Friday, November 19, 2010

'Clergy Can Help Zimbabwe Fight U.S.-EU Sanctions'

‘Clergy can help Zim fight US-EU sanctions’

Zimbabwe Herald

IN 1989 Archbishop George Augustus Stallings rose to international prominence for challenging the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy around the question of the church’s stifling the African cultural identity. This made him part ways with them one year later. He founded Imani Temple /The African American Catholic Congregation. For the last five years, Archbishop Stallings has become increasingly concerned about US Policy towards Zimbabwe and has expressed his commitment to establish a dialogue between clergy in Zimbabwe and the US for the purpose of exploring their role in lobbying for the lifting of US-EU Sanctions on Zimbabwe. The Bishop (GAS) recently spoke with The Herald’s US Correspondent, Mr Obi Egbuna (OE).

OE: On behalf of The Herald let me thank you for taking time out of your schedule, to grant us this important interview. Could you begin by explaining why the so-called African-American church must increase its involvement in the struggle to normalise relations between Zimbabwe and the US Government?

GAS: Let me start by stating what an honour it is for me to be interviewed by The Herald. Because of my Catholic background, I truly feel I am as one with the leadership and people of Zimbabwe. Africans who go through this intense indoctrination and still end up on the right side of history represent the miracles the Holy Bible highlights from beginning to end.

I am a child of God spiritually speaking and a son of Mother Africa politically. This is why it was music to my ears, heart and soul when Archbishop Kunonga made an appeal to churches in the US to establish a Martin Luther King Center in Zimbabwe modeled after the one in Cuba.

It was this call by Bishop Kunonga that inspired me to endorse a resolution that went to the United Nations and Sadc three years ago. The resolution exposed how the US and British Governments were using humanitarian aid as a political weapon against Zimbabwe. This led to Zimbabwe’s application to the Global Fund being repeatedly put aside without any logical explanation.

OE: Bishop Kunonga is also on the travel ban list of the United States Government even though the dominant perception is that only President Mugabe and high level Zanu-PF members are not allowed to travel to this country. Many feel this decision stems from the whispers of the Anglican Church in Canterbury. As someone who locked horns with the powerful Roman Catholic Church please share some perspective?

GAS: It is not only outrageous to deny Bishop Kunonga access to the United States for the purpose of galvanising support for his country and people using God’s house as the vehicle to do this much-needed work. At the same time, former Archbishop of Bulawayo’s Catholic Church Pius Ncube, who made international headlines by praying for the death of President Mugabe, is greeted like a hero when he comes to the States.

Since Bishop Kunonga attended Northwestern University in Illinois, he has a genuine appreciation of the plight of Africans in the United States and will be extremely helpful in convincing clergy based in the US of their obligation to increase their involvement in helping the leadership and people of Zimbabwe. I am willing to raise this point with Church leaders in the US for the purpose of engaging the Congressional Black Caucus where we would be calling for Bishop Kunonga’s immediate removal from this list. We are willing to host a national tour for him in the US so he can spread the vision for a Martin Luther King Center in Zimbabwe.

OE: At the root of US-EU attacks on Zimbabwe, a significant portion of the statements are aimed at assassinating the character of President Mugabe. In your opinion what are the dangers of this approach?

GAS: The biggest danger is the US-EU alliance believing mother Africa’s children are willing to commit the sin of ignoring history. Whether we focus on how our former colonial and slave masters exploited our land and labour or how our genuine resistance reversed this tide. I just sent President Mugabe a letter highlighting this very point and also my willingness to increase my involvement in dealing with the real issues at hand not the rhetoric that serves as a distraction therefore hindering progress.

If the US-EU alliance is functioning from the understanding that they have the right to demonise any African leader, my spiritual side compels me to pray for these lost souls. However, my political instincts move me to call them devilish and racist.

