Pots and Kettles: The Western Reaction to the Zimbabwe Election

Photo Credit: Reuters; President Mugabe's Reaction to Western Disapproval?

Photo Credit: Reuters
President Mugabe’s Reaction to Western Disapproval?

There is a great deal more to the Western objections to the African Union’s evaluation and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) verdict that the recent elections in Zimbabwe were ‘free and fair’ than just a disquiet that the elections did not produce the result that some sections of the West wanted. These objections tell the world that these Western powers who object so strongly to the victory of Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) are humiliated by the fact that they are increasingly irrelevant to political developments in Africa and largely impotent when it comes to controlling the political and economic ties among African nations and the international community. There is a growing, if reluctant, realisation by the United Kingdom that Zimbabwe doesn’t need them; want them or rely on them for political, military or economic interactions. The British are, to an ever-increasing state, irrelevant to Zimbabwe; and indeed to Africa as a whole.

 

British rule over Zimbabwe ended in 1965 with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front. Other than the few months at the end of the Rhodesian War when Abel Muzorewa’s Government reverted to British colonial control to negotiate the Peace Accords establishing Zimbabwe in 1979, Britain’s control over Rhodesia/Zimbabwe effectively ended in 1965. There is, in reality, no one in Zimbabwe under the age of fifty who ever lived under British colonial rule. In fact, the median age in Zimbabwe is less than twenty years. That means that the largest sector of people in Zimbabwe not only never lived under British rule, they also didn’t live under Rhodesian Front rule.  Independence was around thirty-five years ago and the bulk of Zimbabweans were not even alive at the time.  Theirs is not the politics of colonialism or anti-colonialism; it is the politics of a nation beset by a concerted campaign by the international community against it.

 

In addition, during the post-independence period most of the “kith and kin” that the British saw as a group whose rights they had to defend, have left the country.  One would be hard-pressed to find more than a few thousand kith and kin left in Zimbabwe.  The British bought some time for them by insisting on the several entrenched clauses in the Zimbabwe Constitution at independence which protected the land rights and tenure of the white farmers for ten years after independence, but reneged on the promises to the new state that at the end of the ten years they would assist financially with the cost of transition from white-ruled farms to a wider participation in land ownership.  The conflict this engendered led to the seizure of white farms and the expropriation of some of their lands.  The British, whose refusal to conduct its policy towards Zimbabwe according to its obligations, used these seizures as evidence of the supposed failure of ZANU to act fairly.

 

In response, the British undertook a policy of almost two decades of political and economic subversion against the Zimbabwe government and encouraged its international partners in Europe and North America to follow its lead in combatting Mugabe and sanctioning the country and its political leadership.  It created the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) political party and promoted its leaders in Parliament, the European Union and NATO in their efforts to oust Mugabe and the ZANU-PF.  The efforts of the MDC to take power in the last election precipitated a period of violence and mayhem, which led to the doomed coalition of Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutumbara.

 

The coalition was doomed because it was accompanied by a unique and epic failure of the Zimbabwe dollar to retain its value. Spiralling inflation finally drove the country to abandon the Zimbabwe dollar (which had traded at one Zimbabwe dollar equalling one U.S. dollar and sixty cents at independence).  The U.S. dollar and sterling were accepted as the currencies for Zimbabwe’s accounts.  This destruction of the currency and the impact of the international sanctions imposed by Britain, the European Union and the United States had a devastating effect on the Zimbabwe economy and political structures.  It has taken over six years but the Zimbabwe economy has almost recovered from that crisis despite the sanctions and the imposition of foreign currencies as the reserve currency.

 

The role of the U.S. in undermining Zimbabwe and its economy was no better than that of the British.  The U.S. has always viewed the African nationalists of Southern Africa as their enemy based on the relentless Cold War policies of combatting the Soviet Union in every theatre.  The nationalists of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in South Africa; ZANU and ZAPU in Rhodesia; MPLA in Angola; FRELIMO and COREMO in Mozambique; and the numerous governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (starting with Lumumba) were all viewed as “too close to the Soviet Union” and thus the enemies of the U.S. America has been fighting wars in Africa since the 1950s  – in Angola, the DRC, Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Morocco, Libya and Djibouti among others.  In some countries they used U.S. troops, but in most cases the U.S. financed, armed and supervised the support of indigenous forces.  In its support of the anti-MPLA forces in Angola it sent arms and equipment to the UNITA opposition.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Larry Devlin of the CIA was an unofficial branch of Mobutu’s government; the U.S. ran its own air force at WIGMO.  U.S. airmen supported the South African forces in the Caprivi from WIGMO.  The hostility and opposition of the U.S. to African nationalism took many forms.

