By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

I WAS privileged to be at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) 2019 when His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni delivered his guest of honour address.  

In his address, the guest of honour touched on several related themes: The contribution of African nationalism and pan-Africanism to the liberation of the southern African region from colonialism, apartheid and Rhodesian UDI, which was a great achievement in the global struggle for true human rights; the apparent contradiction of the fact that in the 1970s and 1980s, with far less resources than now, African countries were more effective in exerting their influence in international affairs than they are able to exert in 2019; and, last but not least, the shame of the current illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe which Museveni described as an act of moral and diplomatic cowardice.  

Although the observation that sanctions on Zimbabwe were an act of cowardice did catch the attention of most journalists and editors, it was not covered beyond mere speech reporting. So its significance was largely missed or ignored. The significance is worth revisiting.

The Western doctrine encompassing free-flow of information, open and transparent society, academic freedom and press freedom is daily contradicted by sanctions on Zimbabwe.

An act of cowardice, in the context of discourse and diplomacy, implies an act of avoidance and denial. Indeed, for the last 20 years, the issue of the illegal and racist sanctions on Zimbabwe has seen Western leaders, their ambassadors and the thousands of journalists and editors roped in to justify the sanctions engaging mostly in avoidance and denial. Here is how:

  • First, it is only white countries who decided to punish black people with sanctions for daring to take back their land which was stolen by white settlers and abused as well as exploited for 100 years. This fact had to be denied or avoided because the same white powers want to project themselves as democratic societies who have overcome racism and racial discrimination and who are now champions of human rights. So, in this sense, illegal sanctions served to foreclose an international debate on the rights of a whole nation subjected to forced removals and denied access to their best lands, waters and other resources for an entire century. Shutting the door on such an important debate became necessary because it would only result in the West looking really bad and backward.
  • In the second place, having succeeded in shutting the channels of discourse by resorting to illegal sanctions, the next form of denial perpetrated by the West was to change the subject, to suppress the matter of African majority dispossession and replace it with a one-way propaganda barrage foregrounding theoretical ‘human rights’ as if the forced removal of Africans from their lands, waters and other resources were not in fact a fundamental human rights issue.
  • In the third place, the West had to set up a skewed mass media system which was intended to create the global perception that it was Zimbabwean society which was closed to debate and dialogue because it was not an ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ society. This set up is demonstrated by the fact that Studio 7 was created as a propaganda vehicle to broadcast one-way into Zimbabwe and its identity had to emphasise Studio 7 while disguising the reality that Studio 7 is a channel of the Voice of America (VOA) which is an instrument of US foreign policy under the US State Department.

This feature is critical for supporting President Museveni’s charge of cowardice because VOA is forbidden by US law from broadcasting into the US. 

This is profound because Studio 7 goes out of its way to gather many voices around Zimbabwe whose contributions are consistent with the aims of US policy.  

In fact Studio 7, on its face value, appears to be levelling the media playing field in Zimbabwe by providing a North American alternative. But that apparent levelling is fake because it does not level the real field where it would really matter; that is affording the masses of Zimbabwe the opportunity to speak to the masses of the US, people-to-people, bout the damage US policy toward Zimbabwe has inflicted upon ordinary people.

  • In the fourth place, the effect of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), the 2001 US sanctions law on Zimbabwe, has been to spread diplomatic poison to Zimbabwe’s relations with countries other than the 

UK and US, that is, countries who (except for race and racism) have absolutely nothing to do with the specific quarrel over land which was between Britain and its settler-kith-and-kin on one hand, and the African majority in Zimbabwe, on the other.

One of those white countries is Sweden, whose Ambassador here in 2008, also went on a crusade of denial about sanctions.

On Friday, November 7 2008, the Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Sten Rylander, made an unusual solo appearance on ZTV’s programme Talking Business where he was interviewed by Supa Mandiwanzira of Mighty Movies.

For those who are trained to read situations in addition to merely verbal statements and texts, the Swedish Ambassador’s appearance was significant in several respects:

  • It was on the same Talking Business programme on 18 July 2001 that the then MDC spokesman Learnmore Jongwe appealed to Zimbabweans to celebrate the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill which was pending in the US Congress.

 This Bill became the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) in the same year.  The only difference between Jongwe in July 2001 and Rylander in November 2008 was that I was given the opportunity to challenge Jongwe on the same programme in 2001 but this time Rylander’s appearance was a solo performance with only the host as an indirect and weak challenger.  Both Jongwe and Rylander lied to ZTV viewers by claiming that ZIDERA was not a sanctions Bill but was meant to promote democracy in Zimbabwe and to ban a few undesirable leaders from international travel.

