Archive for April 2008
By Stephen Gowans
Zimbabwe’s Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Friday denounced the US and Britain for their interference in Zimbabwe’s elections. At the same time, he decried the Morgan Tsvangirai faction of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), and its civil society partner, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), as being part of a US and British program to reverse the gains of Zimbabwe’s national liberation struggle.
“It is no secret that the US and the British have poured in large sums of money behind the MDC-T’s sustained demonization campaign,” Chinamasa said. (1)
“Sanctions against Zimbabwe (were intensified) just before the elections,” while “large sums of money” were poured into Zimbabwe “by the British and Americans to bribe people to vote against President Mugabe.” (2)
The goal, Chinamasa continued, is to “render the country ungovernable in order to justify external intervention to reverse the gains of the land reform program.” (3)
The justice minister went on to describe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC “for what they are — an Anglo-American project designed to defeat and reverse the gains of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, to undermine the will of the Zimbabwean electorate and to return the nation to the dark days of white domination.” (4)
The minister also described the ZESN as “an American-sponsored civil society appendage of the MDC-T.” (5)
Were they reported in the West, it would be fashionable to sneer at Chinamasa’s accusations as lies told to justify a crackdown on the opposition. But, predictably, they haven’t been. For anyone who’s following closely, however, the minister’s charges hardly ring false.
The ZESN is funded by the US Congress and US State Department though the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Its board is comprised of a phalanx of US and British-backed fifth columnists. (6)
Board member Reginald Matchaba Hove won the NED democracy award in 2006. Described by its first director as doing overtly what the CIA used to do covertly, the NED – and by extension the NGOs it funds — are not politically neutral organizations. They have an agenda, and it is to promote US interests under the guise of promoting democratization. Hove is also director of the Southern Africa division of billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute, which has been involved in funding overthrow movements in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere. Soros also has an agenda: to open societies to Western profit making. Indeed, the board members of the ZESN comprise an A-list of overthrow activists, with multiple interlocking connections to imperialist governments and corporate foundations.
It doesn’t take long to connect Hove to left scholar Patrick Bond (of Her Majesty’s NGOs) and his Center for Civil Society. The Center is a program partner with the Southern Africa Trust, one of whose trustees is ZESN board member Reginald Matchaba Hove. The Center for Policy Studies, whose mission is to prepare civil society in Zimbabwe for political change (that is, to prepare it to overthrow the Zanu-PF government), is funded by the Southern Africa Trust, a partner of Bond’s Center for Civil Society. Other sponsors include the Soros, Ford, Mott, Heinrich Boll (German Green party), and Friedrich Ebert (German Social Democrats) foundations, the Rockefeller Brothers, the NED, South African Breweries and a fund established by the chairman of mining and natural resources company, Anglo-American. Significantly, Zimbabwe is rich in minerals. Zanu-PF’s program is to put control of the country’s mineral resources, as well as its land, in the hands of the black majority, depriving transnational mining companies, like Anglo-American, of control and profits. Everjoice Win, the former spokesperson for the ZESN, is on the advisory board of Bond’s center. The Center supports the Freedom of Expression Institute (FEI), which is funded by George Soros and the British government’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). The FEI is a partner of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (also funded by the British government), whose director Rashweat Mukundu is a board member of the ZESN.
Bond co-authored a report with Tapera Kapuya, a fellow of ZESN sponsor, the NED. He also contributed to a report titled Zimbabwe’s Turmoil, along with John Makumbe and Brian Kagoro. The report was sponsored by the Institute for Security Studies, which is financed by the governments of the United States, Britain, France and Canada, the Rockefeller Brothers, and of course, the ubiquitous George Soros and Ford foundations. Makumbe has published in the NED’s Journal of Democracy, and is a former director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (funded, not surprisingly, by the NED). The Coalition, like the Center for Policy Studies, is devoted to ousting the Mugabe government under the guise of promoting democracy, but in reality promotes the profits of firms like Anglo-American and the interests of US and British investors. Kagoro is a former coordinator of the Coalition. Significantly, the Coalition is a partner of the ZESN.
