George Bush doesn’t want you to talk about empowering the people of Africa – and neither do some African Americans. Issuing thinly veiled threats, these individuals and organizations appropriate to themselves the colors Red, Black and Green, and label as treasonous all Black criticism of their current Strong Man of choice, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Espousing a twisted kind of Black “solidarity” that mirrors the “patriotism” of the white Right in the U.S., these groups claim that criticism of Mugabe gives aid and comfort to American and British schemes against the national independence of Zimbabwe. Since the Americans and British are always scheming to commit crimes against Africa, the threat to Black American critics of Mugabe and other African Strong Men is meant to be a permanent injunction. Under these terms, the time will never be right for progressives in the Diaspora to make common cause with the African people, if that involves strong critiques of specific African governments.

This crude gag rule was invoked in June against signatories to an Open Letter to President Robert Mugabe – men and women who rightfully claim “strong historical ties to the liberation movements in Zimbabwe, which included material and political support, as well as opposition to U.S. government policies that supported white minority rule.” The ongoing slanders against the signatories are designed to shut down African American discourse on the subject of African development and democracy, itself. This is absolutely unacceptable.

There are stooges of imperialism among the Zimbabwean opposition to Mugabe’s rule, including at the very top of the Movement for Democratic Change. That is to be expected. Mugabe’s war against civil society in Zimbabwe has succeeded in driving broad sections of his nation into a very small social space. Within that confined and crowded space, he brands all opponents as stooges. His supporters in the U.S seek to replicate those tactics in Black America, so that they can appear to be the true defenders of African liberation. Everyone else is warned to remain silent.

When a man says “Shut up,” you defeat him by refusing to do so. The best way to counter this ugly, thuggish and politically vacuous campaign against progressive Black Americans is to speak the Truth about all the parties in Zimbabwe. Our contribution to the debate revolves around five documents, listed and linked below. We invite readers to study the documents in depth.

Strong Man rule creates weak civil societies that are, ultimately, helpless to defend the nation against imperial power. Robert Mugabe has sought to strengthen his regime by weakening Zimbabwean civil society, thus making the nation more vulnerable to American and British subversion.

Black America is not Zimbabwe. This debate will not be throttled.

The Documents

The responsibilities of Black progressives

We must first assert in the strongest terms that it is the obligation of African Americans to treat developments in Africa with the utmost seriousness, to debate issues of human rights and economic development in Africa among ourselves and with others in the Diaspora and on the Continent, and to formulate positions on these matters so that we can most effectively serve the purposes of African liberation.  Circles associated with the December 12th Movement seek to monopolize and smother that discussion through intimidation and slander. This has the effect of narrowing the scope of African American solidarity with the peoples of the continent. It is, therefore, reactionary politics of the crudest kind, and must be rejected.

The mindset of the muzzlers is evident in the words of Professor James Small, the international vice president of the Organization of African American Unity. "There are too many Blacks in America pandering to right-wing elements," said Small, in the June 27 edition of The Final Call. "It is beyond my comprehension why any African American group would openly speak out against any African nation."

An amazing statement, but one that reveals the mentality of those who, as The Final Call puts it, are “in the forefront in orchestrating the response” to the June 3 Open Letter to President Mugabe. Although the December 12 Movement claims that its “hands off President Mugabe and the people of Zimbabwe” statements are directed at the Bush Administration and the British, their real audience is Black America, and the goal is to shut down debate. 

The Bush men could care less what either the December 12th Movement or progressive Black activists, unionists, and clergy have to say about U.S. Africa policy. This is an internal, African American affair, an attempt to taint Black progressives with U.S. foreign policy aims and, thus, delegitimize them – a lowdown, dishonest campaign.

Brink of civil war

In fact, the signers of the June 3 letter had long avoided harsh criticism of Mugabe – no doubt anticipating the reaction from the Strong Man’s Black American acolytes – even as the targets of his repression expanded to include virtually all sectors of civil society outside of Mugabe’s party control. It had become clear to any honest observer that Zimbabwe was poised at the edge of civil war – a pretext for U.S. intervention.

“In Zimbabwe today, all of our relations and our deep empathy and understanding of events there require that we stand in solidarity with those feeling the pain and suffering caused by the abuse of their rights, violence and intolerance, economic deprivation and hunger, and landlessness and discrimination,” wrote the signatories, to Mugabe. “We ask that you initiate an unconditional dialogue with the political opposition in Zimbabwe and representatives of civil society aimed at ending this impasse. We call upon you to seek the diplomatic intervention of appropriately concerned African states and institutions, particularly South Africa and Nigeria, and SADC and the African Union, to assist in the mediation of Zimbabwe's civil conflict.”

