Zimbabwe’s tipping point

November 18 - Protesters are gathering in Harare for the planned mass demonstration against embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Saturday. Photo: ANA

The fate of Zimbabwe, since independence in 1980, was tied to the foreign policy of the United Kingdom, its erstwhile colonizer.  In 1980 Zimbabwe declared independence from the colonial master after years of black subjugation by white minority rule. The Principal leader of Zimbabwe’s Independence was Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who would then become the President of the Republic.

In an Interview given to BBC just before Independence, Robert Mugabe, as the de- facto President Elect of the Republic of Zimbabwe, was unequivocal that they will accept nothing less than a complete handing over of power from the British. Mugabe was also clear that his vision was to create a socialist economy which would deconstruct the racial make-up of the country, a country whose very fabric was divided along color-line. Mugabe was asked what he would do if the British did not want to hand over some aspects of the country, especially the security apparatus. He made it clear that the British had no choice and it did not matter if they wanted or not wanted to hand over certain aspects.

As would be evident later, the British did not hand over everything and knew exactly where power resides, in the economy. 1980 was still a year of great beginnings and the symbolism of a Free Zimbabwe echoed throughout the world. Even the Iconic Jamaican artist, Bob Marley, who had become a symbol of black resistance, was in attendance at the 1980 Inauguration, capturing the new imagination of yet another African country finally having its birth right to self-determination.

The first thing the British government did, rightfully so, was to recognize the independent Zimbabwe even though they had other ideas about how the country would be governed and certainly were not ready to let another country fall into communism in the middle of a Cold War.  For a while, Mugabe posed no threat to the UK interests in the country and was supported through open Markets for Zimbabwe products, a self-serving exercise because it was both UK linked citizens on both ends, producers in Zimbabwe and buyers in London who constituted most trade activity, leaving very little participation for the black majority. The only gains were the exploitative work wage given to the natives for giving their best years to hard labor.

This arrangement was always not sustainable and Mugabe knew that this is not what he had negotiated for. At some point, Mugabe would have to move to change the trade balances in favor of the black majority. This was the beginning of a major disappointment in UK of this would be great leader whose job was only to keep the trade balances the way they were, a white to white business arrangements with only spillover benefits for the black majority. This arrangement had worked in other countries as long as the first family and the President’s inner circle were getting billions in paybacks.

Robert Mugabe began to look inward, started showing his pan-Africanist colors more loudly and started agitating the lucrative business arrangements of the British in Zimbabwe and this was bound to cause irritation from mother country and consequences were immediate. Mugabe was buoyed by a renewed sense of Africanism spearheaded by South’s Thabo Mbeki, which began by the reconfiguration and rejuvenation of the OAU into AU and bringing new life to the SADC community. In this period Mugabe himself ramped up the Anti-West rhetoric, took over certain industries in Zimbabwe, and like Mbeki, he rejected aid into his country (Africa needed trade not aid became the rallying slogan), and moved to strengthen ties with the Eastern Block, particularly Russia and China.

Unite Kingdom and United States, in response to this began to look for sides within Zimbabwe that they can support, using propaganda and resources and one cannot dismiss a possibility that the UK and US security agencies had been trying over the years to establish relations with many Zimbabwean stakeholders, civil society, even with Zimbabwe’s Military, looking for gaps to exploit. 

The Idea was always to turn Zimbabwe into a reliable supplier of raw materials to Western Countries and an importer of Western Goods. Mugabe was expected to hire a string of British and American economists to help Zimbabwe construct its development plan based on free market principles and foreign investments. Western Development consultants were expected to help government departments and to help manage and control the influx of foreign assistance from international agencies.

At first Mugabe did this and indeed Zimbabwe’s GDP and per capita income sored and standards of living rose at a faster pace. As would be expected, the already rich, predominantly white, got ridiculously richer, and those with skill, marched into an army of middle class. 

Unfortunately, this meant even as the country improved, inequality worsened, producing resentment, because in all fairness, white people had unjustified enrichment, earned mainly on the back of cheap black labor paid a slave wage. Questions of ownership of the economy were inevitable. 

As Professor Serageldin said, ‘Inequality as corrosive; it hardens the attitude of the rich and powerful towards the poor and lowly; it builds acceptance of the incongruity of wealth and misery and exclusion; and it undermines the very notions of Social Justice and social cohesion. It makes a mockery of fairness and leads to the slippery path of class warfare as the only means of redress’.

The strategy of white minorities all over the world has always been to take over a country, colonize it, and then hand it back to the native majority with conditions, among these leaving the economy the way it is and focusing on the future of the country, instead of the past. This strategy ensures that nothing ever changes except legitimizing white wealth and delegitimizing the black government in the eyes of the people who will over time be seen to be a failure because they can’t deliver on its promised to the people of a better life for all.

Kwame Nkrumah outlined this more wisely in his speech on May 1963 at the Founding of the OAU in Etheopia. ‘On this continent, he said, ‘it has not taken us long to discover that the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence’. Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist control and interference. From the start we have been threatened with frustration, where rapid change is imperative, and with instability, where sustained effort and ordered rule are indispensable’.

Yonela Diko is a Media and Communications Strategist