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Why We Spoke Out on Zimbabwe
by Bill Fletcher, Jr., President of TransAfrica Forum
The decision to issue a statement strongly condemning the current regime of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe was far from easy. President Mugabe had been a hero of mine and I had been a strong supporter of the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) during the national liberation war. Nevertheless, as with my other colleagues and co-signatories, it became clear that silence and inaction on the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe was no longer acceptable. Indeed, it is not clear that failing to comment on developments there had ever been a proper course of action.
Many of us in the US who see ourselves as progressive have interpreted developments in Zimbabwe in very different ways. Honest people can disagree. At the same time, it is important for us to identify the source of the disagreement, particularly if we ever hope to overcome such disputes.
In the case of Zimbabwe, the rhetoric of the Mugabe regime is disconnected from the actual evolution of the country post-independence. The irony of the current rhetoric of President Mugabe is that its militancy stands in opposition to many of the practices that he himself followed in the years subsequent to the Lancaster House Agreements of December 1979 that brought about Zimbabwe's freedom in 1980. President Mugabe, the truth be told, supported the structural adjustment policies insisted upon by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In fact, it was largely the backward and anti-people economic policies of his government that resulted in the development of a major opposition movement in the late 1990s.
President Mugabe has convinced many people of good will, here in the USA, that his stand on land redistribution demonstrates his commitment to true Black majority rule in Zimbabwe. What is strikingly odd about this is that land redistribution could have been conducted over the last 10 years (for the first ten, due to the terms of the Lancaster House Agreements, there was little that could be done). In fact, it needed to happen. The demand for land by agricultural workers and farmers was a real initiative. While it is absolutely the case that the US and Britain were to assist in subsidizing the land redistribution (and in fact reneged on this promise) the issue of land redistribution was largely ignored by President Mugabe's government until a mass opposition movement arose that challenged his, until then, undisputed leadership role. It was only at that juncture that President Mugabe championed immediate land redistribution, but in a manner that benefited not the mass of agricultural workers and farmers, but instead first and foremost the party faithful of the ZANU-PF-the ruling party.
Deciding to speak out on Zimbabwe does not mean that I or the other signatories either support or oppose the principal opposition movement: the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Rather, speaking out represents a concern that the current political repression conducted by the government is fueling fires that might ignite into civil war. The MDC, contrary to President Mugabe's propaganda, is neither a small clique of opponents nor agents of Western imperialism. They are a mass-based opposition that has often contradictory politics. That said, driving the country to the brink of civil war not only threatens the future of Zimbabwe, but as well threatens to destabilize Southern Africa as a whole.
A final point. Speaking out on Zimbabwe is also a 'preemptive strike' against the 'regime change rhetoric'-and possible actions-of the Bush administration and the Blair administration (in Britain). Both the USA and Britain have opportunistically seized upon the crisis in Zimbabwe over the last two years in order to focus attention on the plight of the white farmers. Despite many other human rights situations that have been far worse, both within Africa as well as globally, Bush and Blair have called attention to the alleged plight of the white farmers and their loss of land. We, who have signed this letter, share nothing in common with the politics or sentiments of Bush or Blair. We are, in fact, quite worried that in the triumphalism that has followed the US/British invasion of Iraq, that Bush and Blair may choose to opt for a military intervention (covert or overt) in Zimbabwe in order to install a regime more favorable to their imperial ambitions. Such a step would have a catastrophic impact region wide.
I believe, in issuing the open letter to President Mugabe, that Africans must resolve the situation in Zimbabwe. There is no role for the regime change mania of Bush and Blair. Yes, it is time for a new, progressive leadership to emerge in Zimbabwe, a leadership that draws from the best elements of the ZANU-PF and the MDC. A leadership that charts a course for Zimbabwe toward self-determined development and democracy. But that course must be developed by Africans, with the help of Zimbabwe's neighbors, and absent the megalomania and interventionism of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing Street.
[Note: for excellent background reading I would suggest Patrick Bond & Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe Plunge: Exhausted Nationalism, Neo-liberalism and the Search for Social Justice. Published by Merlin Press, 2002].