There are two factors that work against a British-American military action to effect a “regime change” in Zimbabwe: the willingness of Zimbabwe’s people to resist, and the potential reaction to such aggression from its African neighbors, first and foremost, South Africa. The June 3 signatories have excellent relations with the South African government and the broad coalition that underpins it, including and especially the trade unions. The signers were urgently signaling their support for an African solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis. Instead, they have been tarred and feathered as agents of George Bush. How absurd!

Mugabe’s generalized repressions weaken the nation, herding masses of the poor into alliances with those who would welcome an Anglo-American intervention (a subject to which we will return, below.) If his African American supporters pronouncements have any effect on Mugabe, it is to stiffen his resolve to resist African mediation – precisely the result desired by the Pirates in Washington.

Indeed, we at believe that Bush would have already taken military action in Zimbabwe, had the Iraqi occupation not sucked up most American and British military resources. For that, Africa can thank the Iraqis, not Mugabe or his African American surrogates.

Mugabe’s belated crusade

TransAfrica Forum President Bill Fletcher, Jr. wrote a followup letter on June 6, titled, “Why We Spoke Out on Zimbabwe.” Fletcher undercut the argument – ironically, one put forward with equal fervor by both Mugabe supporters and George Bush and Tony Blair – that Mugabe was the initiator of land reclamation. “[T]he 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,” wrote Fletcher. “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.”

These are facts known to every student of recent history and conscientious news-watcher. Zimbabweans themselves are painfully aware that, after assuming power 23 years ago, Mugabe was quite late to rise up against the global machinery of imperialism. “President Mugabe, the truth be told, supported the structural adjustment policies insisted upon by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank,” said Fletcher. “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.”

Mugabe was not interested in land reform until the issue was forced upon him. After two decades in power, Mugabe attempted to restore his revolutionary credentials by making a show of confrontation with a tiny white landholding class that he could and should have dismantled years before. He proceeded to establish his own tiny clique of new big landowners, while leaving the actual tillers of the soil largely out of the equation.

Naturally, the crisis deepened.

The “enforcers”

We chose to feature Obi Egbuna’s article, “Who else but Mugabe?” because the piece was widely read on the Web, and generally reflects the positions of those who pilloried Fletcher and the other June 3 letter signers.

Egbuna begins with threats, his clear purpose for writing. He warns that “any intense attacks or criticism of Mugabe while Blair and Bush seek to orchestrate his demise will put you on a collision course with the sons and daughters of the African Soil all over the planet.” Apparently, critics of Mugabe must wait for the “all clear” whistle from Egbuna’s Pan African Liberation Organization before venturing an analysis. Or, possibly, the imperialists will declare a time-out on aggression, making it safe for progressives to speak frankly on African issues.

Egbuna must be aware that this is not debate, but an attempt at bullying. He is trying to bring Mugabe’s terms of discussion to Black America.

In an effort to excuse Mugabe’s years of inaction on land reform – after an agreed upon ten-year moratorium on disturbing white ownership had passed – Egbuna writes: “If the land was seized right away, European and United States media would have had a field day making comparisons of Mugabe to Idi Amin in Uganda which would have been chaotic and it would have complicated things in Azania/South Africa and Namibia.” As if the British and American governments and their media have not been having a field day for the last several years! And hasn’t the current crisis “complicated things” for South Africa and Namibia? This is too weak for words, but passes for argument in Egbuna’s circles – the level of discussion that they would impose on Black America.

Mugabe’s U.S. supporters are not concerned about land reform and social transformation. They deal in comic book politics, barbershop rhetoric that means nothing to Black Zimbabweans who have worked the land for generations only to find they have not been favored to own it, or who have gained a deed to a plot but have no access to fertilizers or tools.

Mugabe’s stateside supporters like the idea of Africa, but have no ideas on how to empower the people of Africa. They prefer to limit the conversation to seizing the land from the whites, the bulk of whom have already been dispossessed.

Their real mission is to promote the image of the Great Man. “[P]resident Mugabe poses the most serious threat to Imperialist forces on the African Continent,” says Egbuna. In reality, Mugabe presents a great opportunity to the imperialists in Washington and London. His repression of civil society makes Zimbabwe ever more ripe for the plucking. At the same time, U.S. and British funding further subverts an opposition that now includes wide sectors of the population.

