Saturday, 8 October 2011

Blog Archive: A Chance for the Real African Renaissance - Originally Published on OBV Blog Site - 28/08/2009

James Gill argues that South Africa’s Jacob Zuma should take a stand against the tyranny of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Lester Holloway responds, asking why other tyrants are getting off the hook.


There was always a sense of inevitability that President Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, would have to meet his next door neighbour, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. As this meeting has come to fruition, I am filled with simultaneous foreboding and optimism.

Zuma, as the leader of the most influential and powerful African nation, really can set about creating a dynamic, more disciplined, relationship with Zimbabwe, setting a pace for administrative reform across the continent.

Or he can prove to be an even damper squib than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, the man who incidentally coined the phrase ‘African Renaissance’.

Contrary to any envisioned Renaissance, there has been an eerie silence around Mugabe from other African nations, not least the most influential one.

Mugabe initially came to power in 1980 as the first, and so far only once, democratically elected prime minister of Zimbabwe (previously white Rhodesia under despicable racist, Ian Smith), receiving a reception similar to what Mandela received 14 years later, as the great hope for African democracy and magnanimity.

What happened then was the descent into crackpot tyranny that has for the past 25 years been a symbol of caricature for terrible African leadership.

By causing domestic economic collapse and seeking to brutally silence any form of dissent, Mugabe became Idi Amin remixed with academic credentials to boot.

Even more disgraceful is how many African leaders have tolerated and revered Mugabe as though he represented some exemplary standard in African leadership. Any form of criticism was left to Archbishop Desmond Tutu (former archbishop of Cape Town and anti-Apartheid campaigner) and Levy Mwanawasa, the late president of Zambia.

Desmond Tutu recently advocated military intervention for peace in Zimbabwe in light of its precarious state and even went on to condemn Thabo Mbeki’s (a fellow anti-apartheid campaigner) handling of diplomacy with Zimbabwe as weakening South Africa’s moral authority in international politics.

During his presidency, Levy Mwanawasa stripped his former president, Frederick Chiluba, of his immunity from prosecution for corruption; he spoke out about the crisis in Zimbabwe, comparing the economic situation there to “a sinking Titanic”, eventually going on to sympathise with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai when he withdrew from a controversial run-off vote in June because of attacks on his supporters.

In a pleasing contrast to the outwardly meek Mbeki, Zuma showed guts in criticising the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe in 2008, describing the violence as unacceptable – the ANC also released statements regarding his visit to Mugabe advocating a more outspoken relationship between the two.

However, seeds of doubt are cast once again when people observe the numerous trials he has had to endure over, amongst other things, arms smuggling, organised violence and having unprotected sex with an AIDS infected woman.

Not to mention during a previous Zimbabwe election in 2002 when he travelled to Zimbabwe as vice-President under Mbeki, he described the elections as free and fair even though impartial observers stated the opposite. As The Economist rightly said, Zuma could provide a model for better African leadership or become a living caricature of African misrule.

His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, should be praised for securing a deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai for a power sharing government in Zimbabwe which eventually came to fruition, but he nevertheless proved a disappointment as the leader of Africa’s ‘Rainbow Nation’.

Denial about AIDS and its treatment for years caused millions of unnecessary deaths, he failed to solve the chronic wealth and employment divide in South Africa (which has a 50% unemployment rate), as well as seeing accusations of him bending the law and constitution which he helped to draw up. Mbeki ran the risk of descending into incompetent corruption.

If Zuma manages to wipe South Africa’s slate clean of the misdeeds and mistakes that he and Mbeki committed in the past, then hopefully he can provide a inspiration of good leadership not just for South Africa and Zimbabwe, but for the entire continent.

For decades, Africa, a beautiful and resourcefully wealthy continent, has been plunged from ruthless colonial exploitation to post-colonial misrule.

As well as having nasty figureheads like Mugabe, Amin and Mengistu Haile Mariam (former dictator of Ethiopia who presided over the 1984 famine), there have been appalling abuses and conflicts raging from Somalia to Sudan to Sierra Leone, the product of corrupt renegades, terrorists and corrupt leaders who wrap themselves in the cloak of Marxist rhetoric, but really having no love for their people whatsoever.

If Zuma lives up to the respect the title African Renaissance entails, then Africa will truly encounter a wind rush of change through its cities, nations and governmental bodies.

Africa has already recognised the necessity of intergovernmental cooperation via the setting up of the African Union, inspired and modelled on the European Union, as well as the Southern African Development Community, which has been chaired by Mbeki and Zuma.

Although the unsavoury leaders of other African nations are present at these organisations, the setup up of these cooperative initiatives is one step to eventual self-betterment of a potentially strong continent.

If Zuma manages to put Mugabe in his place and demonstrate the awakening of moral authority and democratic practice above tyranny and corrupt squandering, then Africa stands a chance for a lifetime of living up to its true potential. Administrative reform combined with moral leadership and cooperative organisations can lead only to better days for the continent.


Robert-Mugabe-defiantWho decides who the good guy is, and who’s the bad guy? Line up the goodies and baddies, and quite often there’s not much to choose between them.

We really need to question what the Western media tells us. For example, what is the difference between political oppression and corruption in Zimbabwe compared to many other nations?

On these two measures alone, it is arguable that President Mugabe may not be the worst offender in Africa, let alone the world.

Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, a member of Tony Blair’s Africa Commission, Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete and DRC’s Joseph Kabila, have all stood accused of using violence against their people. When you consider body-counts, we have to ask why one country is in the spotlight while the others are not.

That’s not defending Mugabe, or justifying oppression carried out in his name. It’s a plea for consistency, without which moral authority does not exist.

If Mugabe is accused of circumventing democracy, why is Britain now dancing to the tune Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi (40 years in power), and on friendly terms with Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos (30 years), and Egypt’s’ Hosni Mubarak (28 years)?

The hidden, and sometimes the not-so-hidden, hand of former colonial powers is all too often evident when African rulers seize power, and when they abuse human rights to stay there. It is regrettable that James Gill fails to acknowledge this.

The approach of Thabo Mbeki towards Mugabe, far from being a damp squib, was actually a policy of attempted constructive engagement that ultimately paved the way for the power-sharing government now operating in Zimbabwe.

Mbeki’s was an African solution that valued reconciliation over outright regime change. South Africa recognised Mugabe’s failings, but refused to accede to Western demands to drive ordinary Zimbabweans into even greater poverty. Reducing a country to its’ knees is no guarantee of success, as Britain found with Iraqi sanctions.

Mbeki’s was a strategy that recognised that American and British ‘smart sanctions’ were in reality not very smart at all. Contrary to the impression given by the BBC, these sanctions did not simply freeze assets of the elite, but virtually cut off development aid.

The Western media then reinforced this with a different kind of sanction; by demonising Mugabe as a ‘Hitler’ (a ridiculous comparison), or an ‘Idi Amin’ (a comparison you make, James, but equally one that does not stand up to scrutiny), private investment was also cut off, driving the Zimbabwean economy when into freefall.

Mbeki acknowledged, as the West did not, Mugabe’s history as a freedom fighter against Imperialism, which once again became relevant as the start of Mugabe’s troubles only seriously began once white farms were invaded.

Before that, while white farmers enjoyed ownership over 80% of the arable farmland, Britain happily ignored Zimbabwe’s political oppression against black opponents, including scores of deaths every year between Mugabe’s election in 1980, and the start of the farm invasions, around 2000. In particular the Matabeleland Massacres of the mid-80s, when thousands were killed, went largely uncommented upon in Britain.

Ironically Zimbabwe had been moving slowly towards orderly and non-violent land redistribution until Tony Blair decided to tie financial compensation for white farmers to his vision of political reform in the Abuja Agreement, something that proved unacceptable to Mugabe, and ultimately wrecked hopes of a peaceful conclusion.

In light of the rank hypocrisy on the part of Britain, it is not surprising that many African leaders refused to be brow-beaten by Britain into condemning Zimbabwe’s ruler.

Britain’s cause was not helped by the fact that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai allowed Mugabe to portray him as a puppet of the West after Tsvangirai aligned himself with white farmers, allowing them to become MDC MPs and spokespeople. This matters in a country where little pockets of old Rhodesia still exist, and where I have witnessed the way in which white Zimbabweans often talk to black Zimbabweans.

Tsvangirai has also at times appeared to lack political nous, to such an extent that his leadership split the MDC, with a rival faction now led by Arthur Mutambara, the current vice-president.

The power-sharing government still has a long way to go to get Zimbabwe back on its’ feet. Continued media broadsides against Mugabe, even as the joint Zanu PF-MDC government gets going, reflects a disappointment on the part of the West that the President is still in office.

This is in turn reflected in the fact that the West has not released the flood of investment which Zimbabweans were led to believe would arrive if MDC gained power. Consequently, this lack of investment means political progress is slower, and it is that much harder to dismantle a culture of gangsterism that the authorities and self-appointed Zanu PF thugs have adopted to survive, often at the expense of their countrymen and women.

But there is a positive process going on. So, however unsavoury Mugabe’s regime has been, calling Zimbabwe a “crackpot tyranny” now is particularly unhelpful, especially in what can loosely be called part of the UK’s Black media.

South Africa’s new president, Jacob Zuma, has already been put on notice by the Western media that he could become the new Mugabe if he’s not careful. All this leads me to conclude that it is more important than ever that African people, including the wider Diaspora, strive to develop arguments and discourses that are not merely extensions (or repetitions) of those in the first-world, infused as they are with Western strategic interests and Imperial values.

For those of us in living in the West, that is hard to do in the face of a constant drip-drip of negativity about the bogymen that have been pre-selected for us to jeer. But try we must.

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