 

The U.S. cast its first veto in the United Nations Security Council in 1970 when Ambassador Charles Yost vetoed against a resolution on interdicting the international sale of Rhodesian chromite ore.  The U.S. argued that the beneficiary of the sanction against Smith’s Rhodesia would be the Soviet Union, which was also selling chromite ore.  (I was challenged by Congressman Brad Morse at a Congressional Hearing on Rhodesia at which I was testifying when I suggested that the use of the U.S: veto on this issue was shameful because the British had already used its veto and the U.S. veto was gratuitous.) It has been a unique feature of U.S. African diplomacy that the Cold War legacy of opposition to African nationalism continues to shape U.S. policy; especially under the guidance of such neo-cons as Susan Rice.  The U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe were established by the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZDERA) and continue to today.  The U.S. has threatened to continue these sanctions because of its “uncertainty” about the re-election of Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

 

Essentially, at one time, the combined censure against Zimbabwe by the UK and the U.S. might have had a profound impact. Today, however, these sanctions are an irritant, not an insoluble problem.  The world has changed since 2001 and the UK and the U.S. are increasingly irrelevant to the progress of Zimbabwe.  In the late 1990s President Mugabe saw the handwriting on the wall as he offered his military support to Kabila’s DRC which was being attacked and invaded by the U.S. surrogate armies of Uganda and Rwanda.  It was clear that the U.S. and the “International Community” didn’t want Kabila to win or for Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to emerge as saviours of the DRC’s national integrity.  Mugabe pointed out that the future lay in the East; the expansion of African ties with Asia, particularly China and Malaysia.

 

ZANU-PF has had a long and close relationship with the People’s Republic of China.  It was China which sustained the ZANU army in its garrisons in Mozambique during its long military campaign against the Rhodesian Front.  The Russians supported Nkomo’s ZAPU in Lusaka, Zambia but the ZANU developed ties to China.  This relationship has continued to grow after independence.  The Chinese continue to be the main economic partners of Zimbabwe.  As the West abandoned and sanctioned the vast mineral resources of Zimbabwe their mines, ore sources and processing plants were taken over by Chinese investors.  Chinese banks and financial institutions stood behind these investments and channelled a great deal of money into Zimbabwe.  The Chinese military-industrial corporations armed the Zimbabwe army with the latest equipment.  In short, while the “international community” was lecturing Zimbabwe and “teaching it lessons” in the IMF, World Bank and other Bretton Woods agencies the Chinese sent money and investment and took goods despite the sanctions.

 

It is not that the Chinese are Zimbabwe’s only customers.  Despite the ranting of the British about the election, ambassadors from Norway, Sweden and Denmark have already staked out an expanded path of economic relations with Zimbabwe.  It wasn’t two days after the election that German bankers contacted the country with offers to help set up internationally accepted letters of credit confirmed by German banks.  There are now serious discussions in Zimbabwe (as well as Angola and some other nations) about adopting the Chinese Yuan as an official currency.  The farms have largely recovered and are producing ever-increasing levels of food production for Africa and for exports to the East.  Public spending is expanding, according to a study by the Cato Institute by a factor of ten.  The economy is recovering from its catastrophic state despite the West and the direction of growth is firmly to the East.

 

The election of Mugabe and ZANU was not a tribute to the political system for its sketchy improvement in the lives of Zimbabweans or its support for the grasping of wealth by well-connected politicians and military leaders.  Unfortunately that accompanied the imposition of sanctions.  The people of Zimbabwe don’t really care much for the existing politicians but they knew that the addition of the MDC to the equation only made things worse.  With stability they hope that there will be more wealth trickling down and an absence of civil strife.

 

It is a bit rich for the U.S. to complain about unfair elections in Zimbabwe at a time when U.S. voting rights are being ripped away from the Constitutional structures established in the 1960s in several states and impediments for the registration of voters are cutting away millions of Americans from the voting rolls.  When they say that political satire reached its apogee with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger, electoral satire reached its apogee in the 2000 election of George Bush.

 

Zimbabwe will get on and thrive in the next years under Mugabe and ZANU’s leadership with or without the continuation of sanctions.  The West has moved itself away from relevance and influence in Africa.  Impotence and irrelevance are not solved by removing sanctions and no complaints by the UK or the U.S. about elections is likely to change this.

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