The other Side Nathaniel Manheru—
I HAVE always been struck by how local sayings often betray an advanced scientific sensibility traceable to our so-called ‘non-scientific’ forebears. All this against rooted allegations of pre-scientific living, a myth cultivated and nourished under the Victorian imperial ethos. Interestingly, the Shonas were immemorially aware of the value and role of human skin in registering shame and guilt. A person who acted shamelessly was described as ‘without a skin”, munhu asina ganda. Such a person would act brazenly, act without a blush, seasingazive kuti kunze kunei – without any sense of care what the weather outside was like. Of course Africans don’t blush, what with a complexion darker than two rainy nights combined. Whilst a direct link between the weather and baldness (read recklessness) cannot be vouched scientifically, that between skin “temperament” or skin “weather” and state of mind and action cannot be denied. I suppose ‘without caring what the weather outside was like’ was meant to convey total — in this case cosmological – brazen defiance. And the domain of figurative language knows no measure. It grants conceits and poetic licenses, very often gratuitously. Still the points stand: we were at one with the Victorians and their predecessors who read human temperaments from the skin. Still that would not make us similar civilisations. These colour brutes!
The country that shoots colour
Of course to suggest US a country without a skin reads like open treachery, untold cynicism. From way back, well before Garvey who noted colour as the fundamental question in the US, the issue of skin pigmentation has been and remains the fulcrum of America’s politics, day by day. Much worse, it has always been the finger that pulls the trigger — whether official or private trigger. America shoots colour, both behind and in front of the assailing gun. And like I wrote previously, the entry into White House of a black president has not lessened the crime, only upgraded it to cynical irony. More blacks have been gunned down, both in cold blood and under cold US law, under a black president’s term in recent years than under white presidents. And with lawful impunity too. I don’t know how Obama handles such soul-searing irony, or how his man here — also black — hopes to explain or live with it. Here we talk about it, raise it especially when America dares make issue out of police baton sticks, blissfully forgetting its shooting M-16. So America indeed has a skin with a colour, which is why it will shoot away all other colours to keep itself a white man’s country.
2016 has opened a key year in Zimbabwe-America relations. I wrote about it recently, and have had to come back to the same theme, a matter of weeks later. Such is as compelling as the relationship is — to us of course. Not to America which hardly sees us at all economically. Which is why I puzzle how such a small dot on the world map America consults, ever upgrades us to “a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat” to American policies, goals and values abroad. A perceived threat believed as real by a black American president too, well after Bush Jnr! Do black eyes and white eyes suffer same optical illusions, I wonder?
War laws for peace times
Three short months into 2016, we have had two banks de-listed by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, OFAC. This OFAC enforces US sanctions under the US International Emergency Economic Powers Act of October 1977 which enables the US president to invoke powers that have the effect of freezing transactions and assets of any country, organisation or person, deemed an extraordinary threat to the US. The same law even allows seizure of assets, including buildings. As the title suggests, it is meant to be a law for war. But then America goes to war every day, against any part of the world, the only issue being whether or not the war is a hot one. Hence the ubiquity of the application of the law, a national law at that.
The removal of the two banks, and a number of dead offenders, seemed to suggest a new year, new US ways of relating to us. We were wrong. In the second month of the year, Barclays — yes British Barclays — was slapped with a US$2.5 million fine for handling transactions involving Zimbabwean entities or persons under US sanctions! To many Zimbabweans, that action sounded incredible. Here was a British bank being sanctioned by the American government. What is an American but a dissenting Briton in self-exile, under a different climate? A conscientious transplant off Mayflower. Surely the bonds of kith would spare kin, we all thought? But no, Barclays pleaded guilty, paid up, to great consternation here. Surely we had not domesticated ZDERA? Surely Albion was not an American colony? Have the British not upheld an immemorial vow never to be slaves?
Banking law is American
Of course we were being ignorant, very ignorant. From about 2005, OFAC had been levying crippling penalties against many world banks — British especially — for offending against American laws, both federal and state. For offending against American laws, both civil and criminal. Civil when a bank admits to guilt quickly, assists with Federal investigations. Criminal when the matter goes to full trial, when banking books are kept closed to investigators, in which case the crime gets upgraded to laundering. Bank of Scotland fined $580m in 2005; HSBC in 2005, a hefty US$580m fine; Lloyds Bank in 2009 for well over US$217m; Barclays Bank in 2010 for about US$298m; Standard Chartered Bank in 2012 for US$667m; HSBC again in 2012 for US$1,9bn. All of these were British banks, agreeing to settle penalties much higher than the paltry $2,5m levied against Barclays Zimbabwe. To that list add ABN AMRO, Credit Suisse, ING and the French BNP Paribas which broke the penalties record by paying US$9bn to the US authorities. Yes, the world has one banking law, and it is American. No need to blush.
