An Investigation of Zimbabwe's Different PathZimbabwe's different path and the penalty it has incurred: The academic and media framing of Zimbabwe's difficulties, and an investigation of external and internal causes.
By Brendan Stone
May 22, 2007
In the case of Zimbabwe, Mugabe provided journalists with the 'same old' story of
a promising African leader that had still gone corrupt, despite high hopes with some at Independence in 1980.
-Willems (2005), 100.
The primary contradiction for the last 500 years has not been between classes but between nations, the poor and the rich ones. It has been a struggle by the west to dominate and control the rest of humanity. While the ordinary people in the west do not participate in the oppression willingly, many of them share the same patronising and superior attitudes of their leaders. Thus even when they support the struggles of the oppressed in the poor world it is with conditions and qualifications that are never applied to them when they face similar circumstances.
A television news anchor begins a segment on Zimbabwe. Immediately, the viewer is treated to an image of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. His visage quickly triggers a set of memories, etched into the viewer's mind over time by the massive corporate media machine. Starvation, chaos, warfare, corruption, and evil - these are the thoughts the image evokes. We, as viewers, are led to understand that Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has been transformed, in the Economist pun, "from bread basket to basket case." (2)
-Saddams Execution : The western anti war movement
- the left boot of imperialism? by Kola Odetola (1)
Zimbabwe does not suffer from any single problem. Scholars and Zimbabwean dissidents, such as Kagoro, agree that the country's problems, complex and interlinked, result from multiple causes. According to Kagoro, and supported by comments from Moss and Patrick, Zimbabwe is experiencing "a state of unprecedented crisis," and "there is no doubt that the legitimacy of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is now seriously disputed in many quarters." (3) Mugabe's policies - economic, political, and social - in short, the whole gamut, are "questionable," or "disastrous." (4)
Charges leveled against the Mugabe government are numerous. Politically, scholars refer to authoritarian state practices, the militarization of politics, governmental immunity from prosecution, selective justice, and the absence of rule of law. Economically, the government is criticized for failing to manage the agrarian sector, for corruption, asset stealing, decline of the agricultural export sector, and general mismanagement leading to capital flight and "brain drain." Zimbabweans are said to suffer "war-like trauma" from state-driven political violence directed against political opponents, use of "food as a weapon," government death squads, ethnic cleansing, and even "genocide" against a rebellious region. (5)
Mainstream scholarship and media claim that Zimbabwe is not a Western-style liberal democracy, but rather, an autocratic dictatorship. The Christian Science Monitor characterizes this viewpoint. Reporting on a recent election, its article begins, "After ruling Zimbabwe for 25 years with an increasingly iron fist, President Robert Mugabe's grip on power just got a whole lot tighter." (6) It suggests that President Mugabe remains in power by repressing his opposition and concludes that, "the danger for Zimbabwe is "that you're relying on one individual and what he decides to do." (7) The recent incident in which Movement for Democratic Change [MDC] opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was beaten by police has only intensified these criticisms.
If 'democracy' is a political system, as in the United States, in which constituents are said to elect, through 'free-and-fair' elections, representatives from competing political parties, in which the power of the government is divided in executive, legislative, and/or judicial branches, then Zimbabwe meets these procedural requirements. Critics often bring attention to alleged election irregularities, disenfranchisement, and political repression in Zimbabwe. While this essay demonstrates that some of these claims are true, on the other hand, many of them originate from the opposition and from external Western sources, and are often disproved or unverified. The elections in Zimbabwe are a contentious issue, but only because the corporate media amplifies complaints that often have little or no basis. The instances of political repression are more overt and, while they are real, Western audiences are not given the full details. Most of the Western public remains unaware that Zimbabwe's government faces a very real security threat from external forces that are far more powerful in economic and military strength.
Naturally, the Western perspective is not the sole perspective, and debate exists as to what is actually occurring in Zimbabwe. The "Evidence" section reviews the evidence in order to determine the degree to which apocalyptic claims about Zimbabwe represent the true situation. Research conducted by Elich (8) clearly corroborates Kagoro, Moss, and Patrick's statements regarding economic decline in Zimbabwe. The discussion of Zimbabwe's political situation, however, is more hotly contested. The "Sokwanele" "pro-democracy group," a political actor in Zimbabwe with a stake in the country's conflict, claims that Zimbabwe's government engages in campaigns of repression, most recently, large-scale housing demolitions. (9) Ankomah, however, having toured Zimbabwe recently, provides an account and analysis that challenges the "Sokwanele" interpretation of events. (10) Vidal supports the alternate analysis, which views the demolitions as a fairly standard, however rushed, urban renewal procedure. (11) On the more direct question of Zimbabwe's level of democracy, this essay contrasts the claims of "election theft" by the Western metropolitan powers over the recent 2005 election, to the testimony of observers on the ground who witnessed the election. (12) The "Evidence" section, then, demonstrates how even basic information about Zimbabwe's political situation is frequently misconstrued, most often in the interests of opposition groups within and outside Zimbabwe. The dominant political party in Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF, clearly uses every legal, constitutional means available to remain in power. The intense conflict between ZANU and its opposition has occasionally blossomed into violence. In some instances, the government has directed repression against its political opponents. This essay, however, contends that the physical confrontations between the government and opposition are manifestations of a larger geo-political conflict spurred on by the non-conformity of Zimbabwe's government with existing U.S., U.K., and IMF dictates. The considerable Western interference in Zimbabwe's internal politics to a large degree explains the measures undertaken by the government. Western media and states would likely consider these measures justified were they employed by a country friendly to the United States.
To provide the reader with a broader perspective on why the West misconstrues the situation in Zimbabwe, the "Causes" section reviews the wide array of factors that led to the current situation. While some authors, such as Lloyd, place the majority of the blame for Zimbabwe's problems on the indigenous population's electoral choice, (13) Robert Mugabe, historical research by Jacobs, Palmer, and others (14), brings to the forefront the British colonial legacy in Zimbabwe. They argue that the British conquest and subjugation of Zimbabwe's people, and creation of the repressive settler state of Rhodesia, stunted the economic and political growth of the country and its indigenous people. Colonialism created a "dual economy" in which the indigenous African population inherited the unprofitable, subsistence side of a dual-economy. There, crowded small-scale farmers suffered together on arid land.
The indigenous anti-colonial struggle against the Rhodesian regime, and emergence of a radical African liberation movement, including Zimbabwe's governing ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front] party, served in part to steer Zimbabwe's politics away from the relaxed liberal democracies that characterize the developed world. As Palmer notes, the unresolved land issue remains central to Zimbabwe's politics, and fuels political decisions and conflicts today. The intense study of the ZANU-PF's land reform programs conducted by Deininger et. al. offers a balanced view of Zimbabwe's land reform efforts, demonstrating that while the land reform has underperformed according to ideal measures, it has also met with a measure of success in its goals of land redistribution. (15) Rather than land reform as a major cause for Zimbabwe's economic woes, Gibbon, Brett, and others (16) demonstrate that Zimbabwe's choice to adopt IMF economic reforms was most responsible for harming the country's economy. The land reform is not so much harmful in itself, as it serves as a lightning rod, galvanizing metropolitan hostility to the Mugabe government. Moreover, the gap between agrarian reform goals and realities is partly a result of internal opposition by the white farmers. During the entire period of Rhodesia's decline, and thereafter, Ankomah, Elich, and Stamp (17) argue that Britain actively sought to influence Zimbabwe's politics through the white, large-scale farmers, and their "civil society" institutions. Fears of the implications of Zimbabwe's land reform for other countries, such as South Africa, as well as the ZANU-PF's counter-hegemonic discourse, led the Anglo-American powers and allies to suppress Mugabe's government, in the hopes that a more friendly client regime could be installed.
A key claim of this essay is that while Zimbabwe is technically a liberal democracy, widespread economic sabotage, an international campaign of demonization, and direct, artificial, foreign support for the domestic opposition has prevented Zimbabweans from enjoying the positive features of this system of government to the fullest extent. The negative foreign pressure stems not from pre-existing anti-democratic 'sins' of the government, but rather the very serious 'sin' of pursuing an independent foreign, domestic, and economic policy, one that notably involves reclaiming land that fell into white hands during the period of colonization. This argument is particularly compelling in light of the fact that the U.S. supports a number of anti-democratic governments in Africa, particularly Rwanda, without complaint, while creating a media fanfare about events in Zimbabwe. In other words, there is a reversal of cause-and-effect for Zimbabwe's problems. Zimbabwean government repression did not lead to Western economic sanctions and political sabotage, but rather the obverse.
