Joram Nyathi My View
Earlier this week a local daily reproduced an article from the American weekly magazine, Newsweek. The article was titled “White farmers ‘getting poorer, sicker’ as they await Government compensation”.
This was in reference to former white commercial farmers who lost land reclaimed by Zimbabweans from their former colonial masters in 2000.
On Thursday, Trump’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Matthew Harrington, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on African Affairs President Mnangagwa’s economic and political reforms were not enough and “too gradual” to warrant a removal of Zidera.
The updated sanctions law was passed five days before Zimbabwe’s July 30 harmonised elections, and Harrington says the “new” Zidera sums up the reforms demanded by America: restoration of the rule of law, a commitment to equitable, legal and transparent land reform, and drop charges against Tendai Biti, repeal AIPPA and POSA, among others.
We are all familiar with those demands and the Americans make little effort to conceal their local source.
It is important to also note a pattern of trying to manipulate local political processes and to intimidate Zanu-PF. It was no coincidence that Zidera was renewed on July 25, a few days before the elections, at a time when Zimbabwe was at its most peaceful although the electoral campaign was reaching the climax. We can safely assume they had reliable intelligence their horse was losing or had lost the elections, so there would be no pact with Zanu-PF winners.
Next week the same Zanu-PF is holding its 17th National People’s Conference where momentous party decisions are adopted. It’s almost five days before that event when the Americans renew their vow to keep Zidera in place. It is a warning to Zanu-PF to “reform” or, more crudely, to behave or else.
This is how the foreign relations sub-committee put it and claims to have told President Mnangagwa the same. “We want Zimbabwe to succeed and would welcome a better bilateral relationship, but the ball is squarely in the Government’s court to demonstrate it is irrevocably on a different trajectory,” said Harrington.
Electoral reform vs regime change
Add to this the Newsweek article on the plight of former white commercial farmers, and the message is barely encrypted even for the most enthusiastic Zanu-PF reform advocates: political reforms equate to an opposition electoral victory. Anything and everything less is neither fundamental nor irrevocable commitment to regime change in Zimbabwe. Second, human rights and property rights means “a commitment to equitable, legal and transparent land reform”.
We know who the aggrieved parties are when it comes to land reform. While the US Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs pretends it wants all laws aligned to the Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013 which declares the land reform irreversible, it nevertheless wants a “legal” land reform. That is what it means by a “restoration of the rule of law”.
Could it be that the ruling party is being told to dump the national Constitution? What does rule of law mean when Government is being told to simply drop charges against an opposition leader who broke the law by announcing false election results, fully aware that announcing electoral results is the sole mandate of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission? Shouldn’t the courts clear him, or are opposition politicians beyond the reach of the law?
Most fundamentally, how is it possible to quantify and qualify political reform in a world where external interests seek to overshadow the national interest, including trying, brazenly at that, to subvert the national Constitution? Is there a meeting of the minds between Zanu-PF and the Americans on the definition and goals of so-called “profound political reforms”?
So far ED has decided to be high-minded, focused of rebuilding an economy ruined by nearly 20 years of sanctions. He has steered clear of inflammatory rhetoric at home and abroad, even trying to appease an opposition seeking naked confrontation to justify its existence and assertions that there has been no transition.
But in my view, the report by the Americans shows apart from change of name in the leadership from Robert Mugabe to Emmerson Mnangagwa, so long as Zanu-PF remains in power, all the efforts at reform and democratisation are in vain. The same goes for economic reforms. They want free reign on the country’s resources. So political reform is no less than a euphemism for regime change and Zidera is a warning to countries like South Africa and Namibia never to stray into the forbidden Mugabe Way.
The sanctions lie
But the whole political and economic reform narrative has served the Americans well. When they claim there hasn’t been political change it means they can maintain their ruinous sanctions until their political goals are achieved. It helps that they have local friends to raise the litany of grievances.
And over the years the lie has been that the sanctions were targeted at a few individuals and companies supposedly linked to Zanu- PF. This way gullible Zimbabweans could be bought over to believe our problems are a manifestation of a democracy deficit and economic mismanagement. So we are browbeaten when we talk about them.
But the private sector is slowly waking up to the reality, opening its eyes to the lies and accepting that they must go. Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa is one of the most prominent voices to call for the removal of sanctions after the July 30 harmonised elections. He said Zimbabwe could not be expected to prosper while hogtied by sanctions.
Then on the fateful Thursday, businessman Joseph Mutizwa exposed the hypocrisy of these democracy sanctions and their impact on the economy before the same Jeff Flake chaired Senate sub-committee.
This is what he told the committee: “In Zimbabwe trade sanctions impact negatively on economic growth through denying the country access to foreign lines of credit, which ordinarily finance external trade and access to markets, particularly the USA market through exclusion from AGOA . . . The country’s export competitiveness is adversely affected by negative perceptions of the country resulting in high country risk profile translating into higher country risk premiums.”
His summation, though, gave hostage to fortune and we expect senior business executives to be less gullible otherwise they risk a charge of naivety if not complicit. “The private sector’s strong view is that sanctions — although they are supposed to be targeted at certain individuals and entities — have the unintended effect of pulling down the entire economy of Zimbabwe and the welfare of all its citizens. Sanctions do constitute a real stumbling block to the efforts of the current Government to get the country’s economy moving forward again,” said Mutizwa.
There are no “unintended” effects. They are intended to pull the entire economy down and hurt the poor the most. They said they wanted to make the “economy scream”.
The hard, painful lesson
Despite President Mnangagwa’s best efforts at engagement and re-engagement, Zanu-PF must go to its conference in Esigodini next week fully aware that there is no meeting of minds between Zimbabwe and America on what constitutes political and economic reforms. The goals are diametrically opposed. The American leadership doesn’t believe in a reformed Zanu-PF but a dead one. That is why ED’s civil diplomatic engagements are being spurned.
They must accept that Zidera is not going away any time soon. The timing of that presentation on Thursday was to remind Zanu-PF to put Zidera on its agenda, and that politics and the economy are inextricably linked.
We have to accept the reality that Vision 2030 must be anchored on the efforts of the children of Zimbabwe investing in themselves. Foreign investors are so scared of America they will keep making demands that can only turn our independence into a laughing stock after reversing all the gains of the land reform.
We have to accept the cold reality that for America, a restoration of the rule of law plainly and simply means reversing the land reform. That is what they mean by a legal, transparent and equitable land reform. Let’s not delude ourselves that they respect what our Constitution says on the subject of land.
When Americans say the ball is in Zimbabwe’s court they are treating Zimbabwe like a rape victim who is made to blame herself for her violation. She must now teach herself to behave better, to dress better next time to avoid being raped. It is a crude insult that repossessing our land can be treated as a crime by a nation thousands of kilometres away, whose president daily preaches American sovereignty.
Armed with this practical reality, we can decide whether we wish to remain sovereign or a client state of America, dancing to its whims. Which is to say Zanu-PF must decide at its conference to remain the revolutionary movement which spearheaded the land reform and press on with policies which put Zimbabwe first.