How to judge a revolution

For an example of the African American discussions that Mugabe’s surrogates want to suppress, we offer Professor Horace G. Campbell’s “Need for Debate on Realities of Life for the Zimbabwean Working Peoples.” Prepared for circulation at the Black Radical Congress’ June 20 national conference, the paper provides an excellent basis for discussion among activists who actually care about the people of Zimbabwe.

“More than 300,000 farm workers have been rendered homeless by this grabbing of land by the political class,” writes Campbell, a BRC executive council member and professor of political science and African American studies at Syracuse University:

“The question of liberation should no longer be judged on the basis of the actions of great leaders or revolutionary parties. The conditions of the working people, landless workers, communal farmers, women, students, youth and poor urban sufferers were deplorable under colonialism and the working conditions of the majority continues to be deplorable, whether they work for blacks or whites. By the end of the year 2002 the settler class had been liquidated as a political force in Zimbabwe.”

”These settlers have been replaced by African capitalists. The landless workers and poor women in Zimbabwe are no better off today than they were working for white settlers. This is the concrete reality and it is there for anyone who cares to grasp the situation of Zimbabwe beyond the rhetoric of leaders. Radical rhetoric as a disguise for state repression has been developed into an art form by the leadership in Zimbabwe.”

Prof. Campbell’s paper is a sweeping exposition of the urgent questions that Zimbabweans confront, but which the December 12th Movement and others would banish from the Black American agenda in favor of “unconditional support” for Robert Mugabe.

The cold truth is that Mugabe, having come late to the land issue, is just as politically invested in keeping the focus on white settlers as are London and Washington. “The seizure of the land is more or less complete in Zimbabwe,” said Campbell. “It is most important that Black radicals continue to engage the issues from the perspective of the ordinary Zimbabwean.” Campbell offers “ten points that are worth using as a litmus test to decide whether the political leadership in Zimbabwe is worthy of support in this period:

a. Response to the AIDS pandemic and leadership on the question of health care for the people
b. Violence and discrimination against women, including rape, violation and virginity tests
c. Question of peace and the use of the resources of the country to fight war or support peace. Soldiers in business enriching themselves and intimidating the population
d. Use of war veterans against innocent civilians, whether students, workers, opposition elements and the press
e. Hunger in the rural areas and the chaotic conditions caused by the manipulation of the land issue
f. The government’s Water Act of 1998 that privatized water and made it more inaccessible for the poor, especially women
g. The question of the rights of workers and the rights of trade unions to organize autonomously
h. African women in Zimbabwe should have the same rights to citizenship as males
i. Progressive activists must oppose the persecution of cultural workers and artists
j. Radicals and those who want an end to state violence must support the efforts of the mediating forces of [Nigerian] President Obasanjo and [South African] President Mbeki  (African Union) to find a peaceful solution to the present political differences in the society. These points provide a basis for the engagement with the Zimbabwean society and the Zimbabwean people. African liberation in the 21st century requires a different standard from the period of the glorification of great males.

Those who promote the cult of Mugabe in the U.S. consider it Black Treason to raise these points while George Bush and Tony Blair still live and breathe. Yet these are the issues that will decide how and whether millions of Zimbabweans survive.

Tsvangirai is unfit

The Pan African Liberation Organization’s Obi Egbuna does raise critical questions regarding the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the umbrella opposition organization headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. The most damning charges concern the MDC’s funding, and on this count, is in agreement: Tsvangirai has been corrupted by the imperialists, and shamelessly so.

It is up to others to explain by what road Tsvangirai came to be a threat to Zimbabwean sovereignty and independence, but such is clearly the case. In a May 29 interview with Zimbabwe Watch, a Dutch organization, the former trade unionist uttered words that could have been written for him by Condoleezza Rice: “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.”

Either Tsvangirai is a stupid man, or this is an invitation tailored to the Bush regime’s war against terror-prone “failed” and “rogue” states. Only two weeks ago, Tony Blair attempted to convince a summit of 14 “world leaders” to allow military action against sovereign states under the following conditions:

"Where a population is suffering serious harm as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect."

Although widely thought to be an after-the-fact endorsement of the Iraq invasion (and, therefore, rejected by the assembled leaders), the language fits neatly with the Blair-Bush rhetoric on Zimbabwe. Bush last week listed Zimbabwe as a “rogue” state, along with Myanmar, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Belarus.