Add to this Bond’s celebrating the Western-trained and financed underground movements Zvakwana and Sokwanele as an “independent left” (7) and his co-authoring a Z-Net article on Zimbabwe with MDC founding member Grace Kwinjeh  (MDC leader Tsvangirai admitted in a February 2002 SBS Dateline program that his party is financed by European governments and corporations (9)), and it’s clear that Bond links up with the spider web of American and British-sponsored civil society appendages of the MDC-T.
Chinamasa’s clarification of the connections between the US and Britain and Zimbabwe’s civil society and opposition fifth columnists is a welcome relief from Western newspapers’ attempts to cover them up. The ZESN, despite being generously funded by the US through Congress and the State Department, is described by the Western media as “independent” while ZESN partner, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), is called “an international pro-democracy organization” (10) and “a Washington-based group.” (11) What it really is, is the foreign arm of the Democratic Party. The NDI receives funding from the US Congress (as well as from USAID and corporate foundations), which it then doles out to fifth columnists in US-designated “outposts of tyranny.” Only in the service of propaganda would the Democratic Party be called “a Washington-based group.” One wonders how Americans would have reacted to the British monarchy parading about post-revolutionary Washington as a “London-based” group – an “international good government” organization bankrolling an American NGO to monitor US elections? Would anyone be surprised if the leaders of the British-financed NGO were dragged off to jail, especially were its backers openly working to oust the government in Washington to restore the rule of the British monarchy? In Zimbabwe, the only surprise is that the Zanu-PF government hasn’t reacted with as much force as the Americans would have done under the same circumstances. That Zimbabwe’s government has tried to preserve space for the exercise of political and civil liberties in the face of massive hostile foreign interference is to be commended.
Washington is quite open in its intentions to overthrow the Mugabe government. Under the 2001 US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act “the President is authorized to provide assistance” to “support an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe” and “provide for democracy and governance programs in Zimbabwe.” (12) This translates into the president financing anti-Zanu-PF radio stations and newspapers and bankrolling groups opposed to Zimbabwe’s national liberation movement to inveigle Zimbabweans to vote against Mugabe.
“The United States government has said it wants to see President Robert Mugabe removed from power and that it is working with the Zimbabwean opposition…trade unions, pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations…to bring about a change of administration.” (13)
Last year, the US State Department acknowledged once again that it supports “the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society” in Zimbabwe through training, assistance and financing. (14) And the 2006 US National Security Strategy declares that “it is the policy of the US to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation…with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in…” North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus and Zimbabwe. (15)
The goal of the overthrow agenda is to reverse the land reform and economic indigenization policies of the Zanu-PF government — policies that are against the interests of the ruling class foundations that fund the fifth columnists’ activities. The chairman of Anglo-American finances Zimbabwe’s anti-Mugabe civil society because bringing Tsvangirai’s MDC to power is good for Anglo-American’s bottom line. Likewise, the numerous Southern African corporations that Lord Renwick of Clifton sits on the boards of stand to profit from the MDC unseating Zimbabwe’s national liberation agenda. Lord Renwick is head of an outfit called the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust (ZDT), also part of the interlocked community of imperialist governments, wealthy individuals, corporate foundations, and NGOs working to reverse Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle. The ZDT is a major backer of the MDC. (16)
Police raids on the offices of the ZESN and Harvest House, the headquarters of the MDC, seem deplorable to those in the West who are accustomed to elections in which the contestants all pretty much agree on major policies, with only trivial differences among them. But in Zimbabwe, the differences are acute – a choice between losing much of what the 14-year long national liberation war was fought for and settling for nominal independence (that is crying uncle, so the West will relieve the pressure of its economic warfare) or moving forward to bring the program of national liberation to its logical conclusion: ownership of the country’s land, resources and enterprises, not just its flag, by the black majority. In this, there is an unavoidable conflict between “a government which is spearheaded by a revolutionary party, which spearheaded the armed struggle against British imperialism” and “a party that was the creation of the imperialists themselves (that) has been financed the imperialists themselves.” (17)
It’s impossible to achieve independence from foreign control and domination without turmoil, disruption and fighting – not when the opposition and civil society are directed from abroad to serve foreign interests. Can Zimbabwe’s elections honestly be described as free and fair when the economy has been sabotaged by the West’s denying Harare credit and debt relief  and where respite from the attendant miseries is promised in the election of the opposition? Are elections legitimate when media are controlled by outside forces (19), and civil society and the opposition have been controlled by foreign powers?
