[R-G] [BillTottenWeblog] Zimbabwe and the new Cowardly Colonialism

Bill Totten shimogamo at attglobal.net
Tue Jul 22 06:32:49 MDT 2008

Western intervention against Robert Mugabe's 'evil regime' put Zimbabwe
into an economic straitjacket and disempowered its people.

by Brendan O'Neill

www.spiked-online.com (April 03 2008)

'We've beaten Mugabe', said a frontpage headline in the London Evening
Standard yesterday. Only there were no quote marks around the words
'We've beaten Mugabe', which made it difficult to tell if the paper was
reporting the thoughts of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) upon its electoral victory over Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF
Party, or its own back-slapping relish at the thought that its
journalism may have played a part in toppling Mugabe. Indeed, 'We've
beaten Mugabe' could be the slogan of political and media operators in
Britain and elsewhere in the West, who like to fantasise that Mugabe is
'Africa's Hitler', that his Zimbabwe was 'more evil than, for example,
China and Saudi Arabia', and that it is up to the West to 'put pressure
on Zimbabwe to change' {1}.

The media reports about Zimbabwe's elections present them as a clash
between the 'evil' Mugabe and the 'heroic' Tsvangirai, an electoral
battle for Zimbabwe's soul. Mugabe is depicted as having brought
Zimbabwe to its knees, causing widespread poverty and enforcing terror
and repression, and Tsvangirai is discussed as the harbinger of a
dignified 'revolution' against Mugabeism {2}. This is a fantasy. It
ignores the key role played by Western governments and financial
institutions in using sanctions, tough diplomacy and the proxy
interventionists of the South Africa government and the African Union to
isolate and harry Zimbabwe over the past decade. Such self-serving
external meddling has contributed to Zimbabwe's economic crisis - and it
has dangerously distorted the political dynamics inside Zimbabwe and
elsewhere in the south of Africa.

Over the past ten years, American and European governments cynically
transformed Mugabe's Zimbabwe into the West's whipping boy in Africa,
the state they love to hate, a country against which they can enforce
tough sanctions to demonstrate their seriousness about standing up to
'evil'. The West has imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, warned off
foreign investors, denied Zimbabwean officials the right to travel
freely around the world, demonised Mugabe as an 'evil dictator',
discussed the idea of military action against Zimbabwe, and used moral
and financial blackmail to cajole South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki
to 'deal with' Mugabe {3}.

Objectively, this singling out of Mugabe's regime as the 'worst
government on Earth, the most brutal, destructive, lawless government'
made little sense {4}. No doubt Mugabe is a nasty piece of work, but
then so are some of the government heads that the West is more than
happy to work with. Indeed, one could argue that, over the past decade,
there was more choice and openness in Mugabe's Zimbabwe than there was
in Rwanda and Uganda, both close political allies of America and
Britain. No, Zimbabwe was labelled the demon of Africa, not in response
to events on the ground in Zimbabwe itself, but in response to the needs
and desires of governments in the West looking for a purposeful mission
in international affairs.

Western meddling pushed Zimbabwe to the precipice. Yet listening to the
discussion of the elections, you could be forgiven for thinking that the
country had suffered from a sudden, inexplicable case of Spontaneous
National Combustion. The economic crisis is depicted as a peculiar
phenomenon on a continent where there has mostly been economic growth in
recent years. Where most of Africa's economies have been growing at a
rate of between five and six per cent recently, Zimbabwe is the only
African country that had a negative GDP in 2007/2008. It is reported
that the Zimbabwean economy has shrunk by more than a third since 1999,
a 'decline worse than in major African civil wars', says one newspaper
{5}. Apparently there's an unemployment rate of around eighty per cent,
and inflation is running at 100,586 per cent {6}. Yet the only
explanation given for this economic nosedive is Mugabe's seizure of
colonial-era, white-owned commercial farms eight years ago. As the UK
Guardian says: 'The economic crisis is largely blamed on the seizure of
white-owned farms that began in 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based
economy'. {7} It is true that foreign exchange earnings from these
former white-owned farms have plummeted, causing major economic
problems; but there is more to Zimbabwe than tobacco and the other cash
crops once produced by the white farmers.

A key driver of Zimbabwe's economic crisis has been the West's attempts
to bring down Mugabe by turning the financial levers. Relentlessly, the
American and British governments, and the European Union, economically
punished Mugabe's Zimbabwe for what they considered to be its political
disobedience. In November 1998, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
implemented undeclared sanctions against Zimbabwe, by warning off
potential investors, freezing loans and refusing to negotiate with
Zimbabwean officials on the issue of debt. In September 1999, the IMF
suspended its support for economic adjustment and reform in Zimbabwe. In
October 1999, the International Development Association, a multilateral
development bank, suspended all structural adjustment loans and credits
to Zimbabwe; in May 2000 it suspended all other forms of new lending {8}.