The axe on axis
Clearly over the years the actions of OFAC showed steady enforcement rigour; showed a deadly multiagency approach involving the US Department of Justice, the FBI, other federal and State agencies. Above all, the actions suggested penalties massive enough to register on both Federal and State books of accounts. A good source of revenue. A way of levying loyalty to America. But those are the ‘smalls’ of the whole equation. The key issue is how US Federal law has become a part of, if not higher than, the United Nations Charter. Maybe I outran myself. I should have mentioned the nature of the offenses and countries and entities affected. The recurring country names are Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma, and now Zimbabwe. Those with long memory will recall these as exhausting Bush’s “axis of evil” list, only one country short — Venezuela under the late Chavez. The US axe had fallen on the axis, remarkably suggesting a total war approach the US takes on conflicts. Not us who receive American sanctions blows while delivering more orders for Chevs! Of course it has to be admitted some of the countries were under UN sanctions. But not all. And it speaks volumes that no UN instruments were invoked by America to exact penalties on these banks, preferring to use — thereby establishing and deepening — the reality of Federal Laws as part, if not the main part, of global banking and legal architecture.
In tracing the charges against all the offending banks, one is struck by the sameness — not similarity — of the charges. Save for the varying value of offending transactions, the offence in the transactions is exactly the same — namely what bankers call “repairing” or “stripping”. This is when a banker, aware that the transaction involves USD and thus goes through US banking filters, decides to trim down customer names, bank names and/or addresses from payment messages to beat detection and sanctions penalties. The clients hail from the same countries on US sanctions list, and often the banks are repeat offenders. Of course the transition nexuses go through the US, which is what makes the transactions and the banks vulnerable. There is a price — it seems — to be paid for having New York as the banking citadel of the world, indeed for having the US dollar as the currency of international settlement. And world banks are only too keen to settle, never to question, let alone resist. Ironically also only too keen to offend again, and again, which suggests there is more to be got from the offence.
For small nations like us . . .
But not in respect of small markets like Zimbabwe where a million US dollars is big money. The effect of these Federal and State laws on a small market like Zimbabwe is to simply drop such liability transactions. Which translates to belittling national laws requiring equal access to confidential banking. Which translates to extending the reach of American sanctions domestically. I know of a friend on the US sanctions list whose Visa card has since been withdrawn by a local national bank which fears similar US financial reprisals. He has children studying in South Africa! So much for the myth of national and foreign laws. Of course bigger markets under US sanctions will pay a premium on risky transactions to induce willingness in banks to risk it, which is why these banks are repeat offenders.
Nurturing El Niño?
Just this week, OFAC announced the placing on sanctions of Chemplex Corporation and Zimbabwe Fertliser Company (ZFC). Apparently both are either owned by, or hold a substantial stake of, the State-owned Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe, which is already under US Sanctions. It might be a matter of days before Sable Chemicals comes under the same, thereby completing a new high on America’s lowly spite on small, vulnerable states like Zimbabwe: that Zimbabwe’s agriculture constitutes a continuing, unusual, extraordinary threat to US interests”. It gets one to wonder why nature — by way of El Niño — became a joint stock owner in this US conspiracy against Zimbabwe agriculture. Or was nature nurtured? You cannot put this beyond the Americans, never mind the intended consequences now visiting her shores.
Now the hard questions. Two in all. How does a country that has so studiously sought to convince us that ZDERA is about ‘targeted sanctions’ now sustain that lie which today rings so sonorous, so hollow? Or it does not care a hoot, has no skin requiring a face-saving illusion? By both actions against Chemplex and ZFC, the US has now explicitly brought into the sanctions dragnet all Zimbabweans who live off the land, peasants included. Having tussled with the El Niño natural factor; they now have to grapple with the US-nurtured winter of inputs shortages. And against the broader sanctions, well over 10million Zimbabweans now survive on land and the informal sector. Increasingly, the sanctions are sounding genocidal, and America does not seem to care. Has no skin, in other words. The long denied link between sanctions and land reforms can no longer be denied. And under Blair and Bush we used to speak of white racism in defending whites here. What do we say under Obama, a fellow black? Or does colour not matter? Which makes us what – black or white?
When so little ties so many
Secondly, America vaunts itself for humanitarian interventions in the Third World, Zimbabwe included. Each time American official talk about Zimbabwe-US relations, the default introduction is an irritating reminder that America has spent $2,5m on Zimbabwe since Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980. That figure is made to sound very huge, always creating ever-tightening cords of timeless obligation for Zimbabwe. Yet it is very small, change, half of our yearly national budget, all of it spread over the past 35 years, to a population of 13 million. And when read against what we have either lost or foregone through sanctions — a massive $40bn at last count — this amounts to a thief’s generous pity-farthing to a man robbed of a pound.
Big does not blush
Curse El Niño, this year provides another opportunity for the US to play multiplier to its parsimonious generosity, indeed to our induced indebtedness, through a few more donations worth a couple of thousands of tonnes of GMO foods, all of them paraded as “a gift from the American people”! And a few more dollars towards what the American Embassy wants to describe as livelihoods support! We lose the moral fight; we lose the politics; we lose the propaganda against a bludgeoning murderer who drops some little water on the lips of his bleeding, dying victim. And the key thing is to get Zimbabweans to know and appreciate that even those gestures of false goodwill are part of the overall American assault on us. The new American ambassador’s boss at the African Affairs desk in Washington wants us to believe the new man was sent here with new instructions to improve relations. If that were so, then America seems to have a strange way of supporting its diplomats abroad. In the meantime let Zimbabweans remain alive to the attack on their Nation and its means, an attack set to reap maximally from current unhelpful distractions. And when the new man asks Zimbabwe to regularise the pirate Studio 7 — that ugly intrusion and challenge to the sovereignty of our airwaves — then you know big nations don’t need to blush. The enemy has no skin.