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Zimbabwe’s Lonely Fight for Justice (Zimbabwe´s einsamer Kampf für Grechtigkeit)

Mugabe’s warning about the danger of re-colonization “underpins the crackdown on the nation’s most formidable independent forces, pro-democracy groups and the Movement for Democratic Change, both of which have broad Western support, and, often, financing,” as the New York Times put it. (20) (Note the reference to the opposition being independent even though it’s dependent on broad Western support and financing.)

This “fortress-Zimbabwe strategy has been strikingly effective. According to a poll of 1,200 Zimbabweans published in August (2004) by South African and American researchers, the level of public trust in Mr. Mugabe’s leadership has more than doubled since 1999, to 46 percent – even as the economy has fallen into ruin…and anger over economic and living conditions is pervasive.” (21)

Mugabe, his detractors allege, secures his support by focusing the public’s anger on outside forces to keep the public from focusing its anger on him (the same argument the US government and anti-Castro forces have been making about Castro for years.) If this is true, the groundswell of opposition to Mugabe’s government that we’re led to believe threatens to topple Mugabe from power any moment, doesn’t exist; it’s directed at outside forces. Consistent with this is the reality that the US-based Save Zimbabwe Campaign “does not…have widespread grassroots support.” (22)

Implicit in the argument that Mugabe uses anti-imperialist rhetoric to stay in power is the view that (a) outside forces aren’t responsible for the country’s deep economic crisis and that (b) Mugabe is. This is the view of US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell, and many of Mugabe’s leftist detractors. “Neither drought nor sanctions are at the root of Zimbabwe’s decline. The Zimbabwe government’s own gross mismanagement of the economy and corrupt rule has brought on the crisis.” (23)

Yet, in a country whose economy is mainly based on agriculture, the idea that drought hasn’t caused serious economic trouble, is absurd. Drought is a regional phenomenon, whittling away at populations in Mali, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mauritania, Eritrea, southern Sudan and Zimbabwe. Land redistribution hasn’t destroyed agriculture in Zimbabwe; it has destroyed white commercial, cash-crop farming, which is centred on the production of tobacco for export.

Equally absurd is the notion that sanctions are economically neutral. Sanctions imposed by the US, EU and other countries deny Zimbabwe international economic and humanitarian assistance and disrupt trade and investment flows. Surgical or targeted sanctions are like surgical or targeted bombing: not as surgical as their champions allege and the cause of a good deal of collateral damage and suffering.

Left critics of Mugabe ape the argument of the US ambassador, adding that Mugabe’s anti-imperialist and leftist rhetoric is, in truth, insincere. He is actually right-wing and reactionary — a master at talking left while walking right. (24) But if Mugabe is really the crypto-reactionary, secret pro-imperialist some people say he is, why are the openly reactionary, pro-imperialists in Washington and London so agitated?

Finally, if Mugabe uses outside interference as an excuse to keep tight control, why not stop interfering and deny him the excuse?

Mugabe’s government also denies passports to any person believed to be travelling abroad to campaign for sanctions against Zimbabwe, or military intervention in Zimbabwe. The justification for this is the opposition’s fondness for inviting its backers in Washington and London to ratchet up punitive measures against the country.

No country has ever provided unqualified public advocacy rights, rights of association, and freedom of travel, for all people, at all times. Always there has been the idea of warranted restraint. And the conditions under which warranted restraint have been imposed are conditions in which the state is threatened. There’s no question the ZANU-PF government, and the movement for national liberation it champions, is under threat.

Archbishop Pius Ncube tells a gathering that “we must be ready to stand, even in front of blazing guns, that “this dictatorship must be brought down right now, and that “if we can get 30,000 people together Mugabe will just come down. I am ready to lead it.” (25) Arthur Mutambara boasts that he is “going to remove Robert Mugabe, I promise you, with every tool at my disposal” and that he’s not “going to rule out or in anything – the sky’s the limit.” (26) If I declared an intention to remove Tony Blair with every tool at my disposal, that no tool was ruled out, and I did so with the backing of hostile foreign powers, it wouldn’t be long before the police paid me a visit.

Why the West wants Mugabe gone

It’s not Mugabe per se that Washington and London and white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe want to overthrow. It’s his policies they want to be rid of, and they want to replace his policies with their own, very different, policies. There are at least five reasons why Washington and London want to oust Mugabe, none of which have anything to do with human rights.

The first reason to chase Mugabe from power is that in the late 90’s his government abandoned IMF-mandated structural adjustment programs – programs of bleeding people dry to pay interest on international debt. These are policies of currency devaluation, severe social program cuts – anything to free up money to pay down debt, no matter what the human consequences.

The second is that Mugabe sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to bolster the Kabila government. This interfered with Western designs in the region.