Chinamasa’s complaints, far from being demagoguery, are real and justified. Zanu-PF’s decision to fight, rather than capitulate, ought be applauded, not condemned. Imperialism cannot be opposed without opposing the MDC and its civil society partners, for they too are imperialism.
1. Herald (Zimbabwe) April 26, 2008.
6. Michael Barker, “Zimbabwe and the Power of Propaganda: Ousting a President via Civil Society,” Global Research.ca, April 16, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8675
See also http://www.ned.org/dbtw-wpd/textbase/projects-search.htm and http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Zimbabwe_Election_Support_Network
7. Stephen Gowans, “The Politics of Demons and Angels,” April 15, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/zimbabwe-and-the-politics-of-demons-and-angels/
8. Stephen Gowans, “The Company Patrick Bond Keeps,” March 24, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/the-company-patrick-bond-keeps/
9. Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia, http://www.cpa.org.au/booklets/zimbabwe.pdf . The MDC is also financed by the British government’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, whose patrons include former British foreign secretaries and is headed by Lord Renwick of Chilton, vice-chair of investment banking at JPMorgan (Europe.)
10. The Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 26, 2008.
11. The Washington Post, April 26, 2008.
13. The Guardian (UK), August 22, 2002.
14. US Department of State, April 5, 2007.
16. “Zimbabwe ambassador: Self-determination is at the root of the conflict,” FinalCall.Com News, April 22, 2008. http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_4611.shtml
18. Under the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, “the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against–
(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or
(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.”
19. The same question can be asked of elections in Western liberal democracies, where the media are controlled by an interlocked community of hereditary capitalist families and corporate board members who share common economic interests inimical to those of the majority.
By Stephen Gowans
A number of articles published here and elsewhere have been critical of progressives who have become entangled with foundations sponsored by corporations, imperialist governments and wealthy individuals. These progressives have been criticized by some for being willing to accept foundation support and by others for presenting themselves and other foundation-connected leftists as “independent” left voices. The first group of critics complains that progressives undermine their credibility by taking foundation grants and accepting foundation positions or unjustifiably enhance the credibility of the foundations they take money and jobs from. This group has no basic disagreement with the political positions of the foundation-connected progressives. The criticism of the second group, on the other hand, originates in disagreement over fundamental political positions. It defines the political position of foundation-connected progressives as pro-imperialist, not in intentions but in its effects, and argues that it is this basic political position which makes these progressives attractive to foundations. They appear to be credibly progressive – even radical – but in fact promote views that pose no real threat to corporate domination and indeed even buttress the ideological foundations of that domination. They are independent in the sense that they are not told to what to do or say, but their views considerably overlap in important ways those of their foundation sponsors.
The first group of critics argues that progressives should reject connections to corporate and government-controlled foundations, or, alternatively, should take the money but scrupulously refuse to self-censor, even if it means losing funding. The point of this article is to argue that were progressives to follow this advice, little of consequence would change.
The most significant role foundations play, is not in encouraging progressives to self-censor, either to guarantee ongoing funding or to secure funding for the first time (although this doubtlessly happens), but to funnel money to progressives who promote views that are no threat to continued ruling class domination and reinforce certain views and values that discourage leftists from emulating or supporting militant movements or parties, at home and abroad. By providing these progressives with a platform to reach a large part of the progressive community, the corporate community, through its foundations, puts these left intellectuals in a position to define for the progressive community a common sense that is at worst innocuous to the interests of foundation sponsors and more often indirectly conducive to those interests. More militant voices, whose views are uncompromisingly antagonistic to those of the foundations’ sponsors, are denied funding, and dwell, as a consequence, along the margins, where their ability to set the agenda is severely limited. This is a long-standing ruling class strategy: give the moderates a voice and marginalize the militants. If the militants can’t be marginalized, suppress them.
