Although not as elevated, today Zimbabwe
has taken a high profile place in corporate media headlines.
Are we getting the truth this time and can we rely on the
same progressives who broke through misinformation around
to do the same for us again?
This commentary is a response to another by
BC’s Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher Jr., titled “Z”
is for Zimbabwe; Turmoil & Silence as a Country Potentially
Unravels. Mr. Fletcher, also being a senior scholar
at the Institute for Policy Studies where I am a program director,
makes us colleagues. As I respect him for his analysis on
many if not most matters, we have differences when it comes
to Zimbabwe. There are several
points his commentary raises that I believe omit the complexity
and context of the issue.
Contrary to what is implied, many Africans
(people of African descent) interpret Zimbabwean developments,
not necessarily through romanticism, but with a valid rejection
of imperialism’s “mania for regime change”. Too often has
the public seen leaders and countries demonized simply as
a prelude for this policy.
right of anyone to criticize ZANU PF or Mugabe is valid and
should be reserved without a person being condemned as an
agent of the CIA or State Department. However, progressives
and certainly revolutionaries must necessarily include an
analysis of and explicit stand against US-British intervention.
This would mean also addressing why and how they are targeting
Zimbabwe. More often critics of ZANU PF and Mugabe
reduce US-British positions to mere words or rhetorical condemnations
when imperialism is never so passive. Not only did the US
State Department admit on April 5, 2007 that it was engaged
in efforts for regime change in Zimbabwe,
such efforts were written into the text of the US’ hypocritical Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic
Recovery Act of 2001.
This policy includes pervasive economic sanctions
(war without guns) designed to strangle the people into submission.
No matter what one’s position on ZANU PF and/or Mugabe, a
position against imperialism’s immoral assault on Zimbabwe should be a matter of principle, being
that “the stakes are too high.” After all, even though
Saddam Hussein was widely believed a cruel dictator, progressives
nevertheless oppose not only imperialism’s war on Iraq
but avidly opposed the preceding US
sanctions against Iraq.
case, hardly any stand is taken against imperialism and progressives
often corroborate much of the misinformation.
Specifically on Mr. Fletcher’s commentary the
following are a few instances where I feel more clarifications
Mr. Fletcher says: “We ignored the violent
crushing of a rebellion in the early years of the Mugabe administration”
but another side would say: “the violent crushing of a ‘violent’
rebellion.” I don't know any other way to put down a violent
rebellion than through violence. I’m assuming here that Mr.
Fletcher is referring to what took place in Matebeland, often
referred to as a massacre in order to demonize ZANU PF. It
is a situation too complex to do justice in this commentary
but knowing the alternative explanation is important. Following
an agreement to integrate the armed forces of ZANU, ZAPU and
Rhodesians to form a Zimbabwe National Army, it was agreed
that all guerrillas and Ian Smith soldiers were to surrender
their weapons to the national armory.
secretly decided not to, hiding massive arms caches on its
farms and in the bushes, including armored cars and heavy
artillery. After being discovered by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence
Organization, it is said that ZAPU failed to give a satisfactory
explanation for this leading to a massive exodus of ZAPU leaders
from the new government and the beginning of dissident activity
in Matebeland. Shona speaking people and commercial farmers
were being killed. Former ZAPU guerillas were roaming freely
with guns, terrorizing people, especially in Matebeland and
Midlands areas. The ZANU led government
could not of course let this go on and it is said that security
forces were deployed to end the dissident and banditry activity.
Unfortunately people were killed along with dissidents and
those who harbored them. However, what is more often mischaracterized
as a massacre was more like a small-scale civil war with civilian
casualties on both sides.
Subsequently, in 1987 ZAPU and ZANU leaders
held talks, which culminated in a Unity Accord and is now
celebrated annually on December 22nd, as ZAPU leaders were
again put into the fold to form a government of national unity.
It is instructive to note that the current National Chairman
of ZANU is a former ZAPU leader, the National Youth Chairman
is former ZAPU, the Second Vice President is former ZAPU,
and the National Army Commander is former ZAPU. In fact former
ZAPU members are now in control of many government and party
Mr. Fletcher says: “We ignored President
Mugabe's adoption of the International Monetary Fund and World
Bank formula of ‘structural adjustment.’”(ESAP) However,
this ignores the context of the times and the world situation.