  • Rylander’s appearance on November 7 2008, just like Jongwe’s intervention on July 18 2001, was part and parcel of a long series of externally orchestrated and world-wide events intended to influence Zimbabwe and the SADC region.  Zimbabwean patriots found themselves having to respond to this form of external aggression.  Rylander’s appearance was also meant to raise the value and bargaining power of MDC-T and Morgan Tsvangirai on the eve of the SADC Summit scheduled for that same weekend in Sandton, South Africa, where Zimbabwe’s interparty agreement on an Inclusive Government was going to be discussed.
Spy-sponsored documentaries on CNN, BBC and other Western channels celebrated the effects of the illegal economic war on Zimbabwe and its direct impact on ordinary citizens.

Among related events at the time of Rylander’s appearance were a number of spy-sponsored documentaries on CNN, BBC and other Western channels celebrating the effects of the illegal economic war on Zimbabwe and its direct impact on ordinary citizens.  As usual, the spy-sponsored documentaries, just like Rylander, never mentioned sanctions nor admitted that ZIDERA was indeed a US declaration of economic war upon the same suffering people of Zimbabwe.

Indeed, the claim that ZIDERA was just a travel ban to promote democracy in Zimbabwe was contradicted not only by the fact that Zimbabwe’s leaders have always been able to travel and were in fact going to travel to SA as Rylander appeared on ZTV.  The claim was also contradicted by former US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell when he told students and faculty at Africa University on November 2 20005 that:

“The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act is the cornerstone of US policy toward Zimbabwe.  Under the Act, the United States conditions aid and financing for Zimbabwe….”  Indeed this had nothing to do with travel bans.

Yet, without crediting the decline of Zimbabwe’s economy to the same sanctions, Ambassador Dell bragged that according to the Washington-based Centre for Global Development (CGD) the economic crisis in Zimbabwe had set the country back by 52 years by 2005!  The [CGD] paper calculated that the purchasing power of the average Zimbabwean in 2005 had fallen back to the same level as 1953, according to Dell.

In other words, Rylander, Dell and Learnmore Jongwe were all begging the question: Why would the entire US Government make a mere personal travel ban the ‘cornerstone’ of its policy toward Zimbabwe and how could a country’s economy be set back half a century within five years without economic war?  This second question is particularly important since the massive decline happened without any change in government.  The same Government associated with development progress and improving living conditions from 1980 to 2000 was still in power in 2005.  If indeed the Government’s corruption was the real explanation why would it cause such a precipitous decline only after 1999?  What really happened to the economy between 1999 and 2005 or 2008?

  • Rylander did not speak just for the country he was paid to represent in Zimbabwe.  He spoke on behalf of all the sponsors of regime change and external interference in Zimbabwe.  

That Rylander was a front for all the others became clear also in his desperate efforts to fool the Zimbabwean public into continuing to believe that western aid would flood Zimbabwe as soon as President Mugabe and ZANU-PF handed over to Mr  Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T all the cabinet posts and powers demanded by the West through Tsvangirai. 

  • In the fifth place, the effect of the US sanctions has been to destroy the journalistic and intellectual integrity of many media houses on the issue of Zimbabwe.

Former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, Dr Gideon Gono wrote a book on the sanctions while he was still in office.  Instead of journalists and editors, compromised by donor funds from the West coming out at least to criticise the book where they did not agree with it, the response was a complete black-out.  Never mind that the same editors and journalists continued their role of denying the existence of sanctions altogether or misnaming them as ‘travel bans’. 

At the core of their denial was the question and meaning of sanctions which Dr Gono tackled on Page 97 of his book Zimbabwe’s Casino Economy: Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Challenges.

This was Dr Gono’s view of illegal sanctions, according to his book, on Page 97:

“I believe that, if properly scrutinised in diplomacy, politics and ethics, it should not be very difficult to appreciate that illegal economic sanctions are not different from sanitised terrorism.  As instruments of foreign policy, the objectives of terror and illegal economic sanctions are the same: terror, which is generally described as a state of fear or an overwhelming sense of imminent danger.

The individuals, institutions and companies in Zimbabwe that have been targeted for sanctions from the powerful Western countries are supposed to be terrorised by a continuing sense of imminent danger.  The same is true of ordinary people who are being made to understand that economic sanctions would not be lifted as long as ZANU-PF and President Mugabe remain in power.”

Indeed, according to Oxford University lecturer Blessing Miles-Tendi’s Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Intellectuals, History and Media, even university academics were not spared.  Many went out their way to distort their research against Zimbabwe in order to fit the western template and to get paid.

In other words, Ugandan President Museven’s observation that white sanctions against Zimbabwe were an act of cowardice is correct.  The Western doctrine encompassing free-flow of information, open and transparent society, academic freedom and press freedom is daily contradicted by sanctions on Zimbabwe.  These sanctions have made necessary the setting of a huge propaganda façade characterised by denial and avoidance.

That is why Zimbabwe’s Second Republic has made re-engagement with the West the major plank in its foreign policy:  Because sanctions, as denial and avoidance, have shut the door on dialogue.

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