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US Government Report Undermines Zimbabwe Opposition’s Claim of Independence

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By Stephen Gowans

The US government had a hand in formulating the policy platform of the Tsvangirai faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, and funded community-based newsletters to create a platform to persuade Zimbabweans to accept Washington’s point of view, according to a US government report. The report boasts that Washington is the undisputed leader in nurturing anti-government civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, operating through a CIA-interlocked organization led by former New York investment banker and Michael Milken right-hand man, Peter Ackerman.

In a November 16, 2007 letter accompanying the US State Department’s “Zimbabwe 2007 Performance Report,” US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee wrote that,

“Working closely with like-minded governments, we continued diplomatic efforts to maintain pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe and to remind the regime that fundamental changes…are a prerequisite to reengagement with the international community.”

McGee called for economic reform, translated as abandonment of Harare’s economic program of favoring Zimbabweans over foreign investors, an end to price controls, and privatization of state-owned enterprises.

The neo-liberal, foreign investor-friendly economic policies Washington favors are central to the policy platform of the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC. The State Department document reveals that the MDC’s policy orientation may be based more on US government direction than its own deliberations. According to the report,

“The (US government)…assisted the MDC to effectively identify, research, and articulate policy positions and ideas within Zimbabwe, in the region, and beyond. In particular, (US government) technical assistance was pivotal in supporting (the) MDC’s formulation and communication of a comprehensive policy platform.”

Critics of the party point to the absence of any difference between its policy proposals and those favored in Washington for African countries, an absence that may be explained in the US government’s helping “the MDC to identify, research, and articulate policy positions and ideas, and develop and communicate a policy platform.”

US government assistance to the MDC’s Tsvangirai faction didn’t stop at formulating and articulating a policy platform, the report says, but extended to helping the MDC formulate strategy to oppose the Mugabe government. According to the State Department, the US government,

“provided technical assistance to the MDC…to enable it to conduct regular strategic planning meetings to establish goals, identify key objectives, prioritize activities, and determine performance benchmarks.”

The tone of the report paints Zimbabweans as being incapable of establishing goals, setting priorities, and measuring performance themselves and therefore requiring US assistance to perform basic organizational tasks. It may be that the assistance US advisors provided is more accurately, and less tactfully, called direction.

The technical aid was furnished by the International Republican Institute, the Republican Party arm of the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, whose chairman is John McCain. According to the State Department document, the,

“IRI held a workshop for Tsvangirai’s shadow government at which each shadow minister presented and defended his/her policy positions. A panel of technical experts grilled presenters on the technical content of their policies.”

This assistance was deemed by the State Department to be “critical to building the capacity of (the MDC) to operate effectively and to enable (it) to contend in the (2008) Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and to be prepared to govern.”

On top of helping the MDC shape its policy platform, the report also reveals that the US government helped shape public opinion in Zimbabwe through support for Voice of America broadcasting and community-based newsletters.

While portraying its role as simply one of delivering assistance, the State Department makes clear in its report that the newsletters provided the US government with a platform “to inform Zimbabweans about issues important to them.” Rather than funding community-based journalism, the report reveals that the State Department underwrote the newsletters to use them as vehicles for disseminating US government propaganda.

The State Department report also offers insight into the financial lengths Washington was prepared to go to create and sustain a civil society apparatus to oppose the Mugabe government. In 2007, Washington gave Freedom House and PACT a total of $1.8 million to back civil society organizations that were hostile to the Mugabe government. Freedom House, headed by former Michael Milken right-hand man, Peter Ackerman, is interlocked with the CIA, according to Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent.

In addition, over $400,000 was funnelled to Voice of America to counter Harare’s efforts to jam VOA anti-government broadcasts. Washington had been supporting VOA’s Studio 7, an anti-Mugabe radio program, since 2002. According to the report, “the program consisted of English, Shona and Ndebele broadcasts for an hour and a half per day, five days per week, until July 2007, when broadcasts were expanded to seven days a week.”

To thwart Harare’s jamming efforts, VOA’s broadcast time was expanded, and shortwave radios were distributed to Zimbabweans. In addition, publicity campaigns were undertaken to build Studio 7’s profile “via the distribution of calendars and pens, advertising in the print media and a text messaging campaign.”

The State Department describes Studio 7 as providing a platform for groups opposed to the Mugabe government and its land reform and economic indigenization policies: “the political opposition, exile groups, democracy activists and human rights proponents” – largely the same groups the US government was funding through Freedom House and PACT.

Conspicuously absent from the report’s list of political parties the US government provided “democracy and governance” assistance to in 2007 was Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Defenders of US democracy promotion insist that the US government promotes democratic processes aboard, not political parties, but only one party in Zimbabwe received US government assistance: the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC.

That, however, wasn’t Washington’s goal. The report says the US government planned to aid two political parties in Zimbabwe: presumably Tsvangirai’s MDC faction and the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara. But when the US government approached Mutamabara’s party, it was “rebuffed.” Mutambara has complained publicly about US imperialism and hypocrisy in its foreign policy and has manoeuvred to keep himself free from the taint of being an instrument of Western foreign policy.

To square the circle, and prove that it is promoting democracy and not political parties, the US government calls Tsvangirai’s MDC faction the “democratic opposition.” It is not by accident that the MDC’s full name is “the Movement for Democratic Change,” or that another party that once received US government assistance, Serbia’s the DOS, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, also incorporated the word democracy into its name. The Western mass media mimic the US government designation of the foreign political parties Washington supports as being a “democratic opposition”, thus reinforcing the deception that US support for selected foreign political parties is democracy promotion, not illegitimate interference in the internal politics of other countries.

The report boasts that the US has been “the undisputed leader among the donor community in providing assistance to civil society,” providing “technical assistance and small grants to 29” civil society organizations through its “implementing partners”, Freedom House and PACT. Grants and assistance were provided to improve “strategic planning, communication, proposal writing (and) platform development.”

Proposal writing is emphasized, the report explains, to equip civil society organizations with the skills necessary to land additional grants from private foundations. According to the State Department,

“youth organizations like the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU) and Youth Initiatives for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ) are two good examples of…(civil society organizations that were) nurtured through US (State Department) funding from an idea to a level where they are able to stand on their own and attract other funders.”

Defenders of the idea that civil society organizations are not created and guided by US government funding, but represent spontaneously arising grassroots organizations that would exist even if they hadn’t received US government largesse, paint a picture far different from the report’s reference to Washington nurturing civil society organizations from an idea to a level where they’re able to attract other funders and stand on their own.

The MDC insists it is an independent political party, and anti-Mugabe civil society organizations and their defenders are adamant that Zimbabwe’s civil society is not under foreign control. Scholar Patrick Bond has declared an underground anti-Mugabe organization that receives US government-funding to be part of an independent left, while scholar Stephen Zunes says Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group singled out in the State Department report as receiving US government funding, can in no way be considered an agent of the US government. These defenders of anti-Mugabe organizations appear to be unfamiliar with the pivotal role played by the US government in nurturing and sustaining Zimbabwe’s civil opposition.

The MDC has received considerable assistance and guidance from Washington and the John McCain-led IRI, in developing and articulating its policy platform, and in formulating strategy to defeat the Mugabe government.

In its opposition to Zanu-PF, it has been helped by civil society organizations funded by the US government through Freedom House and PACT, and by US government-funded community-based newsletters and the VOA’s Studio 7, which have served as platforms for disseminating the point of view of the US government and the views of Mugabe-opponents.

The report, then, reveals how the US government has taken advantage of Zimbabwe’s relative openness to intervene in the country’s internal political affairs to try to bring to power a party whose platform it had a hand in formulating.

Harare has taken steps to counter Washington’s illegitimate interventions, including jamming VOA broadcasts, barring journalists and election observers from the US, and banning some NGOs. These measures have been denounced by Washington as “undemocratic” and “authoritarian” and therefore as reasons for intervention. But the causal sequence is backwards.

The measures Washington calls anti-democratic and authoritarian didn’t cause the US to help the MDC write and communicate its policy platform, to nurture and fund government-hostile civil society organizations, and to provide Mugabe’s opponents a vehicle through Studio 7 and community-based newsletters to shape public opinion. On the contrary, all these things caused Harare to take the measures that have been denounced as anti-democratic and authoritarian as a means to limit Washington’s illegitimate interference in Zimbabwe’s democratic space.

