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Zimbabwe Under Siege 8/13

A Plague of NGOs

British and American foreign policy has increasingly come to rely on the use of proxy organizations to carry out specific tasks involved in destabilizing other nations. The use of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) was a very effective tool in the campaign to overthrow the government of Yugoslavia, and much is expected from NGO operations in Zimbabwe. Although NGOs may appear to be independent organizations operating outside of government, many receive the bulk of their funding from Western governments, shape their policy in consultation with Western officials, and act in every way to further Western interests. As they work to undermine and destabilize nations and to further Western corporate interests, they cover their hostile actions with nice-sounding phrases such as "human rights" and "civil society." It is a perfect arrangement. For U.S. and British leaders, it allows them to engage in illegal and hostile actions against another nation while assuming a pose of innocence. Zimbabwe is cursed with a plague of NGOs, all operating with the self-righteous sense of mission that they have the right to meddle in the affairs of a Third World nation and with the colonial attitude that they should dictate how others are to think and live.

One of the more active NGOs in Zimbabwe is the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), which defines its purpose as providing "assistance in building and strengthening pluralist democratic institutions overseas." As always, terms such as "pluralist" and "democratic" actually signify parties and organizations that are willing to take orders from Western leaders and give primacy to Western corporate interests. The Westminster Foundation currently receives around $6 million from the British government, and is also tasked with "selected extra-budgetary technical assistance projects," so the true scale of government funding is much higher. The WFD may be the most perfect example of an NGO that is a government operation in every way except name. Sitting on its Board of Governors are representatives from each of the three major British political parties, along with representatives of business and other sectors of the society. Staffed and funded by the British government, it is no surprise that its policy happens to coincide with that of the British government. WFD has been involved in over 80 projects aiding the MDC, and helped plan election strategy. It also provides funding to the party's youth and women's groups. (45) The Foundation considers "the development of political parties as one of the key areas for our support and assistance," (46) and in 2000 it provided the MDC with $10 million. (47) No figures are available since then, but the flow of money has continued unabated, and some ZANU-PF officials indicate that the MDC had received at least $30 million by the beginning of 2002. (48) According to analysts, the majority of the MDC's funding originates from abroad. (49) Passage of the Political Parties (Finance) Act in Zimbabwe in 2001 made it illegal for political parties to receive financing from abroad, thus requiring the MDC to be more circumspect about the extent of its financial support from Western sources. The need for such legislation was urgent, as the influx of Western money was grossly distorting the political process. The effect, however, was merely to drive such contributions into the shadows.

The Westminster Foundation works closely with the major British political parties to assist in efforts to "strengthen individual political parties or movements with which they have a political affinity," and also provides training and consultation to parties such as the MDC. In all, the WFD spends fifty percent of its "project budget towards work which assists individual parties abroad," and the money is channelled through British political parties who then see to it that it ends up in the hands of its intended recipients. Propaganda is an important aspect of any destabilization campaign, and the WFD gives "direct support for media organizations" abroad. This support can include funding "production costs including equipment, training, expansion of circulation, radio and TV coverage," as well as a range of other activities. (50) The Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe, Stan Mudenge, claims to have "documentary evidence" that the WFD not only bankrolls the MDC, but also opposition media as well. (51) British and American leaders would never countenance a foreign power attempting to buy their elections or funding hostile media within their countries, yet they arrogate to themselves the right to engage in such activities against others.

Another so-called NGO active in Zimbabwe is the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust (ZDT), which claims to "advance the cause of freedom and democracy." Sponsored by prominent Western politicians and businessmen, the ZDT hopes that with a change in government, Zimbabwe will become "a magnet for investment." Western investment, of course. The patrons of the ZDT include former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, architect of the "Constructive Engagement" policy with apartheid South Africa during the 1980s. (52) Crocker has very specific financial interests in seeing Zimbabwe move to a more business-friendly environment, occupying a seat on the board of directors of the Ashanti Goldfields Company. Ashanti Goldfields owns seven producing gold mines located in four African countries, including Zimbabwe. The company brags that it is "managed predominantly by Africans," yet 9 of its 13 board members are either American or British. (53) Three former British foreign secretaries are listed as patrons of the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust: Sir Malcom Rifkind, Lord Douglas Hurd and Lord Geoffrey Howe. (54) The primary mover in the organization is reputed to be Sir John Collins, the Zimbabwean chairman of National Power, the largest British energy company which happens to have sizable investments in Zimbabwe. Rifkind is involved with an Australian company which owns a mine in Zimbabwe. Political analyst John Makumbe, a supporter of the MDC, admits, "It is largely white Rhodesians who are backing the trust." (55) To put it plainly, the ZDT receives much of its support from former officials and supporters of Ian Smith's apartheid Rhodesia.

The Southern African Media Development Fund (SAMDEF) focuses its attention on supporting "independent private media enterprises." In Zimbabwe, SAMDEF directs its aid, predictably enough, to opposition media. Among its projects was issuing a loan to the publisher of the opposition Mirror. The loan was "primarily aimed at making the newspaper competitive and improving its market share." When financial difficulties brought Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the major opposition newspaper Daily News, to the point of bankruptcy, SAMDEF stepped in and loaned the publishers $526,000, enabling it to stay afloat. The publisher proved recalcitrant in repaying its loan, however, and this failure was only recently resolved in court. It remains to be seen whether the loan will ultimately be repaid or turn out to be a gift. (56) The total budget of SAMDEF's financial assistance fund stands at almost $3 million, but is expected to expand by $2 million per year over the next three years. (57) SAMDEF lists among its partner organizations other NGOs working in Zimbabwe, such as the Media Development Loan Fund, which assists "independent news organizations working in difficult economic and political climates," and the U.S. Agency for International Development. SAMDEF is owned by another NGO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). An umbrella organization claiming 100 members, MISA's mission is to promote and support regional media friendly to Western interests. A significant portion of its funding is provided by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development. (58)

Closely involved in SAMDEF's operations in Zimbabwe is the Communication Assistance Foundation (CAF), which openly admits giving "financial support" to "independent media initiatives" and "media organizations." (59) CAF also participates in Zimbabwe Watch, a consortium of several NGOs from the Netherlands seeking to "influence policies," and "coordinate efforts to support Zimbabwean Civil Society," once again that widely used euphemism for organizations seeking to topple President Mugabe. A primary objective of Zimbabwe Watch is to "influence governments and government networks" such as the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations "to put pressure on the Zimbabwean government to hold free and fair elections," a term that is understood by NGOs as any election the opposition wins. "Political and economic sanctions could be useful means" of applying pressure, Zimbabwe Watch helpfully suggests. (60)

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