bilateral relations.

During his recent visit to Zimbabwe, the former US envoy to the UN and veteran civil rights activist made a rare presentation at the Southern African Political Economy Series (Sapes) policy forum on his life and diplomatic career spanning more than four decades.

His presentation which was insightful, informative, timely and enjoyable touched on the Jim Carter and Margaret Thatcher years and the turmoil that engulfed the entire southern Africa sub-continent in the 1970s and 80s.

Young spoke with sophistication of a classically trained diplomat and chronicled how his personal friendship with President Mugabe started, the contemporary African politics and the turbulent US–Africa relations from Carter to Obama’s administration.

To a greater part, he was seized with his admiration for President Mugabe.
He never hesitated to say how he marvelled at his strength and political will power.

His two-hour meeting with President Mugabe was a reunion between two friends who first met at a party in 1977, when Mr Young was serving as US ambassador to the UN in the Carter administration.

At the time, President Mugabe was leading a protracted guerrilla war  for the independence of Zimbabwe.
“After meeting more than 22 African heads of state, there was general agreement among African leaders — Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia in particular that we need to stop these wars now because it was claiming a lot of lives on both sides,” he said.

“So we decided to make a stop in Mozambique. While there I attended a party at the Tanzanian ambassador’s house.
“I first met Robert Mugabe at the party. Long before this, a visiting Catholic Jesuit priest whom I met in the US had wanted me to meet one of his brilliant students by the name of Robert Mugabe. From then onwards, I became eager to meet Robert Mugabe.

“So at the party, I saw this beautiful woman standing alone in a corner, all alone and that’s who I went up to talk to. I said excuse me mum, I’m Andrew Young and she said, ‘I’m Sally Mugabe’ and I said, ‘You are related to that awful terrorist Robert Mugabe, are you?

“And she said, “He is my husband,” and just then, Mugabe had seen me and he leaned over and said: ‘Young man in Africa, before we speak to the wives, we meet the husbands first. And we laughed . . . and we became good friends. We met and we liked each other. This was my first encounter with Mugabe.”

At the time, Young was one of a rare breed of US diplomats who was extremely informed about the liberation struggle movements in southern Africa as well as the major concerns and needs of African governments in the 1970s and 80s.

“US diplomacy in Africa in Nigeria and most other African countries was being met with a pretty tough snub.
“Very few people by then were enlightened about the struggles in southern Africa in particular the struggle for independence in South West Africa (now Namibia), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa,” he said.

“Most people in the Congress were in the dark, the CIA was involved in assassinations in Chile and all over the world. I started talking to Carter about human rights and democracy. At the time, I said my friend (Martin Luther King) gave his life for certain principles in life. I told myself that I choose to be with Martin Luther King and the values he stood for.

“During that time when I held intensive discussions with Carter on the turmoil in southern Africa, I met a Catholic Jesuit priest who had visited the US, and who asked, why we were ignoring one of the best and brilliant student he ever had (Robert Mugabe).”

Burrowing through some 1979 newspaper cutting, Young remarked: “I decided he was the very proper British schoolmaster, not the rabble rousing freedom fighter I heard about.

“He was stubborn . . . very sure of himself and highly principled and committed. I learnt to attribute that to his Jesuit–Catholic upbringing.”
During that time, Young impressed on Carter that liberation movements were all about democracy and free enterprise and this helped him attract the attention of Carter towards the turmoil plaguing southern Africa.

One of his signature achievements was helping the Carter administration to develop policy guidelines that called for maintaining economic sanctions against Rhodesia despite the election of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, a puppet prime minister of the short-lived Zimbabwe–Rhodesia.

The settlement that had led to Muzorewa’s election was unreservedly rejected by Cdes Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, of the Patriotic Front and by nearly every other African nation.

Although Britain was chiefly responsible for the settlement that led to the creation of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, US officials also credited Andrew Young for playing an influential role, that compelled Carter to maintain US sanctions until there was an agreement that offered fair election leading to true majority rule.

His innings spanned a critical time in Zimbabwe, African and world geopolitics. Young maintained his “ringside seat” during the protracted negotiations leading to the independence of Zimbabwe.

