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By Obert Madondo

IT IS absolutely ridiculous that Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, with the world’s fastest-shrinking economy and an inflation rate of 2 714%, should be elected to lead a United Nations agency.

Last week the UN Commission on
Sustainable Development voted Zimbabwe to lead the agency for the next year.

Members of the agency voted by secret ballot, 26 for and 21 against, with three abstentions.

The agency’s motto loudly promises “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

The African vote won the day for Zimbabwe. The message in the vote is clear: Zimbabwe is the quintessential African torch bearer on preserving the present for future generations to inherit. What a crude joke!

In 2005 the Mugabe regime demolished whole neighborhoods and informal backyard industries in the countries’ major cities, leaving an estimated 700 000 people homeless and without livelihoods.

Thanks to Mugabe’s disastrous land reform project, corruption and repressive rule, Zimbabwe, once Africa’s bread basket, faces an acute bread shortage and possible mass starvation. Even with good rains, massive capital investment and a democratic political culture, the agricultural sector will take years to recover.

The same goes for the country’s physical, social and moral infrastructures.

On the surface, African leaders simply sided with Mugabe as usual. After all,
many of them retain power by rigging elections and brutalising the opposition
too. The reality is: this time African leaders used the tyrant in the global
conversation with the dominant and domineering West.

The global stage is a dirty arena of power-posturing, muscle-flexing and
outright below-the-belt kicks. Countries with the bigger economic and military
muscles always prevail. Who can challenge the mighty United States of America?

This is not to say that those with rising economic and perceived military muscle are lightweights. China, for example, has used its rising economic
strength and growing global influence to defy criticism of its appalling
domestic human rights record and cuddling of violent regimes around the world.

Belligerent North Korea continues to cause global headaches and anxieties,
thanks to its perceived nuclear capability.

African countries, individually and collectively, have neither the military strength nor economic power to influence global issues in any significant way. Now, a disturbing trend is beginning to manifest in their response to thorny
global political issues.

Robert Mugabe has become the poster child for Africa’s defiance against the
West. In fact, African leaders are engaged in an invisible brinkmanship with the West.

The West imposed sanctions on the regime for alleged human rights abuses. Some Western leaders have become caricatures in their never-ending scramble to demonise Mugabe. Secretly, African leaders take offence to the posturing.

At their extraordinary summit held in Tanzania at the end of March, Sadc heads of state and government came up with a supposedly historic resolution on Zimbabwe. They expressed solidarity with Mugabe. They called on Britain to honour its obligations to fund his chaotic, corrupt land reform programme. They labeled the Western sanctions illegal, and called for their lifting.

The West has been the most vocal critic of the South African President Thabo Mbeki’s ineffectual six-year-old “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe. African leaders chose the same Mbeki to mediate the political impasse in Zimbabwe. The African Union supported the Sadc position.

The list of contradictions is endless.

It’s been suggested that African leaders’ position derives from dominant domestic sentiment. According to this sentiment, Mugabe is a pariah in the
Western media and a hero in Africa outside Zimbabwe at the same time.

In 2004, the monthly New African magazine asked its readers to nominate the most influential African leaders of the 20th century. Robert Mugabe polled third after Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and South Africa's Nelson Mandela who came first and second, respectively. The magazine is not necessarily anti-West but is excessively pan-Africanist.

To many Africans, the 2005 Murambatsvina crackdown and recent brutal assault on the opposition are no-events. Mugabe’s stature remains intact. The reasons for this misplaced mentality are numerous.

Racist colonial regimes deprived, enslaved, humiliated Africans and plundered
their resources. In South Africa, the model of African democracy, millions of
blacks are still homeless, jobless and poor while a minority, mostly
beneficiaries of apartheid, leave in mansions and commute in private jets.

