what's left

Negative Image: Robert Mugabe through the Lens of Western Propaganda

Posted in Zimbabwe by what's left on August 14, 2008

By Stephen Gowans

Leaders who have committed offenses against democracy, human rights and international law on a level far graver than the offenses Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has been accused of committing, are rarely, if ever, vilified by Western government officials, the media and left intellectuals. By contrast, Robert Mugabe has been subjected to a sustained barrage of criticism, often bordering on the hysterical, for crimes that, laying aide whether they’ve been committed or not, are minor in comparison. I’ll show that an inconsistency in the treatment of Mugabe does indeed exist, and explore the reasons why. I’ll also show that there are compelling reasons to be skeptical of the case against Mugabe.

That Western state officials, journalists and commentators apply a double standard to Zimbabwe and its leader isn’t difficult to establish. One need look no further than the address made this year by Mugabe-opponent Arthur Mutambara, delivered on Heroes’ Day, when Zimbabweans commemorate their national liberation struggle. Mutambara’s opposition to Mugabe stretches back to the late 80s, when, as a young engineering student, he led anti-government protests at the University of Zimbabwe. Today, he leads one faction of Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. In March, 2006, Mutambara vowed to remove Robert Mugabe from power with every tool at his disposal. [1]

“For the democratic forces in Zimbabwe, Western double standards and dishonesty have actually damaged our cause and cost us immensely. Western governments have undermined our legitimacy, strengthened our opponents (the dictatorship), removed our moral authority, and ruined our effectiveness and standing among Africans…We are sick and tired of the hypocrisy, double standards, racism and downright dishonesty. The West must not hide its true motive. Where are the Western democratic demands to Egypt, Angola, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Israel, Pakistan, and Kuwait? Moreover, what does the record of the US and UK in Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay teach us? What are the lessons from the ghettos of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles? Who took out Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende and Kwame Nkrumah? Who created and nursed Mobutu Sese Seko, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Jonas Savimbi and Osama Bin Laden?”

Mutambara’s criticisms of the West’s double standards echo those of the new ANC leader, Jacob Zuma, who, himself, has been critical of Mugabe.

“We had millions dying in Angola, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, but no one said the sky must fall. No one! I met Mugabe a couple of times and he asked me questions I could not answer. He was critical of President George Bush and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He said: ‘These two are hypocrites. While criticizing me, they are embracing the leader of Pakistan, a military man who staged a coup against his government. He even wears a military uniform on TV. He is their friend, yet, he has no constitution. Those are double standards.’”

Zuma continued:

“I didn’t have an answer. There was rigging of elections in Nigeria. Even Olusegan Obasanjo, the outgoing president, admitted that there was rigging. But nobody said the sky must fall. Nobody said there must be regime change.

Thousands died in the Kenyan crisis. Nobody said there must be regime change. Let us not single out Zimbabwe as if it is the only country with such problems.” [2]

Of course, Mutambara’s and Zuma’s complaining that the West applies a double standard to Zimbabwe doesn’t make it so. But both leaders are only acknowledging what most Westerners don’t know: That crimes against democracy and human rights worse than any Mugabe have been accused of, happen in many countries throughout Africa – often where governments facilitate the profit-making of Western corporations and investors. There is a quid-pro-quo between these leaders and the Western governments that sponsor them. Allow me these offenses – which are undertaken on your behalf – and say nothing about them.

Newspapers dutifully document the crimes against democracy carried out in African countries, but infrequently, and in piecemeal fashion. It’s left to the careful reader, who clips articles and catalogues them for future reference, to piece together the connections and tease out the patterns. Rarely do the media draw attention to the patterns, but sometimes glimpses of them begin to emerge. On August 2, Britain’s The Independent noted that:

“On paper, Equatorial Guinea is one of the richest countries in Africa. In reality, the money is controlled by one man, President Obiang Nguema, a dictator who ‘won’ 97 per cent of the vote last time he bothered asking. The situation is similar in Gabon, where oil revenues have kept a dictator in power for more than 40 years. Yar’Adua became president in April 2007. He would say he was elected, but few who witnessed the poll would describe it as democracy.”

Yet both leaders, the newspaper points out, are supported by the British government. What The Independent doesn’t reveal, however, is that while the dictators of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are spared sanctions, threats of military intervention, and campaigns of demonization – and, on the contrary, enjoy London’s diplomatic support and military assistance — the Mugabe government is the principal target, along with the Sudanese government of Omar al-Bashir, of regime change efforts in Africa. Oil dictators who don’t bother with elections receive London’s quiet blessing, while Mugabe, who has just come through elections in which his party lost its legislative majority and placed second in the first round of the presidential poll, is sanctioned, threatened and demonized for alleged democratic lapses.