What would happen if those who self-censored refused to do so any longer, and renounced their ties to foundations, as the first set of critics prescribes? The same foundation money would flow to someone else who expressed the same self-censored views, only this time without the need of self-censorship. Wolfe’s quip applies not only to journalists but to intellectuals generally. “You cannot hope to bribe and twist, thank God, the British journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”
There is no shortage of people who lean to the left who needn’t be bribed through the promise of foundation grants or implicit threats of their withdrawal to express views that are pleasing to corporate foundation sponsors – views that implicitly accept as desirable certain societal arrangements or strategies for the left to follow that allow the corporate rich to maintain their dominance and further their goals. It’s wrong to suggest that Stephen Zunes has been bought or sold out because he has accepted a position with a foundation controlled by former Michael Milken right hand man Peter Ackerman. Zunes is saying what he would have said all along, even if he hadn’t forged foundation ties. That Zunes has found a community of interest with Ackerman, who is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and head of Freedom House, simply reveals how mildly left Zunes’ views really are.
Foundation-friendly leftist views hold that the world can be changed without taking power; that hierarchical political organizations of the type that have proved successful in class and national liberation struggles of the past are undesirable and should be set aside in favor of loose, decentralized, (and therefore ineffective) movements; that the highest task for progressives is the extension of the democratic project, defined without reference to class; and that this goal should be achieved by a loose coalition of grassroots groups practicing non-violent direct action. These views are, of course, far more pleasing to the dominant class than the view that says power should be seized and held onto to accomplish concrete anti-capitalist goals (freedom from exploitation or neo-colonial domination) and that the route to power lies in the same hierarchical, disciplined organizational forms that have proved successful in the past. Z-Net style progressives are pleasing to the ruling class because they promote a strategy for the left that has no chance of success, and is built around the pursuit of nebulous goals. To conserve the status quo, all you have to do is make sure this brand of leftism receives a large “advertising” budget, to maintain the “brand’s” dominant share position in the left community. I’m borrowing marketing terminology, but it fits well. Coke has more customers than RC Cola because it has a much large advertising and promotion budget. Foundation funding is like an advertising budget that allows the foundations’ sponsors to push their preferred brand (in this case, a brand of leftism) to the fore.
Telling progressives, therefore, that they’re being manipulated by foundations is pointless and at odds with reality. Many progressives with foundation ties are not being manipulated, bribed or bought. They point out correctly that there are no strings attached to the money they receive, they say what they want to say without interference, and they’ve secured a platform they would not otherwise have to advance views they strongly believe in. To these progressives, it is the foundations that are being used, not themselves. Journalists say the same: Editors don’t tell me what to write. But, then, editors don’t have to tell journalists who implicitly accept capitalist goals and values what to say. Likewise, foundations don’t need to use the threat of withdrawing support to left intellectuals. Many left intellectuals have, without the spur of stick or carrot, adopted views that are already, in the view of foundation sponsors, desirable for a leftwing opposition to hold.
The problem, then, is much larger than one of individuals’ relations to foundations. It is a problem of a class comprised of a tiny minority, which, by virtue of owning the major productive resources, has a virtual monopoly on resources that allow it to define the common sense of the age, not only broadly, but within the left community as well, by giving a platform to those who hold desirable views. The same problem surfaces in the media, where the parallel individualist solution of importuning journalists to stop self-censoring or give up their jobs as journalists, has obvious weaknesses. There is also an obvious weakness in FAIR’s strategy of asking the mass media to forget they’re owned and controlled by corporate wealth that has an interest in propagating certain views and values.
To define the common sense view, all you have to do is make sure those whose view of the common sense is compatible with your own interests, get heard. Challenging the virtual monopoly of the corporate rich to define the ruling ideas or to define what constitutes a desirable set of views and values for the left to hold cannot be done, therefore, by urging individuals to be incorruptible, most of whom are not corrupt now and are incorruptible anyway. The challenge is a systemic one, whose solution lies in changing the system, not individuals. So long as major productive resources are privately owned, the wherewithal to define the common sense will lie within the grasp of private owners. They will use foundations to raise the visibility and voice of left intellectuals who hold desirable views to weaken left opposition and divert its energies to humanitarian, but conservative, tasks which pose no threat to the interests and continued domination of the corporate rich. The left intellectuals who rise to prominence will do so, then, not because their arguments are more compelling, their approach more realistic, or their orientation more leftist, but because they’ve been handed a platform their militant left competitors are denied.
