President Emmerson Mnangagwa has used all types of media including The New York Times to paint a rosy picture of the current situation in Zimbabwe in order to attract foreign investment. Has really anything changed since Mnangagwa took over four months ago?
Over the last four months, peddling the mantra “Zimbabwe is open for business,” the country’s new president in cahoots with the Western press has been whitewashing a military coup into a popular, peaceful revolution that brought from exile a benevolent leader and placed him in power on an interim basis until elections.
Omitted from the portrayal of the 11 March 2018 op-ed, “We Are Bringing About the New Zimbabwe,” published in The New York Times and by-lined to Zimbabwe’s sitting president Emmerson Mnangagwa, are all the manoeuvres selling out the country’s political independence. Given reports of what happened to some of Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)’s G40 (ZANU-PF group supporting former First Lady Grace Mugabe) faction, including the killing of a bodyguard, and jailing with allegations of torture from 14 November 2017 until at least Robert Mugabe resigned as president a week later, the accounts in Mnangagwa’s op-ed are a pretty audacious rewriting of history.
Censored from mainstream headlines was the major news less than three weeks ago that former President Robert Mugabe was reported to have come out during his first ever briefing to outsiders since his ousting, saying his successor’s rule is “unconstitutional.” It shouldn’t be unreasonable to think such information would qualify as breaking world news. Addressing, among many others, African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, Mugabe is reported to have declared that the Mnangagwa government was illegal and the AU should help to “restore normalcy and democracy in Zimbabwe.” Rescinding assurances he made at the time of his resignation, Mugabe said he was forced to resign under military pressure and that, “It’s tragic and sad that in Zimbabwe since 15 November 2017 government and state institutions have been taken over by the military which is now part of the current unconstitutional administration.”
The elder statesman has been keeping his ear to the ground for political developments. A week earlier was news of the growing tensions between Mnangagwa and army commanders. “The military element in ZANU-PF has serious political ambitions, to the extent that they want Mnangagwa to serve one term, if he wins elections, before handing the baton over to Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga.” Presently Chiwenga is simultaneously in charge of the Ministries of Defense and War Veterans. He was Commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces when the military embarked on its “Operation Restore Legacy”, widely seen as the coup that catapulted Mnangagwa to the presidency.
“Chiwenga was then appointed vice-president, while retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo, who announced the military intervention on state television, was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister. Former Air Force of Zimbabwe Air Marshal Perence Shiri was appointed Agriculture Minister, while retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje was appointed Head of the ZANU-PF Commissariat.” The aforementioned appointments followed a major purging of high-ranking Central Intelligence Organisation officers and Zimbabwe Republic Police.
Just months ago it would have been unthinkable for The New York Times to publish an op-ed by the president of any country on the United States government’s economic hit list. Despite what in all forms is closer to a military dictatorship, it seems reasonable to conclude that Zimbabwe is no longer on that list. It had been on that list since 1999 after the country decided to reverse the unjust and racist land allocations imposed by European settler colonisation.
It should not be long now before there is an official announcement that sanctions are lifted. The lifting of sanctions is what principled social justice advocates for Zimbabwe have wanted all along, but not by way of compromising the self-determination of the Zimbabwean people. Under these circumstances those who imposed the sanctions get what they set out for; unfettered access to the wealth of the country in the form of its natural mineral resources and the labour of the people.
Statements in Mnangagwa’s op-ed like, “…we ask those who have punished us in the past to reconsider their sanctions against us. Zimbabwe is a land of potential, but it will be difficult to realise it with the weight of sanctions hanging from our necks,” appear as if the Zimbabwe president is appealing for the sanctions to be lifted. But anyone who understands how Western imperialism works should know that that deal was already sealed before the military and Mnangagwa seized power. It was possibly sealed even decades ago laying in the cut for the right moment. The only thing that makes sense is that such statements are mere window dressing for what essentially is an open invitation to neoliberal capital investment and latecomers for Zimbabwe’s trek down the neoliberal development road.
Gone for now seem to be Zimbabwe’s days of standing firm against what Kwame Nkrumah explained as imperialism’s last stage, neo-colonialism. “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”
Just two years ago from this month companies owned by foreigners faced closure unless they sold or gave up 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans by 1 April 2016. The ultimatum was to finally enforce the 2008 Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act that required them to do so. In contrast, the “new Zimbabwe” last month made companies mining platinum or diamonds exempt from the requirement. Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest platinum reserves, and both platinum and diamonds are key exports. Zimbabwe’s deposits of lithium, a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles and a growing draw for potential investors, were signed over in a US $1.4 billion deal to an unidentified private mining company. Then on 27 and 28 February, the “Zimbabwe Mining Investment Conference 2018” was held in Harare for “key stakeholders, government officials, corporates and investors” to network around a comprehensive list of Zimbabwe’s minerals.
Typical of advice the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund gives to formerly colonised nations, moves were made in January 2018 to privatise major infrastructures like the national airline, Air Zimbabwe, the National Railways of Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, the country’s biggest power producer and regulating company that runs a number of subsidiary companies with various specialties in power regulation and communications.
The rationale for privatisation is always the mismanagement and corruption in the agencies that keep them in a spiralling deficit. Because, apparently, “Africans just can’t run things,” we must turn to the benevolent, well-meaning Western world that will economically adjust our structures. An anti-colonial solution would be for political leaders genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of their people to embark on a nationwide political education campaign to imbue citizens with revolutionary manager and worker integrity.
Unlike countries such as Cuba or Eritrea, Zimbabwe’s diplomatic dealings with Western countries are no longer tempered with a staunch insistence on the right to sovereignty and national self-determination. Both capitalist and revolutionary leaders promise “free” things. The difference is in what free things they promise. Along with the empty promise of jobs, Mnangagwa says, “I commit that in the new Zimbabwe, all citizens will have the right of free speech, free expression and free association. At the heart of this will be free and fair elections.” Certainly, everyone agrees on the aforementioned. But the capitalist paradigm prohibits free things like the human right to free education, free healthcare, and freedom from having to sell one’s labour for wages. Economic models that are primarily concerned with turning profits over people typically and ultimately reduce jobs as a means to cut costs for meeting profit margins.
The aim of all justice and peace-loving people should be to defend Zimbabwe as a whole, the land reform as a policy, as well as complete control over her mineral wealth and resources by the Zimbabwean people, and the abolishing of sanctions in ways that don’t compromise sovereignty and the right of self-determination of the masses.
*Netfa Freeman is an Analyst and Events Coordinator for the Institute for Policy Studies, a long-time organiser in the Pan-African and international human rights movements, and former Liaison for the Ujamma Youth Farming Project in Gweru, Zimbabwe. He also hosts and produces the radio show Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM in Washington DC.