One could go further. Ethiopia’s prime minister Meles Zenawi was handpicked by former British prime minister Tony Blair to lead Blair’s “African renaissance.” Ethiopia receives humanitarian aid from Britain and annual injections of military aid from Washington. [3] Yet:

“The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has often dealt brutally with people deemed threatening to his fragile ruling coalition. In the capital, people suspected of supporting opposition groups routinely disappear from their neighborhoods, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a pro-democracy group based in Addis Ababa.

Elsewhere, the government is conducting brutal campaigns against separatist rebels and opposition movements in the Ogaden and Oromia regions, where the council and reporters have documented widespread extrajudicial killings, illegal detention and torture.

The journalists were among thousands of people, including the country’s top opposition leaders, who were arrested in the capital during protests following Ethiopia’s 2005 elections, in which the opposition made significant gains.” [4]

On December 24, 2006, Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia, touching off an immense humanitarian catastrophe. There has been virtually no condemnation of this aggression — anywhere. While the Marxist Internet discussion group, Marxmail, contains hundreds of exchanges and comments on Robert Mugabe (the majority negative) there are only a couple of dozen references to Meles Zenawi.

US-trained Ethiopian forces moved into Somalia shortly after US General John P. Abizaid, at the time responsible for US military activities in Africa, flew into Ethiopia to confer with Meles. Meles assured the US proconsul that the Ethiopian military would cripple the Islamic Courts Union, the Islamist movement that had won popular support among Somalis. Since then, Ethiopia ground forces, along with US air and naval forces, have battled the Somali resistance. [5] Thousands of Somalis have been killed, one million have been displaced and one-third needs emergency food aid. [6] This is a humanitarian catastrophe as worthy of attention as the catastrophe in Darfur and the too infrequently remarked – and much larger – humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq. But only the Darfurian catastrophe commands the attention of government officials, the media and do-gooders.

Were vilification of African leaders commensurate with the magnitude of their transgressions, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak – a man who has ruled Egypt as long as Robert Mugabe has led Zimbabwe – would surely be one of the most vilified leaders. Instead, last January “President Bush lavished praise on” Mubarak “while publicly avoiding mention of the government’s actions in jailing or exiling opposition leaders and its severe restrictions on opposition political activities.” [7] The severe restrictions include a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition party. Mubarak and his son Gamal, who is expected to succeed his father, are seen in Egypt correctly as “Washington’s lackeys.” [8] This explains why, rather than being taken to task for locking up opposition politicians, beating street demonstrators, imprisoning bloggers who criticize the president, and banning the creation of new opposition parties, Mubarak receives $2 billion in US aid every year – and is lavishly praised whenever the US president visits. [9]

The claim that Mugabe is a dictator, or that Zimbabwe is effectively a one-party state, is partly based on Mugabe’s longevity in power – 28 years. But there are African leaders who have been in power as long as or longer than Mugabe has, who Western government officials, the media and left intellectuals rarely, if ever, denounce as dictators. Apart from the already mentioned Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, one year less than Mugabe, there is: Omar Bagon of Gabon, who has been in power 41 years, since 1967; Muammar Gadaffi of Libya, in power for 39 years, since 1969; Obiang Ngeuma Mbasongo of Equatorial Guinea, in power for 29 years, since 1979; and Paul Biya of Cameroon, in power for 26 years, since 1982. [10]

There’s an obvious double standard in the fact that there is no Western campaign to oust…

“President Omar Bongo (who) has the distinction of being the longest-reigning president on the African continent. He came to power on 2 December 1967 – 41 long years ago. But because he has not stepped on any Western interests, and still allows French and other Western capital to dominate his economy, Bongo can go to sleep if he wants as his people wallow in abject poverty, and not one Western government or its media will ever point one accusing finger in Bongo’s direction.” [11]

Even the CIA admits Bongo is a dictator. He…

“introduced a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. However, allegations of electoral fraud during local elections in 2002-03 and the presidential elections in 2005 have exposed the weaknesses of formal political structures in Gabon. Gabon’s political opposition remains weak, divided, and financially dependent on the current regime.”

The reasons for Bongo’s immunity from demonization are revealed further on in the CIA account:

“Despite political conditions, a small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous and stable African countries.” [12]

A search for Omar Bongo in the Marxmail archives turns up only five references. Mugabe’s name comes up 976 times.

One could be excused for thinking that the following, from The New York Times of November 3, 2007, is a description of Robert Mugabe, for it fits the familiar outline, typical of portrayals of the Zimbabwean leader in the Western media. He is…

“domineering and abrasive. His opponents accuse him of hoarding and abusing power, and of running the nation through a clique that will neither tolerate dissent nor engage in dialogue with the opposition, which (he) has repeatedly made clear he despises and considers weak.

The government also faces pressure from rising prices and (high) unemployment, and over complaints about a weak judiciary that many government officials concede lacks independence and which the opposition says remains corrupt. Economic conditions remain difficult enough that many … travel abroad for work.”