By Stephen Gowans
Stephen Zunes continues to complain about what he calls unfair attacks from critics who, he says, lie about him and the work of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, headed up by Wall Street investment banker, Council on Foreign Relations member, and Freedom House supremo, Peter Ackerman.
Zunes doesn’t respond to all attacks – only those that offer him room to exercise his talents for diversion, demolition of straw men, forensic sleight of hand, appeal to authority, invoking of honorific titles (it’s Dr. Ackerman by the way), red herrings and the trotting out of his progressive credentials. In marketing it’s called blowing smoke.
Zunes writes a lot in reply to critics but steers clear of the main criticisms. When challenged to talk about what he’s doing today, he talks about what he did yesterday. When criticized for his current links to ruling class regime change organizations, he tells us he opposed apartheid and Nato’s bombing of Yugoslavia. In all of this, what he doesn’t say directly is that he has no trouble with US regime change efforts – he just doesn’t always agree with the methods.
Zunes isn’t only a target of criticism; he doles out his fair share, too. Those who say nonviolent democracy activists are agents of imperialism, simply because they’re funded by imperialist governments, corporate foundations and wealthy individuals, are wrong. They’re promoting a conspiracy theory, he says. Foreign-funded “grassroots” activist groups have arisen spontaneously, and would have arisen in the absence of foreign funding. Besides, the funding they receive is too insignificant to make much of a difference. Those who try to discredit these groups by pointing to the groups’ sources of foreign funding are either misguided or lying.
If this is true, Zunes ought to lead a delegation to Washington to ask the NED, USAID, and USIA to stop giving money to regime change groups and media abroad. If the money makes little difference anyway and only brings these groups into disrepute and hands the local government an excuse to crackdown, surely the wisest course is to use the money for something truly progressive – like helping the victims of New Orleans, building decent inner city schools and funding a public health-care program, rather than squandering it abroad where it’s not needed. After that, he might set up meetings with Peter Ackerman, George Soros, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Canada’s Rights and Democracy, and Germany’s Heinrich Boll and Friedrich Ebert Foundations, to explain that the money they’re spending on regime change operations has little effect.
Zunes rails against the democracy promotion hypocrisy of Washington and says he works of behalf of democracy, whether it’s in Washington’s interests or not. But he fails to come to grips with the reality that nonviolent democracy promotion’s successes have come in countries where the local government is resisting being pulled into the US imperial orbit, never where it is already doing Washington’s budding. Were he to do so he would have to acknowledge that no matter what his intentions or positions on apartheid, Nato’s bombing of Yugoslavia and the US invasion of Iraq are, the effects of his actions are decidedly pro-imperialist.
Another thing. Someone ought to explain to Zunes that overthrowing a government nonviolently to impose foreign domination is as imperialist as doing the same with tanks, guns and cruise missiles. What’s at issue isn’t how the struggle is carried out, but why it’s carried out, who’s directing it, and who benefits.
Zunes travels aboard to train non-violent democracy activists. Does he use his own money to finance these trips? Do the groups he brings his missionary zeal to pass around a tattered hat to raise the funds to avail themselves of his expertise? Or is the tab picked up by the same wealthy individuals, corporate foundations and imperialist governments Zunes says are an unavoidable reality of capitalist society, that realists, like himself, have learned to compromise with?
As to his expertise, does he have a track record at home that qualifies him to train people abroad? Where are the homegrown nonviolent democracy activists he’s trained who have accomplished anything of significance? Have they made even the slightest dent in the vast US war machine, slowed, even for the briefest moment, the juggernaut of US imperialism, or advanced, even one iota, the project of ending the exploitation of man by man? Given that the challenges loom so large at home, and that, in his view, pro-democracy regime change groups are popping up spontaneously all over the world, and don’t need US funding and expertise to be successful, you would think Zunes would be busily working at home, rather than jetting off to someone else’s country to do missionary work for his corporate patrons.
Why does Zunes travel abroad anyway? Are foreigners incapable of organizing their own nonviolent opposition, in the same way, according to Washington, Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghans, Haitians and on and on are incapable of organizing their own police, military, elections and political system? How is it that in so many countries the talent to undertake basic political functions is absent, residing, it seems, exclusively in the US, Britain and other countries of the Anglo-American orbit? The dispatching of experts (the new missionaries) to organize political life in other countries is as much a part of imperialism as dispatching troops to topple governments. Zunes might reply that the ignorant of foreign lands, thirsty for democracy, asked for his expertise, but so too does Washington say Iraqis and Afghans, thirsty for democracy, asked to be occupied.
Zunes is no anti-imperialist. If the NED does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly, Zunes does overtly what CIA agents used to do covertly. But it’s not too late. If Zunes wants to become a true anti-imperialist, he should:
(i) resign his position as chair of the board of academic advisors to the ICNC and abjure all current and future connections to corporate and imperialist government-funded regime change organizations;
(ii) stay at home. Contrary to the paternalistic ideology that pervades the larger part of the progressive community, foreigners are indeed capable of organizing their own political affairs;
(iii) devote his energies, not to working with wealthy individuals, corporate foundations and imperialistic governments, but to working to change the system of which wealthy individuals, corporations and imperialistic governments are the masters and beneficiaries. This would truly do something to promote substantive democracy, not the hollow corporate brand Zunes does missionary work on behalf of today, as his CIA predecessors once did covertly not so long ago.
By Stephen Gowans
While the Western media loudly demonizes the government of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, it is fairly silent on the repressions of the US client regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
Outdoing each other in the quest for the William Randolph Hearst prize for excellence in yellow journalism, Western newspapers slam Mugabe as the “Monster” and “Hitler of Africa .” At the same time, civil society hagiographers compromise with imperialist forces to help oust the “dictator” in Harare, but on Egypt, have little to say.
Meanwhile, wave after wave of strikes rock Egypt, sparked by rising food prices, inadequate incomes, political repression, and the government’s gutting of the social safety net.
Virtually absent in a country which receives $1.3 billion in US military aid every year are democracy promotion NGOs helping to organize a people’s revolution. Indeed, it might be hypothesized that the amount of democracy promotion funding a country receives is inversely proportional to the amount of US military aid it receives.
Egypt is not even a limited democracy. It is a de facto dictatorship. You might, then, expect to find Stephen Zunes’ International Center for Nonviolent Conflict training nonviolent democracy activists to overthrow the Mubarak regime. You might expect the Voice of America to be broadcasting “independent” news and opinion into Egypt, urging Egyptians to declare” enough is enough!” Predictably, this isn’t happening.
A year and a half ago, Hosni Mubarak – seen in Egypt as “Washington’s lackey” (1) — reversed the country’s social security gains of the 50s and 60s. The changes, he said, would “not only aim to rid Egypt of socialist principles launched in the 60s, but also seek a more favorable atmosphere for foreign investment” (2) – the same goal the opposition seeks in Zimbabwe.
Elections held last June to select members of the upper house of Parliament were described by election monitors “as manipulated to ensure that the governing party won a majority of seats.” (3)
Still, in the West, few have heard of vote-rigging in Egypt. Most, however, are familiar with vote-rigging allegations against Mugabe. Few too know that in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, “the only opposition group with a broad network and a core constituency,” is banned. (4) At the same time, Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC has never been banned, despite its conspicuous connections to foreign governments that have adopted regime change as their official policy.
The Brotherhood’s “popularity is based on a reputation for not being corrupt and extensive solidarity work in clinics, nurseries and after-school tutoring.” Its volunteers “fill the gaps left by a state system that has seen illiteracy rise and services fail as liberal economic reforms enrich businesses close to the regime.’ (5) Zimbabwe’s opposition, by comparison, seeks to privatize, slash government spending and give the country’s prized farm land back to European settlers and their descendants to restore the confidence of foreign investors.
