Break Zimbabwe Stranglehold

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(Mugabe...unlikely that the US and UK will ever make a deal with him).

Dr. Machivenyika Mapuranga, Zimbabwean ambassador to the U.S., said that his country’s problems are steeped in the economic sanctions placed on the country, and not a reform program started by the government in 2000 to redistribute plots of land to disenfranchised Blacks—the majority of the population in a country formerly ruled by White settlers.

He asserted that Zimbabwe is an African country, and should be administered as such. Giving land to Black commercial farmers is in strict accordance with human rights standards, noted the ambassador. Mapuranga also believes that Zimbabwe has only come under fire because it stands up to the West. According to the ambassador, 235,000 Zimbabwean families have benefited from the land reform program and countless others are in line to do so. “We are pioneering a new paradigm of development—ownership of natural resources by the indigenous population,� he said in a recent interview with The Washington Informer.

“We think that we will recover, and when we do, we are going to produce more than the West ever could,� said Mapuranga. To date, South Africa is Zimbabwe’s major investor. Zimbabwe has adopted a “Look East� policy, in which the country is courting investors in China and Malaysia. “We’re going to do it on our own with countries that do not insist on promoting only their self-interest,� he said.

For Netfa Freeman of the D.C.-based Social Action & Leadership School for Activists (S.A.L.S.A.), the issue at hand is the deliberate destabilization of Zimbabwe by Western powers such as England and the U.S., as well as international financial institutions that support Zimbabwe’s economic decline. He said the interest of the West is primarily to spread free market capitalism, which ultimately places Africa at a disadvantage by virtue of its colonial heritage. “The nature of the West in Africa is one of exploitation,� said Freeman. Like many African Americans who hold Robert Mugabe—the liberation hero-turned president who has eschewed the West for strangling Zimbabwe’s fledgling economy—in high regard, Freeman said the president’s land reform program is “just…necessary and should be supported.�

As a testament of his solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, Freeman made the trek to the Southern African country in early August to support The Ujamma Youth Farming Project (UYFP), established in June 2005 as an African youth-led farming cooperative that has secured a 100-acre plot in the city of Gweru under the Zimbabwean government’s land reform program. Ujamma plans to offer farm produce to wholesalers, retail supermarkets, restaurants, motels and hotels in and around midland provinces in Zimbabwe.

Freeman is soliciting funds and resources from supporters in the U.S. who would like to fund the project. Mapuranga said African Americans like Freeman have a particular role to play. “Without a strong and prosperous Africa, African Americans will not be respected here.� He is encouraging African Americans to invest in Zimbabwe, and oppose the negative portrayal of the continent as a lost cause.

As someone who has focused much of her attention on access to justice issues in West Africa as program associate in the D.C. office of Global Rights-Partners for Justice—a human rights organization with tentacles all over the world—Ruvimbo Masunungure is not removed from the political situation in her country. A Zimbabwe native who has lived in Washington, D.C. the past three years, Masunungure keeps tabs on what’s going on regularly with family members on the ground. She believes that under Mugabe, not much has improved since independence.

Although she lauds Mugabe for speaking out against the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and President George W. Bush’s foreign policy in Africa, she is skeptical that his Black Consciousness rhetoric has served the vast majority of Zimbabweans eager to make a living. She lists allegations of vote rigging in elections, intimidation of the media, and fraudulent allocation of land to political cronies as strikes against the president.

In 2000, Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party started a massive land redistribution program in which Black farmers were appropriated land that had been previously tilled by White Zimbabweans, who comprised less than five percent of the population but owned over 70 percent of the land. To some African nations—especially the former colonial settlements in Southern Africa— Zimbabwe’s land reform program symbolized Black triumph over White oppression. But Mugabe has in recent years come under increased scrutiny for his administering of that program. The eviction of the mostly White farmers has been partly blamed by aid agencies and critics for Zimbabwe ’s worst famine in living memory which left about two thirds of the people facing severe food shortage.

Masunungure said that the “land redistribution [initiative] was not in line with international human rights standards,� as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Furthermore, she believes that effective agricultural production in Zimbabwe was not researched properly by the government and supported adequately by the international community.

As for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)—Mugabe’s opposition party supported by the West—Masunungure says they have not been able to articulate any viable reform strategies that would resuscitate the economy. With so much focus on political reform, Zimbabwe’s economic decline is being negated, posing a serious threat to development, public health, and national security, said Masunungure.

As Zimbabwe struggles with high incidence rates of HIV/AIDS, Masunungure believes customary laws favoring patriarchy make women particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. As such, the country should not be banned from global funds for HIV/AIDS treatment, she asserted, because the treatment will ultimately help infected Zimbabwean women sustain better lives. The sanctions placed on Zimbabwe make it difficult to access anti-retroviral drugs.

Still a member of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean Women Lawyer’s Association, Masunungure said the straightjacket placed on Zimbabwe has affected women the most because they bear the brunt of economic hardships. “Women’s work, as undocumented as it is, is the backbone of the economies in much of Africa.� Women in Zimbabwe make daily treks across borders to neighboring countries such as Zambia, South Africa, and Mozambique to access foreign currency by purchasing basic foodstuffs. Women are also largely involved in the informal trading of textiles.

Unlike Ambassador Mapuranga, Masunungure can’t seem to understand why African Americans salute Mugabe without considering his declining popularity within the country and outside. She said she encounters African Americans all too often who, when she mentions she’s Zimbabwean, pledge groupie-like solidarity to Mugabe. “I want to challenge people who think that way…We should be scrutinizing what he is doing to his own people,� Masunungure said of Mugabe.

For Dwight Kirk, Masunungure’s challenge to African Americans should be taken seriously. A D.C. resident for the past 28 years, Kirk said democracy in Zimbabwe has been stunted. He does not buy the Zimbabwean government’s claim that Western imperialist forces are trying to control the country’s resources. In fact, he asserts that this argument is being generated so that Mugabe can maintain his role as a liberation icon. “African Americans should be concerned about Zimbabwe because we have a strong history/tradition of supporting people who have faced oppression—period,� said Kirk, who believes that Zimbabweans suffer under Mugabe’s heavy hand.

Kirk’s political activism around issues related to Africa goes back to his involvement in the liberation struggles for most of Southern Africa, which served as settler colonies ruled by White minority strongholds. He was a bright-eyed, bush tailed college student then at Ohio University.

A freelance writer on labor and union issues, Kirk said his interest in Zimbabwe was particularly piqued when he began doing consultancy work with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), which sent a delegate to the 25th anniversary convention of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unionists held in the capital, Harare, in May. According to Kirk, the CBTU delegate reported tactics the government was undertaking to silence the labor movement in Zimbabwe. CBTU has since launched a vigorous campaign to put Zimbabwe back on the “international radar screen.�

In the case of modern-day Zimbabwe, Kirk urges African Americans to develop a “post-apartheid conception of the African reality.� No more are wars of liberation overtly pitting White Europeans against Black Africans, he said. Instead, Africa’s 21st century dilemmas are akin to the plight of Black Americans—the need for unification, access to investment opportunities, and political accountability. The sheer complexities of the situation on the ground in Africa should not deter African Americans from doing their homework, said Kirk.

Being well versed on the multi-layered realities in Zimbabwe is a start, he asserts. Masunungure is concerned that her homeland—once hailed as Southern Africa’s “bread basket� for its abundant agricultural resources—has transformed drastically since the country seized independence from a White minority settler government 26 years ago.
“The irony is that we gained political independence in 1980, but we were never given economic independence,� she said. Back then, she says, political independence seemed like the juggernaut ingredient that would transform Zimbabwe into an international recipe of success. But the hope born out of much anti-imperialist fanfare has slowly subsided, and Masunungure doesn’t know what it’s really going to take to revive Zimbabwe. “That’s the reason you have over three million Zimbabweans in the Diaspora,� said Masunungure referring to about a quarter of the nation’s 12 million who have chosen to “vote with their feet.�

Zimbabwe is struggling to keep afloat amidst economic decline due to stifling sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union (EU); a fractious political climate; a 70 percent unemployment rate; skyrocketing inflation, and international debt. “The Zimbabwean dollar doesn’t mean anything to anyone anymore,� said Masunungure, who noted that the currency doesn’t go far in purchasing daily supplies. Her last trip to her homeland was in January 2005. Masunungure’s family relies primarily on migrant remittances sent from the U.S. and the UK, but she often wonders how Zimbabwean families without relatives outside of the country manage to survive.

Zimbabwe has a 90% literacy rate—the highest in all of Africa—yet finding a job for the newly graduated college-educated populace is a pie in the sky dream. “With that loss of economic viability, it just made life for the average Zimbabwean hard.� Much like Masunungure, a Zimbabwean trained attorney who received a Masters of Law (LLM) from Georgetown University in D.C., the bulk of the country’s educated elite have fled the country.

So what’s going to turn the tide in Zimbabwe’s favor? Masunungure believes that Mugabe’s stepping down will not change the political landscape dramatically, or even increase the free flow of goods and services across the country’s borders.
She says that Zimbabwe must abide by international human rights standards in order to regain political legitimacy. This tactic will buoy foreign direct investment in the country, asserted Masunungure. “I’m just afraid that if something doesn’t happen soon, we’ll be relegated to the small Southern African country that no one ever talks about or cares about,� said Masunungure. She’s calling on activists—and particularly African Americans—to lobby Congress to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe. She’s also asking Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to speak out about what’s happening to their brethren in the country.

And last, but not least, Masunungure says international media and news agencies have an ethical responsibility to cover Zimbabwe in all its complexity—the good, the bad, and the extraordinary.

For more information about supporting The Ujamma Youth Farming Project, contact Netfa Freeman at [email protected] or call 202/787-5229.

(Source: The Washington Informer. Pailey is The Washington Informer’s Assistant Editor)

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