Is Uncle Sam qualified to preach human rights?


WHEN street protests broke out in Zimbabwe recently, the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Harry Thomas, put out a statement which read in part:
“The US supports freedoms of speech and assembly and we call on the government of Zimbabwe to exhibit restraint and respect the human rights of all Zimbabwean citizens, including those basic human rights.
The US is also monitoring recent threats to crack down on activists using social media.
We fear these threats will further limit the right of Zimbabweans to exercise freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution, protected under Zimbabwe’s international human rights obligations and core values of any functioning democracy.”
On the face of it, this statement sounds well-intentioned, more so with its seemingly well-measured tone towards both the Zimbabwean Government and the protestors involved. The overall impression created by this statement is that of a benign embassy run by a good chap oozing feelings of goodwill and empathy for us, a chap whom our Government should not rush to disappoint by behaving unreasonably against protestors.
In brief, the public relations statement by the ‘good ambassador’ is part of the moral high-ground which the US always rushes to occupy, vis-a-vis African nations.
On further reflection, however, we come to realise that the contents of the statement actually overshadow a key principle which governs inter-state relations, that is, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
In this case, the ‘good ambassador’, like all other US ambassadors to Zimbabwe who came before him, assumes the role of a supervisor who is there to monitor the way Zimbabwe implements its own Constitution.
And this is a role which our ambassador in Washington DC and all African ambassadors for that matter, never assume at all.
The reason is simple.
Such a supervisory role over the internal affairs of the US is not part of their official mandate?
To worsen matters further, this presumptuous role assumed by the US ambassador is not stipulated either in the Zimbabwean Constitution or elsewhere.
So the question is: Where did the good ambassador get the authority-cum-powers to supervise or monitor our internal operations and activities almost to a point of micro-managing our affairs on a daily basis?
Could it be that Thomas, like all other US ambassadors before him, is a latter-day missionary of sorts, determined to carry out programmes of charity in our country?
If so how does this unsolicited goodwill from the good ambassador tally with the economic sanctions which the US has imposed on Zimbabwe for over 14 years?
There is something irrational here, something missing perhaps, that is between the militant good will of the good ambassador here and the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) of 2001.
ZDERA instructed US international financial institutions to vote against any proposal to give a loan, credit or guarantee to the Zimbabwe Government, among other punitive measures.
The fact that both the ambassador and ZDERA are coming from the same country begins to suggest that the good ambassador may turn out to be not that good at all, come to think of it.
More intriguing perhaps, is the reaction of the US when similar violent protests broke out in Britain.
Here is how David Cameron, then prime minister of the UK, reacted to the massive looting and violence which erupted in many British cities in 2011.
It is worth quoting at length:
“More than 1 200 people have now been arrested across the country … no phoney human rights concerns will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice.
Anyone charged with violent disorder and other serious offences should expect to be remanded in custody and not let back on the streets and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail.
And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.
So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”
The protests which degenerated into continuous daily riots, looting and arson lasted from August 6 – 11 2011 across most cities in Britain and left five people dead.
Much to our surprise, the US authorities did not utter a single word of rebuke about the brutal way the British authorities reacted to the street violence which engulfed nearly three quarters of Britain.
Not a single word about human rights, not any about the threat of banning social media by Cameron.
Not any rebuke from Uncle Sam about the kangaroo courts which were set up to function non-stop during the day and at night.
Any conviction meant automatic imprisonment, according to the prime minister and judges had no choice in the matter, but to follow the political instructions issued by Cameron.
And all this happened when even the right to assemble and to free association were brutally set aside by enraged British authorities.
But when it comes to Africa, particularly Zimbabwe, Uncle Sam assumes the role of public protector, a self-appointed judge adjudicating cases which have not been brought before him.
This kind of arrogance is not only deeply offensive and misplaced, it is part of an imperial order which we have fought against before; it is a result of arrogance informed by racial bigotry and this is the kind of stuff which hastened the fall of the British Empire in Africa. Put differently, we have met this monster before and dealt with it decisively all over our continent.
The human rights which the good ambassador is talking about were not donated to Zimbabweans by Americans.
The same applies to our Constitution which the good ambassador is referring to.
All these were fought for by Zimbabweans for over 90 years; they were acquired through the sweat and blood of many generations of our people.
The Americans, much to their shame, aided and abetted our British oppressors and remained on the wrong side of history throughout our struggle for freedom.
Therefore the ‘good ambassador’ should spare us the lectures about human rights and enjoy life as much as he wishes in our country.
He is more than welcome here on the strength of the history of his African-American people alone and not necessarily on that of his being an ambassador for the US.
The story about oppression of blacks by whites is definitely not something new or original to the ‘good ambassador’.
He is black and knows in his heart, as most of us do here, that blacks have never been accepted as equal to the white citizens of the US.
We know, and he knows too, that blacks remain an unwanted presence in the US and are often denied the human rights which he speaks so feelingly about.
By the sheer exigencies of history we know that blacks in the US will remain at the bottom of the social, political and economic ladder of US society as long as Africa remains a rich, but weak continent and therefore an easy target for looting of its resources by the big powers.
We also know the fate of Ambassador Thomas, or that of his children and grandchildren, is directly and indirectly tied to that of Africa, whether they wish this to be the case or not. As soon as Africa becomes a major power to reckon with at a global level, all descendents of those blacks who toiled as slaves to develop the US will be paid financial compensation for their labour.
Until and unless that happens, the US remains a morally deficient country forever indebted to Africa and its children and therefore not qualified to preach to us about human rights.


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