ONE reason why an African leader is much more likely going to give an interview to Western journalists than to local ones is that the former will always play into the leader’s hands by asking precisely the questions which suspiciously come out as though they were crafted by some mandarin or a chief government spook with the central aim of getting information that would help them shape government foreign policy.
Given that Western foreign policy is inherently incapable of moral uprightness, meaning that the journalist’s questions will naturally be prejudiced, that always comes in handy for the African leaders.
Perhaps nowhere is this apparent than in the September 18 BBC HARDtalk programme where Zeinabi Badawi’s questions to the MDC leader Welshman Ncube were so partisan that they brazenly exhibited the prejudices and fantasies of the Western mandarins on behalf of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the other MDC faction.
Listening through the interview, one can’t help feeling that the central aim of the questioning was to project Ncube as the main problem and cause of the opposition’s failure to wrest power from Robert Mugabe. Indeed, the interviewee said she was aware of the details of the 2005 split but was, interestingly, not going to go into details about that. In the end it was as if the MDC split not because of Tsvangirai’s refusal to accede to internal ‘democratic outcomes’ but because Welshman Ncube was himself a problem.
Badawi asks Ncube to justify his opinion about MDC-T not being as democratic as it claims to be. In an attempt to load the dice against Ncube, Badawi rests her line of questioning on the opinions of people who she calls ‘various international figures’ whom she collectively refers to as the ‘international community’; and whose views should, therefore, translate to ‘international opinion’.
These people are US diplomat and former Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, who, according to the WikiLeaks, said Ncube was a ‘divisive’ figure who should be removed from the political stage; and Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who likened Tsvangirai to Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi – both Nobel Peace Prize winners. Dell, the interviewee says, can be relied on more because he spent ‘many years’ in Zimbabwe.
In reminding Ncube of Dell’s opinion, Badawi’s body language betrays her as she comes out as an excited junior detective putting her killer question to a suspect. In bringing in all these things together, the idea is to present Ncube as indeed a ‘divisive’ person going against the supposedly credible people of international stature like Mandela.
To a viewer who is not familiar with the goings on in Zimbabwe, anybody whose view is against that of a Mandela equivalent must surely be crazy and worth ‘removing’ from the political stage.
The same applies with citing of the French Knighthood as an indicator to Tsvangirai’s moral uprightness and credibility – when we know all too well that that award has previously been awarded to savages.
Moreover, Dell cannot be one to rely on because his confident predictions have been previously disastrous. For example, prior to his departure he predicted a total economic implosion within a space of a few months in Zimbabwe, and that never came to pass.
At the end of the day, the HARDtalk interview comes out as one which was designed to lead Ncube into giving answers that would in turn confirm him as a Zanu PF agent. One such question was the last one where he is asked if he would contest against Mugabe in the event of Tsvangirai staging another boycott. If he had said yes, that would have, at least in the scheme of the people who planned the interview, confirmed him as a Zanu PF lackey. Ncube, as before, saw through the trick and survived.
One can’t help thinking that there is indeed fear that Ncube’s whirlwind campaign trail across the country is paying dividends and in a way that stands to reverse the fortunes of both the MDC-T and Zanu PF considerably. Spanners must, therefore, be thrown in his works. The idea, so it seems, is to indeed ‘remove Ncube from the political stage’ by all means necessary.
Strangely Dell, Zedawi and others like them seem to be oblivious to one vivid question: why is it that Tsvangirai, whom Mugabe so much resents to the extent that he has even tried to assassinate him, is vocally in disagreement with Mugabe in almost everything but is silently but willingly in agreement with him on Welshman Ncube’s isolation? What is it which Ncube represents that makes these two enemies forget their differences?
It will be helpful if Dell and his think-a-likes were to keep one thing in mind: it is easy for diplomats from powerful nations to activate the ancient habit of perpetuating prejudices of a particular section of a country they operate in knowing that they can always blame the victims of their actions. And yet it is true that policies grounded on narrow interests will often yield the opposite of what they are meant to achieve. Mugabe’s 32 year rule provides a clear and ongoing example.
Last but not least it would be helpful if journalists like Zedawi try and keep away from the habit of taking questions from mandarins because by so doing a journalist runs the risk of not just sounding shallow but of shunning basic research to the extent of getting many things wrong and thereby giving themselves a hard time such as happened in her interview with Ncube. One example in this case is the fact that Ncube is presented as the secretary general of the MDC, when he is actually the President.
Mthulisi Mathuthu is a New Zimbabwe.com blogger. E-mail him: email@example.com