The third is that many of Mugabe’s economic policies are not congenial to the current neo-liberal orthodoxy. For example, Mugabe recently announced the nationalization of a diamond mine, which seems to be, in the current climate, an anachronism. If you nationalize anything these days, you’re called radical and out of date. The MDC – which promotes the neo-liberal tyranny — wants to privatize everything. It is for this reason that Mugabe talks about the opposition wanting to sell off Zimbabwe’s resources. The state continues to operate state-owned enterprises. And the government imposes performance requirements on foreign investors. For example, you may be required to invest part of your profits in government bonds. Or you may be required to take on a local partner. Foreign investors, or governments that represent them, bristle at these conditions.

The fourth is that British companies dominate the Zimbabwean economy and the British government would like to protect the investments of British banks, investors and corporations. If you read the British press you’ll find a fixation on Zimbabwe, one you won’t find elsewhere. Why does Britain take such a keen interest in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe? The usual answer is that Britain has an especial interest in Zimbabwe because it is the country’s former colonial master, but why should Britain’s former colonial domination of Zimbabwe heighten its interest in the country? The answer is that colonization paved the way for an economic domination of the country by British corporations, investors and banks – and the domination carries on as a legacy of Britain’s former colonial rule. If you’re part of the British ruling class or one of its representatives, what you want in a country in which you have enormous investments is a trustworthy local ruler who will look after them. Mutambara, who was educated in Britain and lived there, and has absorbed the imperialist point of view, is, from the perspective of the British ruling class, far more attractive than Mugabe as a steward of its interests.

Finally, Western powers would like to see Mugabe replaced by a trustworthy steward who will abandon the fast track land reform program, which apart from violating sacrosanct principles of the capitalist church, if allowed to thrive, becomes a model to inspire the indigenous rural populations of neighbouring countries. Governments in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand also look askance at Mugabe’s land reform policy, and wish to see it overturned, for fear it will inspire their own aboriginal populations.

Mugabe’s government accelerated its land redistribution program in the late 90s, breaking with the completely unworkable, willing buyer, willing seller policy that only allowed the government to redistribute the country’s arable land after the descendants of the former colonial settlers, absentee landlords and some members of the British House of Lords were done using it, and therefore willing to sell. Britain, which had pledged financial assistance to its former colony to help buy the land, reneged, leaving Harare without the means to expropriate with compensation the vast farms dominated by the tiny minority of white descendants of British colonists.

“Zimbabwe finally abandoned the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ formula in 1997. The formula was crippled from the start by parsimonious British funding, and it was a clear that the program’s modest goals were more than Great Britain was willing to countenance. In a letter to the Zimbabwean Minister of Agriculture in November of that year, British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short wrote, ‘I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.’ Referring to earlier British assistance funding, Short curtly stated, ‘I am told that there were discussions in 1989 and 1996 to explore the possibility of further assistance. However that is all in the past.’ Short complained of ‘unresolved’ issues, such as ‘the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid – clearly it would not help the poor of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor confidence.’ Short was concerned about the interests of corporate investors, then. In closing, Short wrote that ‘a program of rapid land acquisition as you now seem to envisage would be impossible for us to support,’ as it would damage the ‘prospects for attracting investment’” (27)

It was only after Mugabe embarked on this accelerated land reform program that Washington and London initiated their campaign of regime change, pressuring Mugabe’s government with sanctions, expulsion from the Commonwealth, assistance to the opposition, and the usual Manichean demonization of the target government and angelization of the Western backed opposition.

The MDC, by comparison, favours a return to the unworkable willing seller, willing buyer regimen. The policy is unworkable because Harare hasn’t the money to buy the farms, Britain is no longer willing to finance the program, and even if the money were available, the owners have to agree to sell their farms before the land can be redistributed. Land reform under this program will necessarily proceed at a snail’s pace. The national liberation movement always balked at the idea of having to buy land that had been stolen from the indigenous population. It’s like someone stealing your car, and when you demand it back, being told you’re going to have to buy it back, and only when the thief is willing to sell.


One thing opponents and supporters of Mugabe’s government agree on is that the opposition is trying to oust the president (illegally and unconstitutionally if you acknowledge the plan isn’t limited to victory at the polls.) So which came first? Attempts to overthrow Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF government, or the government’s harsh crackdown on opposition?

According to the Western media spin, the answer is the government’s harsh crackdown on opposition. Mugabe’s government is accused of being inherently authoritarian, greedy for power for power’s sake, and willing do anything – from stealing elections to cracking skulls — to hang on to its privileged position. This is the typical slander levelled at the heads of governments the US and UK have trouble with, from Milosevic in his day, to Kim Jong Il, to Castro.

Another view is that the government’s authoritarianism is an inevitable reaction to circumstances that are unfavorable to the attainment of its political (not its leaders’ personal) goals. Mugabe’s government came to power at the head of a movement that not only sought political independence, but aspired to reverse the historical theft of land by white settlers. That the opposition would be fierce and merciless – has been so – was inevitable. Reaction to the opposition, if the government and its anti-colonial agenda were to survive, would need to be equally fierce and merciless.