At the peak of the struggle for independence, freedom fighters were vilified and demonised.
“The Malta talks presented us with the best chance we could have to push the agenda for the independence of Rhodesia and South West Africa. At the talks, I said people who are leading these movements are saints. Mugabe was a sober and highly principled man, so was Robert Sobukwe and many others. I even said I doubted if they could ever pull the trigger of a gun!

“Securing negotiations leading to the Lancaster House talks was a major milestone. What we had decided on Zimbabwe, spread to South West Africa and this worked in South Africa — bloodless transformation of power.”

Ambassador Andrew Young described Robert Mugabe in an interview with the Times of London on May 22, 1978: “Does Mr Mugabe strike you as a violent man?” the Times reporter asked.

“Not at all, he’s a very gentle man,” Young replied.
“In fact, one of the ironies of the whole struggle is that I can’t imagine Joshua Nkomo, or Robert Mugabe, ever pulling the trigger on a gun to kill anyone. I doubt that they ever have.

“I find that I am fascinated by his intelligence, by his dedication.
“The only thing that frustrates me about Robert Mugabe is that he is so damned incorruptible. . . . The problem is he was educated by the Jesuits, and when you get the combination of a Jesuit and a Marxist kind of philosophy merging in one person, you’ve got a hell of a guy to deal with,” Young was further quoted in the interview.

Young’s sizeable ego, tenacity and willingness to push hard for diplomatic results won him both admiration and animosity.
His success on the Zimbabwe peace talks was a major turning point for US diplomacy in foreign policy, something that Britain under Thatcher was forced into admitting.

In 1972 Young was elected to Congress, the first black Congressman from Georgia in 100 years. In 1977, his fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter appointed Young as ambassador to the United Nations.

Political observers say in that capacity Young excited controversy because of his support for developing world countries and he was forced to resign in 1979 following publicity given to a series of secret meetings with the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Right from the days when he was a church minister, an administrative assistant and confidante for Martin Luther King and later US envoy to the UN, Young mastered the art of the negotiating style of politics and of de-racialising what he called “people” issues.

Political commentators say that during his brief and stormy career at the United Nations Young was the most outspoken and influential of all Carter’s many African American appointees, playing an important diplomatic role which transcended the traditional activities of a UN ambassador.

They also say he emerged as a leading architect and spokesman for American relations with African and Third World nations.
“When I was first assigned to visit Nigeria, it was a kind of ‘send a nigger to catch a nigger’ kind of diplomacy,” he said to laughter.

“It was not easy for a US official to enter Nigeria because of the stance taken by that country to people aiding and supporting apartheid South Africa. I was allowed to enter Nigeria because of my close association with Martin Luther King and what I also had said about Carter to President Obasanjo.

“Over the years, this opened floodgates for African heads of state to visit the US and meet the president. This created some understanding for contemporary US — Africa politics.”

During his presentation, Young used the blade of humour to regularly alert people in the auditorium about certain diplomatic issues.
“I know he didn’t invite me to be a preacher, but I had to preach,” he said.

In another remark which sparked laughter, he said: “It took a decision-making process in the Congress and the White House for me to come. I am here representing the government of the United States of America. This is just my interpretation.

“So if you have official questions give it to the ambassador. If you want to know the truth you give it to me.”
His “memoir like” discussion was quite moving and in many ways quite instructive of the US relations with Zimbabwe and Africa.
He had some splendid stories to tell of Thatcher in her glory years as she put on the gloves to negotiate Britain’s corner in African affairs.

Young also recalled how he sent an unequivocal message that Britain risked damaging its relationship with African countries and being sidelined by the international community if it continued to support apartheid South Africa.

His talk was a view from the trenches where all the nitty-gritty work of diplomacy is done. It was also full of anecdotes, forthright observation and humour.
His recent trip to Zimbabwe to try and mend frosty relations between Harare and Washington still showcase his distinctive brilliance and dynamism in American diplomacy.

But beyond everything, his discussion would be remembered as a wonderful memoir of a life lived in US foreign service and an eye-opener to how Zimbabwean diplomats will move, as the US administration reaches out to Zimbabwe which it slapped with sanctions for close to a decade now.
“Zimbabwe is the richest country maybe God ever put on earth,” he said.

“Everybody ought to eat steak if we do it right. I don’t want to see it mess up or for us to look for reason why it should fail.
“We should look for things that can make this country to work and succeed.”

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