Independence from colonialism and apartheid has benefited a few in Africa.
Meanwhile, global capitalism, seen by many as a direct beneficiary of black
enslavement and the plunder of Africa’s resources, continues to exploit. Global capitalism manifests itself on the continent in the continual deprivation of access to ownership to the continent’s resources like land, diamonds and oil.

Now, to many Africans, Mugabe’s only crime is that he boldly expropriated
white-owned land.

Could it be that ordinary Africans are also engaged in an invisible
brinkmanship with the West as some of their cowardly leaders? They are
peace-loving. They resent the illegal Iraq war. They’re appalled by the resultant senseless killings of innocent civilians.

Avenues for African expression on the global stage are too few to expose the
core African sentiment on global issues. The influential African media is
controlled by liberal forces, real and pseudo, which are in turn beholden to the exploitative global capitalist machinery. African governments rely on the
Western governments for aid and economic investment.

They can only criticise the West indirectly, primary-school style. In primary
school, the weak, little boys would not dare challenge the big bully. Then one
day someone comes along and challenges the bully to an open fist fight. The
result is unimportant. The weak boy’s deserved moment of revenge lies in the
initial challenge.

To African leaders, Mugabe is a godsend. He’s the master crusader against
neo-colonialism and other stinking isms. He’s the bulwark against the bullish
West. He can say all the harsh words against Tony Blair or George W Bush that African leaders would not dare utter publicly.

African leaders chose Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to lead the UN agency as a stance against the West, period. The two-week session leading to the election was dominated by scripted speeches, we’re told. The African representatives came armed with uncompromising position from their masters in the continent’s capitals.

In the end, the African vote was an anti-West, pro-Zimbabwe vote. The UN
African caucus nominated Zimbabwe for the post last month. The West had enough time to protest or kill the vote. Instead, Europeans, who dominated the opposition to Zimbabwe’s candidacy, responded with pro-West vote, anti-Zimbabwe vote.

Both sides exposed the UN to yet another round of ridicule.

Although, African government trounced the West again on the Zimbabwe issue, their victory is a liability, in the long run. The continent needs more voices on the international stage. In Zimbabwe, Africa has the wrong ace.

Using Mugabe against the liberal West reflects a fundamental inclination toward autocracy.

But who can blame African governments? In the larger context of global
politics, Mugabe is the weapon of choice for the cowardly. During the 60th
anniversary commemorations of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) at the UN in New York in October, 2005, he ranted and raved, called global powers all sorts of ugly names.

Representatives of governments beyond Africa applauded.

Another dirty Mugabe-based impasse is on the cards. The continent is somehow flexing its muscle against the bullish global powers. The African Union recently made it clear that Africa would not let the European Union dictate the terms of the forthcoming inaugural EU-Africa Summit scheduled for Lisbon, Portugal, in December.

The summit seeks to forge closer EU-Africa economic and political
co-operation. No Zimbabwe, No Summit, the AU leaders have boldly declared.

Enter China and global economics. Through its soft stance on tyranny and
generous interest-free loans and, lately, the successful China-Africa summit,
China is upstaging everyone else.

The EU is desperate to regain Africa. It is against Zimbabwe’s participation and, simultaneously, desperate for Africa’s diamonds, oil and other resources. The summit is pivotal in this effort.

Again, the Mugabe spectre looms large. Ghanaian Foreign Minister, Nana
Akufo-Addo, whose country holds the AU chairmanship, recently vowed that
Zimbabwe would attend or else the summit is on ice.

The summit has been postponed several times since 2003 as Africa refused to
balk to Western pressure to exclude Zimbabwe. Portugal, which assumes the EU presidency in July, is desperate to see the summit succeed this year.
Interestingly, Portugal has already vowed that closer economic and political
co-operation with Africa is central to the success of its EU presidency.

If African countries maintain their pro-Zimbabwe stance, the EU will be forced to swallow its pride and accommodate Zimbabwe at the summit. Then Africa, using Mugabe, would have scored another dirty goal.

Obert Madondo writes from Canada. He can be contacted on e-mail:

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