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Zimbabwe: Pan African Response

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Sep 23, 2007 (070923)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"For anybody genuinely concerned about the future of Africa there can be no politics of convenience. To be sure, the Zimbabwean crisis is not the only crisis in Africa ... [But it] is arguably the only ongoing crisis in which one side (the incumbent government) and its supporters have mobilised African support and silenced many by asserting more or less that its critics are sympathisers, supporters or agents of foreign interests and former colonial masters. This has wrongly narrowed the framework of the debate on the Zimbabwean crisis." - Rotimi Sankore

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains an article by Rotimi Sankore, published in Pambazuka News, calling for all Africans to stand up for human rights and social justice in Zimbabwe. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today has the latest report on Zimbabwe from the International Crisis Group.

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe and additional background and links, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Pan Africanism and the Zimbabwe Crisis

Why all Africans must stand up for universal equality, human rights and social justice

Rotimi Sankore

Pambazuka News 319

*Sankore is a Pan-Africanist and Human Rights Campaigner.

First, a statement of principles; Every African is obliged to stand up for equality, democracy, human rights and social justice - not just for ourselves as individuals or only in our villages, cities, countries and regions - but for all Africans across Africa regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, political or religious beliefs. These must be the bedrock of genuine Pan-Africanism. All of Africa's anti slavery, anti colonial and liberation struggles regardless of their shortcomings [and yes they had shortcomings] were based on these very principles and the concept of an Africa United for social and economic development is nothing but empty rhetoric if it is not based on them.

Consequently for any body genuinely concerned about the future of Africa there can be no politics of convenience. To be sure, the Zimbabwean crisis is not the only crisis in Africa, and this writer believes that all African's must engage any crisis that endangers the social and economic development of Africa on the basis of the above stated principles - be it in Darfur, DRC - or Zimbabwe.

However, the Zimbabwean crisis is arguably the only ongoing crisis in which one side (the incumbent government) and its supporters have mobilised African support and silenced many by asserting more or less that its critics are sympathisers, supporters or agents of foreign interests and former colonial masters. This has wrongly narrowed the framework of the debate on the Zimbabwean crisis into an oversimplified context of African nationalism and anti colonialism versus imperialism and colonialism. If the name of Africa is being invoked in justification of government policy then Africans must have a position on it. As we sometimes say, you can't call on your people, and not expect your people to call on you.

The above in turn underlines an outstanding feature of the crisis - that the current Zimbabwean government is based on the country's liberation movement - which was supported by the majority of Africans, people of African descent and anti colonialists universally against the undemocratic minority white Rhodesian regime of Ian Smith and its supporters. The Zimbabwean government has re-mobilised this historical support by positioning itself as continuing the liberation struggle to "reclaim our land".

By framing issues in terms of: Are you for land reform or not? Are you for or against white farmers? Are you for or against colonialism? Are you for Africans or the colonialists? President Mugabe has posed in a more sophisticated way; the rhetorical statement so crudely articulated by George Bush that it eventually backfired - "you are either with us or with the enemy".

Such "you are with us, or with the enemy" rhetoric regardless of the cause which claims to serve, its sophistication or crudeness is dangerous to human rights, to social justice and ultimately to Africa's development because it suggests that anything can be done in the name of defending 'us' against the alleged 'enemy' or even worse, that anything can be done to alleged 'enemies' in the name of defending 'us'. It also suggests that no wrong can be done in the name of fighting the alleged 'enemy' and ultimately that anything but unquestioning loyalty is betrayal.

The continuously evolving logic of such rhetoric is that the definition of enemy is elastic and 'they' [but not the government] can be held responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong. Any acceptance of such a political philosophy by either African citizens or leaders will stagnate intellectual progress in all fields and place Africa in a state of permanent backwardness.

We must make no mistake about it - all of human progress - in science, technology, the social sciences and politics, philosophy and the arts - is based on challenging and improving the status quo or building on previous 'standards'. Put simply, all of human progress is based on rigorous examination of existing conventional wisdoms and on dissent. Every African and in this case every Zimbabwean must therefore have, and exercise the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association and assembly without fear of, or actually being beaten senseless, incarcerated or killed. A situation in which people face potential sanctions for not toeing the official line - are assaulted by 'law enforcement' agents merely for singing and dancing [to anti government songs], women are detained for peaceful protests, passports are seized and lawyers are beaten for representing clients is absolutely unacceptable. If it was wrong for minority white regimes to have such policy and practice, it is even more wrong for a black majority government based on a liberation movement to do the same.

Africans cannot accept any policies from people on whose behalf we protested when the same treatment was meted out to them. All Africans must therefore stand firm against any idea that being in 'opposition' means people are not human, or that they are human but don't have human rights. It's a question of principle. All political parties must be aware of the possibility that they will not always be in power - including ZANU-PF. Then they will expect their rights to be defended.

