By Stephen Gowans
The US government had a hand in formulating the policy platform of the Tsvangirai faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, and funded community-based newsletters to create a platform to persuade Zimbabweans to accept Washington’s point of view, according to a US government report. The report boasts that Washington is the undisputed leader in nurturing anti-government civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, operating through a CIA-interlocked organization led by former New York investment banker and Michael Milken right-hand man, Peter Ackerman.
In a November 16, 2007 letter accompanying the US State Department’s “Zimbabwe 2007 Performance Report,” US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee wrote that,
“Working closely with like-minded governments, we continued diplomatic efforts to maintain pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe and to remind the regime that fundamental changes…are a prerequisite to reengagement with the international community.”
McGee called for economic reform, translated as abandonment of Harare’s economic program of favoring Zimbabweans over foreign investors, an end to price controls, and privatization of state-owned enterprises.
The neo-liberal, foreign investor-friendly economic policies Washington favors are central to the policy platform of the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC. The State Department document reveals that the MDC’s policy orientation may be based more on US government direction than its own deliberations. According to the report,
“The (US government)…assisted the MDC to effectively identify, research, and articulate policy positions and ideas within Zimbabwe, in the region, and beyond. In particular, (US government) technical assistance was pivotal in supporting (the) MDC’s formulation and communication of a comprehensive policy platform.”
Critics of the party point to the absence of any difference between its policy proposals and those favored in Washington for African countries, an absence that may be explained in the US government’s helping “the MDC to identify, research, and articulate policy positions and ideas, and develop and communicate a policy platform.”
US government assistance to the MDC’s Tsvangirai faction didn’t stop at formulating and articulating a policy platform, the report says, but extended to helping the MDC formulate strategy to oppose the Mugabe government. According to the State Department, the US government,
“provided technical assistance to the MDC…to enable it to conduct regular strategic planning meetings to establish goals, identify key objectives, prioritize activities, and determine performance benchmarks.”
The tone of the report paints Zimbabweans as being incapable of establishing goals, setting priorities, and measuring performance themselves and therefore requiring US assistance to perform basic organizational tasks. It may be that the assistance US advisors provided is more accurately, and less tactfully, called direction.
The technical aid was furnished by the International Republican Institute, the Republican Party arm of the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, whose chairman is John McCain. According to the State Department document, the,
“IRI held a workshop for Tsvangirai’s shadow government at which each shadow minister presented and defended his/her policy positions. A panel of technical experts grilled presenters on the technical content of their policies.”
This assistance was deemed by the State Department to be “critical to building the capacity of (the MDC) to operate effectively and to enable (it) to contend in the (2008) Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and to be prepared to govern.”
On top of helping the MDC shape its policy platform, the report also reveals that the US government helped shape public opinion in Zimbabwe through support for Voice of America broadcasting and community-based newsletters.
While portraying its role as simply one of delivering assistance, the State Department makes clear in its report that the newsletters provided the US government with a platform “to inform Zimbabweans about issues important to them.” Rather than funding community-based journalism, the report reveals that the State Department underwrote the newsletters to use them as vehicles for disseminating US government propaganda.
The State Department report also offers insight into the financial lengths Washington was prepared to go to create and sustain a civil society apparatus to oppose the Mugabe government. In 2007, Washington gave Freedom House and PACT a total of $1.8 million to back civil society organizations that were hostile to the Mugabe government. Freedom House, headed by former Michael Milken right-hand man, Peter Ackerman, is interlocked with the CIA, according to Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent.
In addition, over $400,000 was funnelled to Voice of America to counter Harare’s efforts to jam VOA anti-government broadcasts. Washington had been supporting VOA’s Studio 7, an anti-Mugabe radio program, since 2002. According to the report, “the program consisted of English, Shona and Ndebele broadcasts for an hour and a half per day, five days per week, until July 2007, when broadcasts were expanded to seven days a week.”
To thwart Harare’s jamming efforts, VOA’s broadcast time was expanded, and shortwave radios were distributed to Zimbabweans. In addition, publicity campaigns were undertaken to build Studio 7’s profile “via the distribution of calendars and pens, advertising in the print media and a text messaging campaign.”
The State Department describes Studio 7 as providing a platform for groups opposed to the Mugabe government and its land reform and economic indigenization policies: “the political opposition, exile groups, democracy activists and human rights proponents” – largely the same groups the US government was funding through Freedom House and PACT.
