Why politicise COVID-19?

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By Eunice Masunungure

SUBMISSIONS by beleaguered MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti, who was one of the panelists on an on-line event organised by a US think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) under the theme ‘The Fight for Democracy and Public Health’ on July 17 2020, once again exposed how shallow the opposition is.

Biti’s use of the Forum to criticise the COVID-19 response strategy, re-engagement initiative, national political dialogue and the entire SADC region is in sync with Western political perspective and regime change agenda.  

When the meeting anchor at the CSIS, Salome, asked: “Can you describe how it had been like to try and operate as political opposition leader during the COVID-19 crisis,” Biti’s submission was as bad as shaping the stereotypical frames into which the West places African leaders as dictators, authoritarian and defacto-state lovers.

 Said Biti: “Countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, DRC and many others on the African continent had a pandemic before. That pandemic was dictatorship. 

“That pandemic was authoritarianism and this political pandemic has had a bonus — in the form of the Coronavirus pandemic — which is coming as a bonus to aid and update the quest for authoritarian consolidation. 

“And the Coronavirus has been used to justify the imposition of a de-facto state of emergency in these countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia.” 

This is an aspiring African leader placing his fellow black leadership in demeaning and one-sided Western frames.

Biti went further to lambast the SADC community as a toxic community which the MDC Alliance and other southern African opposition parties intend to change.

“SADC has become a toxic old boy club facilitating massive authoritarianism,” said Biti. 

Another interesting aspect from the submissions is after being asked how they are collaborating as opposition parties, Biti said opposition parties within the region were working with NGOs and the so-called civil society.

It is a well-known fact that in Zimbabwe, the opposition MDC has always partnered with Western sponsors and NGOs in their quest for regime change.

During the meeting, Biti also misrepresented and downplayed the devastating consequences of COVID-19 on Zimbabwe, while criticising the containment measures the Government has been putting in place.

He created a picture that the Government that initially imposed a total lockdown on March 30, which had been gradually eased did so for personal aggrandisement.

He also threw down the drain the controls imposed by Government to restrict movement of the people in their communities as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19 and made it appear as if lockdown is punishment for the general members of the populace.

Said Biti: “In Zimbabwe we have had these draconian regulations that were enacted in March 2020 and have been amended on more than 30 times, which have simply served to lock down democracy. 

“So whilst the ruling party and first family are able to go around their businesses, we in the opposition have not been allowed to carry out  or do any activity.” 

Biti also reiterated his earlier efforts to push the World Bank to deny Zimbabwe funding for COVID-19.

It may be recalled that in June the US Senate Relations wrote to the World Bank urging it not to let the Zimbabwe Government get hold of funds donated towards the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are indications that the Senate instruction emanated from a letter written by Biti to the US Senate.

Pertaining to the planned demonstration scheduled for July 31, the panel asked Biti: “So how do you expect to go as planned…what about risk of the pandemic during this time?”

In response, Biti said: “If you put the pandemic the disease in the context of other crisis we have, it fails to be significant.

“Up until yesterday we have 23 deaths since March. 

“Compare that to the number of people that are already dying of dysentery.                

“People are going to protest against the bigger disease.”

When asked about his views regarding the call by the African Union (AU) on the removal of illegal sanctions, Biti recklessly dismissed the effects of sanctions, claiming Zimbabwe had trade agreements with the EU, the UK, China and South Africa, among other countries.

He insinuated that there were no sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West, the US and its allies. 

This is despite the presence of ZDERA, which was amended in 2018 by US President Donald Trump and the Executive Orders, which were renewed in January 2020. 

Biti also suggested there should be dialogue among Zimbabweans because, ‘you cannot expect the external world to talk to you when you do not talk to your own people’.

“You cannot expect the international community to dialogue with you when you cannot dialogue with your own,” said Biti.  

“We cannot expect the world to dialogue with us when we cannot dialogue with our own citizens.”

Surprisingly Biti did not mention the existence of POLAD, which the MDC Alliance has been refusing to be part of.

When speaking to the foreign community, Biti talks of dialogue yet when on home soil, he asks for foreign mediation!

On the same note, whether knowingly or unknowingly, Biti poured water on the country’s re-engagement initiative, arguing Zimbabwe needs to restore its social contracts in order for the initiative to succeed.

Having commented on Biti’s submissions, it is crucial to critique the so-called CSIS think-tank.

While the CSIS founded in 1962 was ranked the number one think tank in the US, as well as the defense and national security centre of excellence for 2016-2018 by the University of Pennsylvania’s ‘Global Go to Think Tank Index’ and is claimed to be an all-inclusive, non-profit research organisation dedicated to advancing practical ideas to address the world’s greatest challenges;  the think-tank is also found wanting in its comments and the nature of its panels as the exemplified July 17 meeting hints at something else.

The think-tank’s favouring of Zimbabwe’s opposition party, whether by invitation or first choice preferences, exposes it as apolitically biased entity.

The panelists who formed the meeting are questionable because they were mostly opposition leaders of southern African nations like MDC Alliance vice- president Biti from Zimbabwe, the president of the United Party for National Development, Hakainde Hichilema from Zambia, and the leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency, Zitto Kotwe from Tanzania. 

Bias is also read in CSIS’s claim in the meeting that opposition parties were always thwarted: 

“COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the political climate in Zimbabwe because they are not given chance to contribute to policy debates or even assist their supporters in a time of need.” 

Of course, CSIS is a think-tank that wields a lot of influence over followers both in Washington and beyond.

The think-tank articulates views that resonate with US thinking on Zimbabwe and projects stereotypic reports that dwell on the re-engagement policies of the New Dispensation in Zimbabwe and victimises the country for the land reform.

The July 17 online meeting is a problem bag or agenda to destabilise the peace, unity and harmony in Zimbabwe as President Emmerson Mnangagwa argued on another platform:

“We continue to see acts that seek to outrightly destabilise the peace, unity and harmony we are enjoying, in particular through the use of platforms in the health, education and security sectors. 

We shall never quiver or capitulate in the face of these machinations.”

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