Cynicism as a substitute for scholarship
“…against those who substitute moral certainty for knowledge, and who feel virtuous even when acting on the basis of total ignorance.”*
By Stephen Gowans
Mahmood Mamdani’s largely sympathetic analysis of the Mugabe government, “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” published in the December 4, 2008 London Review of Books, has been met with a spate of replies from progressive scholars who are incensed at the Ugandan academic throwing out the rule book to present an argument based on rigor and analysis, rather than on the accustomed elaboration of comfortable slogans and prejudices that has marked much progressive scholarship on Zimbabwe. Their criticism of Mamdani has been characterized by ad hominem assaults, arguments that either lack substance or sense, and the substitution of cynicism for scholarship.
At the heart of what might be called the anti-Mugabe ideology lays the idea that the Zimbabwean leadership clings to power through crude anti-imperialist rhetoric used to divert blame for problems of its own making. This is an elaboration of elite theory — the idea that a small group seeks power for power’s sake, and manipulates the public through lies and rhetoric to stay on top. For example, one group of progressive scholars  complains about “Mugabe’s rhetoric of imperialist victimization,” while Horace Campbell argues that,
”The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.” 
Contrary to the empty rhetoric school of thought, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric is not unattended by anti-imperialist action, but in some extreme versions of anti-Mugabe thought, (for example, that put forward by Patrick Bond), Mugabe is an errand boy for Western capital.  The Zimbabwean leader’s anti-imperialist reputation is, according to this view, smoke and mirrors, an illusion conjured by a deft magician.
The Mugabe government’s anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonial credentials rest on the following:
o In the late 1990s, intervening militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the side of the young government of Laurent Kabila, to counter an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan forces backed by the US and Britain.
o Rejecting a pro-foreign investment economic restructuring program established by the IMF as a condition for balance of payment support (after initially accepting it.)
o Expropriating farms owned by settlers of European origin as part of a program of land redistribution aimed at benefiting the historically disadvantaged African population.
o Establishing foreign investment controls and other measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership of the country’s natural resources and enterprises.
Progressive scholars typically avoid mention of these anti-imperialist actions, for to do so would clash violently with the idea that Harare’s anti-imperialism is based on empty rhetoric. A few, however, do acknowledge these actions, but insist they were undertaken to enrich Mugabe and, aping US State Department and New York Times rhetoric, “his cronies.” Zimbabwe is said to have intervened militarily in the DRC to profit from the Congo’s rich mineral resources. Land is said to have been redistributed to reward Mugabe’s lieutenants (in which case, with 400,000 previously landless families resettled, Mugabe’s lieutenants comprise a sizeable part of the rural population). And measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership in Zimbabwe’s economy are said to have no other aim than to enrich Mugabe’s friends.
This substitutes cynicism for analysis. Has there been corruption in the land resettlement program? Asbolutely. But what human enterprise is free from corruption? What’s more, is the presence of corruption in a program, proof the program was undertaken for corrupt reasons? Measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership in the economy are scorned by progressive scholars for being capitalist. Fine, but a failure to be anti-capitalist is not equal to a failure to be anti-imperialist; nor is it proof of being pro-imperialist.
The foreign policy of capitalist governments is based in large measure on protecting their nationals’ ownership rights to foreign productive assets and promoting their access to foreign investment and export opportunities. Under the Mugabe government, ownership rights have not been safeguarded and foreign investment and export opportunities have been limited by tariff policies, foreign investment controls, subsidies and discrimination against foreign investors. Absent in the analyses of progressive scholars is the understanding of the Mugabe government’s policies from the point of view of the banks and corporations of the imperialist center. One key US ruling class foundation, The Heritage Foundation, complains that Zimbabwe’s “average tariff rate is high” and that “non-tariff barriers are embedded in the labyrinthine customs service;” that “state influence in most areas is stifling, and expropriation is common as the executive pushes forward its economic plan of resource distribution”; that Zimbabwe has “burdensome tax rates” and that “privatization has stalled”…”with slightly over 10 percent of targeted concerns privatized”…”and the government remains highly interventionist.” Of equal concern is Harare’s practice of setting “price ceilings for essential commodities,” “controls (on) the prices of basic goods and food staples,” and influence over “prices through subsidies and state-owned enterprises and utilities” – odd practices for what we’re to believe is a group of errand boys for Western capital. But perhaps of greatest concern to Western corporations and banks is Harare’s investment policies. “The government will consider foreign investment up to 100 percent in high-priority projects but applies pressure for eventual majority ownership by Zimbabweans and stresses the importance of investment from Asian countries, especially China and Malaysia, rather than Western countries.”  This paints a picture of the Mugabe government, not as a facilitator of Western economic penetration, but as economically nationalist, pursuing a program aimed at placing control of Zimbabwe’s land, natural resources and enterprises in the hands of black Zimbabweans. It is, in short, a black nationalist government. Clearly, Western investors don’t think Mugabe is working on their behalf. The only people who do are progressive scholars.
The Mugabe government’s pursuit of black nationalist interests, which clashes in important ways with the interests of Western banks and corporations as well as with the minority population of settlers of European origin, has been met by a strong, multi-faceted response from the US, Britain and the EU. This has included the denial of balance of payment support and development aid, the building up of civil society as a pole of opposition to the Mugabe government, the creation of and subsequent direction of an opposition party, and an international campaign of vilification aimed at discrediting the Mugabe government.  Progressive scholars barely acknowledge the Western response, treating it more as an invention of the Mugabe government, used to manipulate the population and to deflect attention from its failings, than as a reality – a bowing to elite theory, rather than to the facts.
Campbell, for example, complains that,
“The Mugabe government blames all of its problems on the economic war launched by the USA and Britain. For the Mugabe regime, at the core of this economic war, are the targeted sanctions against Mugabe’s top lieutenants under its Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), passed by the Bush administration in 2001.” 
Campbell confuses targeted sanctions aimed at senior members of the Mugabe government, with ZDERA, an act which blocks Zimbabwe’s access to international credit, and, therefore, affects all Zimbabweans, not just Zanu-PF grandees. According to the act,
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.” 
Zimbabwe’s economy, like that of any other Third World country, was never robust to begin with, and inasmuch as it has always relied heavily on Western inputs and access to Western exports, was never too difficult to push into crisis by Western governments intent on making a point. To pretend Washington, London and Brussels haven’t sought to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy, or are incapable of it, is absurd. ZDERA effectively reduces Zimbabwe’s access to the foreign exchange it needs to import necessities from abroad, including chemicals to treat drinking water, a significant point in the recent cholera outbreak. Development aid from the World Bank is also cut off, denying the country access to funds to build and repair the infrastructure needed to run a modern economy. Rather than banning the export of goods to Zimbabwe (the popular understanding of sanctions), the US has made importing goods a challenge. This doesn’t mean that Zimbabwe can’t import goods, or that there is no outside investment. What it does mean, however, is that Zimbabwe is denied access to the kind of financial support poor countries depend on to get by. The intended effect is to make Zimbabwe’s economy scream, and it has. Campbell, who, based on his equating ZDERA with targeted sanctions on individuals, doesn’t understand it, or hasn’t read it, dismisses the idea that the West’s economic warfare accounts for Zimbabwe’s economic troubles. He writes that,
“What has been clear from the hundreds of millions of dollars of investments by British, Chinese, Malaysian, South African and other capitalists in the Zimbabwe economy since 2003 is that the problems in Zimbabwe haven’t been caused by an economic war against the country.” 
This is like saying anyone exposed to an influenza virus couldn’t possibly be ill because he has received mega-doses of vitamins. Investment from non-Western sources may mitigate some of the problems created by ZDERA, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Chinese investment in platinum mines, for example, will not eliminate a balance of payment problem.
Understating the effects of ZDERA is not the only area in which progressive scholars go wrong; their failure to acknowledge Western efforts to build up a civil society with a mandate to destabilize Zimbabwe is another. This is inexcusable, since the efforts of Western governments to create, nurture, support, direct, and mentor opposition to the Mugabe government, including overthrow movements, is well documented  – mainly because these governments have been open about it — and is hardly new. It has been used elsewhere, famously in Chile, and recently in Venezuela, Belarus, and the former Yugoslavia.
One reason for the failure of progressive scholars to acknowledge the role played by Western governments and ruling class foundations in destabilizing Zimbabwe may be because they too benefit from the same sources of funding. Campbell’s critique of Mamdani, for example, was published at Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News is a project of the US ruling class Ford Foundation and of the Open Society Institute , a vehicle of billionaire financier George Soros to promote color-coded revolutions, under the guise of democracy promotion, in countries whose governments have been less than open to Western exports and investments. Pambazuka News is also sponsored by Fahamu . While Fahamu no longer lists Western governments as funders, it has, in the past, been funded by the US State Department through USAID, by the British Parliament through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, by the British government through the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Department of International Development, and by the European Union. The US, Britain and EU are on record as seeking the overthrow of the Mugabe government. They fund the organizations that disseminate anti-Mugabe analyses and sloganeering. They do so with one aim: to overthrow the Mugabe government. Campbell’s protesting that he is opposed to imperialist interventions is a bit like buying crack on the street while professing opposition to drug dealing, or placing a Think Green sticker on the bumper of your new SUV. Similarly, progressive scholar Patrick Bond, whose anti-Mugabe diatribes can also be found at Pambazuka News, describes the overthrow movement Sokwanele as an independent left, seemingly unaware it is on the US government payroll. 
Not only do progressive scholars ignore the links of Zimbabwe’s opposition to imperialist governments and foundations, they celebrate the opposition. Campbell refers to members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) as “brave fighters.”  Brave fighters they may be, but Campbell does not let on (or know) what Woza is fighting for. The group’s leader, Jenni Williams, won the US State Department’s 2007 International Woman of Courage Award for Africa, a plaudit presented to Williams by Condoleezza Rice in a March, 2007 ceremony in Washington.  It shouldn’t have to be pointed out that the US State Department’s priority is to secure the interests of US corporations and banks abroad, not the interests of the women of Zimbabwe. So why is the US State Department recognizing Williams? Not for her service to women’s rights, but because her activities help to destabilize Zimbabwe and bring closer the day the black nationalist program of the Mugabe government can be swept aside to clear the way for the unfettered pursuit of US corporate and banking interests. A US government report on the activities in 2007 of its mission to Zimbabwe reveals that the “US Government continued its assistance to Women of Zimbabwe Arise.”  US government assistance to Woza and other civil society organizations is channelled through Freedom House and PACT. Freedom House is interlocked with the CIA and is a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing,” according to Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman.  It is headed by Peter Ackerman. Ackerman runs the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, of which Stephen Zunes, another progressive scholar, is chair of the board of academic advisors. Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, is a former director of the Albert Einstein Institute, an organization which trained activists in popular insurrection techniques to overthrow Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and has consulted with members of Zimbabwe’s civil society opposition on how to use non-violence to overthrow the Mugabe government.  Woza supports two US State Department propaganda vehicles: SW Radio Africa, a US State Department funded short-wave radio station that beams anti-Mugabe propaganda into Zimbabwe, and the Voice of America’s Studio 7, also funded by the US State Department to broadcast US foreign policy positions into Zimbabwe.  Zunes says Woza can by no means be considered American agents , echoing the progressive scholars’ line that there are no Western efforts to overthrow the Mugabe government; it’s all part of the anti-imperialist rhetoric Mugabe uses to stay in power.
One of the biggest problems for progressive scholars is that their wish to see the Mugabe government brought down inevitably means its replacement by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC. If Zanu-PF is deplored by some progressive scholars and demonized from the left for being capitalist, the MDC should have two strikes against it: it’s not only capitalist, it is unquestionably the errand boy of the imperialist center, a point one doesn’t have to twist oneself into knots to make, as is done whenever progressive scholars claim Mugabe, despite being sanctioned and vilified by the West, is kept afloat by and works on behalf of Western capital. The MDC’s subservience to Western corporate and banking interests is amply evidenced in its origins (Britain and British wealth provided the seed money), policy platform (decidedly pro-foreign investment),  and its advisors (the John McCain-led international arm of the Republican Party, the IRI ). Under an MDC government, the stalled privatization program the Heritage Foundation complains about will quickly be restarted. Foreign investment controls, subsidies, tariffs, and price controls will be terminated. Reversal of land reform, while it may come slowly, will inevitably happen, as a condition of ending ZDERA. IMF and World Bank loans will be extended, and the pro-foreign investment measures which are the inevitable condition of these loans will gladly be acceded to.
So, what do progressive scholars like Campbell offer as an antidote? “That Zimbabweans…oppose the neoliberal forces within the MDC to ensure that the suffering of working people does not continue after the ultimate departure of Robert Mugabe.”  There is more naiveté in this single sentence than there is in the average five year old. Please! Neoliberal forces have controlled the MDC from day one , and they’ve controlled the party because they hold its purse strings. Their control won’t disappear the moment Mugabe is gone; on the contrary, it is at that moment it will be strongest. But suppose, for a moment, that Campbell’s naive fantasy comes true, and that the forces that provide the funding that is the lifeblood of the MDC, yield to pressure from Zimbabweans, who, at one moment, vote the MDC into power, despite its neo-liberal platform, and at the next, ask the MDC to abandon the platform it was elected on. Were the MDC to yield to this pressure, it would face exactly the same response the Mugabe government faced when it backed away from neo-liberal policies: sanctions, destabilization, demonization and the threat of military intervention. The failure of Campbell to understand this evinces an unsophisticated understanding of the foreign policies of Western countries.
How droll, then, is the pairing of this breathtaking naiveté with the utter arrogance of progressive scholars. They dismiss Mamdani for failing “to look more deeply at the crisis” and for being “fooled by Mugabe’s rhetoric of imperialist victimization,” and then moan that preventing non-experts from falling for Mugabe’s rhetoric is “one of the more difficult tasks for scholars working on Zimbabwe.” And yet a far more difficult task, it would seem, is for the same scholars to acquaint themselves with the basics: what ZDERA is; why the West is waging economic warfare; what the policies of ZANU-PF are compared to the MDC’s and how these policies align, or fail to align, with the interests of Western banks and corporations; and who created and guides the opposition. Indeed, it could be said that one of the most difficult tasks for anti-imperialists working on Zimbabwe is to persuade progressive scholars to look more deeply into the crisis and not be fooled by imperialist rhetoric.
1. Timothy Scarnecchia, Jocelyn Alexander et al, “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” Letters, London Review of Books, Volume 31, No. 1, January, 2009.
2. Horace Campbell, “Mamdani, Mugabe and the African scholarly community,” Pambazuka News, December 18, 2008. http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/52845
3. Bond, Patrick, “Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Like a Reactionary: Zimbabwe’s Descent,” Counterpucnh.org, March 27, 2007, http://www.counterpunch.org/bond03272007.html
4. Heritage Foundation, Index of Economic Freedom, 2008, http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/country.cfm?ID=Zimbabwe)
5. Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/
7. US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=107_cong_bills&docid=f:s494enr.txt.pdf
9. See the section titled “Regime Change Agenda” in Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/
10. Look under funders at Pambazuka News’ “About” page at http://www.pambazuka.org/en/about.php .
12. See Stephen Gowans, “Grassroot Lieutenants of Imperialism,” What’s Left, April 2, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/02/grassroots-lieutenants-of-imperialism/ and Stephen Gowans, “Talk Left, Funded Right,” What’s Left, April 7, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/04/07/talk-left-funded-right/.
14. Jim Fisher-Thompson, “Zimbabwean receives International Woman of Courage Award,” USINFO, March 7, 2007. http://www.america.gov/st/hr-english/2007/March/200703071523081EJrehsiF0.7266962.html
15. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PDACL121.pdf . See also Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes’ false statements on Zimbabwe and Woza,” What’s Left, September 30, 2008. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/stephen-zunes%e2%80%99-false-statements-on-zimbabwe-and-woza/
16. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon Books, New York, 1988, p. 28
17. Michael Barker, “Sharp Reflection Warranted: Non-violence in the Service of Imperialism,” Swans, June 30, 2008. http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html
18. See Woza’s website, http://wozazimbabwe.org/?page_id=29 ; “Studio 7, launched in 2003, is the Zimbabwe program of Voice of America, which is funded by the United States. The program is broadcast in Shona, Ndebele and English, and is beamed into Zimbabwe from a transmitter in Botswana on the AM signal and by shortwave.” Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 26, 2005. In an April 5, 2007 report, the US Department of State revealed that it had worked to expand the listener base of Voice of America’s Studio 7 radio station. On SW Radio Africa see http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SW_Radio_Africa .
19. See Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes’ false statements on Zimbabwe and Woza,” What’s Left, September 30, 2008. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/30/stephen-zunes%e2%80%99-false-statements-on-zimbabwe-and-woza/
20. In 2000, the (British Parliament’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy) provided the MDC with $10 million. Herald (Zimbabwe), September 4, 2001 cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “WFD has been involved in over 80 projects aiding the MDC, and helped plan election strategy. It also provides funding to the party’s youth and women’s groups.” Herald (Zimbabwe), January 2, 2001, cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “In a clandestinely filmed interview, screened in Australia on February 2002 on the SBS Dateline program, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was caught on camera admitting that his organization was financed by European governments and corporations, the money being channelled through a British firm of political consultants, BSMG.” Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia; Civil society groups “and the Movement for Democratic Change…have broad Western support, and, often, financing.” New York Times, December 24, 2004; The International Republican Institute, the international arm of the Republican Party, “is using (the US State Department’s) USAID and the US embassy in Harare to channel support to the MDC, circumventing restrictions of Zimbabwe’s Political Parties Finance Act. Herald (Zimbabwe) August 12, 2005; USAID bankrolls sixteen civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, with emphasis on supporting the MDC’s parliamentary activities. “Zimbabwe Program Data Sheet,” U.S. Agency for International Development, cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “USAID has a long and successful history of working with Zimbabwe’s civil society, democratic political parties, the Parliament and local government.” 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.
From the MDC’s 2008 policy platform: The MDC does not believe that government should be involved in running businesses and it will restore title in full to all companies; Private enterprise in general, and industry in particular, will be the engine of economic growth in a new Zimbabwe; The MDC government will remove price controls and reverse the coercive indigenization proposals recently adopted; (An MDC government will show) an unwavering commitment to:
* The safety and security of individual and corporate property rights.
* Opening industry to foreign direct investment and the unfettered repatriation of dividends.
* The repeal of all statutes that inhibit the establishment and maintenance of a socio-economic environment conducive to the sustained growth and development of the industrial sector.
The MDC will…(open)…up private sector participation in postal and telecommunication services; (The MDC believes) the private sector is in a better position to finance new development and respond to customer needs (in telecommunications); (An MDC government will) look into…the full privatization of the electronic media.
According to progressive scholar Patrick Bond: “…very quickly, what had begun as a working-class party … was hijacked by international geopolitical forces, domestic (white) business and farming interests, and the black petite bourgeoisie.” Noah Tucker, “In the Shadow of Empire,” 21st Century Socialism, August 3, 2008, http://21stcenturysocialism.com/article/in_the_shadow_of_empire_01694.html
21. 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.” US State Department report. See Stephen Gowans, “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
23. That Campbell thinks there’s any possibility of the MDC being budged from its neo-liberal position shows that he should spend less time worrying about whether others are falling for Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and more time worrying about whether he has fallen for the rhetoric of the MDC and its imperialist backers. The nascent MDC appointed an official of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Eddie Cross, as its Secretary of Economic Affairs. In a speech delivered shortly after his appointment, Cross articulated the MDC economic plan. “First of all, we believe in the free market. We do not support price control. We do not support government interfering in the way people manage their lives. We are in favor of reduced levels of taxation. We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.” Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe’s Plunge – Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Merlin Press, 2002.
A policy paper issued by the party in 2000 spelled out its plans to attract “foreign direct investment…on a substantial scale.” The party planned to: “Appoint a “fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies”; “Privatize all designated parastatals [public companies] within two years”; Encourage “foreign strategic investors … to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatized.”
“Social and Economic Policies for a New Millennium,” MDC policy paper, May 26, 2000.
* Mahmoud Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, Pantheon Books, 2009.