Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Link Between Illegal Sanctions, Demand For Media Freedom

Link between illegal sanctions, demand for media freedom

AFRICAN FOCUS By Tafataona P. Mahoso
Courtesy of the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

IN the last instalment we pointed out how peculiar it was that the very same media outlets and journalists who had succeeded in demonising Zimbabwe to the extent of justifying its criminal subjection to sanctions and economic warfare; the same media outlets and journalists who had also successfully denied the reality of the illegal sanctions and their effects on the economy and the people— were now trying to convince the same people that the same media still do not have freedom to write, publish or broadcast what they want.

What we did not point out is that in the scheme of regime change politics, it is suicidal for a country to liberalise its media policy in the immediate aftermath of sanctions or while still enduring and fighting illegal sanctions. This is because the immediate liberalisation of media policy is consistent with the objective of illegal sanctions and of illegal regime change.

The nation, having been denied the most up-to-date technology because of sanctions will now find its own media left behind in every respect by those mass media services which will rush into the country on the back of the liberalisation, the illegal regime change axis having planned and equipped those new mass media services to effect a "final push" while the state is still reeling from continuing sanctions or from the lingering effects of the sanctions. This is the link between the wish to prolong illegal sanctions and the call to "open up media space".

The second observation we must make is that the technologies which supposedly make "the free flow of information" and "the opening up of media space" imperative are direct spin-offs from military and security experiments carried out by the very same powers who imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and who sought illegal regime change. The recent experiences of Venezuela, Kenya, Madagascar, Thailand and even Somalia demonstrate that such information and communication technologies in an unregulated environment can switch from a civilian function to information warfare, espionage and destabilisation without notice. This is precisely because these technologies were originally intended for war and espionage anyway. The high-tech industries producing equipment with dual military-civilian functions exploded after September 11 2001. Today the South and the East are regarded as the biggest growth areas for new media and communication platforms.

A close reading of the US Patriot Act and Internews Europe’s report called The Promise of Ubiquity: Mobile as Media Platform in the Global South will reveal that at any moment and in the absence of tight regulation the sponsors of regime change can switch apparently benign media platforms from news gathering and "free flow of information" to espionage, destabilisation and information warfare.

The third reason is that Zimbabwe is a good candidate for this sort of warfare because it has been targeted already for more than 10 years; it has been under sanctions which have denied it investment in the latest information communication and broadcasting technology for nine years; and it is expected to hold a constitutional referendum to be followed by a general election in the next year and half to two years. The same powers who imposed sanctions on the country and waged an illegal regime change campaign will also be intensely interested in both the constitutional referendum and the general election. These are the usual occasions in which the same powers have unleashed their technologies to influence the outcome.

The illegal sanctions have made the country and the people vulnerable to manipulation and destabilisation through the latest media technologies because the current established media have been starved of the latest technologies through sanctions, just as the regulators and security agencies may also have been denied access to appropriate communications monitoring equipment. This means then that the call for a sudden and unregulated opening up of the country to all foreign media, while sanctions remain in place, will destroy or weaken the established local media while boosting those being started under a deregulated environment. It is these newcomers which the regime change forces seek to promote and sponsor in the hope that they may still be able to pull off the illegal regime change which has failed up to now.

In an unregulated media environment, the sudden switch by regime change sponsors from benign free-flow of information to espionage, destabilisation and information warfare exploits the stark fact that the problem for information policy today is not the scarcity of information but, rather, the explosion and spread of too much (mis)information without knowledge or the explosion of too much information without strategic communication structures to frame it in the interest of national integrity and coherence.

Let us use two illustrations. The first is Somalia, the classic case of successful illegal regime change (1991) which has gone for 18 years without a central government and therefore without a strategic communication policy or national strategic communication structures.

There is no doubt when we read newspapers or watch global TV news channels that Somalia is currently a real scourge to international shipping. What we are not told by the "free Press" is that Somalia is also in the forefront of new media and free flow of information, using the mobile handset as an instrument. In fact, the reason why the Somali pirates are so efficient and deadly is because they have digitalised networks and they enjoy instant satellite communication and information on the movements of ships and hostage rescue teams in an environment with no regulations.

