Can Zimbabwe Become Africa’s Cuba, Part 2

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Which Way Out:  ZANU PF, MDC or Moyo’s Third Way?

If ZANU PF has been hurt by the state of the economy and US led sanctions, so has the MDC.  The sanctions were called for by the MDC.  However sanctions work when most of the population is against the sitting government, when the only solution envisaged is complete change, and when the people under that government have nothing to lose.  However, unlike apartheid South Africa, these conditions did not exist in Zimbabwe at the point of the United States passing the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in 2001[13].   

By calling for the sanctions [14] the MDC at best could only consolidate its power base and alienate ZANU-PF supporters.  Unless MDC was hoping for a US intervention, it could not under the circumstances have amassed the critical mass it needed to make Zimbabwe ungovernable thereby forcing ZANU-PF out office.  Such a move depended on alienating vast numbers of ZANU-PF supporters from ZANU-PF but instead it succeeded only in strengthening their loyalty to ZANU-PF.  In South Africa, the black majority had nothing more to lose and equally important were supportive of the A.N.C.  Even if some may have had doubts regarding the call for sanctions, a long history of A.N.C. agitation and sacrifices of life and limb on their behalf and behest had built enough trust that when in doubt the maxim would have been to err on the A.N.C. side.  By contrast, MDC cannot pull ZANU-PF supporters into its camp and also steel its supporters as they go through the hardships created by sanctions– not enough trust has been built between the party and the people. 

By MDC calling for sanctions without first assessing where it stands in relation to Zimbabweans and their history of struggle while at the same time having only the support of the urban segment of the population who unlike in Apartheid South Africa have something to lose, the opposite of what it intended has happened.  The MDC Party is understood as having created the conditions that are taking food away from the table of the urban worker and have put the middle class in a precarious situation.  As a result, the MDC Party position has weakened to such an extent that it has been unable to take advantage of the government’s tragic follies like Operation Clean-Up – an opportunity that any other party would have seized.  The sanctions then have buoyed ZANU-PF while proving to be divisive for the MDC Party.  In short calling for sanctions was a mistake.

The MDC Party is also plagued by image problems because of its close ties to white farmers and the Bush and Blair governments.  “We want regime change in Zimbabwe. But we want regime change through the ballot, not the bullet,” Morgan Tsvangirai is quoted as saying to a European crowd.  The language of regime change is borrowed from Blair and Bush.  In fact in a thinly veiled invitation for the West to intervene that is highlighted by the Black Commentator, Morgan Tsvangirai is quoted as saying that “Zimbabwe must be seen as a test case for Africa, for the resolve of leaders and peoples to deal with a rogue and illegitimate regime”.  The Black Commentator makes the following observation:  “The most damning charges concern the MDC’s funding, and on this count, the BC is in agreement, Tsvangirai has been corrupted by the imperialists, and shamelessly so [15]”.  In a country that saw independence only in 1980 and where memory of colonialism is still alive, this close relationship to Blair and Bush at a time when they are engaged in an illegal occupation of Iraq, only alienates the MDC from would be supporters in Zimbabwe and outside.   Iraq recalls conquest, occupation and the implementation of indirect rule.  MDC’s close tie to both Blair and Bush provides the platform for indirect rule in colonial memory and remembrance. 

In international media as well as in Zimbabwe there has been discussion and even hope of a third way led by Jonathan Moyo.   He is being promoted and has cultivated himself as the messiah who will part the political sea of Zimbabwe and lead the people into a Third Way.  Jonathan Moyo was ZANU-PF’s Minister of Information and ostensibly broke party rules by running for a Parliamentary seat as a way of retaliating against ZANU-PF after he felt sidelined by Mugabe in the debate over the Vice-Presidency.  He himself argues that he simply got tired of the way ZANU-PF betrayed democratic ideals.  The Third Way understands itself as providing a break from Mugabe while continuing with policies that pursue equality. On this very basis, it also distinguishes itself from the MDC which it understands as representing white farmer interests in Zimbabwe.  The Third Way seeks to present itself as the representing the best of both worlds.

