IN THE early eighties, I had a friend who worked in the security establishment in charge of VIP protection. One day he was tasked to ensure a VVIP was transported to Kushinga-Pikhelela, transported safe and sound. And because the VVIP was pressed for time, my security friend raised the Airforce of Zimbabwe for a helicopter.
A while after the request, the Airforce phoned back to regret that the helicopter meant to ferry the VVIP had developed a technical fault and thus would not be available for the trip.
Like a diligent officer, my friend wasted no time in lining up a motorcade. That done, he then beat the corridors to announce to the VVIP that indeed all was ready for the short journey.
What will become of me?
Just a stride away from the doormat of the VVIP, his walkie-talkie hoarsely groaned. The Airforce was on the other end. The message was short, sharp. The “bird” was ready to take off. “Rodger!” he signed off, conveying disguising placidity.
What followed was nothing short of a gale of temperament.
“Do you hear what these Airforce guys are saying?”
“They tell me the helicopter is now ready!”
You could not miss his disbelief, his consternation.
“Aa-ah, how am I assured that something will not go wrong mid-air? Barely five minutes ago they told me the ‘copter is not well, now they tell me it’s airworthy! No, I am not taking the offer. Never!”
There was finality. There was consternation rapidly giving way to outrage. I looked at the agitated man, wondering how to tackle him.
“If the helicopter crashes, what will I say? Vanoda kuti ndifire kuChikurubi? (They want me to rot and die in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison?)”
Surviving through imagination
At which point I burst into mocking laughter, raucous laughter. Peal after peal, I laughed, eyes too shut to see the approaching VVIP.
“But Comrade Mashiri, what makes you think you will survive the crash to answer questions, let alone to die in Chikurubi?” He looked at me, vacantly.
Soon after, I caught sight of the VVIP and, to be proper, unhappily aborted my laughter which would have gone far, very far. A hurried off, followed by the purr of my laughter, firmly subdued by the urge for propriety.
The sorry story of Libya
Beginning of this week saw reports of desperation from Libya, post-Gaddafi Libya. The British Guardian reported that the vast, desert country hovered on the margins of a bloody split, a split into three shards centred around Benghazi, Misrata and Zintan, all of them increasingly growing refractory and independent of Tripoli.
Misrata is slowly mutating from being a provincial focal point of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, to being a breakaway republic, Republic of Misrata, under the rule of erstwhile rebels, all of them well armed, very determined to become a state unto themselves. This third largest city will not hear of Tripoli, the seat of the new, post-Gaddafi Libyan government under the NTC. Tripoli is secretive, corrupt, heavy-handed, dictatorial and dysfunctional. Misrata, by contrast, is brisk, clean and working.
“We don’t want to be independent, we want Libya to be like us,” Farouk Ben Amin, a former rebel, is quoted as saying.
Damning, Discarding Tripoli
But Misrata has already held her own elections, with Tripoli still struggling to go to the polls. That fortifies belief in herself. She has accomplished what the centre cannot do. Zintan, a hundred miles away from Misrata, is in no different mood. This is the town that gave Libya the Zintan Brigade which captured Gaddafi’s only surviving son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.
Now Zintan is bitter, bitter about many things happening from and in Tripoli. Principally, it wants to know what has become of the US$1 billion in monthly oil revenue which does not seem too keen to percolate to other regions. “We have good security here,” brags the Leicester-educated Attaher Eturki, city council leader, drawing a damning contrast with Tripoli.
The good days of Cyrenaica
Benghazi, itself the nucleus of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion, is more historical in its bitterness. It recalls life before Italian colonialism that forcibly bandied it together with the rest, to give Africa a new state of colonial Libya. Benghazi used to stand as the capital of Cyrenaica, itself a region which stood in apposition to two others, Tripolitania and Fezzan, which together make up today’s Libya.
