People of Zimbabwe between a rock and a hard place

- John Edmundson

The disastrous election period in Zimbabwe has thrust that country back into the media spotlight over the last few months, with the latest big news being the veto in the UN Security Council of a package of sanctions being sponsored by the United States. Reports of voter intimidation have been added to the ongoing hostile media reports of land occupations by Mugabe cronies, financial mismanagement and economic collapse.

The story of Zimbabwe’s slide into poverty is, of course, more complex than the picture we tend to receive in the media, as is the perceived solution of Western-led international sanctions.

There can be no doubt that the election process in Zimbabwe was rigged by the ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front) party led by independence war hero Robert Mugabe. The lead-up to the 29 March 2008 harmonised local government, parliamentary, senatorial and presidential elections saw widespread reports of intimidation, while the vote-counting was inexplicably delayed. Finally a narrow win to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was announced in the parliamentary poll, but in the presidential election it was declared that a runoff election would be required - a result that was immediately challenged by the MDC.

The new poll was set for 27 June but in the intervening period the MDC claimed that over a hundred of their activists had been killed and many more subjected to various forms of intimidation. MDC Presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, who had himself been beaten and arrested several times during the campaign, withdrew from the contest and took refuge in the Dutch Embassy for nine days.

Redistribution of land key issue

The history of Zimbabwe’s decline goes back nearly thirty years. When it became obvious that Ian Smith’s white-supremacist Rhodesian government was doomed to fall to the guerrillas of the Patriotic Front, Smith attempted to retain a degree of white rule through a “power sharing” arrangement with conservative black leaders. When this proved untenable, the British stepped in to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power.

The Lancaster House Agreement was signed on 21 December 1979, and a primary British objective was to prevent the confiscation of white-owned farms. At the time, the tiny white minority owned 80% of the best land in what was then, briefly, known as Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Despite resistance from Robert Mugabe, the British won from the Patriotic Front a commitment that all land transfers would be on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis. The British government promised £40 million to fund the buyouts.

It immediately became obvious that the farmers would not sell and only a trickle of the poorest white-owned farmland was made available under the scheme. This made it impossible from the outset for the PF government to carry out one of the key objectives of its armed struggle, the redistribution of land. Not surprisingly in a condition of scarcity, what little land there was went to people close to Robert Mugabe, and the British seized on this as a reason to cease funding the land redistribution.

When Mugabe condemns Britain for its role in the undermining of Zimbabwean sovereignty, this is what he is discussing. The newly independent state had been hamstrung from the beginning by its inability to address the most pressing issue facing the great mass of Zimbabwe’s poor - land.

ZANU-PF incapable of delivering

The ZANU-PF government became more and more authoritarian as it was increasingly incapable of delivering anything to its constituency. It moved against its Patriotic Front partner, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) of Joshua Nkomo. However, it tried to maintain a working relationship with the white farmers, as they were essential to the survival of the economy, and the country came under the strictures of an Iinternational Munitary Fund (IMF) Structural Adjustment programme.

The IMF rated their Zimbabwean measures as “highly satisfactory” - the highest category, while many within Zimbabwe consider it a key element in the economic collapse of the country.

Poverty remained the norm for the mass of the black population. Despite the removal of the “willing buyer, willing seller” clause in 1992, white farmers still continued to resist land sale. But it was only when the emergence of a significant electoral threat, in the form of the MDC, arose that ZANU-PF sanctioned large-scale land occupations.

While ZANU-PF have largely toed the line laid out for them by the IMF, they have not been as reliable as the West would like. Lingering “debts” to the liberation war fighters, many of whom expected much more radical policies around land reform and social and economic equality, make ZANU-PF a less than perfect option for imperialist domination of Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s “walk right, talk left” policy has not worked. It has not satisfied the left, who naturally want more than just periodic anti-imperialist rhetoric, but at the same time it unnerves the capitalist farmers and other interests within Zimbabwe and in the West. The MDC has emerged as a much more palatable alternative and the “humanitarian” card is now being aggressively played by the Western powers.

MDC courting Western imperialism

The MDC emerged as an alliance of various “civil society” organisations and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Despite being headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, a veteran trade union leader, the new movement adopted a neo-liberal economic agenda. Leading up to the recent elections, the MDC was in negotiations with the World Bank, despite the consequences of the IMF’s last prescription.

The Party’s manifesto for the recent elections was based on a radical programme of privatisation: “The MDC does not believe that government should be involved in running businesses and it will restore title in full to all companies… Private enterprise in general, and industry in particular, will be the engine of economic growth in a new Zimbabwe… The major role of government will be to aid and encourage the private sector by providing incentives and the required supporting infrastructural facilities… The establishment of a vibrant enterprise economy will be underpinned by an unwavering commitment to… the safety and security of individual and corporate property rights.”

While the Mugabe government has lost all legitimacy and most Zimbabweans would love to see it gone, the MDC alternative does not bode well for Zimbabwe’s future, especially as it is likely that it will come to power courtesy of Western Imperialism.

Sanctions vetoed

The most recent Western initiative against Zimbabwe was the attempt to pass a Security Council resolution implementing sanctions against the country, specifically an arms embargo and sanctions against the country’s top leaders. Along with the United States, which sponsored the move, the sanctions proposal was supported by Belgium, Britain, France and Italy, and Western-aligned Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia and Panama. The resolution was opposed by China, Libya, Russia, South Africa and Vietnam. Indonesia abstained. Russia and China vetoed the resolution, ensuring that it would not be passed.

The news of the veto was greeted with outrage and horror in the West, with the headline in The Times online edition (12 July 2008) reading “West suffers historic defeat as China and Russia veto Zimbabwe sanctions”. The report declared that “Britain’s diplomatic strategy in Zimbabwe collapsed last night in an historic defeat for the West in the UN Security Council that will have repercussions across Africa and beyond”.

What concerns the self-righteous journalists at The Times is that there has been a precedent set here for Russia and China to defy the US and Britain in their efforts to use the UN against other countries, such as Burma/Myanmar.

Hypocritical humanitarianism

The West’s anti-Mugabe campaign is couched in the terms of humanitarianism. “Humanitarian intervention” has, since the end of the Cold War, been the preferred choice of the West in justifying its domination of the world. It was for “humanitarian” reasons that the West intervened in Iraq. Earlier, it was for “humanitarian” reasons that they dismembered Yugoslavia and intervened in Somalia.

While Mugabe is clearly a dictator, Western talk of humanitarianism is completely hypocritical. When their record is examined - over one million dead in Iraq through Western sanctions and war, or the continued bombing of civilian targets in Afghanistan - Western moralising over humanitarianism in Zimbabwe is exposed for the lie that it is.

Imperialist interventions in the underdeveloped world are driven by the interests of Western corporations, not by the interests of poor Southern African workers and farmers. The Zimbabwean people will eventually win true independence but it will not be at the whim of the US or other Western imperialists.

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