But for having been a staunch supporter of Mugabe, Jonathan Moyo is viewed with suspicion for having jumped ship by ZANU-PF and MDC supporters.  As Information Minister, he was very visible and recent memory of him is as a staunch defender of ZANU-PF.  For ZANU-PF supporters, he has shown he can be disloyal.   For MDC supporters, he is already compromised by his former loyalty to ZANU-PF.  But the only way he can create a third way is by splitting the two parties.  As one person put it to me, the problem is not only that both parties stand on absolutes, but so do their followers.  As he put it, ZANU-PF supporters would die for Mugabe and the MDC supporters would kill Mugabe.  Yet, Moyo needs to be able to get enough supporters from both camps to form a viable party.  Even if he does some ZANU-PF supporters, he will not get enough of them to bring him to the political table because ZANU-PF has its supporters in the rural areas that have directly benefited from land redistribution – they will not abandon ship.  He will need to either discredit the MDC or form an alliance with it.  By trying to undo the MDC he will sound like ZANU-PF.  By forming an alliance, he will sound like MDC.   Jonathan Moyo at this stage remains in the back burners.

ZANU-PF’s support base is in the rural areas where people now have some land and amongst war veterans.  With the majority of the population in the rural areas, even if we granted the MDC full support of the urban populations, the result would be a near stalemate that slightly favors ZANU-PF.  War Veterans in any society are always a powerful group – they are the emblem of a people’s nationalism, national conscience and society prides itself to the extent it recognizes their contribution.  Unlike countries like Kenya which attempted to bury its war for liberation along with its national heroes like Dedan Kimaathi in unmarked graves with the hope the betrayal of their struggle would remain buried with them, Zimbabwe celebrates its freedom fighters.  Each year, there is a three-day-weekend celebration that features amongst other things an all night musical celebration, a National Heroes Day, and a presidential visit to an acre dedicated to those who died.  The veterans community is not aged Zimbabwe having won its independence in 1980.   Their war has yet to be lost to the lethargy of younger generations which tend to file away the experiences of the older generation as they lose their immediacy. Given the relative youth of the war veterans, they will be around for many more years keeping both the government and the opposition in check in regards to how dreams of independence are met. 

ZANU-PF, Pre-emptive Sanctions and Public Opinion

If globalization has done anything, it has further blurred the lines between boundaries of strong and the weak nations and the weaker nations are all the more vulnerable.  If we think of globalization as the next stage of an imperialism that begins with slavery, if we think of globalization as once and for all stamping the world America’s backyard, it follows that US public opinion weighs more than Zimbabwe’s public opinion.  What the United States under Bush realized is that as long as US Citizens agreed or did not interfere with its foreign policy, international opinion could not be an overriding factor.  After all who really controls the money that keeps the United Nations afloat?  Who really controls the World Bank, literally a bank that turns millions of dollars in profit each year and is therefore in tune with its Western sponsors?  Therefore, through international funding organizations and implied threat of direct military or economic action, Bush can ignore world opinion.  After all, what can they really do to stop him? Pre-emptive war or economic action is the end result of an empire that is no longer self-effacing, that no longer has illusions about what it must do in order to fulfill an imperial destiny.

Traditionally sanctions were called upon by the majority voices of the oppressed; now they have become a weapon of the strong against the weak.  South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle appealed to the US citizenry and eventually forced Reagan, who preferred strategic engagement which is to say to do nothing but continue profitable relationships, to declare sanctions.  But because the US citizenry views Mugabe through the eyes of the media and Bush, Zimbabwe through economic pressure can be stopped or contained from infecting other poor nations with the disease of redistribution.  In this instance, Zimbabwe sanctions, like the war on Iraq, are preemptive.  At the moment ZANU-PF forcefully took farms from white farmers, undermined the basis of private property and naturalized white property rights, whatever actions it took thereafter were going to be in opposition to the ideology of Bush.  Redistribute democratically or redistribute autocratically, Bush and by extension the West was going to declare Zimbabwe a rogue state.

But instead of realizing the amount of opposition it was going to face and factor in Western public opinion as part of a necessary defense from Bush and co., and therefore justify its actions rightly or wrongly, ZANU-PF came out swinging.  Anyone who raised a concern, legitimate or illegitimate was dismissed off-hand.  Long before the West had laid its siege, ZANU-PF by turning its back on international public opinion had began its own siege.  ZANU-PF has lost so much support amongst people in the West that the sanctions have hardly raised a murmur.

Perhaps the Look East Philosophy will at least buoy the Zimbabwean economy though this will depend on whether the Chinese are going to invest in Zimbabwe as friends or as venture capitalists.   But as things stand the Chinese presence can be felt in Harare.  Some of the public buses are Chinese are as the planes that fly to Victoria Falls.  And the term, Look East has become part of the everyday language.  It is not clear how deeply the Chinese are willing to get involved in Zimbabwe but at whatever level, as far as I could tell, they are in for the long haul.