It hungers after that halcyon era, and has the guns and will to go thither. It has proclaimed the Council of Barqa, the Arab name for Cyrenaica. It is urging a boycott of national elections unless it is granted more seats at the expense of the central government. The province has been getting a mere 60 seats out of the 200 in national elections. But all this relates to the strong regional sentiment to emerge from the ashes of the so-called Libyan revolution, in reality a NATO air putsch.
Decree No. 37
Underlying all this is a despairing sense of paradox, paradox in the “new” Libya. The new Libya carries the character of Gaddafi’s old Libya, as given us by Western propaganda. It is corrupt, it is dictatorial. In May the NTC government passed Decree No. 37 which made it a criminal offence to criticise the “17 February Revolution”. Except for the phrase “17 February Revolution”, everything about the decree was lifted from Gaddafi's Libya.
Gaddafi ruled through impulsively drawn-up decrees. So does the NTC, giving Libyans the sense of movement of a gyroscope. It turns, rotates, but keeps in the same position. “We got rid of Gaddafi, but not the regime . . . We didn’t do a revolution and our people did not die to bring a new dictatorship”, says Hanna El Gallal.
And representatives of NATO governments are too embarrassed to deny: “The NTC don’t mean to act this way (referring to rule by decrees) . . . But they don’t know any other way”, says an unnamed European diplomat, in clear apology for the monster they have sired in the name of emancipation.
The rebels in the three regions, all of them still armed, share a menacing brag: they have the oil dollars, we have guns. If we don’t like the government, well, we know how to do a revolution. That is Libya in the aftermath of a revolution of sorts.
Significantly, on all this mayhem, the monstrous pistons of oil rigs keep pounding, vomiting barrels and barrels of black spittle that is injected into huge vessels that cross the high seas for Europe and beyond.
The story of Tunisia
Let us visit Tunisia, itself the spark of the Arab Spring. On Tuesday, June 12, Tunis suffered a spate of overnight attacks on courts and other state buildings by gangs who included Islamist hardliners called Salafists. The attacks were also replicated in the country’s Northwest. This is post-Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia, all moulded after the magisterial West’s neo-liberal blueprint.
The attacks were complemented by snowballing riots, raising fears that the moderate Islamist government there might be unable to restore order. The old Islamic order feels Tunisia has fallen into the hands of infidels, and would want a return to a sharia era. Ironically, those arrested — 83 all told — will be charged under a 2003 anti-terror law made during Ben Ali’s rule. So it’s old conservatives challenging a new, post-revolution government which, paradoxically, makes recourse to an old law to deal with the new challenge emerging in the aftermath of a revolution with the West’s imprimatur. Of course after Tunisia, Egypt was next. How fare thee, land of the Pharaohs?
The land of the Pharaohs
As I write, Egypt’s highest court ruled on Thursday that the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament was elected illegally, meaning parliament will have to be dissolved on the eve of a crucial presidential run-off whose prospects are also now dim and doubtful. The same court also ruled that Ahmed Shafiq, a former ally of ousted President Mubarak, is allowed to run for president, invalidating a law that had banned members of Mubarak’s party from running for political office.
Immediately after the ruling, the Military announced it would take over legislative powers, rising the spectre of a slow, graduated or incremental coup. The Islamic Brotherhood which dominated the outlawed lower house stands to lose the most, creating a new situation in which its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, will have to battle it out without the advantage of legislative incumbency, indeed creating a new situation where whoever emerges as the leader of Egypt, would have to govern without democratic institutions, only with the military!
“Both decisions empower the Mubarak status quo, which is no surprise, as the judges of the court were appointed by the latter, and represent a part of the so-called ‘deep-state’”, says Omar Ashour, an Egyptian don at Exeter.
Slouching back to Tahrir
Of course Egypt is seething with anger, her feet thudding back to Tahrir Square for a new round of protests, hopefully peaceful ones this time. But the deep fear is that the guys in uniform are destabilising the process all to mould the electorate to their authoritarian agenda.
Egypt is also wearied, too wearied that the wish for stability could make her settle for anything. And of course Uncle Sam gladly watches as wrong actors — the military — do right things for his foreign policy interests.
