Western media have recently raised alarm over the arrest of anti-Mugabe activist Jestina Mukoko, leader of the Zimbabwe Peace Project. Mukoko has been accused of trying to recruit government opponents for military training to overthrow the Mugabe government.  Mukoko’s arrest has been condemned as illegitimate by the Western media, and the Zimbabwe government’s accusations against Mukoko have been dismissed as unfounded.
Unlike the Western media, which is certain that any charge by Mugabe against his opponents is false, (and that any charge by Mugabe opponents against Mugabe is true), I have no idea whether Mukoko has been involved in a plot to recruit government adversaries for military training or not. I do believe, however, that the accusation can’t be dismissed out of hand. There is sufficient evidence to tie Mukoko to efforts to overthrow the Mugabe government. The accusation must, therefore, be regarded as credible on the surface. At the same time, however, it must be acknowledged that plausibility does not equal proof, and that Mukoko may indeed be innocent.
Let’s place the accusation in context.
Mugabe’s government is trying to free Zimbabwe from neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism is the condition in which a former colony, while winning a nominal political independence, has failed to achieve economic independence. Under neo-colonialism, the pattern of ownership of a country’s productive assets remains largely unchanged from colonial times. The newly “independent” government takes over the country’s administrative tasks, while settlers and the former colonial masters continue to reap the benefits of owning the country’s productive assets and natural resources. Since challenging the pattern of ownership threatens to touch off an economic crisis and invite intervention from outside, newly independent governments typically shy away from anti-neo-colonial measures, seeking to accommodate, rather than antagonize, settlers and outside owners. This has not been the Mugabe government’s approach since the late 1990s.
After independence, a tiny minority of people of European descent continued to own the most productive farmland, while ownership of the country’s mineral wealth remained largely in the hands of outsiders. Access to credit and development aid from international lending institutions was made contingent on adopting economic policies that favored the economic elite of donor countries, i.e., the same outsiders who already dominated the economy. The prospect for the indigenous population, then, was one of continued life as either landless peasants or employees of companies controlled from afar. This, in fact, was the same condition most people lived under, under colonial rule.
Mugabe’s government began to challenge Zimbabwe’s neo-colonial status around 2000, with the predictable consequence of economic backlash, as the US, Britain and the European Union imposed sanctions and blocked Zimbabwe’s access to international lines of credit, and built up an internal opposition to destabilize the country. The Mugabe government’s challenge to neo-colonialism came in the form of a fast track land reform program to redistribute land owned by 4,000 famers of European descent to 300,000 landless families  and indigenization laws that would see either the government or indigenous Zimbabweans take controlling stakes in all foreign-owned banks and companies.” 
To derail the Mugabe government’s efforts, Western powers, whose banks and corporations benefit from neo-colonialism, created a new political party out of Zimbabwe’s civil society. The MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change, would seek to remove Mugabe’s government and reverse its offending anti-neo-colonial policies, through electoral challenges, and by crying foul whenever electoral challenges failed. Mugabe would be accused of rigging elections (long before they had been held), and supporters of the MDC would be called into the streets whenever their party lost, in an effort to recreate the color-coded revolutions that Western governments had promoted to topple governments elsewhere. Like the parties that had benefited from Western-guided color revolutions in other countries, Zimbabwe’s MDC was in favour of keeping the levers of the economy firmly in the hands of outsiders (which is to say, in the hands of the same forces that back the party and shape its policies. )
At the same time, the US Congress, through its National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and the US State Department, through its United States Agency for International Development (USAID), took a hand in nurturing and strengthening Zimbabwe’s civil society as a pole of opposition to the Mugabe government. This is where Mukoko comes in. While anti-Mugabe activists are depicted as independents who challenge the government through grassroots efforts, they are almost invariably funded, aided, advised and mentored by Western governments working through foundations and agencies. There is very little that is independent or spontaneous about them.
Mukoko is a member of the board of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an organization which is interlocked with a number of other Western-funded anti-Mugabe groups, and which receives its funding from the NED and USAID. The NED was established after the CIA was implicated in the covert funding of foreign political parties, trade unions, journals, newspapers, church groups and in the publication of anti-Communist literature, including George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Rather than getting out of the illegitimate business of nurturing foreign organizations to advance US financial and corporate interests abroad, Washington decided that the taint of covert CIA backing could be avoided by separating these activities from the CIA and bringing them out into the open. And so the NED was born.  Mukoko, then, is a senior member of an organization whose funding comes from the successor to a CIA program which shares the same mandate – to nurture organizations which operate, whether consciously or not, to advance the interests of US banks and corporations overseas. The ZESN’s other funder, USAID, boasts that it is the undisputed leader in nurturing anti-government civil society opposition in Zimbabwe. It operates through a CIA-interlocked organization led by former New York investment banker and Michael Milken right-hand man, Peter Ackerman.  Revealing the organization’s true mandate, USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa, Katherine Almquist, says her agency is prepared to re-engage with Zimbabwe (in a friendly way) once Zimbabwe shows “respect for property rights”  – that is, once the Mugabe government’s challenges to the patterns of ownership established under colonialism are reversed.
