Has the West hardened Mugabe’s stance against them?


British author, Andrew Morton, is better known for his biographies of celebrities: Princess Diana and Monica Lewinsky.

Princess Diana, though one of the first royals to be involved in a public sex scandal, was a darling of the world until her death in a car crash in Paris.

Lewinsky made history when she almost cost Bill Clinton, one of the most popular United States presidents, his job.

But people rarely talk about the two books in the same breath as Morton’s other book: Moi. Most people would not agree with its sub-title: The making of an African Statesman, either.

To them, Moi is a “dictatorial leader who has surrounded himself with politicians bankrupt of ideas but rich in bank balances.” He is also seen “as one of the last of a dying breed of African Big Men- rulers from a one-party era for whom, corruption and manipulation of ethnic differences are seen as acceptable tools of governing”.

The same sentiments could apply to Mugabe. Moi and Mugabe have a lot in common. They are both former teachers. They are both 78, though Moi is seven months younger than Mugabe.

But while Moi has been president for 24 years, he has been in government for 47 years. He was elected to the Legislative Council in 1955 and has been in government since.

Mugabe, due to a late start which saw Zimbabwe only attain independence in 1980 while most African countries got their independence in the 1960s, will have been in government for 28 years if he serves his current six year-term.

He will be 84 then. But, unlike Moi, who will step down this year, Mugabe is not just old but is facing worldwide condemnation for “stealing” the presidential election this month.

Once regarded one of Africa’s statesmen, Mugabe has turned into a pariah. He is now almost like someone with a contagious disease. No one wants to get close to him because one might catch the disease.

The question, most people ask, but never bother to answer, is: Where did the brilliant African leader, who surprised his critics by offering a hand of reconciliation when they had said he was such an avowed communist he would even ban Christmas, go wrong?

Mugabe committed two cardinal sins: bashing the powerful gay community and getting land from white commercial farmers, says one observer who has been studying the Zimbabwean situation for the past two decades.

Although his troops butchered hundreds of his countrymen in Matebeleland in its war to crack down on dissidents; and each election was violent, with at one time an opposition supporter who had sought refuge from the police being dragged out being killed; and hundreds of villages were torched in the run-up to the 1985 elections; and former Mayor of Gweru Patrick Kombayi nearly lost his life in the run-up to the 1990 elections; the West was prepared to turn a blind eye on all this because this was black on black violence.

There were occasional reports of human rights violations from human rights watchdogs such as the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and Amnesty International, but no worldwide condemnation.

According to the observer, Mugabe’s record for violating human rights came under the spotlight soon after he attacked homosexuals as sexual perverts, who, he said, were worse that pigs and dogs, at the official opening of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in August 1995.

His government had forced the organisers of the book fair to stop the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe from participating at the book fair.

In his hard-hitting speech, Mugabe said: “I find it extremely repugnant to my human conscience that such immoral and revulsive organisations, like those of homosexuals who offend both against the law of nature and the morals and religious beliefs espoused by our society should have any advocates in our midst and elsewhere in the world………..

“If we accept homosexuality as a right, as is being argued by the association of sodomists and sexual perverts, what moral fibre shall our society ever have to deny organised drug addicts, or even those given to bestiality, the rights they might claim and allege they possess under the rubrics of individual freedom and human rights….?”

As if this was not enough, Mugabe added: “I hope time will never come when they (homosexuals) want to reverse nature and expect men to bear children.”

Mugabe’s attack put local human rights organisations, especially those led by black Zimbabweans, in a quandary. The issue was taboo for the most powerful human rights body in the country, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. Besides, the country’s laws said sexual relations between people of the same sex were a crime.

But the world was beginning to accept homosexuality, with some countries sanctioning gay marriages. Mugabe’s personal affront with a very powerful community which controls not only governments and business empires but the newspaper and donor industries as well, made him enemy number one.

Not only was he accused of gay bashing, but cases of “genuine” violations of human rights began to be thrown in to camouflage, a concerted effort to “fix” Mugabe for trashing such a powerful community.

Everything he did, or said, came under the spotlight. Peter Tatchell began to haunt him. According to an insider who deals with several government leaders, Mugabe’s attack on gays, resulted in several countries removing Zimbabwe from their priority list. One country put it in the same category with Pakistan which had just had a military coup.

While Pakistan had its ranking reversed after allowing the United States to launch attacks on Afghanistan from its soil, Zimbabwe is still stuck at the bottom because Mugabe committed an even more abominable crime – taking land from the whites.

Zimbabwe’s troubles began in October 1997 when Mugabe said talks with the British labour government were fruitless. His government was therefore going to compulsorily acquire white-owned farms and would not compensate them for the land but for improvements.

The impact was immediate. The stock market crashed. The Zimbabwe dollar plunged from around 11 to the United States dollar to 25 to the US dollar.

The country has not recovered since. Its gross domestic product has declined over the past four consecutive years. This time, Mugabe was now accused not just of gross human rights violations but of precipitating a breakdown of the rule of law.