Anyone who was truly interested in promoting democracy would press Washington to stop its interference in Zimbabwe, rather than lionize US-backed civil society organizations as a spontaneously arising pro-democracy people’s movement, as an independent left that people should look to understand what’s going on in Zimbabwe (Bond), or as groups that can in no way be considered agents of the US government (Zunes).

Written by what's left

October 4, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Posted in Civil Society, Zimbabwe

8 Responses

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  1. Great stuff, as usual.

    Intelli

    October 5, 2008 at 3:11 am

  2. Steven, do you know anything about the split in the MDC?

    raved

    October 7, 2008 at 9:21 am

  3. 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.

    Stephen Gowans

    October 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

  4. The knowledge I learn from reading your blog I couldn’t get from Harvard or Oxford. It’s priceless. Keep up the good work, my friend.

    Om

    October 10, 2008 at 3:27 am

  5. I think the challenge for Africans now and in the future is to create an alternative NGO structure that is funded by Africans themselves and that pushes for an agenda that is African. This unquestioning loyalty to western funding (way of life and moral leadership) is a reflection of not only opposition politics in Africa, but a trend that most African governments have adopted and that many African elites and intellectuals endorse.

    The question of Africa’s leadership is intricately connected to Africa’s neo-colonial phase; it is not an isolated debate as some would like us to believe. If you go to most of the splash suburbs in Harare, Accra, Cape Town or Lagos, for example, you can easily tell how elitist people have become and how much effort they put in seeking after the values of others. The core moral, ethical and aesthetic values that usually serve as a guiding light to life have now been substituted by an addiction to “international standards”, “fashion” or “modernity”.

    From a cultural perspective, the African (elite) of today has completely lost a sense of direction. This has led to a loss of intellectual independence and self-respect. Africans have lost confidence in themselves and their people. That is why the bureaucratic bourgeoisie is incapable of thinking and taking independent decisions in matters of national development. Bureaucrats see their role as part of carrying out instructions from the “experts” and consultants appointed for them by the WB, by the IMF, by the “donor community”. African bureaucrats are nothing but local agents of foreign corporations, officials who pave the road from obstacles, ministers and others whose good will makes it easy for labor leaders to be purchased so as to control the workers.

    The pandemic level of corruption in Africa is rooted in this class and its foreign masters; so is the syndrome of dependency and begging for aid. These people, as Fanon noted, have turned their backs on the ordinary people, on the conditions of their country’s
    underdevelopment. They have always looked up to foreign capitalists, to the “donors and foreign corporations. These classes of people in the third world (the crop where the leaders are selected) depend on and profit from their link with rich nations, who are in turn essential to them.

    It is sad that sometimes definitions of who leads in Africa are narrowed down to the individual. Yet, though the Presidents and their men lead the lot, they are emulated by a greedy elite noted for their conspicuous consumption habits, for lacking frugality, whose common denominator is aping the West and inheriting the WORST from the West-like vulgar consumption habits – and who have no solution on how to alleviate the conditions of the ordinary people.

    From this class of people, whether currently controlling the reigns of power or not, we see collective consciousness and social commitment steadily disappearing, giving way to the worst kind of crude individualism of human-eat-human. The ordinary people are the furthest on their radar. As the gap between the “haves” and the “have-not” become echo wide, social conflicts multiply as people become frustrated, disgusted and loose hope. In this environment, where the majority of people are not realizing the fruits on independence, we have seen a steady decline in the moral and political values of those who lead or claim to lead. It is an environment where tremendous handicaps are piled on every effort at honesty and hard work.

    Basil Davidson describes this environment well:

    “Even among those who still hoped for the best and strove for the general good rather than the individual racket – and there [are] still some in this Africa of collapse expectations – a growing sense of fatal isolation took hope by the throat and gradually
    choked it in the lassitude of despair.” (From: Basil Davidson (1992), The Black man’s burden: Africa and the curse of nation states, p.221)

    Unfortunately for Africa, generally speaking, most of the so-called educated Africans will not push for ideas to bring fundamental changes to their countries. It seems that the higher up the educational ladder he or she climbs, the more conservative, reactionary and dependent he or she becomes.

    The African intellectual needs to understand that the primary problem for the African is psychological. The social, economic and political crises, which characterize contemporary African reality, are rooted in the psychological subservience of
    the African intellectual to the power of the Eurocentric intellectual. The eradication of the psychological domination of African reality by the Eurocentric intellectual constitutes the most important precondition to the emancipation of the African from the post- colonial crises. The African will not achieve social, economic and political independence until the African intellectual achieves psychological independence from the Eurocentric intellectual.

    Africans should understand that the struggle for the control of African resources [whether human or material] operates primarily at the level of the construction of the conceptual frameworks through which knowledge concerning Africa is developed, disseminated and exchanged. The prevailing social, economic and political order in Africa reflects the domination of the competition for the monopolization of the competition of knowledge by the Eurocentric intellectual at the expense of the African intellectual in particular, and all Africans in general. [The way the debate about Zimbabwe has been framed, packaged and disseminated is a good example].

    Africans at home and abroad should perform a self examination that is wholesome to consciously cultivate a new African person – confident, unapologetic about who he/she is, knowledgeable about African history and conscious about the world and what role to play in it.

    To redesign social systems, first there must be an acknowledgement of their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding the existence of what others have termed “colonial mentality”, which has been passed on from generation to generation, are the key political tools to start from.

    Africans at home and abroad must build new institutions (NGOs, Think-Tanks and grassroots movements) that they will fund themselves and whose primary purpose is to uplift Africans at home. These foundations will check on individualism and greed; low self-esteem, which makes people vulnerable to vices like bribery; ignorance, which can make a neighbor to slaughter another at the command of corrupt politicians; and the kind of self-hatred that brings disregard to other humans who look like us.

    EJM

    EJM

    October 17, 2008 at 6:16 pm

  6. EJM,

    You forgot about the mines. Virtually everything in African economics can be reduced to the fact that Africa does not own the raw materials it exports, and does not benefit from them, let alone reinvests profits from it in other economic sectors like infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing.

    Like in the 19th century, most western activity on the continent today still can be described as the desire to get their hands on African resources at no cost, before anyone else does.

    There is the looming spectre of the murder of Patrice Lumumba over any leader who goes it alone, benefits the people, sets a bad example by successfully developing their country. That is not just psychological, it is historic.

    And I have all confidence that the elites will follow anyone who is in power. That western ways are in vogue, only shows where economic power still lies.

    That is what we need to change – a leadership that forces even foreing companies to reinvest profits in African economies, hires only local SMEs and pays a lot of taxes to the state.

    There is also a need to decentralize the governments. The more decentralized they are, the less easy it is for a western power to take over the entire country or economy simply by assassinating the head of state.

    As happened in the cases of Patrice Lumumaba, Kwame Nkrumah, Laurent Kabila, and almost Robert Mugabe.

    We are still fighting neocolonialism.

    MonsieurK

    April 29, 2009 at 2:58 am

  7. This author could have done more justice to this report by also mentioning that the US Government also put in place ruionous sanctions against the Zimbabwean government to force people to dislike it in favour of the opposition. If the Zimbabwean government was running the country, why did it became necessary to impose sanctions to bring down the economy and hence the government. Is it not like shooting a dead guy. The US and British governments are aware that if Zimbabwe succeeds under Mugabe and his land reforms all other African countries that are still under the economic york of the whites will follow suit. Therefore these governments will do everything in their power to ensure that no african will ever think of taking Mugabe’s path of empowering the black majority through land redistribution or indigenisation of the economy. So our African brothers need to know that removing the white-man’s york is no easy task. It will only take men like Mugabe to do it.

    Nerwendo Shiri

    April 29, 2009 at 2:37 pm

  8. The only reason why the US seems to be doing things for MDC is that MDC can’t run their own affairs which is typical of African leaders.They have proved that they can’t run their governments on their own without the help of some Western countries.It’s sad that even our student bodies are being helped by well wishers whilst our leaders are leading luxurious lives.

    Very true- “Unfortunately for Africa, generally speaking, most of the so-called educated Africans will not push for ideas to bring fundamental changes to their countries. It seems that the higher up the educational ladder he or she climbs, the more conservative, reactionary and dependent he or she becomes.”

    Viomak

    July 9, 2010 at 12:30 am


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