Online edition of Shunpiking
What is the central issue?
The European Union has imposed ‘smart’ sanctions on Zimbabwe – meaning that President Robert Mugabe and high-ranking officials will be refused visas to travel to EU member states and will have their assets in Europe frozen. The Commonwealth has also suspended Zimbabwe for one year. Canada has taken similar action.
But is democracy in Zimbabwe really under threat, as the EU, the U.S. and the media would have us believe? And will the punitive measures imposed by Western powers enhance Zimbabwe’s democratic process?
There is a deliberate and concerted effort to demonize the Zimbabwean government by Western powers, international financial institutions and the media. The title of worst government on Earth, the most brutal, destructive is now bestowed on Zimbabwe. What has not been provided in the media is the necessary contextualization, particularly a discussion of the historical forces and events that have shaped and continue the country.
Events reveal that land – or more precisely the distribution of land ownership – is a key issue for Zimbabweans.
The current ‘fast track’ programme of expropriating white-owned farms and redistributing them among black Zimbabweans is a departure from the land reform programme that Mugabe agreed with international donors. Instead, his government is belatedly trying to put right an injustice that should have been resolved at the time of independence in 1980. The 1979 Lancaster House agreement, which oversaw the transition to majority rule in Zimbabwe, ensured that the Zimbabwean government could use local currency only to buy land from farmers who were willing to sell. If it were to expropriate their property, it would have to compensate them with scarce and precious foreign exchange. This agreement bound Zimbabwe for the next twenty years to a programme of land reform whose implementation would have cost billions.
Britain handed over only a fraction of the money required – £44 million – to make it happen. Once the agreement expired in 2000, negotiations resumed, but Britain added new conditions to its funding. By this time the patience of some of Zimbabwe’s self-styled war veterans had run out, and they started attacking farms.
The international community has also continued to meddle in Zimbabwe’s affairs. The U.S., Britain, the EU, Canada and Australia have made a list of demands, stating that Zimbabwe does not pass the "democracy test" – overlooking the fact that democracy imposed from without is not democracy at all. Thus, a series of actions were taken that had profound implications.
• Since November 1998, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) implemented undeclared sanctions by warning off potential investors, freezing loans and refusing negotiations on debt.
• In September 1999, the IMF suspended its support for economic adjustment and reform in Zimbabwe.
• In October 1999, the International Development Association (IDA, a multilateral development bank) suspended all structural adjustment loans, credits, and guarantees to Zimbabwe’s government.
• In April 2000, the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust was established by mainly white Zimbabwean commercial figures, British ex-foreign ministers and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, Chester Crocker. The trust’s stated objectives are "to help the democratic will of the people flourish" – but several of its patrons have substantial commercial interests in Zimbabwe. Crocker is a director of Ashanti Goldfields which owns Zimbabwe’s largest gold mine, and Sir John Collins, the driving force behind the trust, is the Zimbabwean chairman of National Power, a British company with a US$1.5 billion contract to develop a power station in the country.
• In May 2000, the IDA suspended all other new lending to the government.
The singling out of Zimbabwe seems odd, when you consider that the U.S. and the UK have close relations with Uganda and Rwanda. Neither country allows opposition parties and both have troops in the Congo. There are currently more problematic election issues elsewhere in Africa that are not generating anything near the same degree of interest. In Madagascar, for example, more than half a million supporters of the opposition came out in early February 2002 to protest the result of the first round of their elections.
The real issue for the West is not the accountability of the Zimbabwean government to its people, but the its dissatisfaction with the Zimbabwe’s lack of compliance with its demands. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and the UK have got used to a high degree of compliance on the part of African governments – and they are no longer prepared to tolerate those that insist doing things their own way. Faced with less than full compliance on the key issues of land reform and military withdrawal from the Congo, the Anglo-American and European powers are bringing out the big stick.
As the champion of a guerrilla war for independence that peasants supported because of ZANU’s platform of genuine land reform, Mugabe was in no position to rein in those who represented the core of his electoral support. It seems that he decided to cut his losses with the donors and use the issue of land reform as an election bid, in the hope that it will overcome popular resentment over falling living standards.
There have been strong reactions in African politics to the international attacks on Zimbabwe. Amara Essy, secretary-general of the African Union, formerly the Organisation of African Unity, endorsed Mugabe’s initial rejection of foreign election observer teams, pointing out that Western countries do not invite African states to monitor their elections . South Africa’s foreign minister N’kozosana Zuma has been similarly forthright: "Our position is that there is no country, however powerful, which has the right to influence next month’s presidential election [ie. the elections held in March 2002] results in Zimbabwe. To show that we are believers in democracy, we should leave Zimbabweans to choose the president of their choice." 
It is foreign meddling in Zimbabwe that is undermining the accountability of the government to its electorate, since it has forced the contestants to respond to an external agenda. This is a far bigger threat to democracy than any of ZANU-PF’s so-called bullying tactics. n
1 "We share the blame for Zimbabwe", George Monbiot, Guardian, 20 April 2000
2 "OAU endorses Mugabe’s rejection of foreign observer teams", South African Press Association (Johannesburg), 15 February 2002
3 "South Africa: Minister says no country has rights to influence Zimbabwe polls", BBC Monitoring Service – UK; 17 February 2002
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