If the state of social and economic development is a key indicator of the state of affairs in a country, a no less important indicator lies in the possibility that all citizens can criticise their government and its policies, offer alternate opinions and ultimately change their government by civil means if that is the wish of the majority. No government - not even the governments of or leaders of liberation movements can arrogate to themselves perpetual wisdom and power.

People can debate indefinitely whether or not the Zimbabwean crisis is as a result of poor government policies, or has been provoked by sanctions and dirty tricks campaigns by 'colonialists' or both. What there is no debate about is that there is a political crisis linked to the apparently indefinite stay in power of President Mugabe. There is absolutely nothing anti Mugabe about anyone wondering if after 20 years as President another Zimbabwean out of its over 12 million citizens - whether from his party or any opposition party - cannot be elected to lead the country.

In Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and other countries leaders of liberation or anti-colonial movement governments have stepped down and are still living - Mandela, Kaunda, Chissano, Nujoma, Mkapa and the list is growing. In Ghana and Zambia where the last African Union and SADC summits respectively held and the Mugabe government made it a point to mobilise its supporters there have been successful changes of the party of government in 2000 and 1991 respectively without the roof caving in on those countries. 20 years is enough for any President to make contributions to the progress of his or her country. Nobody needs foreign governments to tell us that. On the whole African democracy is not perfect but on the balance it is heading in the right direction. Zimbabwe cannot be an exception to this progressive trend.

The African Union under the stewardship of Chairperson KonarT (himself a former leader of Mali that also led by example) has come a long way from the OAU and it must underline this point. It is a sign of progress that the AU leadership and many member governments have so far agreed with African rights campaigners that leaders of countries with unresolved rights and governance issues cannot Chair the AU unlike the days when even the worst of despots like Idi Amin could Chair the former OAU with impunity. The AU and SADC must continue in the spirit of the AU constitutive Acts, SADC Declaration and other key principles and discourage the idea that African leaders must stay in power indefinitely so as to avoid defeat by colonialists. The colonialists have essentially been defeated. That is why the country is called Zimbabwe not Rhodesia, and President Mugabe not Ian Smith has been President for 20 years.

Yes some foreign interests will continue to meddle in Africa, whether directly or through proxies - this happens in almost all parts of the world. But the future of Africa is now in the hands of Africans. Our governments can therefore not adopt the same repressive policies of the colonialists in the name of continuing the fight against them. It is important to emphasise that democracy is imperfect universally and also that the pendulum of power often swings from one end to the other between ideologies, parties, and factions within parties. Parties also evolve and change and what they stand for today may not be what they stood for yesterday or will stand for tomorrow. For example, the world watched in disbelief during the 2000 Bush versus Gore election fiasco in the United States which were it to have happened in Africa under the same circumstances would have been described as "typically African".

In the spirit of parliamentary democracy with no term limits, former Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher whom presided over the last days of the Rhodesian regime and whom regarded the ANC in South Africa as a 'terrorists' was tempted to go on indefinitely after 11 years as UK Prime Minister until hounded out in tears by anti poll tax mass protests and her own party. Most recently former Labour leader Tony Blair under pressure from his own party and the public barely managed to negotiate a dignified exit after 10 years in office.

In Latin America where some governments would consider themselves as liberation type governments, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas for instance lost elections in 1990 to openly foreign backed Contra's after coming to power in 1979 on the back of a popular rebellion that overthrew the Somoza dynasty. By the 2006 the Sandinistas had been voted back into power. How may people looking at US politics today would realise that founders of the Republican party in 1854 included anti-slavery activists and that the Democrats now heavily supported by African Americans once benefited handsomely from slave owners. The point here is that majority of African countries have been independent for only between 13 and 50 years and Africans must take a longer-term view of political history.

If despite obviously democratic imperfections many African and non African countries have managed to change leaders and parties of governments without the world coming to an end, there is no reason why it is impossible for Zimbabwe to have a future without President Mugabe in power, or for President Mugabe to live without being in power. Even Ian Smith leader of the Rhodesian government that committed countless atrocities against Africans and swore that Black majority rule would never happen has lived in post colonial Zimbabwe - and is now a grand old man of 88.

There is nothing personal about upholding democracy; the interests of the citizens of a country must always come before that of the leadership of any government. The above underlines the fact that people can also debate without end about whether the Zimbabwean economy is collapsing, has already collapsed, or will never collapse. The fact is that an estimated three million [undoubtedly very Black] Zimbabweans have fled the country with many living as refugees in neighbouring countries. They must be running from something. We now face the debacle of armed racist farmers on the South African Zimbabwe border fulfilling their racist fantasy by being presented with opportunities to hunt down and round up Zimbabweans fleeing across the border in the name of defending South Africa from invading "illegal foreign criminals". Even if the present Zimbabwean government claims it bears absolutely no responsibility and that drought, withdrawal of credit lines, sanctions or even the cycle of boom and bust that has caused recessions even in advanced industrial economies is responsible for the economic misery, the fact is that it is almost impossible to offer alternatives without being "bashed".

