Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We Love Our Zimbabwe, Same Way You Love Your Britain
June 28, 2016
Joram Nyathi Deputy Editor
Zimbabwe Herald

If the Brexit vote of June 25 was “a mistake”, it does nonetheless remind us that matters of sovereignty and national interest subliminally remain relevant even as we love to sound cosmopolitan in a globalised village.

NO sooner had the British voted to leave the EU than there were loud calls for another referendum, hopefully to have people rethink their decision and its implications. The Europeans on the other hand wish Britain would leave sooner so they can move on with their lives. Unlike the angst plaguing much of Africa over Brexit, Europeans are demonstrating that a lion among lions is simply a lion and no more. We colonial sheep are terrified.

Britain reportedly contributes between 400 and 585 million pounds (14,8 percent) towards the European Development Fund, money advanced as assistance to developing nations. Still the Europeans now want Britain out. Back home Britons say that money should stay at home.

It is perhaps Britain’s huge contribution to the EDF which makes Africans so anxious about it leaving the EU, and what that could mean in terms of development assistance. We have been conditioned to believe that what we require to develop is aid from the former colonial powers, without which assistance we are doomed, and they understand that very well and exploit that dependency mentality to the fullest.

It is good to be pragmatic about aid, but we are not vassals of Britain, and there is nothing to suggest that Britain can stand against the world alone. The British voted last week to leave the EU because they felt their sovereignty was being undermined as decisions taken in Brussels could override British laws. But even their pragmatists are counselling against a return to the doctrine of a “splendid isolation” notwithstanding that the outcome of the referendum has served to expose and heighten latent tensions with the EU family.

If the Brexit vote of June 25 was “a mistake”, it does nonetheless remind us that matters of sovereignty and national interest subliminally remain relevant even as we love to sound cosmopolitan in a globalised village. Nothing stops us from proudly pronouncing on those concepts in our interactions with the rest of the world, and being passionate about who we are and what we stand for.

Context of violence

There is no justification for violence, least of all violence which culminates in murder. Yet that is our daily bread in real life.

Passion, especially of a political and religious nature, is never too divorced from physical violence. We have witnessed the violence which has characterised American Republican presidential nominee, one Donald Trump. It is a mystery that there hasn’t been a murder recorded, the nearest being a British youth who was apprehended as he reportedly tried to kill Trump himself.

From where I stand, these are ordinary elections between traditional party rivals who dominate American politics. Yet the campaigns for the White House have been anything, but ordinary given the sometimes nasty recriminations between the main candidates. Hillary Clinton for the Democrats has been dishing out as much as she gets from a very abrasive Trump; nothing feminine about her quest for power, though there hasn’t been as much of public violence on her campaign trail. Still this has described as one of the most violent elections Americans have witnessed in many years. And we from Africa are equally shocked.

Britain and its Brexit project wasn’t as lucky as the Americans have been. Jo Cox (may her soul rest in peace), a 41-year old female Labour MP was shot and stabbed dead in a fit of passion for her position that Britain should remain in the European Union.

Her killer, Thomas Mair, is said to have shouted “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Mair and his ilk considered those who wanted Britain to remain in the EU traitors. Their slogan was “Britain first” and for that they were prepared to kill.

Zimbabwe and her land

This is one country which has been synonymous with “political” violence, particularly since the launch of the fast-track land reform programme in 2000. It is a matter which has never got a fair trial because of its racial colouring and the entanglement of local opposition politics (with a huge dose of British involvement and influence). The easiest and most convenient rendition of this emotive issue has been to reduce it to President Mugabe and his alleged love for power. In other words, the land issue has been decontextualised from the centre of the liberation war to a matter of political convenience.

It’s as if the Patriotic Front was foolish at the Lancaster House talks in 1979 to agree a moratorium on the land reform for the first 10 years of Independence, and later on to accede to a request by the ANC of South Africa to defer forcible land reclamation lest it hardened the Boers against majority rule in their country.