Here is what Internews Europe reports on the potential of the mobile; it contains serious implications for media policy making:

"As Emmanuel de Dinechin from Altai Consulting says, if media companies do not step onto the platform created by the explosion of mobile phones, other companies will. Not least the network operators themselves, who now expect to compete with each other in the field of value added services, which include media. All over the world, they are buying rights to top entertainment and sporting events.

"To some extent southern-based and run media organisations may not realise the threat of competition in the mobile space from brands they do not regard as media because they have not experienced the same phenomenon on the internet to the same extent as their northern counterparts. The drain of advertising revenues from print editions and even TV across industrial countries has led media houses to take online seriously, forcing them to integrate the internet into their core business models.

"By extension they will probably watch the development of mobile closely. Internet advertising has eaten away less at traditional media in southern countries because of its low penetration. The explosion of mobile phone adoption, and what it represents in developing countries, will be more far-reaching in its implications for traditional media than the Internet has been."

In short, the mobile platform offers new challenges to radio, television and print media because of the merging of those platforms in one piece of equipment. Mobile also offers challenges to unregulated media environments where there are no national strategic communication structures. In such an unregulated market, the mobile platform with other instruments of information warfare can be used to foster, co-ordinate and launch a parallel government which can quickly overwhelm an elected government with external assistance. This has happened in Madagascar and Thailand. It almost happened in Venezuela in 2002 and Kenya in 2007-2008.

The strategy which has been used to send Third World people to sleep is that of classifying media and the Press as automatic "human rights defenders", thereby baptising them as sacred cows to be left alone.

In policy terms, this means that the Sadc Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport (especially article 17) has to be amended.

Sadc heads of state signed that protocol on August 14 2001, less than one month before September 11 2001. A new global reality unfolded in the aftermath of September 11 and it is reflected in UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of September 28 2001 which calls on UN member states to collect and share security information to combat terrorism, which in essence means the emphasis is now on permanent surveillance and control and not on free flow.

Ironically, the people who coined the slogan of "free flow of information" were thinking of the unfettered flow of money and capital as investment opportunities became global. Most anti-terror laws, including the US Patriot Act, also target the free flow of funds as the essential fuel for terrorism.

If Sadc needs a review of its August 2001 Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport, the African Union (AU) needs to disband its African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).

African heads of state in the AU have many times rejected so-called "human rights" reports tabled by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). That commission’s role so far has been mainly to infantilise Africa ideologically, that is to cultivate in Africans the kind of naive admiration of Western racist doctrines which is fit for children.

Let us take, for example, the ACHPR’s latest questionnaire on "human rights defenders" which was circulated in member states recently. The questionnaire begins by assuming that most of Africa, if not the whole world, agrees that there are organisations, even businesses and individuals, who can and should be automatically classified and treated as "human rights defenders" but who, for some unexplained reasons, remain external to the society itself, if not entirely opposed to the society. Yet it is within that very same society that they make their claim to be "human rights defenders".

Moreover, the questionnaire further assumes that foremost among these "human rights defenders" are "independent media, non-governmental organisations and trade unions".

If we take the so-called independent media, for example, we realise that the ACHPR’s questionnaire seeks to deny our experience of media.

For instance, Gerald Horne in is book, From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980, has documented the collusion between white Western corporate media and local white media.

These two forces colluded in degrading and demonising the African liberation movements, in promoting white supremacy, and in exploiting the myth of superior and protected white womanhood, again in order to degrade African women and humiliate African men. According to Horne:

"Sex rested close to the heart of Rhodesian military operations. Not only was the protection of Rhodesian (white) women from allegedly ravaging Africans seen as a rationale for the war but, like many (white) male enterprises, the military used female images to foment (white) male bonding."

Western independent media and white settler media colluded in this racist and sexist strategy. "Romance, sexuality and gender anxiety were an essential component of the elements that drove US citizens to Rhodesia — and kept them there . . . One of the prime linkages in this chain of whiteness were the mass media . . . " The linkages remain now, causing so much Western interest in how we manage our media.

