Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version in Guyana, in Kenya and in Zimbabwe have taught us that it is a mistake to adopt western standards of victory as our own, write Horace Campbell and Eusi Kwayana. Victory for us must mean reconciliation of divided populations. Reconciliation will fail utterly if it is imposed; or allows free rein to corruption, militarism or if it ignores the choices of the people in valid elections. We have responsibility as progressives and Pan-Africanists to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe, a week before the run off elections for the Presidency, presents many progressive Pan Africanists with a conflict, be it in analysis or action.

There are four main competing interests in Zimbabwe, as it is today. First, but not in order of importance are the interests of the ruling party and its supporters. These are followed by those of the Opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its supporters. Next are the vested interests of the white minority settlers supported heavily by the United Kingdom and the neo-conservatives of the Bush Administration in the United States. Finally, but first in rating, there are the interests of all the producers (workers, poor peasants, farm workers, traditional healers, cultural workers, students, traders, hawkers etc.) in Zimbabwe. This last group has been rendered poor and powerless by the present government of Robert Mugabe and the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union, Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

In the past weeks the state-run daily, The Herald, reported that President Mugabe has warned that he will take the country to war to keep the ruling party in power. The Herald quoted Mr. Mugabe as saying he will not let the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) take power. Mr. Mugabe on many occasions said that an opposition victory would be tantamount to giving the country back to its former colonial master. The president has repeatedly accused the MDC of being sponsored by Britain. Mugabe declared in a speech that:

“We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed…We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?”

This kind of talk is dangerous and should be condemned by pan Africanists and decent persons everywhere.


First, there should be an attempt to clear the landscape of certain obstacles. Zimbabwe was in growing trouble before the sanctions imposed by the governments of Britain and the United States. Still, the attempt to bully a small country’s ruler who was in turn bullying his compatriots draped Robert Mugabe in the role of a hero against imperialism. The attempt encouraged a blundering ruler to stay on course. The ZANU-PF forces and sympathizers have blamed the disastrous economic situation on the sanctions. Yet, the political leaders have accumulated wealth in such a conspicuous manner that their consumption of luxury goods stands out in a country where more than 80 per cent of the eligible workers are unemployed. Millions more Zimbabweans have been rendered as economic refugees in Africa and beyond.

Zimbabwe‘s situation has some striking parallels with that of the recent history of Guyana in the Caribbean, where rivalry between anti-colonial forces started long before independence and was only draped in flags at the moment of Uhuru, without serious attempts at a deep resolution of the difficulties. Once in power the Burnham regime did nothing to resolve the ethnic conflict but superimposed on it a parliamentary dictatorship. Forbes Burnham consolidated this dictatorship while brandishing non-alignment and support for African Liberation. Yet, Walter Rodney was assassinated by the regime of the Peoples National Congress in 1980 because he was part of a movement that wanted to transcend the politics of division and exploitation. It is this kind of anti imperialism that has been used by many dictators to cover up the repression of their own citizens.

In Africa, the home of Ubuntu, there was no thought of employing indigenous mechanism of conflict resolution. Instead the Zimbabwe maximum leader adopted methods of control patterned on the deformed systems of Eastern Europe. He ignored the option of applying Ubuntu (or its national expression - in Zimbabwe as hunhu) as a way of healing. As in Guyana there was a reliance on external forms and vanguardism. We did not learn, whether in Zimbabwe or Guyana, to surround universal science with our own ethos.


In 1987 the fusion of ZANU with the Patriotic Front led by Joshua Nkomo was done in such a way that the post-colonial world knew little about it, except that it led to the virtual silencing of the section of the liberation front that had been led by Joshua Nkomo. In the merger of the two wings of the national liberation movement there was also too much reliance placed on foreign tutelage, much of it from trusted allies of African liberation. This fusion had been orchestrated to end the divisions within the political leadership of Zimbabwe. One of the tragedies of the post liberation Zimbabwean society was the massacre of thousands of citizens of the Southwestern region of the country. Progressive Pan Africanists were silent when these massacres of the Ndebele took place in the early eighties. We, by and large, ignored these atrocities in the interests of solidarity with the dominant force in the country, and the need to not to make too much of small skirmishes, lest we “play into the hands of imperialism”

The best way for us (as African, Asian or Caribbean peoples) to keep the enemy at bay is to have a praxis of respect for all national forces and apply the highest principles of our culture as an indigenous method for the resolution of conflict.

