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Why Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is Right on Black Empowerment in Africa

Why Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe is right on black empowerment in Africa
You know there are so many swirling layers of hypocrisy surrounding the whole issue of Zimbabwe and the international media’s depiction of its difficulties it’s difficult to know where to begin. I’ll say at the outset that I’ve no reason to be pro or anti-Mugabe being neither black, African or Zimbabwean, but merely Irish.
Mugabe, for whom I have an unqualified respect, put it best in response to the utterly unfounded assertions among Western leaders that there was tampering in the elections of 2002 when he said;

“There is no one who can teach us about elections. There is no one who can teach us about democracy and human rights. There was no democracy here, no human rights at all until the people of Zimbabwe decided to fight.”

This is a man who had spent over a decade in Rhodesian jails fighting for the simple right to cast a vote and when independence was finally accomplished in 1980 with the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement thereby granting Zimbabwe political independence it is nevertheless a fact that history will record that decolonisation and therefore true autonomy was only achieved with the land resettlements of 2000-03.

The unprecedented squawking from the BBC and Westminster appealing to the democratic instincts and social justice imperatives of an essentially uninformed readership is testament to some of the precious toes that have been trodden on to achieve these ends. Not only are the vast majority of recently dispossessed white landowners British citizens via their dual passports but their number also includes members of the House of Lords and most importantly, Nicky Oppenheimer, the grandson of the greatest thief of the 20th century, Ernest Oppenheimer, who himself succeeded the greatest thief of the 19th century, Cecil Rhodes, as carteliser in chief of African diamonds, gold and anything else they could get the natives to dig from their own soil and hand to them.

Not only does Oppenheimer own half of Botswana, a stewardship which has seen the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world and a government so completely in his pocket that it continues to export unpolished and uncut 95% of its diamond resources to the UK thereby starving the development of local tertiary industries he also happened to lose his family ranch with the first of Mugabe‘s compulsory acquisitions back in 97’ – an unproductive ‘plot’ the size of Belgium in the heartland of Natural Region AA plus good (ie. optimum rainfall and prime arable land) which alone could have provided a livelihood for 50,000 families.

Now, if ever an aspiring filmmaker wishes to catch in a single moment an upheaval in the history of decolonisation it is the issuance of this missive on this leech at this time. Does anyone in their wildest dreams believe that the staggering impertinence of summarily claiming Oppenheimer’s property and those of his ilk for redistribution would produce anything other than howls of derision from the world’s media – given our well-schooled awareness of how these corporate information gathering and agenda setting institutions generate their revenue streams?

Time and again I’ve heard the extraordinary claims that land reform has only benefitted Mugabe and his so-called cronies. Well he must have a long list of henchmen and busboys given that over a million people have been resettled between the land reform programmes of the 90’s and the Fast-Track Resettlement of 2000+. 138,000 families drawn from ‘the rural poor’ and those in congested households have been provided with small allotments in the prime agricultural regions of the highvelds in Mashonaland and the Midlands due to the third chimerunga/bush war. There has been no media coverage of this whatsoever.

None. Zero.

There was an opportunity to avoid some of the chaos of the resettlements back in 1998 when a Donor’s Conference was convened in Harare. A ball-park figure of $2 billion was determined by independent analysts to be capable of once and for all settling the question of compensation for white farmers – $180,000 was pledged. At the time, both Mugabe and Kofi Annan stressed that the equitable sharing of productive capital ie. land, was necessary for sustainable development and warned that if the problem was not addressed ‘they’ the farmers in the communal areas, would ‘resettle themselves’.

We have to appreciate the pressure Mugabe was under here from the grassroots who by this stage had waited two decades for the British government to make good its commitments under Lancaster. When Claire Shortt, then development secretary said the UK had no especial obligations to fund land reform the situation just got further enflamed. Everyone is aware now surely that the communal areas, to which the indigenous blacks were trundled into at gunpoint during the colonial era, were becoming increasingly fallow not least because of the withdrawal of inputs during the austerity packages of structural adjustment in the 90’s. The World Bank in fact withdrew funding on a report that would have demonstrated beyond dispute the increasing degradation of these areas – presumably because its publication would have given impetus for an accelerated land reform. Their degradation has been meticulously documented over the years by regional agronomists such as Moyo and Deininger who have never ceased issuing warnings of an impeding agrarian implosion.