Like the military, America abhors the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt, quietly hoping, Shafiq can be relied upon to “reinvent a new Mubarak regime with a new look”.
Meanwhile America has just approved some US$1,7 billion in aid, of which US$1,3 billion goes to the same military. And White House overrode Congress to get the aid through. What clearer indication of Washington’s wish to ensure the military prevail over the Islamists!
Of course America’s mouth is frothing in well-crafted hypocrisy: “We want to see the Egyptian people have what they fought for, which is a free, fair, democratic, transparent system of government — government that represents the will of the people, a parliament so elected, a president so elected”, said a State Department!
You pay the bill for the military to overturn the will of the people; you jaw, jaw democracy! And of course with no Parliament, there is no one to write a constitution! But that is Egypt, up there on the edges of the Mediterranean. How fares the gotsi, or back of the head of the continent?
Gunning the UN
After a false lull, Cote d’Ivoire is registering the beginnings of a protracted bloody insurgency, post-Gbagbo Cote d’Ivoire. Already, seven UN peacekeepers have been killed close to that country’s border with Liberia. Of course UN peacekeepers are part of the bloody equation. The drawn-out stand off between the deposed Gbagbo and the current leader Ouattara sucked in the UN peacekeepers, with their helicopter gunships, reinforced by a French contingent, moving from peacekeeping to “peacemaking”.
In Cote d’Ivoire , the UN went to war, creating a situation in which Gbagbo supporters view it as part of an occupying force which supplanted an indigenous president to replace him with a Burkinabe supported by France, America, Britain and the IMF. That was in 2011, a year that left Cote d’Ivoire totally compliant with Western democratic expectations, but totally and bitterly divided as a nation.
“There are two possibilities: either we will kill them, or they will kill us”, said one Gbagbo militia fighter to Human Rights Watch. A legacy of peril, hardly one of peace and promise.
Hard lessons from Africa
Quite deliberately, I have bored the reader with the foregoing mosaic of telling vignettes so we all begin to appreciate what has become of the so-called Western-sanctioned, even Western-led, revolutions on our continent. I have left out Syria, itself a tragic battleground of contenting forces vying for supremacy. Is it not remarkable that NATO which is smuggling massive ordinances into Syria, goes loudly sentimental when women and children are decapitated in tens and hundreds?
What are those weapons for? What is all this talk of peace about? So salve bloody consciences? The larger picture is that in all these UN-related situations, peace has failed, continues to fail. But that is not my point. Let me get to it.
SADC for respectability
Almost two weeks ago, Tendai Biti, the MDC-T secretary general bragged at a SAPES Trust seminar that those in Zanu-PF must quickly reckon with a new reality in current global politics. And the new reckoning is that national laws are bending and buckling to international law. He backed up his postulate. Cote d’Ivoire. Libya. Syria. He could, or might, have added Tunisia and Egypt. It is a reading of the new, aggressive ways of global imperialism which has found currency with many in the MDC-T, young and old, officials and men.
There is a growing feeling in the MDC-T that they do not need elections, that they do not need national processes for their political future. They need foreign intervention, preferably military intervention. It is an argument that finds vicarious respectability in Sadc mediation, itself a decent way of commissioning interventionism while ducking the charge of treachery. After all Sadc is ours, why not use it to naturalise interventionism which will end up coming from elsewhere?
And of course the North African experience shows us that subregional bodies have become beachheads for imperial interventions. And America continues to say a lot to give fillip to this likelihood.
Obama’s package for Africa
Just this week, the US government unveiled a new policy on Africa, policy strangely reported in neutral terms by The Herald. Predicated on a vision of Africa as the world’s next big economic success story, this highly interventionist, new American policy on Africa is predicated on intrusive politics to create new conditions favourable to American access to African raw materials and other resources. “As we look towards the future, it is clear that Africa is more important than ever to the security and prosperity of the international community, and to the United States in particular”.