But whichever way Zimbabwe goes, the changes are irreversible and an attempt to return Zimbabwe to pre-land redistribution days will be at great human cost.  If we agree that land redistribution is a necessary component of democracy as a result of the stark inequalities that exist in countries like Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, perhaps our job is to make sure that Zimbabwe thrives and that the process of land-redistribution benefits those who were dispossessed by colonialism and neocolonialism.  On a question of reversibility that I put to Mrs. Mutumbwa, she had this to say “No one is ever going to take my land from me again – I will die here fighting if need be”.  I found no cause to doubt her.

Zimbabwe, Africa and Diaspora and Democracy with Content
Whatever one chooses to think of Mugabe, ZANU PF, MDC and all the actors in Zimbabwe, it is important to keep in mind that Zimbabwe also acts as a metaphor for and of other African countries.  Hence, as I said in the introduction, the reluctance of African leaders who having sworn to defend life and property (whose life? whose property?) are fearful that Zimbabwe will trigger calls for land reform in their backyard.  In this sense, perhaps Zimbabwe recalls Cuba – it remains, rightly or wrongly, a symbol of the search for a democracy with content, a democracy that contains within it equality, universal health care, land and wealth redistribution – that basically contains within it the seed that human societies can be arranged in such a way that the elite do not thrive at the expense of a poor majority. 

Symbolizing a search for a democracy with content are crucial terms here.  Regardless of what is happening on the ground in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe of Africa is one that questions what both colonial independence and multi-partyism have done to better material conditions of the African marginalized.   Whatever happens in Zimbabwe, unless the questions of land and freedom are addressed in a manner that is cognizant of colonial history, the future remains bleak.  In this sense Zimbabwe can be pushed to offer a solution or it can be forced into becoming a symptom of mayhem to come in the rest of Africa.

In Kenya, the fight for freedom was waged on two points – Land and Freedom.  At the point of independence, when it became clear that the wind of change had ushered in neocolonialism, land became a metaphor for freedom.  Land and Freedom became one and the same thing.  To regain land is to regain freedom and to regain freedom is to regain land.  What happens in Zimbabwe will have an effect all over Africa. Zimbabwe has ignited debate about (neo)-colonialism and redistribution of land in countries like Namibia, South Africa and Kenya to name just a few. 

Mugabe and ZANU-PF have lost a lot of support in the Diaspora.  More than anything that I discussed with various people in Zimbabwe, the one that struck most alarm was this one.  The organizations and activist leaders who are speaking out against Mugabe have a long history of political activism against United States domestic and foreign policies that globalize marginalization.  They have done their work by the African, the African American and the marginalized in the Diaspora.  In 2003, an open letter [16] to Mugabe titled “Statement On Zimbabwe” was written and signed by William Lucy, President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Willie Baker, Executive Vice President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Salih Booker, Executive Director, Africa Action Bill Fletcher, Jr., President, TransAfrica Forum and organizations like Black Radical Congress.  The open letter in part states that the signatories “view the political repression underway in Zimbabwe as intolerable and in complete contradiction of the values and principles that were both the foundation of your liberation struggle and of our solidarity with that struggle”.   The waning support is not only amongst progressives in the Diaspora who have impeccable records in their fight for human justice but also amongst Africans albeit more slowly.  Wole Soyinka, former prisoner of conscience and Nobel Prize laureate recently said that “President Mugabe was typical of “rogues and monsters” clinging to power in Africa [17]” and called for sanctions. So has Desmond Tutu.

In my view, there needs to be a dialogue about Zimbabwe between those of us who in spite of the various positions taken on Zimbabwe remain unequivocally opposed to the imperialist and racial instincts that are informing both Bush and Blair and are committed to a society where economic and political arrangements work for the majority and in which historical injustices are addressed.  In short those of us who are committed to a democracy with content need to dialogue over Zimbabwe.  In matters where meaning is contested depending on one’s situation, and where millions of lives depend on whose meaning wins, dialogue should never be closed.  This does not mean that one abandons his or her point of view. Rather it means viewing our different ideologies as starting points.  If Zimbabwe is not to be returned to the Berlin Conference, and Bush and Blair are steadily pushing world opinion in a direction where this can be done under the guise of democracy, we simply must return to our progressive tables and re-open the dialogue.