Conspicuously absent from the report’s list of political parties the US government provided “democracy and governance” assistance to in 2007 was Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Defenders of US democracy promotion insist that the US government promotes democratic processes aboard, not political parties, but only one party in Zimbabwe received US government assistance: the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC.
That, however, wasn’t Washington’s goal. The report says the US government planned to aid two political parties in Zimbabwe: presumably Tsvangirai’s MDC faction and the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara. But when the US government approached Mutamabara’s party, it was “rebuffed.” Mutambara has complained publicly about US imperialism and hypocrisy in its foreign policy and has manoeuvred to keep himself free from the taint of being an instrument of Western foreign policy.
To square the circle, and prove that it is promoting democracy and not political parties, the US government calls Tsvangirai’s MDC faction the “democratic opposition.” It is not by accident that the MDC’s full name is “the Movement for Democratic Change,” or that another party that once received US government assistance, Serbia’s the DOS, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, also incorporated the word democracy into its name. The Western mass media mimic the US government designation of the foreign political parties Washington supports as being a “democratic opposition”, thus reinforcing the deception that US support for selected foreign political parties is democracy promotion, not illegitimate interference in the internal politics of other countries.
The report boasts that the US has been “the undisputed leader among the donor community in providing assistance to civil society,” providing “technical assistance and small grants to 29” civil society organizations through its “implementing partners”, Freedom House and PACT. Grants and assistance were provided to improve “strategic planning, communication, proposal writing (and) platform development.”
Proposal writing is emphasized, the report explains, to equip civil society organizations with the skills necessary to land additional grants from private foundations. According to the State Department,
“youth organizations like the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU) and Youth Initiatives for Democracy in Zimbabwe (YIDEZ) are two good examples of…(civil society organizations that were) nurtured through US (State Department) funding from an idea to a level where they are able to stand on their own and attract other funders.”
Defenders of the idea that civil society organizations are not created and guided by US government funding, but represent spontaneously arising grassroots organizations that would exist even if they hadn’t received US government largesse, paint a picture far different from the report’s reference to Washington nurturing civil society organizations from an idea to a level where they’re able to attract other funders and stand on their own.
The MDC insists it is an independent political party, and anti-Mugabe civil society organizations and their defenders are adamant that Zimbabwe’s civil society is not under foreign control. Scholar Patrick Bond has declared an underground anti-Mugabe organization that receives US government-funding to be part of an independent left, while scholar Stephen Zunes says Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group singled out in the State Department report as receiving US government funding, can in no way be considered an agent of the US government. These defenders of anti-Mugabe organizations appear to be unfamiliar with the pivotal role played by the US government in nurturing and sustaining Zimbabwe’s civil opposition.
The MDC has received considerable assistance and guidance from Washington and the John McCain-led IRI, in developing and articulating its policy platform, and in formulating strategy to defeat the Mugabe government.
In its opposition to Zanu-PF, it has been helped by civil society organizations funded by the US government through Freedom House and PACT, and by US government-funded community-based newsletters and the VOA’s Studio 7, which have served as platforms for disseminating the point of view of the US government and the views of Mugabe-opponents.
The report, then, reveals how the US government has taken advantage of Zimbabwe’s relative openness to intervene in the country’s internal political affairs to try to bring to power a party whose platform it had a hand in formulating.
Harare has taken steps to counter Washington’s illegitimate interventions, including jamming VOA broadcasts, barring journalists and election observers from the US, and banning some NGOs. These measures have been denounced by Washington as “undemocratic” and “authoritarian” and therefore as reasons for intervention. But the causal sequence is backwards.
The measures Washington calls anti-democratic and authoritarian didn’t cause the US to help the MDC write and communicate its policy platform, to nurture and fund government-hostile civil society organizations, and to provide Mugabe’s opponents a vehicle through Studio 7 and community-based newsletters to shape public opinion. On the contrary, all these things caused Harare to take the measures that have been denounced as anti-democratic and authoritarian as a means to limit Washington’s illegitimate interference in Zimbabwe’s democratic space.
Anyone who was truly interested in promoting democracy would press Washington to stop its interference in Zimbabwe, rather than lionize US-backed civil society organizations as a spontaneously arising pro-democracy people’s movement, as an independent left that people should look to understand what’s going on in Zimbabwe (Bond), or as groups that can in no way be considered agents of the US government (Zunes).