No country is free of its ‘fat cats’ and golden circles but agrarian reform in Zimbabwe was a function of widespread discontent with an elite minority sitting on the best arable land. When 4,500 white farmers own 70% of the best land while six million black farmers eke out a precarious existence on the remainder the situation is always going to be inherently volatile. A further factor which caused huge resentment was the fact that much of this potentially arable land held by whites wasn’t even being used for agricultural purposes but was instead devoted to the expansion of safaris or simply left to the elements by absentee owners.

If you wish to attribute blame for Zimbabwe’s crisis elsewhere other than the interminably recalcitrant white farmers or the morally defunct antics of the British government you could do worse than look at the US Congress. By the way, I also include the Irish government and media in this criticism. One minister, Mary O’ Rourke, who hasn’t the foggiest notion of anything pertaining to Zimbabwe and who once referred to black immigrants here as ‘bongos’ suggested Mugabe ‘should be taken out’ and our own Tony O’Reilly, who has extensive newspapers holdings in the South African market (some 40% broadsheet circulation) has ran a relentlessly savage campaign of villification against Mugabe and ZANU-PF without the slightest attempt of situating the crisis within its proper historical context. Sadly, most people reading this will no doubt think he deserves a medal.

As to the US Congress, the relevant document here is the Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act (ZIDERA) signed into law by George W. Bush in 2001. It was sponsored by the late Jessie Helms who oversaw its movement through committee stages in Congress. Helms is most noted for his opposition to the black civil rights movement in America, his defense of the apartheid regime in South africa and his support for Smith’s government in Rhodesia. The Act allows for much more than the specific targeting of certain (well over a 100) Zanu-PF party members. It calls for American officials in the IMF, World Bank and other multilateral development banks and agencies to “oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe,” and to vote against any reduction or cancellation of “indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe.”

So, there is the specific targeting of individual members of Zanu via the freezing of assets etc. and then there is separately, and more importantly, the attempted financial ostracisation of the government of Zimbabwe. When a 14 trillion dollar economy decides it doesn’t want to do business with you you may be assured of trouble.

This law meant ‘Zimbabwe’, not ZANU, Mugabe or his so-called ‘cronies’ couldn’t access lines of credit from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the African Development Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency and, perhaps most surprisingly the African Development Bank. Why is this? Because the US is a majority shareholder in the ADB. When Simba Makoni, a retired ZANU-PF finance minister tried to secure a position with the ADB a couple of years back his appointment was blocked by a veto wielding US official.

Most developing countries live a precarious existence at the best of times and simply must have access to lines of credit if they are going to keep the ship afloat. The first crash of the Zimbabwean dollar, in fact, came in 1997 when the IMF withdrew its support for balance of payments. On this occasion they did so because Mugabe had given in to demands by the War Veterans Association (who were the primary force behind the ‘land invasions’, ie egalitarian land redistributions) to provide them with long sought after compensatory payments.

ZIDERA also provides for the setting up and support of media networks ‘to promote democracy’ etc. In reality, this is a dedication to regime change. The Economist’s article on the March elections made much hay of the fact that the ‘Zimbabwe Electoral Support
Network’ which it described as ‘an independent outfit’ was being harassed and forced to close its offices. In fact, it receives financial support from the National Endowment for Democracy – the same Washington outfit that played a pivotal role in the 2002 coup in Venezuela.

Anyway, there’s much more to ZIDERA than targeted sanctions. As Chester Crocker, author of the ‘constructive engagement’ policy for South Africa during the shameful era of apartheid pacification, and who also had a hand in its drafting, declared to his fellow members of congress; “I hope you all have the stomach for what we are about to do, we are going to make the Zimbabwean economy scream …”

Well, the EU and US almost got the civil war they wanted. They ‘smoked them out’ so bad they’re still smokin’. When all they needed to apply the finishing touches was a nod from Mbeki, the de facto head of SADC, Zimbabwe’s main trading bloc, he baffled them all by his loyalty to Mugabe, despite Blair’s threat to pull the plug on NEPAD. Then came the double whammy of the Chinese and Russian vetos on the plan to impose further sanctions via a Security Council mandate. The imperial blockade had ground to a halt. Khalilzad, US ambassador to the UN turned to his Russian counterpart and in earshot of the entire multinational chamber told him Russia’s status as G8 member would have to reviewed ‘in light of the recent vote’.