Conclusion:  Zimbabwe International Book Festival and Human Rights

Since I began with a story from my trip to Zimbabwe for Zimbabwe International Book Fair, I will end with one.  The festival was in two parts, the Indaba to which I was specifically invited which was a conference of sorts and the fair proper.  The theme of the Indaba was “Human Rights in Africa”.  In the Indaba very few of the participants focused on Zimbabwe since the topic invited participants to move outside of Zimbabwe and look at African philosophical systems and how the incorporated the idea of human rights.   It was an exciting time since even though I have spend a lot of time on African Philosophy, it is very rare that I have come across what can be badly termed as Applied African Philosophy.  Here was a problem, how does African Philosophy, political or otherwise deal with it?  One of the presenters argued that while the equivalent term for human rights can not be found in most African languages, the concept itself existed and was conceptualized in the notion of umuntu – of humanity – certainly an interesting idea.  This was speaking to the same questions that plague feminism, Marxism, socialism, questions of sexuality etc. in regards to what is African and what is Western, really a question that in its search for authentication forgets to look at the conceptual riches before it.  I therefore expected the sponsors, organizers, panelists and participants to find the debate stimulating and useful.

But to cut a long story short we were informed, even before we left Zimbabwe that the funding NGOs (most of them Western) in a huff and a puff had threatened not to fund the next book fair in 2006.  They specifically asked that Abafour Ankomah, the editor of New African be banned from ever attending another book fair.  The organizers we were informed were being accused by the donors of having invited only pro-Mugabe people.  Now, there were two, three maybe even four papers that spoke to Zimbabwe and came out in defense of ZANU-PF policies in the context of human rights.  But the overwhelming number of papers spoke to and debated the term Human Rights as it applied to Africa.   I would like to suggest that this is what worried the donors most.  Africans from different countries had gathered and were speaking to one another – Zimbabwe simply provided the occasion.  Ankomah’s closing remarks, part synthesis of the Indaba, rested mostly on the betrayal of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and his Pan-Africanist dream in relation to Zimbabwe.  But at the end of the day there are ways in which the questions of redistribution of land and justice precede Zimbabwe.  Africans have been questioning Western intrigues in Africa long before Mugabe became the lightning rod for everything that is going bad in Africa.  

Today the questions arise because colonialism has yet to atone for its history and legacy of inequality by giving back what it took.  So to me, inherent in the questions that the Indaba was tackling was the question of human rights and the means to practice them.  As a friend of mine once put it “I am tired of being told that I have human rights when I do not have the economic means to practice them”.   At the Indaba, were we to pretend the question of human rights and practice was peculiar to Zimbabwe?  Were we to talk about human rights within an empty democracy and outside a democracy with content? 

We were later told that when the topic of Human Rights was suggested the donors congratulated the organizers because they were sure it would provide a stage on which participants could attack the Zimbabwean government.  And when that did not happen, and in spite of a debate that spoke to so many necessary questions pertaining to Africa, the donor response was to threaten shutting down the festival.  The platform had already closed the debate long before we got there.  There is something wrong here.   The donors had an agenda of discrediting the Zimbabwean government through a proxy war in which we the presenters were to be used as the infantry.  When that failed through the accident of human rights being an African and not just a Zimbabwean question, they threatened to burn the whole place down.  This is horrifying and simply unacceptable.  No matter who does it. It is an illustration of what happens when we come to the conversation over Africa with our ideas not as starting points but as the end.  In our dialogue over Zimbabwe, we have to do better than this and from the start declare an open invitation and platform.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi (mukomangugi @ is the author of Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change and the forthcoming A Malignant History: Looking at America.  He is also the coordinator for the Toward an Africa without Borders Organization.
White farmer killed in Zimbabwe

SA ‘to learn from’ land seizures

South Africa’s bloody battle for land – Clifford Bestall

5 .
S African white farm to be seized

“Congo death toll up to 3.8m” – Guardian

D.R. Congo: Gold Fuels Massive Human Rights Atrocities – Human Rights Watch

“Moment of Truth for the Government of Uganda” – Peter J. Quaranto & Michael Poffenberger

 USA: Mumia Abu-Jamal — Amnesty International calls for retrial


Forced evictions are a human rights scandal – Vanguard

Botswana: Police fired on Bushmen

A bill to provide for a transition to democracy and to promote economic recovery in Zimbabwe
14.  The result of this bill and the so called smart sanctions employed by the EU against Zimbabwe can be     used to twist the arm of donor agencies in regards to giving loans to Zimbabwe and have undermined investor confidence in Zimbabwe. 
 The Debate on Zimbabwe will not be throttled.

16 .
Statement on Zimbabwe




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