Tsvangirai openly solicits funds from the imperialists. This is what he told Zimbabwe Watch:

“Countries of the north – the European Union, the United States, Canada, other countries of Europe – need to continue and increase their isolation of the ruling clique of Zimbabwe, to be consistent in use of the sanctions that they have imposed, and to develop new forms of pressure. Also, financial support is needed by the MDC for its work to make democratic change happen in Zimbabwe.”

His call for increased sanctions against his own country and for ominous “new forms of pressure” disqualifies Tsvangirai, the individual, for any support from African American progressives. We at denounce his statements, unequivocally.

However, Tsvangirai does not embody the opposition to Mugabe, which is as much a gathering of sectors and groups suppressed by Mugabe as it is those who seek to supplant him. TransAfrica’s Bill Fletcher characterizes the MDC as “a mass-based opposition that has often contradictory politics” – a delicate way of describing an ideologically diverse movement in a state of political flux. Horace Campbell edges closer to the mark. “It must be acknowledged,” he wrote, “that there are forces of the official opposition in Zimbabwe (MDC) who have made alliances with British and US imperialists. It would be a mistake, however, for progressive persons overseas to consider that all opposition to the Mugabe and ZANU government is pro-imperialist.”

Of course, it is in Mugabe’s interest to paint just such a picture. And Tsvangirai’s “alliances” do not in any way negate Mugabe’s role in, first, shielding the white settlers while acquiescing to a harsh IMF regime and, later, substituting crony capitalism for a real land redistribution system – what Campbell calls “structural transformation of the relations on the land.”

It is ironic but not illogical that, in Campbell’s assessment, Mugabe and the white farmers embrace the same agribusiness policies. “Those who support the current large farmers both black and white do not want a transformation of the relations on the land,” writes the professor. Only transformational policies will serve the needs of the masses of Zimbabweans. But the people also require the basic freedoms of citizens in order to foster a healthy civil society, free of Mugabe’s armed and grasping operatives and Tsvangirai’s loathsome alliances. The current chemistry leads to civil war and imperialist intervention.

No U.S. intervention under any circumstances

is a mere publication, representing only a set of viewpoints. However, we have an obligation to declare what we think to be true, and to support what we believe to be workable and just to the people most directly affected – Zimbabweans and their neighbors. We support the June 3 Open Letter, specifically the admonition to Mubabe:

“We believe that a peaceful solution is possible for Zimbabwe if you find a way to work with others in and outside of your government to create an effective process for a transition to a more broadly supported government upholding the democratic rights of all.”

wholeheartedly agrees with Bill Fletcher’s June 6 statement:

“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.”

These “best elements” should certainly not include Morgan Tsvangirai (who is not, at any rate, a member of the parliamentary opposition.)

Since Robert Mugabe’s African American supporters oppose any critique of their Strong Man, they cannot be expected to promote any efforts to solve the crisis. They will certainly fail in their campaign to silence Black progressives. Hopefully, if South Africa and others on the continent mediate wisely – and the U.S. and Britain remain bogged down in Iraq – an African solution can be effected that allows Zimbabwean civil society to blossom, and that encourages South Africa to tackle its own unfinished business of social transformation, including its unresolved land question.

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Issue Number 51
July 31, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

The DLC’s National White Man’s Conversation - Let the rich rump of the Party go where they belong

Cartoon: Halliburton Coming and Going

Bush Uses IRS To Push Around Poor People - ACORN fights fed's proof-of-poverty scheme

e-MailBox: Hip-Hop Hits Back... Killing Africans as Policy... Bush Mental Disorder Catalogued... Obama’s name off DLC list

No safety without peace, no peace without change - A speech by Cynthia McKinney, Former U.S. Rep. (D-GA)

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Contents of Issue 50 - July 17, 2003:

Cover Story: Barefoot, Sick, Hungry and Afraid - The real U.S policy in Africa

The Consequences of Believing Your Own Propaganda by Mamadou Chinyelu

Cartoon: Hollywood's Magic Negro

Think Piece: The Pretense of Hip-Hop Black Leadership By Dr. Martin Kilson

Affirmative Action as a Tool of Imperialist Expansion and Aggression by Mark P. Fancher, Guest Commentator

One Bush Too Many in Africa by Kweli Nzito, Ph.D., Guest Commentator

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.