Those who criticize Zimbabwe for being undemocratic because of repression against foreign interference, as well as patronage, and corruption, should be ready to explain which countries are more democratic in this respect. Not only most, if not all African countries, but most, if not all, developed countries use repression against political opponents in certain instances, particularly if these oppositions are perceived as 'foreign,' 'ideological,' or a 'security threat,' and every country in the world suffers from some combination of patronage, corruption, and election irregularities.
Despite the external support in Zimbabwe for anti-government NGOs, media, and political parties, particularly the MDC, the ZANU-PF remains in power, according to Elich, not because it is a dictatorship, but because it is able to mobilize the support of the majority of Zimbabwe's population, who identifies with its political vision. (18) This argument about representation of the electorate introduces a debate as to what governments can do while remaining 'democratic.' Suttner, for example, argues that academics should adapt a special model of democratic transition for those countries born from the midwives of national liberation movements [NLMs]. It is dogmatism to state, as in Zimbabwe's case, that if one party remains strong, and electoral turnover is not likely in the short-term, that a country is not a democracy. Democracies based on NLMs emphasize other forms of rights, such as socio-economic rights. (19) Civil society is more highly developed in South Africa than in Zimbabwe, which, as Moyo demonstrates, becomes relevant in analyzing parties' electoral potential.
Western media and academic scholarship operates with a very clear 'frame' for events in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is portrayed as an autocrat ready to do whatever necessary in order to stay in power. An alternate frame, rarely discussed in Western publications, is that the metropolitan powers, the U.S. and U.K. in particular, seek to use both international institutions, and existing domestic opposition, to topple Mugabe and the ZANU-PF program. The sometimes-violent government response, in a country that emerged from the colonial era with an economy and civil society primordial compared even to that of South Africa, represents the externally-induced, artificial intensification of domestic conflict, and the highest physical manifestation of a hidden international conflict.
Overall, this essay argues that, plagued by continuous Western intervention, the ZANU-PF hegemonic party has constructed a shield around itself, magnifying its presence in the rudimentary civil society, using relations of patronage, and a defiant, 'anti-colonial' platform in order to remain in power. Developing in a manner consistent with other NLMs, ZANU-PF is centralizing, state-interventionist, and jealous of electoral competition. More modern sectors of the economy, and minority regions, have developed limited class opposition to the ZANU-PF. Divisions among these sectors, however, and dependence on foreign backing, have prevented this opposition from consolidating itself in government. This domestic battle between a rural party-movement, on the one side, and some disgruntled urban and elite sectors, on the other, occurs within a political sphere where the government generally follows the law, but the law favours the government. The entire struggle is complicated by both sides' external allies. In short, Zimbabwe's present political and economic situation should be understood in terms of the country's peculiar colonial and post-independence development. Zimbabwe's 'crisis' is not simply the result of voters electing Robert Mugabe, as many Western reports imply. The problem is that Zimbabwe has not been allowed to choose its own course free from interference. Rather, Zimbabwe is a victim of intervention by an entire system of political and economic domination, and bears the scars of the U.S. and Britain's clear and well-documented attempts to circumscribe Zimbabwe's post-independence development in a manner befitting local elites and foreign interests.
Evidence for Problems in Zimbabwe
Chuma has pointed out that the problem in Zimbabwe is a "crisis of framing a crisis." (20) The definition over what exactly is the problem in Zimbabwe, and the level of "crisis," is itself contentious. Objective evidence does indicate that Zimbabwe's economy fares poorly. Since 1999, Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk by 33%, more than twice as much contraction as that experienced by several African countries during recent civil wars. By 2003, the poverty rate had more than doubled from its 1996 figure of 35%. The production of tobacco, a key export crop, has plummeted. Zimbabwe also continues to suffer record levels of inflation. (21) In fact, during the 1990s, Zimbabwe faced a rise in the price of basic goods and, at the same time, a 40 percent decline in manufacturing. (22) Clearly, the economy is not performing as well as it could be. Recent news articles, in publications such as the BBC, highlight the 2006 annual inflation rate of nearly 1,600%, the highest in the world. (23) Economically, then, the country is indeed a "basket case." Evidence for political repression and a lack of democracy, on the other hand, serves as a locus for more intense debate.
A variety of sources have leveled charges of political repression against Zimbabwe's government. The Sokwanele "pro-democracy group" in Zimbabwe, for example, has criticized the government's 2005 "Operation Murambatsvina," a program designed to "restore order" through the demolition of housing characterized as illegal "slums." The group claims that the Operation "destroyed the homes or jobs of at least 700,000 people and the lives of 2.4 million others." According to Sokwanele, the demolitions constitute "extermination," a "crime against humanity," because they allegedly deprived people from access to the conditions of life. Sokwanele quotes the Executive Council of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, who asserted, "we have on our hands a complete recipe for genocide." (24)
The Sokwanele report urged UN Security Council intervention with the utmost urgency, predicting mass famine conditions. These conditions failed to materialize. Nevertheless, the report also leveled other accusations against the government, such as torture. More broadly, critics of Zimbabwe's government have used Operation Murambatsvina as an example of the administration's arbitrariness, and it serves as one basis for charges of "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide." However, events may not have occurred as they were portrayed in the West, and while it is not possible to examine every claim leveled against Zimbabwe's government in this report, Operation Murambatsvina, because it has garnered so much attention in the West, is here further investigated.
The Housing Demolitions in Zimbabwe
Baffour Ankomah, the editor of the New African magazine, toured Zimbabwe shortly after Operation Murambatsvina. According to Ankomah, "what I saw was totally different than what had been reported," wherein the Western media gave the impression that "half of the country had been demolished." Ankomah acknowledged that there was some truth to the UN report that the Operation was poorly planned and disorganized. But he also witnessed positive developments, such as the incorporation of women into the skilled labour force, in this case, bricklayers. Reconstruction involved the erection of new homes, and clean marketplaces, unlike anything Ankomah had seen over eight years of living in Britain. Both Ankomah, and Taylor, his interviewer, criticize the Western media for treating Operation Murambatsvina as if it is unique to Zimbabwe, when, as they both testify from personal experience, the demolition of illegal housing is common in other African countries. (25)
John Vidal of the Guardian supports Ankomah's position. He refers to the discrepancy between the BBC's claims that "bulldozers have crashed into the homes" of a half million people in the capital, and the fact that only 1.2 million people live in Harare - clearly, half the population had not fled in terror. Some alarmist reports had suggested that at least 200,000 people had been displaced in the Operation, but the UN did not list such high figures.
"Meanwhile, the evictions are mentioned in the same breath as the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans - although perhaps only three people have so far accidentally died. Only at the very end of some reports is it said that the Harare city authority's stated reason for the evictions is to build better, legal houses for 150,000 people." (26)
Vidal further adds that many hundreds of thousands of slum dwellers in developing countries as diverse as China, India, and Jakarta, had been evicted to make room for construction projects, their numbers totaling millions - without similar protests from the West. (27)
The reason why Operation Murambatsvina was undertaken with such haste, according to Ankomah, was that the government had received word that an "Orange Revolution" was set to take place, following the model in the Ukraine in which Western powers paid impoverished city residents to stage street demonstrations, so as to put pressure on the anti-NATO Yanukovich government. (28) This specific fear by Zimbabwe's government is not unfounded, given that Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, called for an "Orange Revolution" in Zimbabwe in 2005, and that Sokwanele, as well as other groups and individuals, likewise called for an "Orange Revolution." (29)
The above section suggests that the apocalyptic claims directed against Operation Murambatsvina are likely exaggerated, and Operation Murambatsvina is not unique when considered within the general African context. What the alleged "evidence" of "genocide" - as a result of housing demolitions, no less - indicates is that Western publications, and internal opposition in Zimbabwe, have a tendency to magnify the country's problems. Sokwanele published the exaggerated charges with the intent of justifying foreign intervention. Specifically, it invoked the Canadian-developed "Responsibility to Protect," a "humanitarian intervention" doctrine that has so far been applied in countries such as Haiti, legitimizing the coup against President Aristide, and occupation by metropolitan country forces. (30)
Western sources, and Zimbabwe's internal opposition, also accuse President Mugabe's government of being undemocratic. One major body of evidence suggesting that Zimbabwe is not a democracy largely focuses on the recent 2005 election, in which President Mugabe's ZANU-PF renewed and expanded its mandate, winning more than two thirds of Parliamentary seats, delivering a severe defeat for the opposition MDC. According to the Christian Science Monitor, South African election observers concluded that the election "represented the people's free will." Moreover, regional leaders, including South Africa's President Mbeki, endorsed the election results. (31) South Africa led the 11-country Southern African Development Community election observer team. The SACM congratulated Zimbabwe for holding...a peaceful, credible and dignified election and high levels of political tolerance and maturity displayed. This in SADC's view, bodes well for nurturing a culture that tolerates multipartyism, as an essential building block for democracy. (32)
However, the Western media, including the Monitor, reported claims that the election was not valid. Specifically, "the US and European Union said [that the election] wasn't free or fair." The Monitor gave the U.S./E.U. criticism equal weight against the testimony of regional heads of state, and election observers who were on the ground at the time. Because President Mbeki supported the election results, he also came under fire from Western pundits. (33) Aside from the U.S. and E.U., the opposition MDC criticized Zimbabwe's government for allegedly using its supplies of food to entice voters into supporting the ZANU-PF. The opposition also claimed ballot-box irregularities. The MDC brought these claims to the SADC, which recommended further study of the ballots. The SADC concurred with the opposition's assessment that a small percentage of voters were turned away from the polls. However, the multilateral investigators were unable to confirm any examples of food being used as an "electoral tool." (34) Regardless, Western newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post continued to support the unverified MDC claims and unspecific U.S./E.U. statements as evidence of electoral fraud.
The near-unanimity in the selective interpretation of the 2005 election and house demolitions suggests the existence of a concerted effort in Western media and scholarship to obscure events in Zimbabwe. A consistent 'anti-Mugabe' view exists structurally within Anglophone media. Willems has observed how several British journalists assigned to Zimbabwe were actually former Rhodesians, who had worked for the colonial newspapers prior to Zimbabwe's independence. Because of its prior colonial relationship with Rhodesia, Britain maintains a standing presence of journalists in Zimbabwe, which has received more attention from BBC documentaries than any single country. The British media focuses heavily on Zimbabwe's elections and alleged government crackdowns, and frames its reporting in such a way that 'heroic' journalists take 'risks' to interview members of the 'opposition.' A few British newspapers have gone so far as to spread allegations of ethnic cleansing in Zimbabwe so opportunistic that even the anti-Mugabe Labour Government denied them. This British media coverage is important, since Willems points out Mudimbe's observation that the media has assumed the role of defining Africa, a job previously left to anthropologists. (35) In other words, a heavily-biased media is the organ most responsible for informing the English-speaking world about events in Zimbabwe.
The specific, anti-'Mugabe' interpretation of events relates to the contested nature of the country's politics, as the hostility of the 'former' colonial powers towards Zimbabwe is very real, and a major cause of the current political and economic problems.
Causes of Problems in Zimbabwe
The British Colonial Record in Zimbabwe as a Significant Cause of Current Problems
Beginning in the 1890s, the British asserted their dominion over the tribes that account for Zimbabwe's present-day indigenous population. After famed British imperialist Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company secured mining rights through a deceptive contract with the king of the Ndebele people, British soldiers invaded the Ndebele homeland in 1893. The British government granted 6,000 acres of native land to each white volunteer, who as a group, proceeded to cordon off the region's best land and cattle. (36)
The British quickly subjugated the native Shona tribe in a similar manner, and forced the indigenous population to labour on British farms. The colonial government established a system of white administrators that maintained, and disciplined the pre-existing tribal structures, often by directly punishing indigenous chiefs for failing to provide slaves. Native structures were altered to fit British directives. Under colonial law, Shona women lost what little rights they had enjoyed prior to their conquest. After repressing an uprising in 1896, killing 8,000 Africans, the British government renamed their newly-conquered land as the colony of Rhodesia. The areas appropriated by the British included what became known as the "White Highlands," located in the geographic centre of the country. (37)
Between 1890 and 1902, white settlers expropriated three-quarters of native land. Deininger et. al. note that Rhodesia's colonial governments intentionally enclosed farmers off their own lands and into reservations. The British conducted this policy not only to obtain forced labour, but also to create "incentives" for farmers to join the paid labour force. Confiscation of cattle, and restrictions upon movement, water use and crop types characterized colonial policy. Native farmers were disallowed from growing the most profitable crops. (38)
The 1930 Land Apportionment Act legally enshrined the de-facto land stratification, designating half of the country's land as exclusively whites-only. The Land Acts in 1967 and 1969 solidified the control of 46.9% of Rhodesia's land under the whites, who composed 5% of the population. (39) Between 1935 and 1955, the colonial government violently displaced 67,000 African families onto reserves at gunpoint, including 100,000 people forced into reserves in the period following the Second World War. (40)
The British also used economic coercion as part of their overall strategy of ethnic cleansing. A hut tax and poll tax forced Africans off their land, and into assuming roles deemed useful by the colonizers, such as domestic servants, and miners. The indigenous population chose to become small peasant farmers whenever possible, but they were crowded into reserves on less-productive land, taxing the eco-system. The subsequent soil erosion was blamed on "poor African farming methods." (41) To "solve" overcrowding on the reservations, the British killed or confiscated more than one million African cattle. (42) Whites also strictly controlled the development of a black "petty-bourgeoisie," stifling the development of an indigenous middle-class by "lack of credit and discriminatory pricing mechanisms." (43) The contrast between the large-scale, modern, and well-funded white farms, and overcrowded, small-scale native agriculture, created, in effect, a "dualistic" land structure. The state of Zimbabwe later inherited this "elaborate web of political, legal, institutional, and infrastructural arrangements...that reinforced and facilitated the dominant role of the white-controlled subsector." (44) Clearly, British policies stunted the growth of native agriculture and commerce.
Britain created a particularly-divided society in Zimbabwe, leaving the country stratified by the time of the war of national liberation between an elite, white, modern, agricultural sector, and a black, overcrowded, small-scale sector. Colonial political and economic policies deprived many Zimbabweans of their means of subsistence, and stunted the development of an independent African middle-class. The violent struggle by the white settlers to preserve conditions of inequality led to the formation of indigenous resistance movement-parties, particularly the ZANU-PF, under extraordinarily harsh conditions.
Resisting colonial policy, nationalist movements launched a guerilla war campaign in the 1960s. In a manner reminiscent of Vietnam's "strategic hamlet" policy, the colonial government drove African farmers into white-controlled "keeps." Land repatriation was a major motivating factor for the liberation movement during this conflict. The popular uprising forced the Rhodesian government to declare independence from the Commonwealth. Britain denied the colony's independence, but unlike most other colonial successions, such as America and India, in which Britain used great force to attempt the return its subjects to British control, Britain did not intervene to force the Rhodesians to obey British law, allowing the white colonists to continue their violent and brutal struggle to preserve Apartheid conditions. Britain did continue to involve itself in the affairs of its former colony, however, and mediated the 1979 "Lancaster House" peace conference that led to the creation of an independent Zimbabwe. (45) It was during this time that the ZANU-PF emerged as the strongest liberation party-movement in Rhodesia. In 1980, it was elected as the first government of the new country. The ZANU-PF continues to capitalize on its share of the role in liberating the country. Leading the African rural workers in armed conflict, it would later transform this popular base into electoral support. The "armed struggle" against Rhodesia became a key plank in the party's "limited hegemony" in Zimbabwe, and is to ZANU-PF what the U.S. flag is to American politicians. (46) While this history of colonial occupation and liberation receives some mention in the West, however, most explanations for Zimbabwe's current state of affairs rest on the land reform initiated by the ZANU-PF government.
The New Zimbabwean Government and attempts at Land Reform
Following independence, the new ZANU-PF government in Zimbabwe attempted to improve the living standards of regular citizens via a number of reforms. Women, as a group, benefited from reforms in "health and nutrition," as well as education. The government created a Ministry for Women's Affairs, though it was underfunded. (47) During this period, according to the Lancet, Zimbabwe acted as "a role model for post-colonial Africa." (48) As Laakso explains, "For much of the 1980s, Zimbabwe featured in comparative studies and in the international media as a model of African democracy, good governance and multiracial harmony." (49) The country was a food "success story" during the widespread African famines of the 1980s. (50)
Zimbabwe's largest problem, however, remained the unequal distribution of productive agricultural land. At the outset of land reform, population densities were over three times greater in the black than in the white areas, and some 42 per cent of the country was owned by 6,000 white commercial farmers, most of whom had fought tooth and nail to prevent Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe. (51) Portions of the large-scale farming land were not even under cultivation at this time. (52) Thus, the country's "food success" came largely from a sector under the control of a tiny minority.
Under the Lancaster House Agreement, Britain attempted to mediate the redistribution of land in a gradual manner. The Agreement established a market-based 'willing buyer,' 'willing seller' system of land exchange, in which the government purchased land from farmers who wished to sell it. It was an international effort including some European countries, Kuwait, and the largest contributor, the U.K. The British government agreed to match 'pound for pound' contributions from Zimbabwe's government. (53)
Land reform efforts in Zimbabwe exhibited early successes. Jacobs reports that a "boom" in peasant crop production occurred throughout the 1980s. As Deininger explains, "At that time, Zimbabwe's land redistribution program was well planned, carefully organized and lawful." (54) The land redistribution was an intensive, subsidized, centralized program, in which most recipients ended up under conditions with which they were familiar: communal farming. However, the government consistently failed to meet its ambitious land reform targets. By 1990, more than 50,000 households had been resettled, representing only a third of the 162,000 household target. While only 9.1% of Zimbabwe's total land had been resettled by 1997, Zimbabwe's land redistribution remains a relatively large and "impressive" program by international standards. (55)
The Second Period of Land Reform
In 1992, after the Lancaster House Agreement expired, Britain decided not to continue to fund the willing-buyer, willing-seller program, and Zimbabwe assumed greater control over the process thorough the controversial Land Acquisition Act. This period coincided with an economic crisis, in which angry veterans of Zimbabwe's war of liberation spurred the government to legalize their de-facto occupations of white land, much of which was left fallow. (56) Critics of the land reform often portray this new phase of the process as leading to complete disaster. According to the Sokwanele opposition group,
The present major food crisis began with the violent farm invasions orchestrated by Mugabe in February 2000 after losing a referendum to change the constitution and further entrench his power. ...Prior to the land invasions, the sector brought in about US$700 million annually, but is now estimated to earn below US$200 million. (57)
It is disingenuous, however, to blame solely the land "invasions" for Zimbabwe's food crisis. Moreover, land reforms, especially in a climate of underfunding and mass movement actions, are likely to produce temporary economic dislocation. Or as Elich argues, "The unspoken assumption is that only white farmers can be efficient. The concern expressed in the West for "efficiency" is in reality a mask for the preservation of white privilege. Efficiency is a relative term. Temporary economic dislocation is an unavoidable byproduct of land reform, but the only path to genuine and lasting progress is through land redistribution. (58)
In concluding his comprehensive study of this more recent phase of the reform, Deininger argues that, overall, the 1990s land reform brought "mediocre" gains to its recipients, and did not perform at a level commensurate to its expenses. (59) Cost-benefit analyses of land reform, however, underemphasize the political dimension of returning Zimbabwe's land to its indigenous people. Opponents of Zimbabwe's government - the white farmers, black middle-class opposition, and Western spectators - ignore this political dimension of land reform. They choose to seize upon the contradiction in "efficiency" between the developed white export sector, and rudimentary African agriculture, in order to lobby against further land redistribution. (60) It is worthwhile, then, to briefly examine potential obstacles to the successful completion of land reform, and improvement of productivity on African farms. Unsolved, these issues continue to create divisions in Zimbabwe's political arena.
Obstacles to the Completion of Successful Land Reform in Zimbabwe
Deininger argues that "a politically motivated system of rules and regulations" may have hampered agricultural productivity. The 'socialistic' policies of the ZANU-PF government, he suggests, have distorted Zimbabwean farmers' ability to attain a profitable independence. Also, according to Deininger, the budgetary problems and administrative difficulties inherent to a developing third world country were a likely limiting factor. (61)
Internal opposition to land reform, however, is a key factor. As Deininger explains, the Commercial Farmers Union, stemming from a previously all-white alliance of Zimbabwe's richest farmers, has opposed the government's land reform program, ostensibly on economic rationale. "Part of this (delay in land redistribution) can be attributed...to a powerful minority of large scale farmers who oppose land reform." (62)
Britain, as far back as the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement, implicitly supported the position of the white farmers. Some Zimbabwean political figures, including President Mugabe, believed that the Agreement existed largely to protect the white farmers. Elich, certainly, suggests that Britain's intervention in the Agreement, which placed conditions on Zimbabwe's independence, was carried out in order to "protect white privilege." He cites that under Lancaster House, twenty percent of Zimbabwe's parliament was automatically ceded to whites, leaving whites with a greater proportion in parliament than in the general population. Instead of allowing immediate and comprehensive land redistribution, as was the case in Korea, for example, Britain chose a plan that required Zimbabwe's government to pay, piece by piece, half of the cost of retrieving the land that had initially been taken without compensation from its own people. (63)
Britain has continued its attempts to derail significant land reform in the country. According to Judith Stamp, even though the Lancaster House Agreement was a slow, incremental process, limited by Zimbabwean farmers' financial inability to purchase land, it was still successful enough to be disconcerting to whites. This success, according to Stamp, is the reason why Britain did not renew its support for the program. When land acquisition subsequently ground to a halt as a result of a 1990s economic crisis, angry veterans of Zimbabwe's guerilla war began demanding the land to which they felt entitled. Because Mugabe was suffering a crisis of legitimacy at the time, he began to back the farmers, and their 'illegal' acquisition of land. (64)
Ankomah adds a regional perspective to the land reform controversy. According to Ankomah, South African President Mbeki stated in a public forum that the land issue in Zimbabwe could have been solved 'years ago,' but the South African president at the time told Mugabe not to move on the land issue "because the whites in South Africa are going to be intransigent if you move too quickly on the land." In other words, South Africa pressured Zimbabwe to act as a small trial balloon, co-operating with the limited British plan, so as not provoke South Africa's whites into a much larger potential confrontation. (65)
South Africans desire land reforms, but hope to avoid the conflict that has characterized Zimbabwe. Stamp indicates that Zimbabwe has far fewer white farmers (5,000) than South Africa (55,000), who own more than four fifths of South Africa's land. "A lot of this land" states Stamp, "is not productively used." Incredibly, the Western media focuses more on the small number of deaths that have occurred over the land issue in Zimbabwe, instead of the comparatively greater unrest in South Africa. There were approximately 1,600 white farmers killed in South Africa between 1994 and 2006, whereas Zimbabwe saw approximately six to twelve such deaths. (66) The British media focus on white farmers is so extreme that, as one anonymous correspondent stated, "In general, in the international media, if one white farmer was killed, that created far more news input than if thirty blacks were killed, in general." Another journalist supported the focus on whites, since he believed white audiences in his home country would better relate to the story. Even the manner in which pictures were employed caused readers to sympathize with the whites, evoking emotions by showing a frightened white mother protecting her children. (67)
As Ankomah notes, "South Africa is sitting on a tiger," but Zimbabwe faces external pressure because it has actively carried out a substantial land reform. He suggests that the West directs such extreme pressure against Zimbabwe partly because they view the land reform as a sort of "original sin," in which Mugabe will never been seen in a positive light by the West again. (68)
In this way, Zimbabwe's land reform efforts have been stalled not only through possible weaknesses in the land reform program, but also from white opposition and internal opposition movements, British stalling and refusal to co-operate, and South African timidity and pressure. The British attitude is perhaps best evidenced by these comments from a Conservative MP in the British House of Lords. "My Lords, the Government of Zimbabwe made clear their objective of removing white people who own property in Zimbabwe. Is that not a form of ethnic cleansing? When will it be treated as such?" (69) The economic crisis beginning in the 1990s, however, has been the most dramatic factor in stalling Zimbabwe's land reform. Critics of the ZANU-PF attempt to conflate the economic crisis with the land reform and, while they paint the latter as the cause of the former, the opposite, in fact, is likely the truth.
The 1990s Economic Crisis
Problems in the 1990s involving economic crisis clearly affected the land reform, and Zimbabwe's prosperity, thus meriting investigation. Several factors led Zimbabwe into accepting an IMF Structural Adjustment Program that devastated the economy. Between 1980-1990, Zimbabwe's government employed a state-led, 'corporatist,' and redistributive economic development model that privileged planning and protectionism over markets. "Indigenous" support for this policy was one key factor in its adoption. (70) Economic liberalization, however, swept Africa throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and many governments reduced the level of state-led development in their respective countries. (71) Elich argues that the collapse of the USSR placed extreme pressure on developing countries, including Zimbabwe, to turn towards Western financial institutions. (72)
President Mugabe adopted an IMF Structural Adjustment Program [SAP] in 1990-1. (73) Moore believes that the SAP was adopted mainly under the pressure, and for the benefit of the export sector, which, given the country's demographic makeup, largely referred to the white farmers. (74) Gibbon mentions the Confederation of Zimbabwean Industry [CZI], a "white dominated" employers' organization, which pushed for economic liberalization. The CZI tended to become involved in political issues, particularly those with a racial dimension. Engaging in co-operation with organization such as the Confederation of British Industry, the CZI, like the World Bank, argued against Zimbabwe's policy of Import Substitution Industrialization. Notably, all of the opposition parties that emerged in the 1980s were pro-economic-liberalization. (75)
By the time of the early 1990s, Zimbabwe's system of clientism had become particularly rampant, and threatened the legitimacy of the government. (76) Clientelism grew in part as a result of the land reform program. As Elich explains, the land reform was administered in a decentralized manner, in order to best use existing local structures of organization. However, the disaggregated power centres led to clientelism, as provincial officials and land auditors gave parcels of land to political allies. (77) The legitimacy crisis surrounding clientelism may have forced the ZANU-PF to become more receptive to vocal opposition concerns, particularly from the large landowners and business organizations.
Brett further cites the "embourgeoisement" of the black ruling elite is as another factor in the legitimation of the structural adjustment. (78) Proponents of economic liberalization suggested that the government's economic planning had begun to stifle potential future growth, necessitating some form of structural adjustment. For example, Brett suggests that wage controls favoured capital-intensive businesses, such as the white farmers, and discouraged hiring. This situation in turn suppressed the development of a black capitalist class. Moreover, social welfare programs increased Zimbabwe's debt. However, whatever problems existed with the state-led development, "the liberal experiment in Zimbabwe produced far worse results than its predecessor." (79)
"As part of the market strategy, the government removed food subsidies, deregulated the exchange rate, and increased education and health fees. Such moves contributed to the existing crisis in the country," related to blacks' lack of sufficient farming land." (80) The SAP also involved cuts in the salaries of education and health-care workers, and the removal of price controls. (81) The SAP increased Zimbabwe's foreign debt, and combined with the severe southern African droughts in 1992, magnified the country's existing problems. Zimbabwe suffered a dramatic decline in its maize crop, while the modern tobacco export sector continued to sell goods on foreign markets. "Much of the export earnings from Zimbabwe's tobacco harvest were used to service the external debt." (82) As incomes declined, prices rose. Rising fertilizer costs led to lower land yields. Most Zimbabweans believed that the SAP had negatively influenced their lives. (83) Combined with a drought beginning in 1992, the severe economic dislocation prompted President Mugabe to divorce Zimbabwe from the IMF.
When the IMF complained about the 'slow' pace of 'reforms,' Mugabe declared the end of the SAP in October, 2001, ending Zimbabwe's neo-liberal turn, and marking a shift away from the Washington Consensus. According to Elich, "the jettisoning of [the SAP] only added to the sense of outrage among Western leaders." It was at this time that Western sources began transferring substantial sums of money to the MDC opposition. (84)
Brett, a supporter of market liberalization, admits that the neo-liberal 'transition' process was difficult, and that the IMF downgraded its appraisal of the project from "satisfactory" to "marginally satisfactory," but ultimately blames non-economic political factors, including re-establishment of certain state-led development measures, the land reform, payments to war veterans, and Zimbabwe's intervention in the Congo, for destabilizing the positive economic gains. (85) Like many, Brett ties the rise in inflation and declining GDP from 2000 onwards to these government policies.
An alternate explanation suggests that the political programs in question were responsible for provoking retaliation from Western interests, rather than being a damaging force in their own right. In addition to their intransigence on land reform and defense of white settler interests, and funding of Zimbabwe's opposition, Great Britain and the United States have engaged in what can be described as 'economic warfare' against the state of Zimbabwe.
First, in 2001, the IMF declared its resources off-limits to Zimbabwe. (86) U.S. President Bush and Senator Jesse Helms then passed an act to prevent U.S. financial institutions from loaning money to Zimbabwe, or from canceling any of Zimbabwe's debt. Western organizations acted to discourage trade, including British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who claimed to be "building coalitions" to "oppose any access by Zimbabwe to international financial resources." (87) By threatening the denial of funding to South African Development Community programs, Straw used Britain's clout to demand sanctions against Zimbabwe. African leaders continued to resist the intense Western pressure to apply sanctions, however. (88)
Under the U.S. Zimbabwe Democracy Bill, the U.S. ordered its officials to prevent every major international bank from approving transactions with Zimbabwe. (89) In 2002, the E.U. and the United States withdrew funding and applied sanctions against the Mugabe-led government, and individuals who were perceived as being friendly to it. The U.S. and E.U. also applied a travel ban on Zimbabwean government officials, and the U.S. froze the assets of hundreds of Zimbabwean individuals and businesses. (90) Other "de facto" sanctions exist. For example, according to a former head of UNICEF, only $4 per person is distributed per-person for Zimbabwean AIDS sufferers, compared to an average of $74 in other countries. (91)
The results of the sanctions were severe, as foreign trade plummeted towards near zero, and "foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe plunged by over 99 percent." Inflation soared, and the lack of foreign exchange devastated Zimbabwe's manufacturing sector, causing unemployment to rise to over 70 percent. (92) These factors - the external campaign by great powers to cripple Zimbabwe's economy - are rarely discussed by Western academics or journalists, who instead portray the crisis in Zimbabwe solely as the result of the land reform, or Mugabe's mismanagement. The Western campaign, however, has emboldened the opposition in Zimbabwe, itself partly a creation of Western interests.
Democracy and Debates in Zimbabwe
While the causes of Zimbabwe's problems are diverse, representing a mixture between indigenous relations of patronage and bureaucratic management, and foreign pressure designed to cripple the economy, questions remain over the limitations placed on democracy in Zimbabwe. A brief review of the dominant ZANU-PF party, the opposition movements, and the involved underlying bases of support, is helpful in understanding this issue.
As a number of authors have noted, the ZANU-PF was born out of a violent anti-colonial struggle, developing the associated desire for collectivity and unity characteristic of such movements. Together with the Zimbabwe African People's Union [ZAPU], it represented the desire of most Zimbabweans for anti-colonial liberation. Many of the party organizers and leaders had adopted variants of Marxism, though the party's support came from its more broadly nationalist orientation. To the surprise of some former Rhodesian observers, ZANU-PF won a substantial electoral victory in 1980, and has not been electorally overthrown since. During that decade, the party strengthened its characteristics of self-declared Marxism-Leninism. Various traditionalist, nationalist, and Marxist elements within the ZANU called for a one-party state, on the basis that it was consistent with pre-colonial forms of government, and prevented tribal factionalism. However, there existed little general support for one-party rule among Zimbabweans, (93) and Moore suggests that Mugabe eventually moved the party away from that goal. (94) In 2004, Mugabe stated, "Eleven years I spent in prison fighting for democracy, for one man, one vote," (95) apparently coming to terms with the electoral system that Zimbabwe had inherited from the independence process.
In the early 1980s, while implementing its social democratic program, the party enjoyed fairly widespread legitimacy, at least until clientelism and patronage eroded some of its support base. The original election that brought the ZANU-PF to power contained irregularities, but international election observers agreed that the voters made informed decisions. International monitors also approved elections up to 1990. (96) During this time, ZANU-PF relied on its rural base, which supported the party not only because of popular identification with its platform, but often for the lack of a viable alternative, and also for relations of patronage. (97) The adoption of the SAP coincided with the patronage-induced legitimacy crisis of the 1990s, and further alienated the ZANU-PF from elements of its base. (98) However, ZANU-PF remained dominant in elections. Lloyd, an opponent of the Mugabe regime, argues that the ZANU-PF electoral victories during the 1990s were the result of poorly organized opposition. (99) However, new challenges soon emerged.
The New Zimbabwean Opposition
According to Sithole, elements of "civil society" opposed to the ZANU-PF converged in the years prior to Zimbabwe's 2000 election, forming the "National Constitutional Assembly" [NCA] in 1997. The NCA prided itself for a membership that included student, religious (particularly Catholic), academic, and women's groups, and especially the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions [ZCTU]. Sithole, a founding member of the NCA, also states that the NCA received the majority of its funding from "external" sources, such as the United States Agency for International Development. (100)
In 1999, the NCA took part in a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution. However, the NCA found itself at odds with the government committee, perceiving it as too biased in favour of Mugabe, and instead led a successful campaign to reject the draft new constitution. (101) The draft constitution would have legally enshrined, in the absence of the British 'willing seller, willing buyer' program, the Land Appropriation Act. Because the ZANU-PF was reliant on support from Shona areas and the rural districts, including the war veterans who were dissatisfied over the pace of land reform, Mugabe was pressured into implementing this more proactive land redistribution. Lloyd claims that the proposed "Land Appropriation" constitutional change was rightfully rejected, as it "would have benefited Mugabe." Sithole states, "It was the first major defeat for the ruling party in 20 years." (102)
During the battle over the constitution, the NCA also gave birth to the Movement for Democratic Change [MDC] opposition party. As Sithole explains, there exists significant overlap between the leadership of the MDC and the NCA, as the MDC "was the brainchild of the NCA," and that the MDC functions as a sort of political adjunct to the NCA. Members of the NCA "civil society" group justify lending their explicit political support to the MDC on the basis that the MDC is a fledgling opposition group battling an autocratic regime. (103)
Former NCA chair, and trade union leader Morgan Tsvangirai became the head of the MDC. The MDC drew its support from non-Shona speaking regions, or about one-fifth of Zimbabwe's population, including the Ndebele Matabeleland minority, as well as urban centres, and the NCA's support base. Also, as Laakso notes, in late 1999 the "economically privileged white minority," which had hitherto supported ZANU-PF, or abstained from elections, turned their support towards the MDC. Essentially, the party managed to unite the many diverse elements oppose to Mugabe's ZANU-PF government, running on an 'anybody but Mugabe' platform. In the 2000 election, the MDC won 57 of the 120 directly elected seats in parliament. (104)
In their desire to portray MDC as a merry collection of underdogs fighting the repressive state apparatus, however, MDC supporters, such as Kagoro, Lloyd, and Sithole, do not elaborate on the large amount of funding, favourable media coverage, and strategically-timed international sanctions against the ZANU-PF from which that party benefited in its relationship with the U.S. and U.K. In 2002, following statements from a U.S. official, the Guardian reported, "The United States government has said it wants to see President Robert Mugabe removed from power and that it is working with the Zimbabwean opposition to bring about a change of administration." (105) As U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "we work closely with the MDC on the measures that we should take in respect of Zimbabwe." (106) Moreover, MDC supporters do not focus on the actual political program of the party, instead preferring to refer to platitudes about 'democracy.' In fact, the MDC supports privatization, a rise in foreign investment, the sale of state assets, reduced price controls, lowered business taxes, and mass layoffs of state employees - essentially a return to the SAP rejected by Mugabe and the Zimbabwean people, but favoured among Western lending institutions. (107) Calling itself a "social democratic party," the MDC website highlights the need for a "dynamic and progressive programme of economic reforms," including increased import competition for domestic producers, a decline in government spending in favour of "increased international assistance," neo-liberal deficit and debt reduction austerity measures, and other programs characteristic of Chossudovsky's study of IMF "cookie-cutter" restructuring templates. (108)
Zimbabwe scholar Margaret Lee, criticizing the MDC's adoption of domestic support from white elites, writes, "when I say [the MDC] compromised itself, specifically it aligned itself with the white farmers, many of the white farmers who had a vested interest in making sure that the land was not returned to the indigenous African population." Externally, the MDC aligned itself with South African Apartheid supporters and the violent RENAMO movement in Mozambique. (109) The pro-Western orientation of the MDC is perhaps best characterized by its current website poll, which poses the question, "Does Zimbabwe need to establish strong ties with the West (Europe and North America)?" At the last count, 96.1% of visitors voted in favour. (110)
Even so, the MDC did not succeed in gaining the popular support necessary to topple Mugabe, and has not exceeded the results of the 2000 election. The MDC has instead used extraparliamentary means to attempt Mugabe's overthrow. Consistent with the more recent opposition calls for an "Orange Revolution," and Sithole's favourable disposition towards the U.S. funded 'pro-democracy' movement in the former Yugoslavia, (111) Zimbabwean officials disclosed the existence of MDC weapons-smuggling schemes and assassination plots in MDC youth organizations. These plots were allegedly drawn up in close association with former members of the Rhodesian state apparatus and British agents, particularly British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Brian Donnelly, a former ambassador to Yugoslavia. (112)
While skepticism should be attached to claims emanating from Zimbabwe's government and media, the same skepticism can be applied towards the self-presentation of its opposition. The MDC's own actions are self-incriminating. In 2003, the MDC attempted a Chilean-style general strike, which included the firebombing of a city bus in an attempt to stop traffic. During this time, the U.S. and U.K. told Zimbabwean officials that the removal of Mugabe would result in the restoration of economic aid and possible debt cancellation. As Elich explains, "In May, Tsvangirai announced [a]... "final push" to topple the government...but faced with a court order and strong police presence, mass demonstrations failed to materialize." While some MDC "toughs" continued to fight, there was no popular mobilization. (113) Significantly, in an interview with the BBC, Tsvangirai stated, "What we would like to tell Mugabe is please go peacefully. If you don't want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently." (114)
Most significantly, in 2001, Tsvangirai became involved in a coup scandal against the government, which led to a court trial. In 2002, a videotape and witness statements were released regarding Tsvangirai's meetings with Dickens and Madson, a Canadian public relations firm with ties to the intelligence community, with which the MDC had entered into a half-million dollar contract. In the video, Tsvangirai discussed with CEO Ari Ben-Menashe plans for a coup or assassination attempt against Mugabe, stating that the MDC was ready to "ensure a smooth transition of power." The tape also showed Ben-Menashe talking with an unidentified man, who stated, "We are to proceed to implement a plan of introducing a transitional government through the termination of Mugabe." Ben-Menashe discussed the hypothetical logistics of an MDC transition to power following Mugabe's assassination, stating "we need a clear, concise commitment and a request of our involvement prior to us going forward with this plan." Tsvangirai replied, "I certainly agree." The video also made reference to support for the planned coup within the military. (115)
When the video was released, Tsvangirai claimed that it was a fabrication, but later changed his position when segments of the tape clearly showing him were made public. According to Ben Menashe, "it became clear ... that Mr. Tsvangirai had no confidence in his ability to win the upcoming election of the Presidency...at this point Mr. Tsvangirai proposed that Dickens & Madison aid him in arranging the assassination of President Robert Mugabe." (116) Zimbabwe's government quickly tried Tsvangirai for treason. Among the incriminating testimony, Ben-Menashe stated that "he was told by Tsvangirai that the British government had given their approval for the plan and intended to provide more than US$9 million to pay Air Force Marshal Perence Shiri to lead the coup which was to follow from the assassination of Mugabe." Ben-Menashe also made reference to CIA support. An analyst at Dickens and Madson who had recorded one of the conversations claimed that the purpose of the meetings, according to Tsvangirai, was to "discuss the elimination of President Mugabe." Air Marshal Shiri also corroborated the testimony, stating that the MDC had offered him bribes. The trial lasted for nearly a year. (117)
In the end, the Zimbabwean court found it was difficult to prove that Tsvangirai had, for certain, been planning a coup. Since the penalty for such actions is death, the judge did not feel comfortable assigning a guilty verdict, and admitted that guilt had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The verdict surprised Western onlookers, and one Zimbabwean lawyer stated the verdict, "is contrary to claims by the West that our judicial system plays to the whims of the executive." (118)
The various scandals, violence, and extralegal actions may have hurt the MDC at the polls. Certainly, Zimbabwe's opposition as of late has become increasingly fractured, breaking along its fault lines. As Moore notes, the MDC appears to comprise contradictory alliances and strategies. Writing in 2001, he states, "even if the MDC wins the impeachment, or the 2002 presidential election, its combination of neoliberal economic policies and heavy commercial farmer backing with a working-class base will lead to strains." (119) Popular perceptions of the MDC as a party for the "whites" have not helped. As Willems explains, "Footage shot in 2000 by CNN showing white farmers signing cheques to the MDC has been regularly shown on Zimbabwean television and frequently appeared in ZANU PF election campaign advertisements." (120) As Sylvester explains, the ZANU-PF are masters at Gramscian hegemony, posing questions that frame issues in a manner favourable to ZANU's interpretation of events. (121) So far, the party has been successful in framing the ZANU/MDC struggle as a struggle between Zimbabwe and the former colonial powers, and not without justification.
The conflicts between the MDC and the ZANU-PF are instructive, since they illustrate some procedural-democratic features of Zimbabwe's body politic. While Western sources tend to paint Zimbabwe as if the country were under the rule of one man, or a de-facto one-party state, (122) several highlights from the MDC/ZANU-PF conflict suggest otherwise. First, the MDC was able to severely challenge ZANU-PF in the 2000 election. (123) Second, the NCA movement was able to overturn President Mugabe's suggested constitutional amendments. Third, Zimbabwe's elections have witnessed increasing international monitoring, and none have been overruled by African monitoring agencies. In fact, Zimbabwe became the first country to modify its electoral structure to conform to SADC guidelines. (124) Finally, the judiciary demonstrated its independence when it acquitted Tsvangirai of treason.
The recent police beating of Tsvangirai, however, once again highlighted political violence in Zimbabwe. What is left out in Western press accounts is that the MDC had embarked on another illegal demonstration where, reported by the Malaysian National News Agency, MDC activists engaged in a campaign of violence. As Bernama reports, "The opposition MDC has been unleashing violence in the high-density suburbs of the capital, a situation that has resulted in the death of a civilian and injury of several police officers in its so-called democratic resistance campaign. The latest wave of violence occurred on Sunday when the MDC tried to hold a political rally in defiance of a government ban on gatherings, resulting in the police assaulting and arresting the party's leaders, including Morgan Tsvangirai, and their supporters." Mugabe himself criticized what he saw as a double standard, in which the West ignored MDC violence, and only focused on the government's retaliation. (125) These examples of MDC attempts at an "Orange Revolution," and government violence directed against opposition members, demonstrate that the conflict often took physical form. During the period of the MDC's emergence, between 2000 and 2002, 151 people were killed on both the pro and anti-government side. As Elich notes, Western media ignores the fact that this murder rate is less than that of Washington DC and that violence occurs on both sides of the conflict. (126) This fighting is likely to continue.
Instead of understanding this violence in opposition to democracy, it may be more helpful to view it as part of the process of polarization in politics in a country where the predominant political party stems from a national liberation movement [NLM]. As Suttner explains, in a number of African countries, single parties, often derived from national liberation movements or former military regimes, have held power continually. Despite the existence of a multiparty electoral system, governments such as the ANC in South Africa, which Suttner uses as his main example, have endured as 'dominant' parties. Because of the lack of "circulation of elites" within these systems, some 'experts' on democratic transition have suggested that the transition has not been consolidated. If the opposition is ineffective, and its taking power is unrealistic, then democracy, they argue, is "hollow." (127)
Suttner claims that the above interpretation is "dogmatic," because it argues for a pre-determined "end-product" based on Western notions. "In particular, the end product is meant to be a specific version of democracy, that of formal, representative democracy without substantial social and economic transformation or significant popular involvement." (128) Arguably, the Zimbabwean political system emphasized the latter characteristics, in such actions as the widespread land reform, state-led economic development and redistribution, and the support of popular land reclamation actions. However, scholars' dogmatic emphasis on what Beetham has termed "consolidology," or the fetishizing of arbitrary requirements for "democratic consolidation," delegitimizes these governments. Using the example of South Africa, Suttner argues that democracy can be found in other areas within a country's politics, such as constitutional and court protections. (129) Of course, South Africa possesses a more highly developed civil society than Zimbabwe. (130) As Moyo and Sylvester note, like Zimbabwe's opposition, its civil society is also divided. Fractured between differing "parochial" urban and elite interests, it has not coalesced into an "issue-based" politics. (131) Moyo has suggested, in fact, that the colonial legacy and liberation struggle means that Zimbabwe's politics are dominated by blacks, and the economy by whites. Blacks themselves are divided. Their "civil society" was destroyed by colonialism, and only ZANU-PF has so far possessed the capability to mobilize Africans. Former Rhodesian whites did possess civil society institutions, (132) some of which are manifested today within the MDC. These ethnic divisions clearly distort politics in Zimbabwe, creating additional conflict.
It is indeed true that NLMs possess certain features that some analysts view as antithetical to Western conceptions of liberal democracy. For example, NLMs tend to depict themselves as 'the nation' itself, as the ZANU-PF does in Zimbabwe. (133) These parties were born from armed struggle, which leads to a tendency for authoritarianism. Conversely, Suttner reminds us,
It should not be forgotten that whatever the later outcomes, it was the liberation movements that brought democracy to Africa. Colonialism was an inherently undemocratic system and it was the liberation struggles that ensured people voted for the first time. (134)
Conclusion: Process and Prospects in Zimbabwe
By Western liberal standards, Zimbabwe meets several "procedural" requirements for what is commonly known as 'democracy,' as it hosts competitive, though contested, multiparty elections; the opposition is able to affect legislation; and the judiciary is able to negate actions of the government. However, in opposition to the desires of democratic transition theorists, a single party, the ZANU-PF, has dominated government on the basis of its role in creating Zimbabwe. This phenomenon is consistent with the experiences of other developing countries that gained independence by way of a national liberation movement. The fractured civil society and opposition is unable to mobilize resources to the same extent as the centralizing party. Moreover, the political life of the country is characterized by outbursts of violence.
It is implicit in Western interpretations of events in Zimbabwe that the violence employed by the government against certain opposition actions is evidence that the political climate falls short of a 'liberal democracy.' However, as Gowans points out, "if the absence of state violence against political opposition is a defining condition of liberal democracy, then, there are no liberal democracies, for state violence against the political opposition is everywhere present. It's just that it's not always recognized. The moment anti-Vietnam war protesters were shot dead by National Guardsmen in the U.S., the U.S. ceased to be a liberal democracy by this definition." He also referred to a New York Times article from May 10, 2007, which discussed how German police raided left-wing homes and offices, and conducted a campaign of intimidation, in preparation for a visit from the G8. The article further discussed how, reminiscent of U.S. and Canadian repression during FTAA and G8 demonstrations, Italian police killed an anti-globalization demonstrator in 2001. The fact that Germany and Italy are not described as bastions of oppression by the Western media highlights the double standard singling-out of Zimbabwe. The same problems of repression exist even in prosaic Canada, such when Prime Minister Cretien strangled a protestor on live T.V., or when Haiti-solidarity activist Yves Engler was arrested for heckling Prime Minister Paul Martin over Canada's record in Haiti. These incidents in developed countries are dismissed jokingly, if they are covered at all by mainstream press, while inflated claims out of Zimbabwe, by protestors who call for the overthrow, or even murder of President Mugabe, are given the highest credence.
Zimbabwe's political violence should be understood in the context of colonialism, or the external attempts to control the country that have not ended. If U.S. police cracked down on foreign-funded activists who repeatedly used violence and coup threats to overthrow an elected government in Washington, the Western media would laud such repression as "protecting democracy." Conversely, the same actions conducted by Zimbabwe's government 'prove' the lack of democracy. The reason underlying this double standard is Zimbabwe's rejection of the IMF and Washington Consensus model, paying a heavy price in the process. Its 'original sin' of land reform has caused the country to become a punching bag for all those wishing to sustain economic inequality within Zimbabwe and throughout Southern Africa. The break with the IMF, the land reform, and general anti-colonial rhetoric all appear to be programs and issues that carry popular support. In a number of important ways, the government embodies the will of a sizeable proportion of the electorate. But by carrying out this program, the government has incurred a penalty from Western interests, who have artificially intensified the domestic opposition. To solve its economic problems, ZANU-PF has adopted a model of government that favours continuing ZANU-PF rule through means that could be considered entirely legal and constitutional by Westminster standards. Critics complain about Zimbabwe's "first past the post" system, political appointees, and lack of term limits that keeps Mugabe in power. Interestingly, these features are characteristic also of Canada's political system. The ZANU-PF, conversely, claims that the electoral system merely combines features from the most "respected" democracies all around the world. (135) The resulting strong 'mandate' allows the party to focus on fulfilling the economic needs of its people, piggybacking on mass popular actions. In short, the attempt to actually carry out key elements of the majority will has engendered Western hostility, leading to defensive crackdowns against a domestic opposition that is linked to foreign capital. The issue of Zimbabwe's level of democracy is perhaps best summarized by Christopher Black, who wrote that, in comparison to the extreme repression directed against legitimate strikes, and even the formation of opposition parties in Tanzania, the banning of free elections and strikes in Rwanda, the starvation, the and lack of free elections in Uganda - all U.S.-client states, "Zimbabwe aint so bad." (136) The attention directed by the West against Zimbabwe, and absence of such negative media coverage against U.S. allies in Africa, strongly suggests that the focus on human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe is driven by a political agenda, rather than genuine humanitarianism.
The literature presented in this essay, then, suggests the existence of a conflict stretching across national borders. The American and British in particular perceive a need to maintain their interests through the vehicle of neo-colonialism. They are allied to elements of modern capitalism within Zimbabwe, including the white farmers and, among the African population, urban professionals and elites concentrated in the opposition movements. The urban workers also support the opposition to a degree. Zimbabwe's significant population of rural farmers and agricultural workers, who constitute the bulk of the country, to the frustration of the other class interests, continue to support the ZANU-PF during election time. ZANU-PF leads the Shona majority and rural population, attempting to monopolize elections as legally as possible through its institutions that occupy parts of civil society. To this supporter group, the Sub-Saharan African landless, and their nationalist leaders should be added, as they appear to strongly applaud and endorse Mugabe's "anti-imperialism" during his visits to South Africa and Zambia. (137) Zimbabwe's conflict, then, takes on a fully "international" dimension. Phimister and Raftopolous extensively detailed the 'anti-imperialist' statements of the Zimbabwean president, government, and government-run media. In their detailed study of ZANU-PF media campaigns, they conclude, somewhat ruefully, "that the arrogance and aggression of the Bush/Blair axis...has provided the Mugabe regime with endless examples of western hypocrisy and double standards." (138) In other words, if only Bush and Blair would cease their illegal wars, academics would have an easier time of criticizing Zimbabwe. Willems, too, argues that the anti-imperialism is used as a cover for "the injustices committed by the Zimbabwean government against its own people." She complains, like other academics referenced in this paper, that "clumsy" British intervention "helps" Mugabe. (139) It is unclear whether these academics are advocating non-intervention, or rather that intervention be less clumsy. Implicit in their writing is that 'less clumsy' neo-colonial intervention would remove Mugabe, and that this is a desirable outcome. Certainly, Moss and Patrick's article "After Mugabe: Applying Post-Conflict Recovery Lessons to Zimbabwe," is one example of the dearth of Western "scholarly" research that focuses on what to do when 'something happens' to Mugabe. These U.S. 'think-tank' authors are worth quoting in their own words:
Waiting until the day after the fall of Robert Mugabe could be too late, so the international community should start preliminary planning now for responses to a transition in Zimbabwe...This paper lays out a framework for an international effort and identifies priority actions to support a political transition and economic recovery. It also suggests some immediate steps that the US and other donors can take, including the formation of a Commission for Assistance to a Free Zimbabwe. Beginning the planning process now is not only prudent, but such a public effort could also be catalytic: letting the Zimbabwean people know they have not been forgotten and that the world stands ready to help once Robert Mugabe is gone could perhaps help to bring about that day a little sooner. (140)
Moss and Patrick would probably be arrested in their own country for endorsing the same program against the U.S. government.
Instead of lamenting how the severe international war crimes among the 'Anglosphere' have detracted attention from the ZANU-PF's alleged excesses, as do Phimister and Raftopolous, perhaps they should consider the idea that Zimbabwe's government is justified in pointing out the very visible manifestations of emerging twenty-first century neo-colonialism. Because the evidence in this essay suggests that this 'imperialism' is indeed real, a better analysis of Zimbabwe's politics would evaluate the success of Mugabe's policies in the context of Britain and America's neo-colonial activity. Phimister and Raftopolous suggest the adoption of "a Pan-Africanist vision that 'brooks neither external dependence nor internal authoritarianism and social deprivation.'" (141) Yet it is difficult to imagine how an independent Zimbabwe can avoid deprivation and 'law-and-order' measures in an environment where it faces external sanctions and significant electoral interference from Western governments who are so extremely rapacious, that even Mugabe's domestic and British critics acknowledge that Bush and Blair demonstrate contempt for international law. Criticism of Zimbabwe's government is empty when it does not fully address the Western role in distorting the country's politics.
The recent uproar over Tsvangirai's beating, even though he was violating the law and mounting a campaign of violence, will place additional pressures on Mugabe and the party to step down from governing Zimbabwe, or abandon land reform, and other developmental efforts. Yet the problem of land reform has not gone away, and, under the sanctions, has only become more severe. Any party wishing to replace Mugabe will need a clear program for solutions, if it wishes to gain electoral support. The largest opposition group, the MDC, favours an unpopular program of neo-liberal restructuring. Like the Sokwanele opposition group, which invoked the "Responsibility to Protect" (142) in a plea for international military intervention, the MDC's inability to win at the polls has caused it to favour extraparliamentary actions, coup attempts, and foreign intervention. This is not a recipe for a sustainable government. Until the opposition parties have something to "give out" on a more than a temporary basis, ZANU-PF, or a party following ZANU's policies, will continue to capture popular support. One corollary is that the MDC, promising to "make up" with the West, ending the sanctions against Zimbabwe, might be able to win through promises of relief. Similarly, by soft-selling appealing, but ultimately unsustainable promises of economic redistribution and greater 'democracy,' tied to a neo-liberal program, the MDC may be able to draw popular support. Both would represent a victory for Western blackmail. Under this scenario, the process of disillusionment with the "Western" party, and re-election of the prior ZANU-PF government, reminiscent of the events following Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," might conceivably occur after Mugabe's inevitable death. This is a pessimistic scenario. While Zimbabwe's non-conformist direction has led to considerable penalties, many Africans within and outside Zimbabwe recognize Mugabe's battle with the 'former' colonial powers as a struggle for justice. The South African government has repeatedly made it clear that it will not legitimize neo-colonial interference in Zimbabwe or elsewhere in Africa. For example, one ANC official stated that "the ANC and ZANU-PF 'fought colonialism and oppression in our countries. We liberated our countries from the yoke of colonialism and we set to improve the lives of our people in our respective countries'. The two organisations would determine their countries own destinies, 'not to be dictated to by somebody else.'" (143) Zimbabwe's independent direction clearly serves as an inspiration to other African countries, making it a dangerous example from the neo-colonial point of view. The real question may be whether, in the event of Mugabe's death or ZANU's defeat, the 'anti-colonial' program is able to continue.
From Phimister and Raftopolous (2004):
South African President Mbeki stated that Zimbabwe "had only been singled out for attack once the West deliberately decided to 'treat human rights as a tool' for overthrowing the government of Zimbabwe'. Quoting the Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo, to the effect that 'imperialism has [so] distorted the view of African realities ... [that] it has turned reality upside down', Mbeki insisted that Zimbabwe was a prime example of this process. 'Those who fought for a democratic Zimbabwe, with thousands paying the supreme price during the struggle, and forgave their oppressors and torturers in a spirit of national reconciliation, have been turned into repugnant enemies of democracy', he wrote. 'Those who, in the interest of their "kith and kin" [the British], did what they could to deny the people of Zimbabwe their liberty, for as long as they could, have become the eminent defenders of the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe.' [Mbeki abjured] African intellectuals to 'always refuse to "rationalise the upside-down way of looking at Africa.'" (144)
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