If they could enslave and colonise us in the name of Jesus Christ, then trying to force a regime change in Zimbabwe under the guise of freeing people from an evil dictator is a small drop in the bucket. If Nelson Mandela only just recently had his name removed from the US Government’s list of terrorists, then President Mugabe, the engineer of Africa’s boldest land and mining reclamation programmes, can forget it.

We are fortunate that President Mugabe (who is comfortable in his own skin and knows his place in the hearts and minds of Africans and freedom loving people) is 100 percent secure. Only a few years ago, I expressed interest in hosting a prayer breakfast for the President when he was in New York for the UN General Assembly. Unfortunately, the schedule was too tight.

I look forward to coming to Zimbabwe and hear his take on how the churches in the US can be more helpful. I would also like to exchange notes with him on religion and politics, as a philosophy student. This could be extremely beneficial to me intellectually.

OE: As someone who has never separated spiritual enlightenment from political expression, what are the broader implications of Africans in the US taking a casual approach to lifting US-EU Sanctions on Zimbabwe?

GAS: As a child of God and a son of Africa I see the US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe as a political form of a crucifixion. Failure to confront the US Government has very dangerous implications. I would like to quickly touch on a few of them. The first misrepresentation that should be corrected is that Zimbabwe under President Mugabe is as bad or even worse for Zimbabweans, as Rhodesia was under the yoke of colonial rule overseen by one Mr Ian Smith. The second is that the leadership and people of Zimbabwe are not yet worthy of becoming masters of their own destiny.

As an African born in the US, this line of thinking can never sit well with me. When President Reagan told President Mugabe he would not honor the agreements made at Lancaster House the year before, that arrogance should have been countered by protest, strong statements and mass action.

I challenge any church, political organisation, public policy think tank, etc, to justify how dropping the ball in relationship to this matter was in the best interest of Zimbabwe or African unity.

As one who believes we do not have the luxury of regretting previous mistakes we have made nor engaging positive activity to correct them, this would be a deviation from scripture therefore my calling to serve almighty God.

We have made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on South Africa, and have swept Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique under the rug. I guess President Mugabe, Nujoma, Neto and Samora Machel remind our conservative Christian brethren of Nat Turner.

With that being said Zimbabwe can count on us to increase genuine efforts to engage the US Government in relationship to lifting sanctions on Zimbabwe. I say lifting sanctions not easing sanctions and patronising our efforts by calling for patience, which would be a waste of everyone’s time, therefore blowing a golden opportunity at changing the historical image of the US in the eyes of the formerly enslaved and colonized.

OE: As a man of the cloth how did you feel when Bishop Tutu said that military action in Zimbabwe should not be ruled out? How would you approach engaging clergy of this stature, who appear content with letting the US-EU alliance impose their will on Zimbabwe?

GAS: As a child of God and son of Mother Africa, I was very hurt and disappointed by these comments. Firstly, I have great deal of admiration for Bishop Tutu. Based on his track record, I would expect him to be side by side with those of us who unequivocally stand opposed to US-EU sanctions on Zimbabwe.

If someone asked me which Anglican Bishop I would expect to make these comments, I would have automatically thought of the Anglican Church of Canterbury and Roland Williams. I am going to reach out to Bishop Tutu and ask him to be a part of our efforts to fight for the lifting of US-EU Sanctions.

I expect him to have a profound respect and appreciation for Zimbabwe, especially since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he chairs had to gain some inspiration from President Mugabe’s decision to pardon Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Government from what constituted crimes against humanity.

I see this as an extension of engaging the US Government on lifting sanctions on Zimbabwe, with the faith based initiative of the Bush administration, which was aimed at coercing churches from challenging US Foreign Policy when they saw alarming contradictions too blatant to be silent about.

OE: Thank you for your time and more importantly your words, I am sure the leadership and people of Zimbabwe will be touched when they have the opportunity to read this.

GAS: I hope they are as touched reading the interview as I was to give it, God Bless the leadership and people of Zimbabwe.

No comments: