poverty was halfway in its implementation urgent steps needed to be
taken to address this problem, he said.

For a start an international campaign including the NGOs and other stakeholders should be launched because LDCs are sinking deeper into
poverty.

In the ensuing discussions the issue of bad governance was raised, an issue that the Zimbabwean delegation had lobbied hard to be addressed.

What were the lessons of this interactive forum on Zimbabwe?

The message from the UN to Zimbabweans was loud and clear. While this was not an officially articulated policy it became abundantly clear that the UN expects the Mugabe regime to take primary responsibility for fulfilling the needs of the people of Zimbabwe.

If that fails then civil society leaders in Zimbabwe must form a national coalition and launch a massive campaign against Mugabe. In the
process, the national coalition can enlist the assistance of civil societies in the region.

Can this be the message UN Secretary General Kofi Annan hopes to bring to Mugabe in The Gambia in July? Can Zimbabweans realistically expect Kofi Annan to do more than this?

Herein lies the United Nations formula for resisting Mugabe. One significant outcome of the hearings was that the civil society are a
strategic watchdog for the peoples’ interests against a repressive and corrupt regime.

In Zimbabwe civil society must take immediate and effective steps to form a formidable national coalition that will engage a meaningful campaign
against Mugabe. This is something the Zimbabwean civil society has yet to rigorously put in place.

Mugabe cannot be successfully or effectively confronted by different civil society groups acting like individual supermen. Time has come for all
those who share the same political agenda, social culture and goals of the rule of law, democracy, free and fair elections as well as the freedom of the press to put aside their differences, join hands and launch a real
campaign against Mugabe.

The Zimbabweans who attended the hearings played an important role in getting the delegates at the UN to discuss this burning issue. The name
Zimbabwe or Mugabe were not mentioned. But ultimately the issues raised were very relevant to the Zimbabweans crisis.

There were only three Zimbabweans at the UN hearings. But they made a difference.

The UN experience was also an eye opener. The question is: What role is the UN willing and able to play in Zimbabwe.

A good answer to this question may come from an incident in the movie, Welcome Sarajevo. In this movie a passionate American journalist, played by Woody Harrelson, goes to the war- torn city of Sarajevo. Here he notices the
Serbs indiscriminately shooting and killing the city’s residents. The worst incident is the shelling of children at a playground.

When United Nations peacekeeping troops arrive several days later the American journalist angrily asks them: “Where have you been?” To which the commander of the peacekeeping forces, on being told how many people were killed, retorts, “Only that? ”

Then he gives a list of how many more people have been killed in conflicts around the world. And he said the United Nations cannot handle
problems of the whole world.

This may well be the answer to what Zimbabweans can realistically expect from the United Nations. It is increasingly apparent that the UN is focusing on what it considers priority needs.

And Zimbabwe does not appear to be an area of priority concern for the UN.