The Mugabe government has gone beyond simply accusing Mukoko of wanting to overthrow the government – it has accused her of wanting to do so violently by recruiting government opponents for military training. Is this credible? The Western media dismiss the accusation out of hand, as if violence is the farthest thing from the minds of Mugabe’s opponents, and could hardly be embraced by the leader of a “peace project.” But is it? A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and men of the cloth have been among the most bloodthirsty proponents of military intervention in Zimbabwe. And one in particular, South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is among the most ardent advocates of the use of violence to topple the Mugabe government. On June 27, Tutu announced that “the world had the right to intervene in Zimbabwe and that African countries should blockade landlocked Zimbabwe.”  Earlier this month he “said on Dutch TV that Mugabe must stand down or be removed ‘by force’.”  A few days later he told BBC radio that the African Union should launch a military assault to oust the Zimbabwean president.  But when the MDC warned before the last elections that a Mugabe victory would spark violence, Tutu’s lust for violence was nowhere in evidence. Instead, he urged Mugabe to step down to avert the threat of bloodshed. “Anything that would save the possibilities of bloodshed, of conflict, I am quite willing to support,” he said, adding that “the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough, and we don’t…want any more possibilities of bloodshed.”  And yet today Tutu calls for the bloodshed and violence of a military invasion and wishes a blockade upon the people of Zimbabwe who “have suffered enough.” He’s for peace, when peace means Mugabe stepping down, and for war, when war means Mugabe being toppled. In other words, he’s for Mugabe’s ouster, whether brought about peacefully or not. In July, 2007, the now discredited Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, one of Tutu’s fellow clergymen, urged Zimbabweans to take up arms against their government, claiming he was “ready to lead the people, guns blazing.”  When he realized his charge, guns blazing, would be a lonely one, he urged “Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe.”  For his part, the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, a black Ugandan, has urged Britain to bury its “colonial guilt” and lead a charge to remove Mugabe by violence.  The strategy is clear: Recruit black Africans to demand a military assault to grant the West permission (more than that, to beseech the West) to oust Mugabe by force. And so, we can ask: If black African Churchmen acting on behalf of Western masters can advocate violence to topple the Mugabe government, is the idea of a black African civil society activist bound up with the NED and USAID acting to do the same really so absurd?
Of course, what’s credible is not always what is. Mukoko may indeed be innocent of the charge of participating in the recruitment of a militia. But we shouldn’t be prepared to dismiss the accusation as unfounded, simply because the Western media has. We can be clear on a few points: Mukoko is an adversary of the Zimbabwe government — she would like to see it toppled; the successor to the Mugabe government, if it is brought down, will be the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC; the MDC will immediately move to reverse the Mugabe government’s anti-neo-colonial policies; land reform will be halted, if not reversed, pro-foreign investment policies will be implemented to secure IMF and World Bank loans, and foreign ownership controls will be abandoned; black Zimbabweans will return to the colonial condition of being landless peasants and employees of companies controlled from outside.
Zimbabweans, then, face a choice: between breaking free from neo-colonialism or giving free reign to civil society activists, like Mukoko, to bring down the only government that, at this point, will realistically pursue anti-neo-colonial policies. If Mukoko is guilty of recruiting a militia, she should be jailed. At this point, the idea that the accusation against her is a preposterous one carries no weight.
Update, September 28, 2009.
Mukoko and her co-accused were granted a permanent stay of criminal prosecution by Chief Justice Chidyausiku, who ruled the state violated their constitutional rights when it detained them unlawfully and failed to bring them to court within 48 hours of their arrest, as mandated under the Police Act.
1. Associated Press, December 24, 2008.
2. Robert Mugabe. Address to the FAO, June 3, 2008.
3. Ranganai Chidemo, “Mugabe warns industry and the financial sector,” talkzimbabwe.com, December 21, 2008.
4. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Opposition’s Claim of Independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
5. Michael Barker, “The New York Times “Reports”
On The National Endowment For Democracy,” swans.com, October 20, 2008. http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker06.html#24
6. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Opposition’s Claim of Independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
7. Testimony of Katherine Almquist, USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa, “The Crisis in Zimbabwe and Prospects for Resolution.” Subcommittee on African Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, July 15, 2008.
8. Reuters, June 27, 2008.
9. Tracy McVeigh, “Mugabe must be toppled now – Archbishop of York,” The Guardian (UK), December 7, 2008.
10. “Tutu calls for threat of force to deal with Mugabe,” Associated Press, December 14, 2008.
11. “Mugabe must step down with dignity,” The Times (London) April 2, 2008.
12. Sunday Times (UK), July 1, 2007.
14. Observer (UK), September 16, 2007.