Yet the automatic effect of the language and framing of the ACHPR’s questionnaire is the unspoken but deadly assumption that the mass media have always defended the people, that the liberation movements which created our contemporary societies against imperial and colonial odds had nothing to do with defending human rights!

The ACHPR’s questionnaire is important because the organisations presumed to be automatic human rights defenders there are the very same ones which have historically advocated white Western racism and intervention against the people.

This is so because the questionnaire in its very first question assumes that the most important "human rights defenders" are non-governmental organisations, trade unions, independent media organisations and any of those entities otherwise lumped together in human rights propaganda as constituting "civil society". Automatically therefore our liberation movements and liberation war heroes cannot be viewed as human rights defenders.

Chaminuka, Nehanda, Kaguvi and Chingaira can therefore not be viewed as human rights creators or defenders. It is those with a long history of opposing the African liberation movement and attacking African land reclamation whom the ACHPR’s questionnaire calls human rights defenders whom the liberation movement in government must now protect and preserve so that they continue to attack African emancipation on behalf of imperialism.

Because the so-called independent media and the NGO industry in this country have been heavily dependent on external sponsorship and patronage, they have also enjoyed access to ICT ahead of ordinary citizens. And that access is used to attack the liberation movement in government and the society it has created.

Economic sanctions threat to unity Gvt

By Vhurai Meso

While the new inclusive Government is trying its best to turn around the economy through STERP and the 100-day strategic plan, all its efforts will come to naught if the economic sanctions imposed by the US and EU and their allies are not immediately lifted.

For those who still don't believe that Britain, the United States and their Western allies have imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, you just have to look at the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) — passed by the US Congress in December 2001. Never mind the deceptive name, its intentions are to cripple the Zimbabwean economy.

Part of this sanctions Act states: ". . . the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against (1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe (note this does not say to President Mugabe or his cronies); or (2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe (not by President Mugabe or his cronies) to the United States or any international financial institution."

In this Act: (1) The term "international financial institutions" means the multilateral development banks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). (2) The term "multilateral development banks" means the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Development Association, the International Finance Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Investment Corporation, the African Development Bank, the African Development Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency.

Such is the extensive reach of ZIDERA. It was a masterstroke. At the stroke of a pen, Zimbabwe’s access to international credit markets was blocked. Relying purely on barter trade, mining, agricultural concessions, and on exports-generated foreign currency, Zimbabwe’s economy is being asphyxiated slowly but surely.

The US and EU’s phrase of choice is "smart sanctions" targeted against Mugabe and his cronies. These sanctions are not "smart" but they are very targeted. They are targeted against all Zimbabweans. Contrary to their intended character of "smartness" their effect goes beyond these purportedly targeted persons and they are devastatingly effective in bringing Zimbabwe’s economy to its knees.

They are deceitful in that their promoters, EU Ambassador Xavier Marchal and US Ambassador James McGee and their cort├Ęge of sanctions cheerleaders, create an impression that what has been imposed are just mere targeted sanctions when, in fact, it is collective strangulation of all Zimbabweans.

Zimbabwe’s inability to reschedule its loan payments and to apply for debt cancellations in times of severe financial crisis will continue to cause distress for the Pime Minister in general and the Finance Minister in particular. The IMF and World Bank’s continued embargo and refusal to do business with Zimbabwe has an immediate and adverse impact on Zimbabwe’s credit and investment rating. And with a drop in investment rating goes the prospects of attracting low-cost capital on the international markets, which is what is urgently required. I fail to see how this is targeted against Mugabe and his cronies.

In fact, what is happening now is that the Prime Minister, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, and Finance Minister Mr Biti are being set up for monumental failure by their former friends. Along with the rest of the Cabinet team, their noble and gallant efforts will be undermined severely by ZIDERA and the EU sanctions and the sooner they realise this the better. This is a big albatross around their necks.

Unfortunately our Prime Minister as head of government will be the fall guy here where his leadership skills will be questioned if his team fails to deliver. Because of the sanctions, he will not be able to deploy his Cabinet team efficiently and effectively.