In December 2001, the US passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic
Recovery Act, which decreed that Mugabe could restore relations with
international financial institutions only if he agreed to conditions on
Zimbabwe's rule of law, the presence of its troops in the Congo, and the
conduct of its internal elections. The American law also instructed all
US members of international financial institutions to oppose and vote
against any extension of loans, credits or guarantees to Zimbabwe. In
2002, then British foreign secretary Jack Straw declared that Britain
would 'oppose any access by Zimbabwe to international financial
institutions'. Also in 2002, British officials threatened to withdraw
financial assistance to other countries in southern Africa unless they,
too, imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe. This led Benjamin Mkapa, then
president of Tanzania, to complain that African members of the British
Commonwealth were enduring 'a bombardment for an alliance against
Mugabe' {9}. The European Union imposed 'smart' sanctions against
Zimbabwe, refusing to allocate visas for travel in EU countries to
Mugabe and his officials and freezing all of their economic assets in
Europe {10}. In the early and mid-2000s, both the World Bank and the IMF
tried to dissuade states and institutions from extending financial
credit to Zimbabwe. A Zimbabwean official claimed that: 'Our contacts in
various countries have indicated that these institutions are using all
sorts of tactics to cow all those who are keen to assist Zimbabwe.' {11}

The economic punishment of 'evil Mugabe' by powerful Western forces had
a massive impact on Zimbabwe. According to one critical observer,
Gregory Elich, author of Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the
Pursuit of Profit (2006), 'Western financial restrictions made it nearly
impossible for Zimbabwe to engage in normal international trade'. And
'for a nation that had to import 100 per cent of its oil, forty per cent
of its electricity and most of its spare parts, Zimbabwe was highly
vulnerable to being cut off from access to foreign exchange'. Elich
argues that the impact of Western restrictions on trading and crediting
with Zimbabwe was 'immediate and dire': 'The supply of oil fell sharply,
and periodically ran out entirely. It became increasingly difficult to
muster the foreign currency to maintain an adequate level of imported
electricity, and the nation was frequently beset by blackouts. The
shortage of oil and electricity in turn severely hobbled industrial
production, as did the inability to import raw materials and spare
parts. Business after business closed down and the unemployment rate
soared ...' {12}

Alongside turning the screws on Zimbabwe's economy, the West interfered
politically in an attempt to undermine Mugabe's government. America's
Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 authorised
President George W Bush to fund 'opposition media' as well as 'democracy
and governance programmes' inside Zimbabwe. In April last year, the US
State Department confirmed for the first time that the US had sponsored
'events' in Zimbabwe aimed at 'discrediting' Mugabe {13}. It is reported
that the opposition party MDC also received financial backing and
political direction from Britain, Germany, Holland, Denmark and the US.

A small number of political observers in the West have questioned the
wisdom of Western interference in Zimbabwe's internal affairs. When
America passed its Zimbabwe Act, US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney asked
during a debate in the House of Representatives why US officials were
enforcing politically-motivated sanctions against a mostly democratic
country: 'Zimbabwe is Africa's second-longest stable democracy. It is
multi-party. It had elections last year [in 2001] where the opposition
[the MDC] won over fifty seats in parliament. It has an opposition press
which vigorously criticises the government and governing party. It has
an independent judiciary which issues decisions contrary to the wishes
of the governing party.' {14} Indeed, one of the ostensible reasons why
America passed the Act was to protest against the presence of Zimbabwean
troops in the Congo. Yet, in 2001, both Uganda and Rwanda also had
troops in the Congo; and neither Uganda nor Rwanda allowed opposition
political parties or a free press. Yet both were allies of America, and
received considerable economic backing from the US.

Mugabe was no doubt a rotten ruler; his party certainly used pressure
and even force in order to secure victory in general elections in the
late 1990s and the 2000s. Yet that is not why he was singled out as a
'tyrant' and an 'African Hitler'. It was political considerations in the
West that elevated Mugabe to that position and transformed Zimbabwe into
a pariah state. Western governments despised what they considered to be
Mugabe's cheek, in particular his temerity in daring to seize white
farms, to interfere in the Congo without a green light from the US, and
his frequent denunciations of Western colonialism. Indeed, since the
defeat of the white rulers of Rhodesia in 1980, Mugabe lived off his
reputation as a brave warrior against Western arrogance in Africa. It
was colonialism and imperialist intervention that gave him his base of
support, which has always been a substantial one, despite, or perhaps
because of, international hostility against Zimbabwe. As the African
commentator Barrie Collins has argued: 'Since the end of the Cold War,
the USA and the UK have got used to a high degree of compliance on the
part of African governments - and they are no longer prepared to
tolerate those, like Zimbabwe, that insist on doing things their own
way'. {15}

Bashing Zimbabwe played a dual role for Western officials and
commentators. It allowed those of a conservative stripe to defend the
historic reputation of colonialism by comparing it favourably with the
rule of individuals like Mugabe. Eton-educated British observers loathed
Mugabe because they considered him a symbol of African cockiness, who
had humiliated Ian Smith (the white minority ruler of a self-declared
'independent' Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979) before the eyes of the world.
Attacking Mugabe's rule became a way of rehabilitating the image of
old-fashioned, British-tinged colonialism. At the same time, one-time
anti-colonialist radicals - including most notably the gay rights
activist Peter Tatchell in the UK - focused their political energies on
opposing Mugabe, describing him as intolerant and not sufficiently
respectful of minority rights. At a time when political radicalism is on
the wane in the West, some activists sought to recover their old
campaigning spirit by taking potshots at the easy target of a
beleaguered African state. Indeed, radicals often led the charge for
tougher economic and political punishment of Zimbabwe - and frequently,
they got what they asked for.

