By Stephen Gowans
Bill Fletcher Jr. has weighed in on Zimbabwe’s unity government with an article in The Black Commentator titled Zimbabwe: Transition to Where? Anyone expecting to learn anything significant about Zimbabwe from Fletcher will be sadly disappointed. He offers nothing more than pious expressions of benevolence and the reduction of complex events stretching over three decades to the personality of a single man, Robert Mugabe.
Fletcher, executive editor of The Black Commentator, tells us “The cholera epidemic must be brought under control, but so too must (Zimbabwe’s) inflation and massive unemployment.” He’s on pretty safe ground here. No one wants more cholera, more inflation and more unemployment.
Zimbabwe, he continues, “certainly needs economic and healthcare support from foreign governments.”
Will Zimbabwe get it? Will strings be attached? Will the strings tie Zimbabwe up into a neo-colonial straitjacket?
Fletcher says that the US and Britain were “responsible for the mess that unfolded within Zimbabwe” because they “reneged on financial commitments when Zimbabwe was liberated from white minority rule.”
But if Washington and London were prepared to create a mess in Zimbabwe, what makes Fletcher think they’re prepared to undo it?
Sadly, Fletcher fails to ask why the US and Britain reneged on their financial commitments. Is there any chance of Washington and London providing genuine economic and healthcare support now?
The truth of the matter is that the US and EU have made plain the conditions under which they are prepared to provide aid to Zimbabwe. The same conditions apply today, as applied last year, and the year before, and the year before that: Zimbabwe must respect private property (abandon and possibly reverse land reform) and reverse discriminatory measures that favor black owners and investors over foreign (and specifically Western) investment. Does Fletcher think the unity government should accede to these conditions and abandon the previous government’s land reform and affirmative action programs for black investors? He doesn’t tell us.
One gets the impression that Fletcher hasn’t really thought through these questions or even kept abreast of events in Zimbabwe.
He attributes the conflict between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the opposition MDC to the structural adjustment program imposed on Zimbabwe in the 1990s by the IMF as a condition for renegotiating its foreign debt. Fletcher correctly points out that Mugabe acceded to the IMF-imposed conditions, but he misses two significant facts:
-Mugabe’s government had backed away from the structural adjustment program by the time the MDC was formed;
-The MDC has become the standard bearer for policies under the Washington consensus.
Contrary to what Fletcher implies, it is not Zanu-PF that favors IMF policies; it is the MDC.
Indeed, it could be argued that Mugabe’s rejection of the structural adjustment program was one of the principal reasons Britain and the EU helped form the MDC as a vehicle to counter the Zanu-PF government.
Fletcher also misses the mark on the outcome of Zimbabwe’s last elections, noting that “it appears that the MDC won” but that “ZANU will not fully concede.”
No one is in doubt as to who won the last elections (except possibly Fletcher). The combined opposition won a majority of legislative seats. In Senate elections, the opposition won as many seats as Zanu-PF did. Huh? Doesn’t Fletcher say that Zanu-PF resorts to electoral fraud to stay in power? He does. So, how does he explain the outcome of the last elections?
Zimbabwe’s constitution requires a run-off if presidential candidates fail to get over 50 percent of the vote. In the run-off round, Tsvangirai dropped out, claiming his supporters were being intimidated by Zanu-PF and government directed violence. However, his name remained on the ballot, the vote went ahead, and he lost.
Fletcher stays comfortably within the bounds of the preferred narrative when he tells us that “while Tsvangirai was giving his inaugural address, ZANU-PF aligned authorities were in the process of arresting one of Tsvangirai’s aides.” This is true, but what Fletcher doesn’t tell us is who was being arrested and why. Instead, he introduces an implicit accusation: that there are no charges of substance against Tsvangirai’s aide — actually deputy agriculture minister designate Roy Bennett — and that his arrest was politically inspired to undermine the unity government.
First, the idea that Bennett was arrested as part of a sinister plot hatched by Mugabe is sheer question begging. The only evidence Fletcher can advance is the theory that Mugabe is power-hungry and that Bennett’s arrest must, therefore, be related.
Second, there was an outstanding warrant for Bennett’s arrest in connection with charges brought against him in 2006 in connection with an arms cache. He had been granted bail, but fled the country. When Bennett received word he was to be appointed deputy minister of agriculture he returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, where he had been living since 2006. At that point, he was arrested on the outstanding charge.
Third, arresting a single appointee could hardly bring down the unity government, and, significantly, hasn’t.
Finally, while Bennett may indeed by innocent, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion, as Fletcher has, that opposition members are innocent simply because they’re members of the opposition.
More troubling than Fletcher’s failure to grasp what is happening in Zimbabwe is his failure to come to terms with the question of whether it’s more important for Zimbabwe to cleave to liberal democratic forms or that it democratize its pattern of land ownership and achieve a substantive democracy, in which Zimbabwe’s political life is free from domination by outside powers. It might be said that this is a false dichotomy, but that would be to bury our heads in the sand. Much of what has happened in Zimbabwe since the late 1990s can be understood as a conflict between black nationalism and neo-colonialism. To think that any Third World country could pursue an anti-neo-colonial project with an inherited British parliamentary system without considerable conflict is naïve.
Zimbabwe’s land reform has been deeply offensive to the US, Britain and the EU. Zanu-PF’s program of economic nationalism has been no less offensive. To suppose that these powerful states have not tried to influence the political process in Zimbabwe to undermine these projects, flies in the face of mountains of evidence, including publically available US government documents, which demonstrate otherwise.
Equally shocking is that people who are ready to dismiss their critics as conspiracy theorists, put forward a conspiracy theory view of Zimbabwe that says all that has happened in the country over the last thirty years can be understood as an outcome of the thirst for power of a single man. That will get you published in the New York Times. It shouldn’t get you published in serious left-wing media.