Friday 11 July 2008

Zimbabwe: From Bread Basket to Basket Case

Much of how Zimbabwe degenerated from being widely regarded as one of Africa’s prosperous nations and regional bread basket to total basket case has been widely covered in the world’s media, though the genesis of this decline has simplistically put down to Mugabe’s seizure of commercial farmers. The MDC’s journey to this stunning result has been a long, arduous and at times deadly journey. Some, with a large dose of hyperbole, would even go as far as likening Tsvangirai’s journey to that of Odysseus’ voyage from Troy.

So how did Zimbabwe end up in such a sorry state? Well, up until 1999, there had been no viable parliamentary opposition to Mugabe and his Zanu PF party such that Zimbabwe was one of those curious countries where supposedly democratic elections were held timeously, but were always foregone conclusions with Mugabe always achieving Saddam-esque electoral returns.

This complete lack of opposition came about when Zanu PF literally swallowed up the late Joshua Nkomo’s PF ZAPU party in a dubious 1987 unity accord which officially ended the Gukurahundi atrocities in the southern province of Matabeleland. That was when Mugabe fiddled with the constitution and became executive president with wide ranging and sweeping powers. Alarm bells should have started tolling then, but they did not. In effect, this rendered the then 150-seat parliament a Zanu PF chat room where there was no dissent to the Executive Presidency of Robert Mugabe.

Then along came the trade union-based MDC in September 1999 and at last Zimbabwe had what looked like a viable opposition. Mugabe had at last met his match. The first jolt Zanu PF got from the MDC was in the landmark February 2000 referendum for a new Zanu PF-sponsored draft constitution. Zanu PF went into this plebiscite in very confident and bullish mood, but got a nasty jolt as voters resoundingly voted for the MDC’s adamant opposition to the draft constitution, which they felt would further enhance Mugabe’s grip on power. Having never tasted electoral defeat of any kind since independence in 1980, Mugabe was shocked into action. A few days after the referendum loss, the first commercial farm was invaded by Mugabe’s foot soldiers, the once well regarded but now widely reviled liberation war veterans.

It should be noted that prior to the farm invasions, there had been muted calls since independence in 1980, for equitable land redistribution to which Mugabe had seemingly not paid much heed and it must be noted the British government which had promised to fund the process during the Lancaster House negotiating did initially provide the funding but not much came of the resettlement programme. In any case as he did not need a trump card up his sleeve to stay in power, the land question had not been such a burning issue up until then. Now that he had resoundingly suffered his first ever electoral defeat, he had to come up with a new campaign strategy, especially as another significant electoral test was a few months away - the June 2000 parliamentary elections.

Needless to say, despite the state sanctioned terror unleashed on opposition politicians and supporters, Mugabe still got a nasty shock as his Zanu PF lost 57 seats to the MDC. Next up was the 2002 presidential poll and this time Mugabe would not take any chances. He would ‘win’ votes by giving his people land and of course, by any other means necessary. His campaign strategy? Well, he would blame the white Zimbabweans for all the ills bedevilling the country and they would be accused of controlling the MDC on behalf of past colonial masters, Britain. He would play to his rural gallery, his main supporters, by forcibly taking productive commercial farms and redistributing parcels of land to the landless.

Just as he had in the early 1980s when his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade troops killed thousands of people from the Ndebele tribe in the southern part of the country, under the pretext of quelling a rebellion, Mugabe had now found a new internal enemy which he would persecute to extend his grip on power. This time around they just happened to be white Zimbabwean farmers and to A large extent, their workers. In fact, when the world’s media focused its attention on the plight of the farmers, less focus was on the thousands of farm workers who were tortured, maimed and killed by Mugabe’s thugs for standing up for their employers and their livelihoods.

Mugabe had begun his tenure as leader of a free Zimbabwe who invited his former arch-foes, the whites to co-exist with their black compatriots. This, so soon after leading a bitter and bloody liberation struggle against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. Unbelievable, it seemed!

This unexpected reconciliation with his erstwhile foes brought Mugabe much international acclaim and plaudits. He was hailed as a new type of African leader, the kind that was needed to take the continent forward. Some may recall how Mugabe would shuttle from country to country, including Ireland, garnering all sorts of accolades, being conferred with honorary degrees and even an honorary knighthood from Britain. He was the darling of the developed world then, not that this is necessarily a badge of honour, judging by the West’s one time ill-advised patronage of the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Fast forward then to 2003 when the same Mugabe had the temerity to proclaim that he could be a ‘black Hitler’ in crushing his opponents. Mugabe, who sports a Hitlerite moustache, was widely reported in the Zimbabwean and international media to have said: “…I was the Hitler of that time. I am still a Hitler of their time. If Hitler fought for the justice of mankind, many nations would not have fought against him. Hitler in Zimbabwe has one objective - sovereignty for his people, recognition of their independence and their rights to freedom. If they say I am Hitler, let me be Hitler ten-fold and that's what we stand for."

Mugabe made these globally reported remarks when he addressed mourners at the burial of one of his cabinet ministers, just as his state security agents including the police, perpetrated unprecedented torture, arrests and assaults on civilians countrywide. Now recognised as one of his trademarks, Mugabe is prone to hijack funerals of his lieutenants to launch hate-filled tirades against his opponents, real and imaginary.

Another worrying and significant aspect to consider is the fact that, much to the chagrin of the majority of long suffering Zimbabweans, Mugabe is still hailed as an African hero and dare I say statesman. When they see or hear him on the world stage verbally assaulting George W. Bush and Tony Blair, they see in him an African stalwart standing up to what they perceive to be the imperialist, neo-colonialist and racist West. Many a time have I come across fellow Africans when they hear me rail against Mugabe’s regime, they profess their admiration for the Zimbabwean dictator and hail him as an African hero particularly because he took away arable land from white Zimbabwean farmers and gave them to their landless black compatriots.

Except that, that perception is absolutely nonsense. What actually transpired in Zimbabwe was that most of the seized land ended up in the clutches of Mugabe’s greedy acolytes who have benefitted from his largesse. Even those few ‘lucky’ landless poor who were given parcels of land were largely left to their own devices and the result has been that the once bountiful land has become unproductive and Zimbabwe has within a short period of time come to depend on food imports when it used to be a major exporter. So it is usually with much consternation that majority of Zimbabweans find these pronouncements of support for Mugabe from people who have not bore the burnt of his tyranny and dictatorship.

It now appears that with March’s parliamentary electoral defeat and his second place in the presidential poll still rankling, Mugabe is taking no chances this time and therefore has unleashed further untold suffering on his own people, the people who have clearly sent him the message that he should go now. Recent events, whereby opposition supporters have been killed, maimed and terrorised, opposition leaders have been detained for hours and even normally untouchable western diplomats have been attacked and threatened with dire consequences leaves no doubt in the minds of any external or internal observers that Mugabe has embarked on brutal campaign to cling on to power.

Without international observers on the ground and not just the pliant regional monitors as Mugabe insists, there will be no free and fair elections in Zimbabwe come June 27.