The New York Times of August 14 notes that:

“Last fall, he deployed riot police with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons against unarmed demonstrators. He also used his police to destroy an opposition television station, which went off the air as masked officers stormed it. His critics say that…his record as a democrat was long ago checkered.”

You would think the references to the hoarding and abuse of power, to a weak judiciary, to the suppression of opposition media, to inflation and high unemployment, and to a checkered commitment to democracy, would call forth the same demands made in connection with Zimbabwe, that the West intervenes to save the long suffering people of this country from their tyrannical leader. Only the descriptions above are of Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, much beloved in Western ruling class circles for dragging Georgia out of Russia’s orbit and placing it firmly in their lap. Accordingly, all is forgiven. There will be no sanctions imposed on Georgia, no discussion at the UN Security Council about how to punish Saakashvili’s “regime”, no BBC “The World Has its Say” program asking what “we” should do about Georgia, and no sustained media attack on Saakashvili and his government.

The inconsistency and double standards of Western governments undermine their commitment to democracy, but do they undermine Zimbabwe’s opposition, as Mutambara fears? This could only happen if the opposition is seen to be linked with the West in important ways (otherwise how could the West’s hypocrisy discredit Zimbabwe’s opposition?)

It’s not clear, however, that Western governments have undermined the opposition’s legitimacy, so much as the opposition has undermined its own legitimacy by courting and accepting funding and direction from Western governments, and from anyone else willing to play sugar daddy, from billionaire speculator George Soros to South Africa’s Democratic Alliance party. [13]

References to Western funding of the MDC, and that of its civil society front organizations, have cropped up often enough to cast doubt upon MDC assurances that it doesn’t accept foreign funding.

For years, the Mugabe government complained that Britain, and later the US, was bankrolling the MDC. Tony Blair provided partial confirmation when he told the House of Commons in 2003 that “We work closely with the MDC.” [14] While this didn’t amount to direct evidence of London acting as the party’s paymaster, it was at the very least an indication that the MDC isn’t working by itself. And, indeed, there are manifold connections between the MDC and Zimbabwe’s former colonial master.

The reality that the MDC has an office in London; that British prime minister Gordon Brown has formulated an economic recovery plan for Zimbabwe to be rolled out the moment Mugabe is gone [15]; that James Rose, an Australian with a background in journalism, is writing Tsvangirai’s comment pieces in Western newspapers [16]; that Tsvangirai’s presidential campaign was run by Fleishman-Hillard with help from a former BBC political correspondent, Guto Harri [17]; and that “…between £5,000 and £10,000 a month…was being sent from the UK to back Mr. Tsvangirai’s campaign” [18] doesn’t help the MDC’s claim to be an independent party with a made-in-Zimbabwe agenda.

But if there is any doubt about the source of MDC funding, the doubt was laid to rest when Tsvangirai “was caught on camera admitting that his organization was financed by European governments and corporations, the money being channeled through a British firm of political consultants, BSMG.” [19]

The New York Times of December 24, 2004 acknowledged that the MDC’s dependence on Western governments for funding had become an open secret. Civil society groups, the newspaper reported, “and the Movement for Democratic Change…have broad Western support, and, often, financing.” Lest niggling doubts remain, on July 15, Katherine Almquist, USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa, told the US Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs that “USAID has a long and successful history of working with Zimbabwe’s civil society, democratic political parties, the Parliament and local government.” [20] USAID is the US State Department’s principal conduit for funneling non-military aid to overseas organizations to advance US foreign policy goals.

The MDC connections with the West have been so conspicuous that the party’s legitimacy as a party of, for and by Zimbabweans, as opposed to what Caesar Zvayi, former political editor with state-owned newspaper The Herald calls “a counter-revolutionary Trojan horse that is working with outsiders to subvert the logical conclusion of the Zimbabwean revolution” [21], has been weakened. In an interview on SW Africa (a Western government funded anti-Mugabe pirate radio station) British journalist Peta Thornycroft lamented that:

‘‘When the MDC started in 2000, what a pity that they were addressing people in Sandton, mostly white people in Sandton north of Johannesburg instead of being in Dar es Salaam or Ghana or Abuja. They failed to make contact with Africa for so long, they were in London, we’ve just seen it again, Morgan Tsvangirai’s just been in America. Why isn’t he in Cairo? Maybe he needs financial support and he can’t get it outside of America or the UK and the same would go for Mutambara. They have not done enough in Africa . . .” [22]

Tsvangirai’s penchant for seeking funding from organizations and individuals of European origin, and then lying about it, began early. In his autobiography, On the Contrary, Tony Leon, former leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to South Africa’s ANC, said that Tsvangirai had solicited and received funding from the Democratic Alliance’s key patrons. The MDC leader approached Leon about “opposition co-operation across the Limpopo,” but “later publicly changed his tune and started singing in the anti-DA/DP caucus – doubtless encouraged by the ANC,” writes Leon. In 2000, Zanu-PF ran full-page newspaper ads, portraying Tsvangirai as a puppet, controlled by various masters, including Tony Leon. [23] While Zanu-PF is often criticized for portraying the MDC as a puppet, the party’s portrayal has been on the mark.

This year’s Heroes’ Day address wasn’t the first time Mutambara has complained about Western hypocrisy. Last year he declared that his faction of the MDC stood “opposed to any form of imperialism.”

“We condemn Western double standards, duplicity, and hypocrisy. For example, while we appreciate Western pronouncements on the democratic deficits in Zimbabwe, we condemn the democratic exception they extend to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.” [24]

What Mutambara doesn’t address is why a double standard exists. But before we follow a path he hasn’t tread to ask why, let’s turn to the question of whether there is, indeed, a Zimbabwean democratic deficit, as Mutambara alleges.

The case for one rests on a few accusations that are either unsubstantiated, at odds with the evidence, or based on innuendo repeated so frequently it seems to be an unassailable truth. Significantly, the accusations are made by parties with a prior interest in discrediting the government for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with its adherence to democratic norms.

The US, Britain and EU became hostile to the government of Robert Mugabe in the late 1990s, for three reasons:

1. It had sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to defend the young government of Laurent Kabilla from an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan forces, backed by the US and Britain.

2. After initially complying with the prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund, it rejected the IMF’s demands, implementing economic measures hostile to the interests of Western creditors, investors and corporations.

3. It embarked on a program of democratizing patterns of land ownership, culminating in a high crime against capitalist probity – the expropriation of private property without compensation. [25]

For its opposing US and British imperial designs in southern Africa, placing domestic economic interests ahead of those of Western creditors, and providing a model of land reform that is intolerable to conservative forces committed to safeguarding the sanctity of private property, the US, Britain and their allies, decided that Mugabe’s term as president must end. To justify a program of regime change, Mugabe would be portrayed as a dictator who rigged elections, and a “grassroots democracy” movement would be created to remove Mugabe from power, either at the polls, or in the streets.

It was at this point that Britain provided the seed money, through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to build the Movement for Democratic Change, bringing together the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (of which Morgan Tsvangirai was leader) and civil society groups as founding organizations. That the real function of the MDC was to reverse Mugabe’s policies, and not to repair a democratic deficit that didn’t exist anyway, became clear when the white elite abandoned the Rhodesian Front and embraced the MDC as their new electoral vehicle.

The MDC’s name was carefully chosen. It was to be a “movement”, to distinguish it from a mainstream political party (which indeed, much as it pretends it’s not, it is), and it was to be called “democratic,” following the pattern of Western-backed opposition parties in other countries, such as Yugoslavia’s Democratic Opposition of Serbia. Calling itself a Movement for Democratic Change, reinforced the fiction that a change in government was necessary to restore democracy. And, of course, in a sense, this was true. To the US, British and European governments that back the MDC, democracy is more or less equivalent to free trade, free enterprise, free markets and above all, the sanctity of private property, within other countries’ borders. Equally, in the Anglo-American sense, democracy is an electoral competition among two or more parties committed to these values, or what Robert Dahl called polyarchy and Karl Marx called a contest to decide which representative of the bourgeoisie will oppress you for the next four years.

The MDC’s commitment to private property and capitalist freedoms – and hence, to democracy, in the Anglo-American sense — is categorical. One need only read Australian James Rose’s paeans to private property in the Wall Street Journal under Morgan Tsvangirai’s by-line [26] to see that for the MDC, as much as for its sponsors in Washington and London, democracy and the profit-making interests of Western capital are pretty much the same thing. The Movement for Democratic Change, then, is indeed a movement for democracy, though in very special senses of the words movement and democracy. Movement refers, not to self-funded grassroots organizations, but to NGOs funded by capitalist foundations, wealthy individuals and Western governments, while democracy refers to the accommodation of foreign investors.

Inasmuch as Western governments and the MDC leadership share a common interest in removing Mugabe from power (the Western governments wanting to reverse his economic and land reform policies and the MDC leadership wanting to come to power) there are ample grounds to be skeptical of the anti-Mugabe accusations they’ve made. Hitler’s accusations against the targets of Nazi aggression would hardly be taken at face value, yet obvious attempts to discredit Mugabe for political reasons by inveterate liars (George Bush and Tony Blair), a jingoistic media and recipients of regime change funding (Grace Kwinjeh and MDC civil society front organizations) are swallowed uncritically.

Mugabe’s alleged rigging of elections is based on negative assessments by election monitors on the payrolls of governments that have an interest in discrediting Mugabe. [27] For every negative assessment by the US, Britain, EU and organizations they control, there are positive assessments by other countries and their organizations, from Russia, China and Iran, to the African Union and Southern African Development Community.