Undoubtedly, it was a mistake to deal with the IMF and World
Bank but the conditions and constraints that led to Zimbabwe's
doing this were largely due to the collapse of the Soviet
Bloc and were felt by all countries trying to pursue an independent
path. Cuba referred to these conditions
as their Special Period. This also ignores that Mugabe’s government
abolished the ESAP, something done nowhere else in Africa.
Mr. Fletcher says: “And, we ignored the
fact that the land was not being redistributed.”
But some was. Although it represented only
one third of a 162,000 household target, more than 50,000
households had been resettled by 1990. Why wasn't more land
redistributed before the late 1990s? This
is explained by constraints of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement
that brokered Zimbabwe’s
independence and it is critical to note that the liberation
forces were encouraged to accept this agreement by fellow
liberation forces in the other Front Line states. The constraints
in this agreement were not the choice of Mugabe or ZANU.
Mr. Fletcher says: “Many well-intentioned
supporters of Zimbabwe
ignored or were oblivious to the growing protests that had
swept Zimbabwe in the 1990s among
workers who stood in opposition to the economic policies of
structural adjustment that were impoverishing them.” I
don’t know what the point is here. That instead of commending
ZANU-PF, for jettisoning ESAP as soon as it could, it is better
to support the opposition, which wants to cement ESAP in place?
Mr. Fletcher says: “And some of us closed
our eyes to who was actually benefiting from land redistribution
and who was not.” With all due respect this sounds like
a version of the land going not to the landless but to Mugabe's
cronies routine. I’m sorry but I can’t believe Mugabe had
134,000 cronies to dole land out to in 2002. Land audits bear
out the fact that land went mainly to the landless and had
reached over 250,000 families by 2006. Furthermore, not only
have there been eyewitness testimonies by others, such as
that of Baffour Ankomah, editor of New African who has seen
things for himself but I also personally know of a youth farming
cooperative started with land from this exercise. Having been
there and stayed at the home of the cooperative’s chairman
I attest that these youth are hardly cronies of Mugabe.
Mr. Fletcher says: “I found myself attempting
to explain to them (his Zimbabwean comrades) why many
African Americans were silent in the face of President Mugabe's
repression.” Actually, I haven't noticed this reluctance
disproportionate to any other issue. Maybe I've seen too many
articles taking the standard line against Zimbabwe.
I have experienced quite a bit of cynicism among most intellectual
African-“Americans” about my alternative position on the issues.
On the other hand I also find that the common Black person
on the street has legitimate reservations about anything remotely
resembling the regime change rhetoric of imperialism.
Mr. Fletcher’s position on the elections, I agree that it
would have been better to announce the results even with a
recount needed. Although I recognize that the MDC and Western
media would have treated the initial figure as real and the
recount as rigging. From that standpoint, I think I can understand
why the total has not been announced. But it still may have
been better to do so. The same rigging claims were going to
be tossed around regardless. Statements by British officials
and US make it clear that they will accept no result that
does not favor the opposition. What more is the iron first
and velvet glove of imperialism doing to ensure their interests
in Zimbabwe? Mr. Fletcher and I agree that the stakes
are higher than the mere outcome of an election but I contend
that it’s one of completely embedded neo-colonialism versus
the right to national self-determination and sovereignty.
Fletcher says: “Though originally planned as a labor party,
the MDC became a sort of united front of opponents of President
Mugabe, ranging the political spectrum from the revolutionary
Left to some conservative white farmers.” There is more
to this than one could gather from this summary. In December
1998, with Zimbabwe having already earned
the indignation of Western governments, a plan was presented
to the European Union’s Africa Working Group recommending
strategies for regime change. The plan called for the formation
of a political party from this spectrum of opponents in “civil
society”, naming in particular, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions (ZCTU). Prior to this, in May 1997 European trade unions
had already singled out the then Secretary General of ZCTU,
Morgan Tsvangirai as their presidential candidate against
Robert Mugabe. It’s with this backdrop that the MDC was born.
I agree with Mr. Fletcher’s assertion, “Whether
we like or dislike the MDC, or President Mugabe for that matter,
holds second place to whether there is a political environment
that advances genuine, grassroots democracy and debate in
Zimbabwe.” Clearly, however
such an environment cannot exist while foreign interests are
so pervasively manipulating so much of what appears to be
On January 24th, 1999 a meeting was convened
Royal Institute of International Affairs to discuss the EU’s
regime change policy. The theme of the meeting, led by Richard
Dowden, now the Executive Director of the Royal African Society,
- Time for Mugabe to Go?” The “confiscating” of white-held
land is what got a “yes” to the conference’s rhetorical question.
Dowden presented four options: