Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Zimbabwe: The Other Side of the Story

by Tony Black
Basics Issue #10 (Aug/Sep 2008)

According to the Western mainstream media, Robert Mugabe is another ‘pariah’ or ‘monster’ of the nature of (the former Yugoslavia’s) Slobodan Milosevic. However, just as in the case of Milosevic, the Western portrayal of Mugabe is largely a piece of pure propaganda. To understand why we first need to examine a bit of historical context.

The problems of modern Zimbabwe started at the very outset of independence in 1979. At that time the vast majority of the country’s arable land was held by a few thousand white farmers, mostly descendants of the original British settlers who had taken the land by force a century earlier. Under pressure, the fledgling independent state agreed to a land transfer agreement that was called ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ whereby the British government would put up monies to help poor, black Zimbabweans (many being veterans of the independence struggle) buy back the land from white farmers – when and if, of course, the latter chose to sell. However, even this agreement was considered too radical for the likes of Britain, which in 1997 reneged on its financial commitments.

The slow pace of ‘land reform’, then, was a sore that continued to fester until Mugabe, under pressure from the veterans, finally passed legislation in 1997 that led to the seizure of nearly 1,500 farms owned by white Zimbabweans. At that point all hell broke loose and Mugabe became the overnight international pariah we all love to hate.

But, of course, there is much more beneath the surface of this political iceberg than just a few confiscated farms. Both Washington and London hate Mugabe on a number of counts among which include: 1) his abandonment in the late ‘90’s of International Monetary Fund (IMF)-mandated ‘structural adjustment programs’ (which take money away from public programs like health and education to pay rich, foreign investors etc); 2) his refusal to privatize every national institution in sight; 3) the fact that he sent troops to support Laurent Kabila’s government in the Congo (which the US was attempting to overthrow); 4) the threat he poses to vested British economic interests and companies; and, finally, the fact that his fast track land reform is a deeply troubling symbol to neighbouring countries like South Africa which, despite the fall of apartheid, has done virtually nothing to redistribute wealth or land to its people.

Moreover, the economic disarray of the country is, in large part, a direct result of the ‘international community’s’ deliberate undermining of the economy. Thus, the IMF, the World Bank and the International Development Association have waged an extensive campaign of economic warfare against Zimbabwe by freezing loans, denying credit vital to its food and energy security, and engaging in undeclared economic sanctions. In December, 2001 the US passed its ‘Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act’ which further tightened the screws on a nation already reeling under what amounts, in essence, to a form of collective punishment. Considering that Zimbabwe imports 100% of its oil, and 40% of its electrical equipment and spare parts, these sanctions and interferences have, single-handedly, destroyed much of the country’s industrial and agricultural sectors.

None of this is to say that Mugabe isn’t corrupt or hasn’t acted harshly to crack down on internal dissent. But one must immediately counter with the fact that Zimbabwe is very much the subject of extensive foreign subversion. Much like the so-called ‘colour revolutions’ in Serbia, Belarus, Georgia, and the Ukraine – and numerous other attempted such ‘revolutions’ across the globe – Zimbabwe’s ‘independent’ oppositional groups have received extensive funds, equipment, and organizational support from the likes of the US State Dept., USAID and the ubiquitous US-funded National Endowment for Democracy (essentially the civilian arm of the CIA). And, of course, the corporate media can be relied upon to conjure their usual bang-up demonization campaign.

Meanwhile, right next door in places like Tanzania - concerning which we hear not a peep from the media - even the barest hint of a strike is met with state violence and imprisonment; or like Rwanda, where under the Western-backed Kagame dictatorship, thousands are routinely ‘disappeared’; or in Uganda where there has not been a free election since the U.S.-backed Museveni came to power in 1986.

Then again, according to a recent update by the Oxford Research Bureau, the US and Britain (with extensive support from Canada through its sub-imperial role in Afghanistan) are now responsible for the deaths, since 2003, of 1.3 million people in Iraq.

‘Pariahs’ and ‘monsters’, it seems, are very much in the eye of the beholder.