>From the late 1990s to today, Zimbabwe became the West's favoured
punchbag in the 'Dark Continent'. Yet Western governments have chosen
striking forms of intervention. Instead of militarily and directly
intervening in Zimbabwean affairs - despite loud demands from the
colonialist/radical alliance that they should do so - governments in the
West pursued a more hands-off form of meddling in Mugabe's regime. They
used sanctions and economic blackmail; they funded opposition parties
and 'events'; and most revealingly they put pressure on South Africa,
Tanzania and other nearby states to use their muscle to try to push
Mugabe from power. This was effectively 'blacked-up imperialism', an
attempt by Western powers nervous about being seen smashing their way
into Africa to use local proxies to do their dirty work for them. To
their credit, many African officials refused to play the game. The
African Union turned down Western suggestions to send forces to Zimbabwe
in 2005, arguing that 'it is not proper for the AU commission to start
running the internal affairs of members' states'. Though South Africa's
Mbeki has become involved in Zimbabwean politics, he has also, to the
irritation of Western observers, insisted that the future of Zimbabwe
'has never been a South African responsibility' {16}.

Zimbabwe captures both the West's sense of caution in international
affairs and also its inexorable drive to interfere wherever and however
it can. As the former British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett argued,
Britain cannot be seen explicitly interfering in Zimbabwe because we are
'the old colonial power' - yet at the same time Britain apparently has a
'responsibility' to spread democracy around the world {17}. The end
result of this schizophrenic approach to African affairs and
international affairs more broadly - a political defensiveness combined
with a desire to do something seemingly purposeful and proper - is an
unpredictable, ravenous, behind-the-scenes form of meddling in other
countries' affairs, a kind of 'cowardly colonialism'. And it can have
dire consequences for people in the third world.

On the basis of little more than the fact that they needed a focus for
their international pretensions, Western governments have put Zimbabwe
into an economic straitjacket and warped its internal political process.
If the sanctions, blackmail and withdrawal of trade have helped to push
Zimbabwe's economy into freefall, then the relentless backdoor political
interventions have disempowered the people of Zimbabwe. The dynamic of
Western intervention caused Mugabe to become more entrenched and
paranoid about outsiders - and it encouraged the MDC to look to Western
officials and radicals for their favour and flattery rather than to
build a meaningful grassroots movement inside Zimbabwe. Indeed, for all
the talk of a 'revolution' in Zimbabwe, both during minor street
protests last year and during the elections this week, many people
actually seem quite resigned about Zimbabwe's fate. As one report
recently said: '[T]he opposition hasn't been able to mobilise tens of
thousands of people ...' {18} Lots of the current news coverage
continually shows Zimbabweans queuing up for hours to buy a newspaper
for a few thousand dollars so that they can read about the elections.
This footage is supposed to show how bad inflation has become in
Zimbabwe, but it also reveals something else: that the West's attempted
strangulation of Mugabe's regime reduced the people of Zimbabwe to
observers rather than masters of their fate, who look to the front pages
of newspapers to find out what might happen next in their country.


1 End of days for 'Africa's Hitler', National Post, 1 April 2008

2 Heroic return for Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Independent.ie, 28
March 2008

3 Mugabe hoping to side-step Mbeki and Annan , ioL, 24 July 2005

4 Abroad at Home; A Regime Of Thugs, New York Times, 5 May 2001

5 Britain prepares GBP 1 billion-a-year package to aid Zimbabwe,
Guardian, 3 April 2008

6 Britain prepares GBP 1 billion-a-year package to aid Zimbabwe,
Guardian, 3 April 2008

7 Britain prepares GBP 1 billion-a-year package to aid Zimbabwe,
Guardian, 3 April 2008

8 The Battle over Zimbabwe's Future, Global Research, 13 April 2007

9 The Battle over Zimbabwe's Future, Global Research, 13 April 2007

10 'This time, Bob, it's personal', by Barrie Collins, 22 February 2002

11 The Battle over Zimbabwe's Future, Global Research, 13 April 2007

12 The Battle over Zimbabwe's Future, Global Research, 13 April 2007

13 US reveals its efforts to topple Mugabe regime, Guardian, 6 April 2007

14 Sanctions, which sanctions?, New African, May 2007

15 'This time, Bob, it's personal', by Barrie Collins, 22 February 2002

16 Trashing Mugabe, by Josie Appleton, 25 July 2005

17 See Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett Condemns Mugabe Goverment

18 Zimbabwe: talking up a revolution, by David Chandler, 22 April 2007


Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website:


on the word "comment" highlighted at the end of the version of this
essay posted at http://billtotten.blogspot.com/

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