Of late the western media and certain forces within the United Nations have been reporting the possibility of talks of power sharing, and the arrangement of some form of a transitional authority. While the spirit of these discussions may be guided by the search for social peace, it is urgent that these discussions between the various elements are not carried out behind the backs of the people and do nothing to undermine the political will of the people. But above all there must be an engagement by all to ensure that the elections and its aftermath does not deteriorate into the kind of violence and destruction that was witnessed in Kenya after the elections of December 27, 2007. At all costs, war must be avoided. The present leadership cannot expect to be supported when it terrorizes its own people and unleashes the very same Rhodesian military apparatus (the Joint Operation Command) against the opposition and unarmed civilians.

The present situation in Zimbabwe is confused by the circumstance that President Robert Mugabe has been a heroic figure in the continent of Africa, the Diaspora, among African observers and well-wishers. And he would have remained so, if the Pan African world had assisted Zimbabweans with friendly criticism of the government when the flaws began to show. Instead, the whole movement and the international left, including us, remained silent, some longer than others, hoping that such a well-resourced government would correct its own shortcomings. Earlier we had special cause to be partisan to Robert Mugabe, who had extended solidarity to our colleague Walter Rodney when he was being persecuted by the Guyana government.

It does not worry those who would defend the Zimbabwe government absolutely and in all circumstances that the imperialists have their embassies and observation posts and espionage networks in all of these places and are fully posted on developments in Zimbabwe. In this they have an advantage over those in the diaspora whose leaders think it is good policy to hide the truth from their constituencies about what is really going on in Zimbabwe. Those in the Global Pan African world who continue to defend Mugabe have in effect kept their constituencies in ignorance of information essential for human development in the name of solidarity. This is not the way to help the millions of working people learn how to govern.


Even in the ranks of those who feel compelled to defend Mr. Mugabe against British and US imperialists we feel bound to point out that it took twenty years after independence for the Zimbabwean government to heed the call of the peasantry for the reclamation of the land. Those who refuse to be critical of the Mugabe government repeat the claim that the Lancaster agreement had imposed constitutional constraints that prevented the redistribution of the land to the people. However, in 1992 the Parliament of Zimbabwe had unanimously passed the Land Acquisition Act that gave the government the power to redistribute the land. Instead, the government of Mugabe dithered and hedged seeking to conciliate international capital and the commercial farmers.

It was only after the massive opposition from the working people in 1997 and after the loss of the referendum of February 2000 that the ZANU leadership opportunistically launched the Fast Track Land reform process. This opportunism has only been surmounted by the fact that the best land went to the political elite who was not real farmers. Opportunism and cronyism exposed the reality that for land reform to be beneficial for the mass of the population, reform must involve the political empowerment of the poor, especially farm workers. The new black landowners did not treat the farm workers any better than the previous settlers. If anything, this experience exposed the reality that the issues of the health and safety of farm workers and their children are just as important as the question of land ownership. Farm workers whether working on farms owned by blacks or whites must be paid a living wage and must have adequate protection from pesticides. They must be accorded full political and economical rights instead of being forced to live in a semi-slavery state.

The experiences of land acquisition in Zimbabwe pointed to the reality that land reclamation by itself could not solve the problems of the Zimbabwean society. There had to be transformation of the credit, transportation, agricultural marketing, seed production, distribution of fertilizers, water management and all of the aspects of economic relations associated with agriculture. Workers and poor peasants in all parts of Southern Africa must strengthen their organizations so that land reform is not carried out in their names yet leave them in greater impoverishment.


We want to go on record in saying that neither the government of Britain nor the government of the United States has the moral authority to oppose the present government of Zimbabwe. Imperialists and neo- conservatives have their own agenda when imposing sanctions and we are against sanctions in Zimbabwe. Progressive Pan Africanists must remain vigilant so that brutal oppression of the Zimbabwean peoples is not countenanced in the name of anti-imperialism.