At the core of the conflict is a clash of right against right: the right of white settlers to enjoy whatever benefits stolen land yields in profits and rent against the right of the original owners to reclaim their land. Allied to this is a broader struggle for economic independence, which sets the rights of investors and corporations abroad to profit from untrammelled access to Zimbabwe’s labor, land and resources and the right of Zimbabweans to restrict access on their own terms to facilitate their own economic development.

The dichotomy of personal versus political motivation as the basis for the actions of maligned governments recurs in debates over whether this or that leader or movement ought to be supported or reviled. The personal view says that all leaders are corrupt, chase after personal glory, power and wealth, and dishonestly manipulate the people they profess to champion. The political view doesn’t deny the personal view as a possibility, but holds that the behavior of leaders is constrained by political goals.

“Even George Bush who rigs elections and manipulates news in order to stay in office and who clearly enjoys being ‘the War President,’ wants the presidency in order to carry out a particular program with messianic fervor,” points out Richard Levins. “He would never protect the environment, provide healthcare, guarantee universal free education, or separate church and state, just to stay in office.” (2 8)

Mugabe is sometimes criticized for being pushed into accelerating land reform by a restive population impatient with the glacial pace of redistribution allowed under the Lancaster House agreement. His detractors allege, implausibly, that he has no real commitment to land reforms. This intersects with Patrick Bond’s view. According to Bond, “Mugabe talks radical — especially nationalist and anti-imperialist—(to hang on to power) but acts reactionary.” He only does what’s necessary to preserve his rule.

If we accept this as true, then we’re saying that the behavior of the government is constrained by one of the original goals of the liberation movement (land reform) and that the personal view is irrelevant. No matter what the motivations of the government’s leaders, the course the government follows is conditioned by the goals of the larger movement of national liberation.

There’s no question Mugabe reacted harshly to recent provocations by factions of the MDC, or that his government was deliberately provoked. But the germane question isn’t whether beating Morgan Tsvangirai over the head was too much, but whether the ban on political rallies in Harare, which the opposition deliberately violated, is justified. That depends on whose side you’re on, and whether you think Tsvangirai and his associates are earnest citizens trying to freely express their views or are proxies for imperialist governments bent on establishing (restoring in Britain’s case) hegemony over Zimbabwe.

There’s no question either that Mugabe’s government is in a precarious position. The economy is in a shambles, due in part to drought, to the disruptions caused by land reform, and to sanctions. White farmers want Mugabe gone (to slow land redistribution, or to stop it altogether), London and Washington want him gone (to ensure neo-liberal “reforms” are implemented), and it’s likely that some members of his own party also want him to step down.

On top of acting to sabotage Zimbabwe economically through sanctions, London and Washington have been funnelling financial, diplomatic and organizational assistance to groups and individuals who are committed to bringing about a color revolution (i.e., extra-constitutional regime change) in Zimbabwe. That includes Tsvangirai and the MDC factions, among others.

For the Mugabe government, the options are two-fold: Capitulate (and surrender any chance of maintaining what independence Zimbabwe has managed to secure at considerable cost) or fight back. Some people might deplore the methods used, but considering the actions and objectives of the opposition – and what’s at stake – the crackdown has been both measured and necessary.

1. The Guardian (January 24, 2002)
2. Ibid.
3. Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme (The Reversal of Colonial Land Occupation and Domination): Its Impact on the country’s regional and international relations. Paper presented by Dr I.S.G. Mudenge, Zimbabwe Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the Conference ‘The Struggle Continues’, held in Harare, 18-22 April 2004.
5. Globe and Mail (May 26, 1999)
6. “Grass-Roots Effort Aims to Upend Mugabe in Zimbabwe,” The New York Times, (March 28, 2005)
7. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)
8. Ibid.
9. New York Times (March 27, 2005)
10. See Frances Stonor Saunders, “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters,” New Press, April 2000; and “The Economics and Politics or the World Social Forum,” Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 35, September 2003,
11. New York Times (March 27, 2005)
12. Globe and Mail (March 26, 2005)
13. “What’s Really Going on in Zimbabwe? Mugabe Gets the Milosevic Treatment,” March 23, 2007,
14. Los Angeles Times (July 8, 2005)
15. New York Times, (December 4, 2005)
16. Washington Post (November 18, 2005)
17. New York Times (March 29, 2006)
18. New York Times (December 24, 2004)
19. Globe and Mail (March 23, 2007)
20. New York Times (December 24, 2004)
21. Ibid.
22. Globe and Mail (March 22, 2007)
23. The Herald (November 7, 2005)
24. Patrick Bond, “Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Like a Reactionary: Zimbabwe’s Descent,”, March 27, 2007,
25. Globe and Mail (March 23, 2007)
26. Times Online (March 5, 2006)
27. Gregory Elich, “Zimbabwe’s Fight for Justice,” Center for Research on Globalisation, May 6, 2005,
28. “Progressive Cuba Bashing,” Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2005.

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