In recent years, “Egyptian officials have stepped up repression as a means to blunt the rising popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, locking up its leaders without charge. There is also talk of amending the constitution for president, but in such a way as to prohibit any independent candidate aligned with the Brotherhood.” (6)
As in Zimbabwe, a vast majority live in deep poverty, but unlike in Zimbabwe, “Egyptian authorities have cancelled elections, prohibited the creation of new parties and locked up political opponents.” (7)
Last June, “President Bush lavished praise on President Hosni Mubarak…while publicly avoiding mention of the government’s actions in jailing or exiling opposition leaders and its severe restrictions on opposition political activities.” (8) Bush’s silence contrasts sharply with his accusations against President Mugabe, who hasn’t jailed or exiled opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai or banned his party.
So, how is it that a regime that “arrests political opposition figures, beats street demonstrators, locks up bloggers, and blocks creation of new political parties” (9) gets so little attention in the West, while Zimbabwe gets so much?
And why is there a liberal-progressive-left affinity with opposition forces in Zimbabwe, when those forces are funded by a billionaire financier, capitalist foundations and Western governments, while if there’s any solidarity movement with the people of Egypt, it is virtually invisible?
The answer, I would suggest, lies in the failure of the greater part of the Western left to understand how corporate officers, corporate lawyers, and investment bankers set the agenda through their ownership of the media, domination of government, and control of high-profile foundations and think tanks.
Mubarak’s pro-investment policies and repression of the Arab street serve
the bottom-line interests of the US corporate class. Accordingly, the media and foundation agenda steers clear. What foundation grants are distributed, are handed out to groups that eschew confrontation, and seek to work within the system, rather than against it, to change it.
On the other hand, Mugabe’s land reform and economic indigenization policies challenge Western corporate and investment interests. It’s in the interests of European-connected commercial farmers, resource-extraction companies and Western banks, through their control of the media and foundations and domination of Western governments, to mobilize public opinion and forces on the ground to oppose these policies and replace them with more investment-friendly ones.
Not surprisingly, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the principal immediate potential beneficiary of the corporate-directed mobilization in Zimbabwe, promises to “encourage foreign investment” and to bring Zimbabwe’s “abundant farmlands back into health” (10) – that is, to return Zimbabwe to raising cash crops and to reverse legislation mandating majority ownership of the economy by the majority population.
This is an agenda that serves Western corporate elites, not ordinary people. Cheerleaders for a left practice of compromising with imperialism say this is a sign of independence. But a left that is regularly mobilized on behalf of corporate and investor interests when those interests are threatened, and remains quiescent when the same interests are being challenged, is hardly independent.
Western leftists should ask themselves fundamental questions.
Who owns and controls the media? Are the media neutral, or do they shape public opinion in ways that advance the interests of the media’s owners and others who share the same interests and connections? What are the interests of the people who own and control the media?
Who owns and controls the foundations that fund policy experts, including those on the left? Do foundations give money to people who effectively oppose their interests or to people who effectively advance them?
How will a leader, political party, or movement that effectively advances the interests of ordinary people over those of corporations, banks and imperialist governments be treated by the media and by foundation-connected experts (recognizing that corporations and banks own the media and foundations and dominate imperialist governments)? Will they be given grudging respect? Are will they be vilified?
If a leader promotes the interests of corporations and investors while cracking down on ordinary people (Mubarak) will he be demonized? If not, why not? And if a leader promotes the interests of ordinary people over those of foreign corporations, investors and colonial settlers (Mugabe), will he be treated indifferently?
1. New York Times, September 20, 2006
2. Al-Ahram Weekly, February 1, 2007
3. New York Times, June 15, 2007
4. New York Times, April 9, 2008
5. The Guardian (UK), July 19, 2007
6. New York Times, October 22, 2006
7. Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2006
8. New York Times, June 17, 2008
9. New York Times, September 20, 2006
10. The Guardian (UK), April 7, 2008
By Stephen Gowans
On March 27, I wrote about how the US state, media and NGOs were collaborating to shape public opinion on Zimbabwe’s March 29 elections.
The article centered on a March 26 New York Times report by Barry Bearak, titled “Hope and Fear for Zimbabwe’s Vote.”