In the Western world, it has been an article of faith that Mugabe rigs elections. Because the media have repeated the mantra so often, its truth is accepted as a given. This popular misconception is so firmly ensconced in the public mind that even the reality that Mugabe’s party lost its parliamentary majority in the March 29th elections, and that Mugabe ran second to Tsvangirai in the presidential race, has been powerless to dislodge it. The inconvenient truth that elections aren’t rigged to lose is circumvented by declaring the March 29th elections the sole set of legitimate elections. Electoral legitimacy, then, is defined in terms of outcome, not process: an election won by the Western-backed opposition is legitimate; an election won by Mugabe is not.

Mugabe’s long tenure as leader despite his alleged lack of popularity is offered as further proof that there is a democratic deficit in Zimbabwe. The only way Mugabe could have lasted 28 years in power without popular support, it’s suggested, is by rigging elections. But this supposes Mugabe is unpopular. He isn’t. Even at the ebb, in March, with the economy in a shambles, with sanctions creating widespread misery, and with the US, Britain and the Netherlands beaming anti-Mugabe broadcasts into the country, Mugabe’s party managed to win the popular vote in the assembly and senate races (however, owing to Zimbabwe’s first-past-the-post system, failed to secure greater parliamentary representation than Tsvangirai’s party.) In the presidential race, the supposedly wildly unpopular Mugabe took 44 percent of the vote. Tsvangirai got 47 percent, shy of the 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff election. But because the Western media overwhelmingly covered the election through the self-serving pronouncements of the MDC and its civil society front organizations, the Western public was bamboozled into believing that the people of Zimbabwe wanted Mugabe out. To be sure, some Zimbabweans wanted Mugabe out, but it is a select group of people that excludes 44 percent of the population.

With undiminished zeal in their commitment to remove Mugabe from power, Western governments and a mimetic media now declare the March 29th elections in which Tsvangirai received more votes than Mugabe, to be the last (and only) legitimate election, and therefore, the moral justification for insisting Mugabe step aside to allow their man, Tsvangirai, to govern.

Mugabe won the runoff election, but the regime changers condemn the runoff election as illegitimate, first, because they say it was a one-man race (Tsvangirai withdrew) and second, because they say the state used violence to intimidate opposition supporters.

While it’s true Tsvangirai withdrew from the election, his name remained on the ballot and the vote went ahead. It was not, contrary to media distortions, a one-man race, though it certainly may have effectively been one if his supporters stayed at home – which they seem to have done. But this raises a question about whether it’s legitimate for a candidate to withdraw from an election in midstream. If so, then the best course for an unscrupulous candidate is to see an election through to the end if he believes he has a good chance of winning, and to withdraw if he believes his defeat is imminent, declaring the election to be unfair.

In this way, he never yields moral authority to his opponent. MDC strategy, as dictated by the technicians of regime change in Washington — and this is the same strategy followed by Western-organized oppositions in Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus – is based on the heads I win, tails you lose principal. If I win, the election is fair. If I lose, it isn’t. If my victory is imminent, the election is fair. If my defeat is imminent, the election is unfair. The strategy recognizes no legitimate defeat for the Western-backed opposition. If the election goes the wrong way, or appears to be going the wrong way, the election is declared to be unfair, and on this basis, opposition supporters are called onto the streets to demand the government step down.

The strategy of impugning the legitimacy of elections is one the MDC has sought to follow in the past. Indeed, the split in the party between the Tsvangirai and Mutambara factions arose over the question of whether the party ought to participate in the 2005 senate elections. Tsvangirai favored a boycott, but was outnumbered in the party. The party voted for participation, Tsvangirai balked and, expressing contempt for intra-party democracy, led his supporters into his own faction where he can rule by fiat.

Tsvangirai never wanted to have to contest a runoff election. The party’s strategy was to declare victory before the ballots were counted, relying on so-called independent election monitors, who were in fact MDC front organizations that received funding from Western governments, to announce the opposition had won. Immediately after the election, Tsvangirai’s party declared its leader to have won over 60 percent of the vote. The figure was subsequently revised downward to between 57 percent and 58 percent. Finally, the party announced Tsvangirai had taken 50.3 percent of the vote, just enough to squeeze out a first-round victory. [28]

The announcement was accompanied by the party’s tally of the vote totals: Tsvangirai, 1,169,860; Mugabe, 1,043,451; Makoni, 169,636. Someone decided to do the arithmetic to verify the percentages. Tsvangirai’s share worked out to 49.1 percent, not 50.3 percent. [29] Later, on the eve of announcing the official results, the Zimbabwe Election Commission invited the parties to vet the results. Seeing their candidate had received only 47.9 percent of the vote, Tsvangirai’s representatives objected. Their tally, they explained, showed their candidate with over 50 percent of the vote. The electoral commission agreed to consider contrary evidence, allowing Tsvangirai’s people 24 hours to marshal its facts to show how their 50.3 percent figure had been arrived at. The next day Tsvangirai accepted the official figures. [30]

Shaken by its candidate running second to Tsvangirai in the election, Zanu-PF threw itself into the runoff with renewed vigor, while Tsvangirai left the country, returning to his accustomed jetting to foreign capitals, to confer with foreign patrons and solicit funding. He claimed he couldn’t campaign because his life was in danger. Chided by the US ambassador for shirking his responsibilities to campaign, Tsvangirai returned to the country, but took refuge in the Dutch Embassy, fearing, he said, for his life. That Tsvangirai moved freely from and to the embassy daily revealed this to be another MDC publicity stunt, designed to raise doubts about the legitimacy of an election there was a chance he would lose.