The report recognised America’s growing military presence and operations on the continent. And Hilary Clinton is on hand to lead the charge: “I want my fellow American citizens, particularly our business community, to hear this: Africa offers the highest rate of return on Foreign Direct Investment of any developing region in the world . . . We in the United States like to talk about ourselves as the country that is the land of opportunity. It’s a point of national pride. In the 21st century, Africa is the continent that is the land of opportunity.”
Client leadership, forces
Significantly, Obama spoke of successfully stabilised countries which included Cote d’Ivoire, and linkages with new, young African leaders, as part of the equation. His policy says: “At the same time, the burgeoning youth population in Africa is changing economies and political systems in profound ways.
“Our message to those who would derail the democratic process is clear and unequivocal: the United States will not stand idly by when actors threaten legitimately elected governments or manipulate the fairness and integrity of democratic processes, and we will stand in steady partnership with those who are committed to the principles of equality, justice, and the rule of law.”
More explicitly, Obama adds: “Across all of these efforts, the United States will prioritise efforts to empower the next generation of African leadership. These young men and women have shown time and again the willingness and ability to change their communities and their countries for the better, and the United States will continue to be their steadfast ally and partner. America’s partnership with this new generation of Africans will extend beyond our Government to the broad and deepening relationships between or peoples, businesses, and institutions.”
The sinister side of it all
With such a reassuring blueprint, why wouldn’t people like Biti, parties like the MDC-T, brag? And, yes, he is right. In the next few months and years, national laws will not matter, have in fact begun not to matter. US operations in East and Central Africa — all conducted in the name of finding Kony — don’t need national laws. US operations in the Horn of Africa — again conducted in the name of Al Shebaab — do not need national laws. Only drones, rangers and client armies under pliant commanders-in-chief. And the whole thrust we saw in North Africa is fated to shift downward, towards Sub-Saharan Africa, targeting countries with resources.
The just aborted war between Sudan and South Sudan, by all means and indication a war provoked and instigated by America in the hope of getting rid of Al Bashir, is the beginning of things to come, the pacification to come, nicely following the continent’s resource fault line, principally oil resource. This week, the Washington Post published an intricate network of American air bases for spying across Africa, as part of the unravelling of this new American policy towards Africa.
New cold war
The facade is democracy, rule of law and good economic governance. Those political parties beholden to western interests see huge hope and prospect in this new American thrust which is sure to spell doom to African sovereignty in all senses. And of course as these spy bases show, America is not partnering the so-called new, young and democratic leadership at all. How does Blaise Compaore ever fit such a description?
It is partnering client states, often run by dictators. It is following up on client states it sponsored and created in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring. But it is also targeting those countries that are nationalistic and/or pro-China, which is where Zimbabwe fits. The Cold War is back, and as before, it needs a collaborating leadership on the continent.
Empty promises, fraught threats
Which takes me to my good friend Mashiri. He never thought he could be among the dead in the wake of the crash. Whether this was folly or incurable optimism, one could not quite say. The MDC-T craves for intervention, craves for the supersession of national laws by international law. It is a craving for war, for armed intervention. They forget that, microcosmically, Zimbabwe is the helicopter whose airworthiness is in doubt. All of us are aboard to face the consequences. There will not be anyone to explain.
Or to go to Chikurubi! The MDC-T people will need to reckon with this national reality which is virtually inescapable. I notice their white supporters, led by Bennett and Hawkins, are now deserting them.
There is a crisis in the MDC-T, revealed most dramatically in their desperate arguments we saw deployed in government this week. Their portfolios have virtually collapsed, a few moons towards elections. They have no message; they have no leadership. Their last hope is intervention. Hence the war-mongering we heard at SAPES Trust which, as Chinamasa correctly noted, will increase in shrillness as we near elections.
As the Nigerians say, they are busy dragging into the home a log full of ants. They should not wonder when the lizard visits them.
Nathaniel Manheru is a columnist for the Saturday Herald. E-mail him: firstname.lastname@example.org