No one but the government can be blamed for the rash of legislation that has no other role than to contain, intimidate or suppress criticism and peaceful opposition. The laws and policies speak for themselves "Public Order and Security Act", "Interception of Communications Act" and so forth. How many people demanding uncritical loyalty for the Zimbabwean government would happily live under laws which its just a question of a matter of time before anyone becomes an arbitrarily victim. It makes no difference if the foot in the boot kicking you and your rights into a dungeon is Black or White. A kick is a kick.

'Sanctions' cannot be blamed for everything. By way of comparison Cuba a country of similar population and even greater antiimperialist zeal has faced well-documented and comprehensive
blockades, sanctions and invasions [not to mention numerous assassination attempts against its leadership] by "foreign interests" over a greater 40-year period and on a scale far surpassing anything Zimbabwe will ever experience. Despite obvious democratic deficits, the Cuban government has won grudging admiration of even its critics because healthy life expectancy in Cuba - at 67 and 70 years respectively for men and women respectively - has risen and been sustained at a level equivalent to and in some cases higher than in the most advanced industrial countries. In Zimbabwe current healthy life expectancy has sunk to 34 years and 33 years respectively for men and women, also making Zimbabwe one of the countries in the world where men are expected to live longer than women.

This is not an endorsement of any section of, or all of the opposition, or even of hypocritical foreign policy from some countries - but rather of the right of all citizens including the political opposition to exist without fear of repression. Just as we know that being a liberation fighter does not guarantee that anyone will be the best possible leader in government, we all know that being an 'opposition' movement or leader is not a guarantee that anybody will do better than those they seek to replace. Regardless, one of the indisputable conditions for the development of Africa is that the principles and culture of democracy must be institutionalised. No one should insult the memory of countless Africans murdered by colonial settlers to facilitate stealing of their land by suggesting repressive laws are necessary to implement or defend land reform. Without doubt land reform is a necessary part of social justice for Africans, but it must be judicious, equitable and transparent land reform based on respect for human rights and the rule of law - not land reform used as a political cudgel to 'bash' all critical voices.

I have heard some people argue that the 'enemies' of Africa now crying about human rights did not burden their conscience with such luxuries when benefiting from 400 years of industrial scale slavery, colonialism and brutal exploitation of Africa and its peoples. In other words, that 'white farmers' deserve some of their own medicine. Not only does such thinking reduce Africans to the moral bankruptcy of colonialists, it also fails to understand that it risks granting unlimited and indefinite power to Africa's actual and imaginary liberators such that we may all end up be shackled by them. Africa's liberation movements drew their moral strength from the fact that on the balance, they fought for social justice, human rights, equality and democracy - for all - not for card-carrying members of ruling parties.

The philosophical algebra of this equation is that there should be no expectations that these principles can be discarded as inconvenient while still counting on the unwavering support of all Africans. Africans must therefore unite for social justice and human rights across Africa - including in Zimbabwe. Some people also think that because of either real or imagined 'western' hypocrisy we must always give unconditional loyalty to the Mugabe or any government that claims to be defending Africa against 'imperialism'.

The hypocrisy may be real but our primary concern must be the welfare of Africans, not whether President Bush as part of his politics of convenience - supports the Musharraf military regime in Pakistan which was suspended from the Commonwealth in 1999 for overthrowing an elected government (while simultaneously passing the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Act), or even whether some of the western media engage in 'colonial mentality' reporting which fulfils negative stereotypes of Africa. Our health care system, education, food and overall social justice and development must come first. It is impossible to build on development achievements if everyone must agree with official policy. Regardless of party affiliation nobody's stomach is neutral on the question of hunger. No disease asks for your party card.

While all Africans with any dignity must remain firmly anti-colonial and anti-racist, we must also view with scepticism any blanket anti- western and anti-white rhetoric. Not withstanding that some foreign governments described the ANC and other liberation movements as "communists" and "terrorists" or both, while simultaneously supporting bandit governments such as the Mobutu regime, Africa's anti colonial and liberation movements were supported by millions across the world including from the West. Even some governments such as the Swedish were proud supporters of liberation movements and post independence governments long before it became fashionable to do so.

President Mugabe is a former teacher and one of Africa's most educated and experienced leaders. After over 2 decades in power, he does not really need anyone to tell him that it is not only possible to be in office without being in power; it is also possible to be in power without moral authority. Once any leader anywhere gets to that point it is irrelevant what you claim to stand for. What will become relevant is that you did not stand down when you should have done so - of your own free will - and in the best interests of your people.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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