Less than a month later Russian tanks had entered Georgia.

Remember the Millenium Development Goals and the Monterrey Consensus – the commitment of .7% of GNP to developing countries – which Ireland is currently reslashing because we couldn’t squirrel away our boom time surplus – well in the case of DFID, the British equivalent to Irish Aid – this went in Zimbabwe to agricultural inputs and supports for the Large Scale Commercial Farmers i.e. naturalised Britons exporting tobacco to the UK.

You know, I think part of the reason why the media coverage of events in Zimbabwe are so transparently ludicrous is that they would have us believe that the MDC are some kind of indigenous people’s movement comprised of native black Zimbabweans fighting nobly to preserve the sacred institute of democracy when in fact it was hastily cobbled together by white commercial farmers who sensed the level of frustration building up in the countryside and tried to prevent their forced expulsion from land which their forebears had, in any case, stolen at gunpoint. Sanctions levelled all round to cripple an entire country, drain infrastructure and resources and all for what, the protection of a few thousand feudal overlords living in an antiquated time capsule reminiscent of Tsarist Russia.

The argument made that the land was in many cases ‘procured legitimately’ by those, such as independent investors and multinationals simply doesn’t wash given that Lancaster always stipulated a finite timeframe for repatriation. The MDC was formed in 1999 and rallied around the ‘NO’ vote to amend the Lancaster House provisions of the Constitution which would have enabled a speedier, more equitable land reform. Prominent white Rhodesians among their number included Ian Kay, Eddie (‘let’s privitise the Central Statistics Office’) Cross and David Coltart, a legal expert and shadow justice minister who was poised to reverse forced land acquisitions had they gained control after the 2002 elections.

And of course, Roy Bennett, the poor ‘dispossessed’ white farmer who served as the conduit for funds for all those benign Westminster NGO’s and whom Amnesty Ireland’s Zimbabwe group once urged me to support in procuring his release – I am no longer renewing my subscription. The white Rhodesian element of the MDC initially wanted 8 of the 13 ministries offered to MDC-T – all of them in areas connected to land and resource management.

The economy is in a shambles, a real shambles that is, not like the credit-bubble-inflicted malaise underwritten by corporate corruption that we’re crying about here on our side of the fence, God help us. There are those, of course, within ZANU who make the most of any evidence of extra productivity and how can you blame them? When I look to immigration figures it is to concrete reliable sources such as the UNHCR and the cholera epidemic is one of the worst of its kind and dwarfs the outbreaks that we’ve seen in South Africa recently but all of these dislocations are the paroxysms of disengagement from an entrenched and kleptocratic elite ethnic minority who simply refuse to cede their control over the country and its resources.

History, however, is not on their side and their failure pre-ordained and yet thus far they have been content to drag the country through hell. The real villains of this piece are the myopic bureaucrats who failed to convince their political paymasters of the necessity for proper compensation packages for white farmers back in 1998 at the Donor’s Conference in Harare, citing, among other implausible reasons, Mugabe‘s support for the anti-Mobutu faction in the Congolese civil war – the US and UK had been sponsoring the incursions of proxy militias from Rwanda and Uganda in the same war!

But then again, who among them thought their newly crowned knight of the realm Robert Mugabe, surely ‘our kind of guy’ would have green lighted forced seizures?

As to the use of violence!

When I think of all the foot-dragging and promises, the veneer of independence and the system of patronage set up between the big farms and development agencies, the founding and sponsoring of the MDC by the Commercial Farmworker’s Union, the moral vacuity and prostituted collusion of virtually every organ of the international press and everything else which propped up this sorry kleptocracy I only wish I was there myself to run a pitchfork through them.

A sublime manifestation of natural justice if ever there was one and yet it drops like a dead penny into the minds of most of us.

I wonder where we lost the plot at all.

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