Surveys and opinion polls trashed the land issue, arguing that blacks were not interested in land but in jobs. Mugabe was accused of using the land issue as a political gimmick, but he has not backed down. Mugabe’s “arrogance” drew in the wrath of the United States and the European Union, and the entire West ganged up against him.

Mugabe has refused to budge. Instead of bowing down to the pressure, the stance of the West seems to have hardened Mugabe, and his key lieutenants, Jonathan Moyo and Joseph Made, who both ironically were educated in the United States.

According to Morton, Moi felt the same thing when the British and West started accusing him of being a dictator. “As head of state, he reserves the right to decide when, where and how he should act. Those who lecture him in public on a course of action, even though he may privately agree with that view, find that he resists their pressure to the last. Moi, as a leader of the Kenyan nation, demands the respect due to an African chief. He will not be pushed around in public, nor will he be patronised by the West. Conversely a quiet word at State House or a little discreet lobbying elicits a far more positive response,” he says.

Could this be what Mugabe wants?

Just like Mugabe constantly reminds his critics that he is in charge, Morton says when United States ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone, bellowed at Moi: “You can’t run this country like your personal fiefdom,” Moi replied: “This is not your country, Mr Ambassador.”

Mugabe has told British Prime Minister Tony Blair the same thing on several occasions. To the West Mugabe is just stubborn, arrogant, but as leader of a poor country he can easily be brought down.

Morton says the West is patronising developing countries, under its so-called New World Order which it embarked on after the end of the cold war. It now seems to be working on the premise that democratic capitalism is the perfect model for all countries because it has worked in developed countries.

“While it might be effectively argued that the Asian model of democratic capitalism is more appropriate to Africa, it is the American pattern of economic liberalism and democratic individualism which has inevitably dominated policy among Western donor countries. Underpinning the assumption that the American economic and political world view is the model to which all nations should aspire is the firm conviction that it is morally just; truth and justice marching arm in arm with McDonald’s and Coca Cola,” Morton says.

He says the New World Order is simply exploitation by another name, the application of Western might and superiority concealed behind the moral figleaf of democracy and freedom. Soldiers, settlers and missionaries of the Edwardian era have been replaced by the diplomats, journalists and aid workers whose actions and conclusions are routinely based on their preconceived ideas of Africa and African leaders.

“Beautifully dovetailing with the revised political imperatives of the New World Order is the fundamental racism that informs the dealings of the liberal West with the Third World,” Morton says.

“While Kenya is no longer a colony it is still, as is the rest of Africa, colonised intellectually, culturally, economically and socially by the West whose architecture of power is that of white dominion and black submission. The narcissistic representation in Western culture of the white man in Africa, be it as explorer, coloniser or missionary, is matched only by the stereotyping of the African as mindless savage, evil witchdoctor, nascent rapist, educated fool.”

But worse, says Morton, “the morality of the New World Order, the belief in the righteousness of the West, is reinforced by a cultural heritage of the white man as the fount of all wisdom, justice and knowledge – white men as godlike figures who left behind a veritable Garden of Eden at independence which Africans turned rotten to the core once they had gained control.”

Could this be what Mugabe is rebelling against? He has been taunted for being an educated fool as his degrees are supposedly useless because he has run down the country.

Doesn’t Mugabe, like Moi, have fierce pride in himself and his people that they have the ability to manage their own affairs without outside interference? Doesn’t he, like Moi, “resent outside intrusion and interference, in what he considers to be domestic issues, in a new nation striving manfully to forge its own identity from a chequered colonial past”?

But there is nothing more difficult than trying to forge an identity with people who have no national pride, people who are easily influenced by the West, people who hate themselves to such an extent that they believe they cannot stand on their own without the help of the West.

“During the 1990s the begging-bowl mentality, that culture of dependency which characterised many African governments during the Cold War, has been replaced by a kind of intellectual addiction to the West, an automatic deference to Western values and authority, particularly among opposition leaders,” Morton says.

“While this is still an effective strategy of protest, using international agencies as allies, this has developed into supine political genuflection, every public gesture and utterance made with half an eye towards pleasing or placating the international community rather than the domestic constituency.”

Morton goes on: “This tendency to look to the West for approval has been accompanied by a harder edge to decent standards of political behaviour, typified by the rejection of national reconciliation in favour of politics of boycott, confrontation and ultimatum.”

Added to this, Morton says, is the failure to distinguish Moi (Mugabe)’s position as both leader of a political party and head of state. In fact, it appears, the future of Zimbabwe has been so personalised that it would seem Mugabe is running the country on his own. Few people have even bothered to ask whether he is doing this on behalf of his party, ZANU-PF.

Perhaps, just like Moi, Mugabe is now ” deeply resentful of the way he is pushed into a corner and made to seem as though he is being brought to heel.”

Just like Moi, perhaps he has the right to be treated with courtesy and respect because he is the leader of Zimbabwe.

Mugabe has said on many occasions that he wants to retire and write his memoirs. Surely, he has not been thinking about writing these memoirs at age 85. Perhaps he is just looking for a noble exit. He does not want to be pushed out.

He is not that daft that he cannot see that the country’s economy is in doldrums, or is he?


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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