Bearak’s reporting was confined to interviewing representatives of so called “non-governmental” election monitoring groups that, far from being “non-governmental”, are funded by the US government.
Not surprisingly, the misrepresented “non-government” voices Bearak featured in his article aped the line of the US government.
Bearak was arrested in Harare on April 3. He was in the country as a journalist without accreditation.
While Bearak’s arrest has been condemned as inexcusable repression, the New York Times reporter is part of a propaganda apparatus integrated into US regime change efforts in Zimbabwe.
In 1977, Carl Bernstein showed how the US media had worked hand in glove with the CIA. Foreign correspondents, including those of the New York Times, acted on behalf of the US intelligence agency while on assignment abroad.
While Bearak may or may not have been acting on behalf of the CIA, there are sufficient grounds for authorities in Zimbabwe (or for anyone else for that matter) to suspect he was.
Even if Bearak is free from CIA-connections, he was not in Zimbabwe as a neutral observer but as an active participant in efforts to oust the Mugabe government and its program of investing Zimbabwe’s liberation with real content.
Overthrowing Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party’s program will clear the way for the reversal of the agrarian reforms and will block further efforts to put the country’s economy in the hands of the black majority.
Bearak’s arrest should be considered neither surprising nor indefensible.
For the latest foundation-sponsored Patrick Bond spin on Zimbabwe, check out Pambazuka News, brought to you by The Ford Foundation and George Soros as well as Fahamu, i.e., the US Congress-funded Media Institute of Southern Africa, the European Union, and, oh yes, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
By Stephen Gowans
The idea of demonizing a country’s leadership is to portray the political situation in the country as akin to having a thorn in your foot. Nothing else matters but getting the thorn out.
The war on Iraq was sold as an exercise in extracting a thorn named Saddam Hussein. Nothing else mattered – not how many would be killed, maimed or left homeless by war, and not even whether there were really any WMDs. All that mattered was getting rid of the thorn. Even high-profile left-wing critics of US foreign policy said the world would be a better place once the thorn was gone.
Except the world didn’t become a better place. The rape and torture rooms George Bush said Saddam Hussein operated were replaced by rape and torture by US troops. Numberless people lost their lives. Millions lost their homes. The death and destruction that would have been caused by Saddam Hussein, was nothing compared to the death and destruction US forces brought. For Iraqis, the US exercise in thorn removal was, remarked William Blum, like going into the hospital with an ingrown toenail, and coming out minus two legs.
If you believe civil society scholars, NGOs and opposition parties – all linked by the same sources of Western foundation and government funding – there’s a thorn in Zimbabwe that must be got rid of. Nothing else matters but getting the thorn out.
This obsession blinds people to what’s left after the thorn is removed.
Anyone not so obsessed can see. If the civil society scholars, NGOs and opposition parties who are agitating to get Mugabe out are funded by corporate wealth and imperialist governments, then what succeeds Mugabe will benefit corporate wealth and imperialist governments. That is, unless corporate wealth and imperialist governments are presided over by morons who dole out cash to people who are working against their interests.
If the obvious is lost on the thorn-obsessed, it’s not lost on others. Here’s what David Blair, writing in the Irish newspaper, The Independent, predicts that a Mugabe successor would do:
Reduce the size of the civil service.
Privatize the publicly owned companies.
Slash military spending.
Allow white farmers to return.
Repeal land ownership laws which make all agricultural land the property of the state.
Restore private title deeds.
Is Blair wrong? After Slobodan Milosevic was forced out of office in Yugoslavia, the opposition – a carbon copy of the one in Zimbabwe – came to power and did exactly what Blair predicts Zimbabwe’s opposition would do: slash and privatize.
The beneficiaries, not surprisingly, were corporate wealth and imperialist governments. These were the sources of funding for the civil society groups that ran Milosevic out.
The thorn – or what was made into a thorn, by propaganda and the miseries that attended military aggression and economic warfare – was gone, but the promised relief never materialized.
Instead, the lives of ordinary people became poorer and more uncertain. They returned to their proper place: to be screwed by Western investors, corporate executives and the modern-day equivalents of self-confident Englishmen in pith helmets and jodhpurs.