For example, ZIDERA on its own provides a huge brick wall for the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Foreign Affairs cannot be deployed to explain to foreign governments of the West (EU and USA) what the policies of the new inclusive Government are because he is on their travel ban list. The Minister of Tourism, Mr Walter Mzembi, cannot market this country effectively to prospective tourists, again due to the travel ban.

The list is endless. This is a quarantined team, which will not function effectively unless sanctions are removed. The people of Zimbabwe expect results from this Government and if these do not come, the honeymoon will soon be over and people will be demanding that heads start rolling.

Some companies that have been added to the targeted list include the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, the sole marketing and export agent for all minerals, except gold and silver, mined in Zimbabwe; the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, involved in investment in the mining industry in Zimbabwe, and in planning, co-ordinating and implementing mining projects on behalf of the Government of Zimbabwe; the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, Zimbabwe’s largest steel works; the Agricultural Development Bank of Zimbabwe, a commercial bank owned by the Government of Zimbabwe; the Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe Limited, a State-owned enterprise that owns a large number of companies operating in the industrial sector, including the chemical, clothing and textiles, mineral processing, and motor and transport sectors; the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe, a financing entity; Zimre Holdings Limited, an investment and reinsurance entity; ZB Financial Holdings Limited, a holding company for a group of companies involved in commercial and merchant banking, just to name a few.

Now when Mr McGee chooses to strangulate Zisco with sanctions, a company on which a whole town depends and still calls this targeted against Mugabe and a few cronies, I have serious problems with that. This is a big insult to the intelligence of all Zimbabweans.

When you target a bank like ZB with over 1000 000 account holders, not to mention employees and their families that depend on this entity, it is downright cruel and heartless. If you look at the above companies, they were carefully chosen to achieve a certain end. American citizens are suffering right now because of massive job losses because of the economic collapse caused by greed in their private sector.

Mr McGee and his crony, Mr Marchal, choose to impose the same anguish on the people of Zimbabwe in general and employees of the targeted companies above in particular and then claim to be doing it for the people of Zimbabwe. It’s shameful.

One wonders why these two gentlemen and their masters are crying more than the bereaved. Mr Tsvangirai, Professor Arthur Mutambara, our Parliament, Senate and Sadc leaders all say sanctions must be removed, so who are these gentlemen to question the wisdom of our leaders? They show such disdain for African leaders. It’s nauseating.

President Barack Obama announced that United States sanctions against Zimbabwe would continue, citing an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to US foreign policy.

Aah, there you are, so this is the real reason why we are being collectively tortured by sanctions. It’s nothing to do with democracy, human rights or some such gibberish. Ambassador James McGee may want to explain to the people of Zimbabwe how Zimbabwe can be such a threat to the world’s only superpower. When we are being called an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to US foreign policy by a US president, we should not take it lightly.

Remember this is the same country that had Nelson Mandela topping their terrorist list together with Osama bin Laden until some time in May 2008. They placed Nelson Mandela on the US terrorist list when the US strongly supported apartheid in South Africa and supported Mandela’s 27-year incarceration until apartheid was brought to its knees by the ANC and other progressive comrades. The only country at the moment to attack, invade and occupy countries thousands of miles away from its shores.

The only country that practises pre-emptive strikes against another nation and lists nuclear strike as an option.

Here is what Nelson Mandela said when the US was going to occupy and plunder Iraq: "It is a tragedy, what is happening, what Bush is doing. But Bush is now undermining the United Nations."

He called on world leaders, especially those with vetoes in the UN Security Council, to oppose him. "What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust."

He attacked the United States for its record on human rights and for dropping atomic bombs on Japan during the Second World War.

"If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care."

It looks like President Obama is following Bush’s politics on Zimbabwe, thanks to His Excellency Ambassador James McGee’s advice. Zimbabweans should beware. All progressive Zimbabweans should roundly condemn these sanctions.

-Vhurai Meso is a Zimbabwean-based political commentator. For any views or comments you can reach him on vhuraimeso@gmail.com.

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