These sanctions have not prevented the rulers of Zimbabwe from looting the Treasury and participating in the very same forms of speculative capitalism that is lauded by neo-liberals. Under the ZANU-PF leadership the Zimbabwe Stocks Exchange {ZSE} has ballooned to phenomenal levels as a result of the speculative activities of the rulers in Zimbabwe. In a country where the economic crisis has meant increased poverty for two years the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange offered investors the highest returns in Africa. For two years in a row, 2005 and 2006, the Africa Stock Exchanges Association (ASEA) reported that the ZSE was the best performing Stock Market in Africa.

Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF may be against imperialism but this group is not against capitalism or the looting of the assets of the society. The government of Cuba has been blockaded by the United States for more than forty years. Yet this government did not support a small class that looted and got rich while the majority of the population remained poor and terrorized.

Those who support the working peoples of Zimbabwe must insist on transparency in dealing with transnational corporations and the integrity of the ruling personnel in their day-to-day activities. This call for accountability is especially important in so far as though we are opposed to the threat of war coming from ZANU PF we are not encouraged by the policies and posture of the leadership of the MDC. These elements have displayed an amazing level of intellectual subservience to the West and to the ideas of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Zimbabwe needs leaders who place the interest of the working people first. It is proper that all progressives support the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative of the United Nations so that corrupt leaders cannot stash away funds when the people suffer.


We should not remain silent when thousands of Zimbabwean women are arrested and disgraced as prostitutes, when, as elsewhere, virgins are despoiled by men in search of cures.

We should not be silent when homosexuals are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment, student movements repressed, and when unarmed people are subject to a level of police and militia brutality none of us would ignore in our countries of residence.

One of the most despicable acts of the Mugabe regime was the forced removal of more than 700,000 poor people from the urban areas in 2005. When the apartheid regime used the same coercive forces to carry out forced removals we went up in arms against it. This brutal act by the ZANU-PF went without condemnation from the Pan African movement.

When we ponder the considerable diplomatic and political resources of the African continent, we find it is not impossible for a dual policy of conditional opposition to the sanctions to be combined with a policy of respect for all Zimbabweans, and their equal entitlement to human rights (regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religious or political opinion).

Experiences in Guyana, in Kenya and in Zimbabwe have taught us that it is a mistake to adopt western standards of victory as our own. Victory for us must mean reconciliation of divided populations. This in each case may best be approached through widespread national conversation spelling out its purpose. Reconciliation will fail utterly if it is imposed; or allows free rein to corruption, militarism or if it ignores the choices of the people in valid elections.

The Republic of South Africa has one of the world’s most advanced constitutions, because after the experience of Apartheid, the people resolved to hold their democracy to the highest human standards. These aspirations are now being undermined by a political leadership that provides cover for the repression in Zimbabwe while remaining virtually silent in the face of xenophobic violence against Africans who believed in Pan Africanism.

In the USA millions of African American and Latino students are held back because too many educators implicitly believe in a Bell Curve and have low expectations of black and Latino students. We are aware of the embedded anti- people challenges imposed on African countries from outside affecting their competitiveness and ability to transform their societies. However, we recognize no Bell Curve regarding the leaders’ potential for setting examples of conduct and governance which rank among the best available.

In a few days Zimbabwe will hold a run -off election between the Zanu PF and the MDC. The first, the ruling party, has discredited itself. The challengers do not seem to be a party of Reconstruction, but it reflects popular discontent. Any thuggery and strong arm methods, arrest and harassment of opposition candidates, intimidation and other forms of bullying and repression must be seen as a deliberate attempt to once and for all disable Zimbabwe’s popular will. It will make the work of healing ten times more difficult.

* Horace Campbell is a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of the well-known book, Rasta and Resistance: From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney. He is also the author of Reclaiming Zimbabwe: The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation.

* Eusi Kwayana is the veteran Pan African activist of Guyana and the Caribbean. His most recent book, the Morning After is a call for an end to the manipulation of racial insecurity in Guyana by those who promote inter ethnic violence in the name of liberation. His other books include, No Guilty Race and Scars of Bondage.

* Please send comments to or comment online at