In explaining political violence in Zimbabwe in a rarefied manner as being all about an individual’s way of buying power, a deceitful line is amplified that ordinary Zimbabweans were never concerned about whites enjoying a monopoly over land ownership so long as they worked on the farms and had enough to eat. They were happy slaves. In that context, sanctions were a legitimate response to political violence in Zimbabwe since this was all about an individual obsessed with power, not about a genuine national grievance dating back to colonial occupation in 1893.

This is how one scholar describes the current relations between Zimbabwe on the one hand and Britain and the European Union on the other. Writing this week in the Sunday Mail on the Brexit implications for Africa and Zimbabwe, Ronald Chipaike of Bindura University of Science Education says; “Britain’s and the EU’s view is that the zanu-PF Government has used state-backed political violence against opposition political parties and civil society, in addition to rigging elections and failing to respect basic human rights and the rule of law.”

This is a perfect rendition of how we are all supposed to interpret the actions of these European good Samaritans coming to save natives who have been subjected to gratuitous violence by a senseless dictatorship besotted with staying power. It’s a sanitised script which makes them feel good, justified in imposing “targeted” sanctions on a sovereign nation without even the symbolic shelter of a UN resolution.

It’s never said that there were and still are many Zimbabweans (with or without state backing) ready to kill and die for land. To such people, those opposing land reform, black or white, were “traitors”. They were fighting to free Zimbabwe.

Worse still, it’s never stated even in passing that it was Britain’s meddlesome and racially toxic influence in efforts to resolve the land issue in the 1990s which eternally poisoned relations between the Zimbabwe Government and white commercial farmers.

It’s a fact that Britain sponsored both political parties and civic society organisations to fight in the corner of white commercial farmers in resisting land reform. In the end, those who were passionate about reclaiming land from whites couldn’t distinguish who they were fighting between a black man (who didn’t own land, but was fighting on the side of a white man) and white commercial farmers resisting land redistribution.

But then if you give Mugabe a cause, you can’t justify the sanctions. Just call him a dictator and we can hang him.

Earlier the late national hero and former Vice President Joshua Nkomo had lamented in 1995 that blacks owned “nothing” of the land in their own country. He warned of a dire future if the issue was not urgently resolved. He warned; “If we go (die) without sorting out this problem (land) our children will fight. There will be chaos.” This is the context in which political violence must be viewed post-2000. That goes for human rights and rule of law, for these were invoked specifically to forestall a historical imperative because Government didn’t have enough money to buy back a whole country from white settlers.

Blacks are human, they have matters about which they are very passionate and for which they can kill. These cannot be trivialised in defence of racist property rights and rule of law.

We are not vassals

What does Brexit mean for Zimbabwe?

That question cannot be answered in isolation. It was indicated at the beginning that there were already calls for a rerun of the referendum. By Sunday 3,4 million people had signed a petition towards this. That should tell us that the pragmatists in Britain are as worried about the upshot of the vote as most of us are. Which means our relations with Britain cannot be a one way street in which the UK determines everything while we wait.

Leaving the EU creates a vacuum as it were. Britain needs to fill that with new “friends”. The Commonwealth is not enough. In fact, there isn’t much trade there.

Second, Britain has lots of companies operating in Zimbabwe. It can’t afford to keep doors closed by living a lie about human rights. It’s Trojan horse for regime change is limping badly. Those companies see opportunities being grabbed by rivals from Russia, India and China. That should have a bearing on how Britain relates to Zimbabwe going forward. We need each other.

Third, on a broader level, African nations must outgrow the infantile idea of perpetual aid. No country has developed on the basis of foreign assistance. That means our engagement must be mutually beneficial, based on trade instead of a subordinate role as an aid receiver, much of which is stolen by European and American multinationals and siphoned out of the country.

Climbing down that high horse will require a major face saver for Britain. That is the only major reason why the UK might want to maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe. But then we are talking realpolitik beyond gamesmanship and moral pretences. We love our Zimbabwe the same way the British love their England.

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