Widespread violence seemed to lend credence to the claim that Mugabe was using Zanu-PF activists to intimidate and murder the opposition, a claim Tsvangirai would eventually use as a pretext for withdrawing from the election and declaring its outcome to be illegitimate. He would also use it to declare his first round victory to be the only legitimate basis for deciding who should be president.

Western media coverage was, as is true whenever the interests of Western economic elites are at stake, overblown. No story that alleged Zanu-PF brutality was too farfetched to be rejected. The more brutal, the better. Christina Lamb’s New York Times story, “Mugabe’s thugs shout: ‘Let’s kill the baby’” stood in a long line of pro-regime change propaganda that turned out to be untrue, from the Gulf War story of Iraqi soldiers tossing Kuwaiti babies from incubators to the floor, to the lies about Serb concentration camps in Bosnia and fantasies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The report began:

“A baby boy had both legs broken by supporters of President Robert Mugabe to punish his father for being an opposition councilor in Zimbabwe…Blessing Mabhena, aged 11 months, was seized from a bed and flung down with force as his mother Agnes, hid from the thugs, convinced that they were about to murder her.”

A report by freelance journalist, Douglas Merle in Harare:

“There was a tremendous hammering on the door of her home. Realizing that President Mugabe’s thugs were hunting for her, Agnes Mabhena, the wife of an opposition councilor, quickly hid under the bed. It was too late for her to grab Blessing, her 11-month old baby, who was crying on top of it. ‘She’s gone out. Let’s kill the baby,’ she heard a member of the gang say. The next thing she saw from under the bed was Blessing’s tiny body hitting the concrete floor with a force that shattered his tiny legs. ‘It is just a baby — leave it alone,’ another said, and the thugs left. All day Mabhena stayed at home with her screaming son, too terrified to move. Her neighbors, knowing that the family was regarded as opponents of Mugabe, were too frightened to help. Now encased in plaster, his little legs stick out at an odd angle below his blue romper suit. Unless he has orthopedic help soon, he may never walk.’” [31]

The New York Times was forced to run a lengthy correction on July 9 after the newspaper learned that boy’s mother lied to get money to pay for an operation to correct the child’s bowed legs.

This wasn’t the only time a story had been fabricated to discredit the Zimbabwe government.

“On 6 February 2002, The Zimbabwean Independent carried an article titled, My Ordeal as Mugabe’s Prisoner, written by Basildon Peta. In the piece, Peta claimed that Zimbabwe’s State security agents had wrongfully jailed him. The article was subsequently reproduced in many other newspapers in the West and elsewhere. It later turned out that the Zimbabwe police or state security agents had never arrested Peta. The fictitious article, in which Peta described vividly his ‘holding cell,’ an imaginary blocked toilet and the coarse behavior of Zimbabwe’s security agents, was in fact the result of his fertile imagination… Peta was dismissed from his job as a “special projects editor. He fled Zimbabwe in disgrace to South Africa only to claim to the sympathetic Western media there that he had been ‘hounded’ out of Zimbabwe by a repressive state for his ‘fearless reporting.’ Thus, a dishonest man, who had been exposed to the world as a shameless liar, was hailed by the Western media as a hero. In no time, he was snapped up by the white South African media.’” [32]

Basildon Peta now reports on Zimbabwe for Britain’s The Independent.

No one denies there was violence during the runoff election, and no one denies that Zanu-PF activists participated in it. But was it planned and initiated by the Zanu-PF leadership, or was it spontaneous? Was it one-sided?

One could address these questions at length, pointing to the MDC’s long history of using violence to achieve political ends, [33] and to Mugabe’s frequent appeals during the election campaign to both sides to renounce violence. One could also point to the Human Rights Watch report that said “MDC supporters had burned homes of known Zanu-PF supporters”[34]; to the UN’s top human rights official Louise Arbour’s acknowledgement that the violence was not exclusively inflicted by supporters of Zanu-PF [35]; and to this, from MDC member and civil rights lawyer Paul Themba Nyathi: “Tsvangirai’s followers seem to be saying to themselves that they can win elections by beating people and by using the crudest methods of intimidation.” This has largely escaped the attention of the media “because the big prize is still to rid the country of Mugabe.” [36]

All of these things can be pointed to, but all that needs to be pointed to, is this: On August 7, the following statement was signed by representatives of Zanu-PF and the two MDC factions.

“The parties, acknowledging that violence that is attributable to us and which has been injurious to national and human security, has, indeed, occurred in the country after the 29 March, 2008 harmonized elections, hereby call upon all our supporters and members and any organs and structures under the direction and control of our respective parties to stop and desist the perpetration of violence in any form.” [37]

The statement doesn’t say that Zanu-PF activists were solely culpable of using violence for political ends, but that activists of all parties were culpable, including Tsvangirai’s. If Tsvangirai’s followers were trying to ”win elections by beating people and by using the crudest methods of intimidation,” as MDC member Paul Themba Nyathi alleges, and the statement fails to deny, how can Zanu-PF be held solely responsible for undermining the legitimacy of the election?

This doesn’t mean, however, that because he won the last legitimate election uncorrupted by violence that Tsvangirai should be president. Tsvangirai’s followers, as much as Mugabe’s, invalidated the legitimacy of the mandated election that followed. Were Tsvangirai allowed to claim the presidency on this basis, any candidate who won a plurality in the first round of an election, could circumvent the constitutional requirement to achieve a majority, by provoking violence during the next round in order to declare the first round as the only legitimate round. Why take a risk of losing in the second round, when you can claim victory based on the first?

What’s required is another election, this time free from violence. The trouble is, measures the state takes to prevent the eruption of violence will be branded as authoritarian, dictatorial, and anti-democratic — precisely the charges hurled at Mugabe’s government when it took steps to prevent political violence. The reality is that an opposition party that is bent on coming to party by any means – and it should be recalled that Mutambara said in 2006 that he wouldn’t rule in or out any method to remove Mugabe from power – can be expected to be rewarded for its use of violence. If unchecked by the state, the opposition’s violence disrupts and intimidates government supporters. It the state acts to check the violence, or government supporters retaliate, the government can be accused of disrupting and intimidating the opposition, undermining the basis for a fair vote. Either way, the opposition wins. If the vote goes ahead, and the opposition wins, it can lay claim to power. If the vote goes ahead, and the opposition loses, it still has a chance to attain power by contesting the legitimacy of the vote, using this as justification for taking power unconstitutionally.

Conclusion

The Mugabe government committed three offenses against the interests of the hereditary capitalist families, investment bankers, CEOs and corporate lawyers who dominate the politics of the major capitalist countries.

1. It opposed US imperial designs in southern African by intervening militarily in the resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo to protect the Laurent Kabila government from a joint Rwandan-Ugandan invasion, backed by Washington and London;

2. It backed away from the demands of the IMF by implementing Zimbabwe-first economic policies that subordinated the interests of Western creditors, investors and corporations to those of local business people;

3. It pushed ahead with a land reform program that violated a cardinal capitalist rule: you don’t expropriate private property and if you absolutely must, you don’t do it without compensation.

These offenses have nothing to do with a failure to adhere to democratic norms. The idea that there is a democratic deficit in Zimbabwe, and that the West is backing the MDC to redress the deficit, is a fiction, cooked up to justify a program of regime change to reverse the Zanu-PF policies that offend the interests of economic elites in the Western world. Part of the program of regime change involves vilifying Mugabe as a deeply unpopular leader who clings to power through guile and violence. This is nonsense. Mugabe has managed to command the support of nearly half the Zimbabwean population, despite the massed efforts of the US, Britain and EU to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy and to discredit Mugabe, his government and his policies through propaganda broadcasts beamed into the country by short-wave radio and creating and bankrolling a set of hostile civil society organizations bent on regime change. Few leaders would be able to withstand this concerted barrage and still make a highly respectable showing in free and fair elections. Mugabe has.

Other African leaders have played a neo-colonial role, acting as local collaborators, or compradors, facilitating the profit-making activities of Western corporations and investors, while intervening militarily in neighboring countries on behalf of their sponsor governments. Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, is a model case. A recipient of humanitarian aid from Britain and military aid from the US, Meles’ government serves US interests in the Horn of Africa through its military intervention in Somalia. Meles’ record as a democrat is atrocious but he gets away with it, because he does his sponsors’ bidding.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, known to Egyptians as an American lackey, is also a model comprador. He has served as president of Egypt almost as long as Mugabe has led Zimbabwe, but Mubarak retains power by banning opposition parties, imprisoning their leaders, and jailing bloggers who criticize him. Mugabe, on the other hand, tolerates an opposition that is linked in multiple ways to hostile foreign powers that seek his ouster. That there is truly a democratic deficit in Egypt is hardly of concern to Washington, which showers the Egyptian leader with $2 billion per year in military aid. That there isn’t a democratic deficit in Zimbabwe is equally of no concern to Washington. The appearance of one is readily created, to be swallowed whole by a distracted public and gullible left intellectuals.

1. Times Online, March 5, 2006.
2. Sunday Vision (Uganda), July 19, 2008.
3. The New York Times, December 15, 2007.
4. The Washington Post, August 21, 2007.
5. The New York Times, December 14, 2006.
6. The Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2008.
7. The New York Times, January 17, 2008.
8. The New York Times, September 20, 2006.
9. Ibid.
10. New African, June 2008.
11. Ibid.
12. Gabon entry in The CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gb.html
13. Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” June 24, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/
14. House of Commons, Hansard Debates text, 14 June 2003.
15. The Independent (UK), September 20, 2007.
16. TalkZimbabwe.com, July 9, 2008.
17. TalkZimbabwe.com, May 16, 2008.
18. The Independent (UK), June 28, 2008.
19. Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/state-media-and-ngos-collaborate-in-shaping-public-opinion-on-upcoming-zimbabwe-elections/
20. The Crisis in Zimbabwe and Prospects for Resolution. Subcommittee on African Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, July 15, 2008.
21. TalkZimbabwe.com, August 1, 2008.
22. The Herald (Zimbabwe) May 29, 2008.
23. Angela Quintal, “Tsvangirai lied about DA donors – Leon”, The Star (South Africa), August 12, 2008.
24. The Herald (Zimbabwe), August 16, 2008.
25. Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” June 24, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/
26. “The government of Zimbabwe must be committed to protecting persons and property rights as an essential part of the MDC’s recovery program. This means compensation for those who lost their possessions in an unjust way.” Zimbabwe’s program of expropriating land without compensation “scares away investors, domestic and international.” Wall Street Journal, quoted in Herald (Zimbabwe) March 23, 2008.
27. See for example Stephen Gowans, “State, media, and NGOs collaborate in shaping public opinion on upcoming Zimbabwe elections,” March 27, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/state-media-and-ngos-collaborate-in-shaping-public-opinion-on-upcoming-zimbabwe-elections/
28. New African, June, 2008.
29. TalkZimbabwe.com, April 4, 2008.
30. New African, June, 2008.
31. Talkzimbabwe.com, July 11, 2008.
32. Cited in Netfa Freeman, African Advocacy and the Zimbabwe Question, http://www.blackcommentator.com/285/285_africa_advocacy_zimbabwe_factor_freeman_guest.html
33. Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe’s political opposition deploys its own WMD claim,” May 20, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/05/20/zimbabwe%e2%80%99s-political-opposition-deploys-its-own-wmd-claim/
34. Human Rights Watch, April 25, 2008.
35. The New York Times, April 28, 2008.
36. TalkZimbabwe.com, April 28, 2008.
37. The Herald (Zimbabwe), August 7, 2008.

MRZine gets Zimbabwe Wrong…Again

Posted in Zimbabwe by what's left on August 14, 2008

By Stephen Gowans

MRZine has published an article on the power sharing talks in Zimbabwe by Shawn Hattingh, a research and education officer at the International Labor Research and Information Group. Hattingh makes the claim that “both the MDC and ZANU are neo-liberal” to wish a pox on both their houses.

There’s plenty of evidence that the MDC is neo-liberal, but the claim that Zanu-PF is neo-liberal is quite astonishing.

If it is neo-liberal, it’s probably the first and only case of a neo-liberal party that has rejected, and has been rejected by, the IMF, and probably the only neo-liberal party that restricts foreign ownership levels in key sectors, pursues public policy goals through state ownership of key enterprises, provides subsidized food baskets, imposes price controls and rejects national treatment of foreign investors.

One might wonder too why the neo-liberal US and British governments are so keen on removing the neo-liberal Robert Mugabe from power.

The fact of the matter is that it is precisely because the Zanu-PF government isn’t neo-liberal that the US, Britain and EU are campaigning to drive Mugabe – and his policies – out of Harare.

Below is The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal’s take on the economic policies of the government over which Zanu-PF has presided for 28 years:

o Total government expenditures, including consumption and transfer payments, are very high. In the most recent year, government spending equaled 50.3 percent of GDP. Privatization has stalled, and the government remains highly interventionist.

o The government sets price ceilings for essential commodities such as agricultural seeds, bread, maize meal, sugar, beef, stock feeds, and fertilizer; controls the prices of basic goods and food staples; influences prices through subsidies and state-owned enterprises and utilities.

o The government will consider foreign investment up to 100 percent in high-priority projects but applies pressure for eventual majority ownership by Zimbabweans.

o Zimbabwe has burdensome tax rates. The top income tax rate is 47.5 percent, and the top corporate tax rate is 30 percent.

To be sure, the policies are not socialist, but they are, at the same time, deeply hostile to neo-liberalism, and lean more strongly in the direction of social democracy than the economic policies of nominally social democratic and socialist governments elsewhere.

Zanu-PF is a pro-business, African nationalist, party — not a neo-liberal one.

Hattingh’s argument that “the best hope that Zimbabwe and its people have is for the people themselves to start building a truly anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, and democratic movement,” is not only based on the blunder of equating Zanu-PF with the MDC, but represents a flight from serious analysis into what Lenin called pious benevolence.

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