Cholera Outbreak Outcome of West’s War on Zimbabwe

By Stephen Gowans
December 08, 2008

Zimbabwe WatchThe crisis in Zimbabwe has intensified. Inflation is incalculably high. The central bank limits – to an inadequate level – the amount of money Zimbabweans can withdraw from their bank accounts daily. Unarmed soldiers riot, their guns kept under lock and key, to prevent an armed uprising. Hospital staff fail to show up for work. The water authority is short of chemicals to purify drinking water. Cholera, easily prevented and cured under normal circumstances, has broken out, leading the government to declare a humanitarian emergency.

In the West, state officials call for the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, to step down and yield power to the leader of the largest faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai. In this, the crisis is directly linked to Mugabe, its solution to Tsvangirai, but it’s never said what Mugabe has done to cause the crisis, or how Tsvangirai’s ascension to the presidency will make it go away.

The causal chain leading to the crisis can be diagrammed roughly as follows:

  1. In the late 90s, Mugabe’s government provokes the hostility of the West by: (1) intervening militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the side of the young government of Laurent Kabila, helping to thwart an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan forces backed by the US and Britain; (2) it rejects a pro-foreign investment economic restructuring program the IMF establishes as a condition for balance of payment support; (3) it accelerates land redistribution by seizing white-owned farms and thereby committing the ultimate affront against owners of productive property – expropriation without compensation. To governments whose foreign policy is based in large measure on protecting their nationals’ ownership rights to foreign productive assets, expropriation, and especially expropriation without compensation, is intolerable, and must be punished to deter others from doing the same.
  2. In response, the United States, as prime guarantor of the imperialist system, introduces the December 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. The act instructs US representatives to international financial institutions “to oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.”
  3. The act effectively deprives Zimbabwe of foreign currency required to import necessities from abroad, including chemicals to treat drinking water. Development aid from the World Bank is also cut off, denying the country access to funds to upgrade its infrastructure. The central bank takes measures to mitigate the effects of the act, creating hyper-inflation as a by-product.

The cause of the crisis, then, can be traced directly to the West. Rather than banning the export of goods to Zimbabwe, the US denied Zimbabwe the means to import goods – not trade sanctions, but an act that had the same effect. To be sure, had the Mugabe government reversed its land reform program and abided by IMF demands, the crisis would have been averted. But the trigger was pulled in Washington, London and Brussels, and it is the West, therefore, that bears the blame.

Sanctions are effectively acts of war, with often equivalent, and sometimes more devastating, consequences. More than a million Iraqis died as a result of a decade-long sanctions regime championed by the US following the 1991 Gulf War. This prompted two political scientists, John and Karl Mueller, to coin the phrase “sanctions of mass destruction.” They noted that sanctions had “contributed to more deaths in the post Cold War era than all the weapons of mass destruction in history.”

The Western media refer to sanctions on Zimbabwe as targeted – limited only to high state officials and other individuals. This ignores the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act and conceals its devastating impact, thereby shifting responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe from the US to Mugabe.

The cholera outbreak has a parallel in the outbreak of cholera in Iraq following the Gulf War. Thomas Nagy, a business professor at George Washington University, cited declassified documents in the September 2001 issue of The Progressive magazine showing that the United States had deliberately bombed Iraq’s drinking water and sanitation facilities, recognizing that sanctions would prevent Iraq from rebuilding its water infrastructure and that epidemics of otherwise preventable diseases, cholera among them, would ensue. Washington, in other words, deliberately created a humanitarian catastrophe to achieve its goal of regime change. There is a direct parallel with Zimbabwe – the only difference is that the United States uses the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act – that is, sanctions of mass destruction – in place of bombing.

Harare’s land reform program is one of the principal reasons the United States has gone to war with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has redistributed land previously owned by 4,000 white farmers to 300,000 previously landless families, descendants of black Africans whose land was stolen by white settlers. By contrast, South Africa’s ANC government has redistributed only four percent of the 87 percent of land forcibly seized from the indigenous population by Europeans.

In March, South Africa’s cabinet seemed ready to move ahead with a plan to accelerate agrarian reform. It would abandon the “willing seller, willing buyer” model insisted on by the West, following in the Mugabe government’s footsteps. Under the plan, thirty percent of farmland would be redistributed to black farmers by 2014. But the government has since backed away, its reluctance to move forward based on the following considerations.

  1. Most black South Africans are generations removed from the land, and no longer have the skills and culture necessary to immediately farm at a high level. An accelerated land reform program would almost certainly lower production levels, as new farmers played catch up to acquire critical skills.
  2. South Africa is no longer a net exporter of food. An accelerated land reform program would likely force the country, in the short term, to rely more heavily on agricultural imports, at a time food prices are rising globally.
  3. There is a danger that fast-track land reform will create a crisis of capital flight.
  4. The dangers of radical land reform in provoking a backlash from the West are richly evident in the example of Zimbabwe. South Africa would like to avoid becoming the next Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is accompanied by a political crisis. Talks on forming a government of national unity are stalled. Failure to strike a deal pivots on a single ministry – home affairs. In the West, failure to consolidate a deal between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the two MDC factions is attributed to Mugabe’s intransigence in insisting that he control all key cabinet posts. It takes two to tango. Tsvangirai has shown little interest in striking an accord, preferring instead to raise objections to every solution to the impasse put forward by outside mediators, as Western ambassadors hover nearby. It’s as if, with the country teetering on the edge of collapse, he doesn’t want to do a deal, preferring instead to help hasten the collapse by throwing up obstacles to an accord, to clear the way for his ascension to the presidency. When the mediation of former South African president Thambo Mbeki failed, Tsvangirai asked the regional grouping, the SADC, to intervene. SADC ordered Zanu-PF and the MDC to share the home affairs ministry. Tsvangirai refused. Now he wants Mbeki replaced.

At the SADC meeting, Mugabe presented a report which alleges that MDC militias are being trained in Botswana by Britain, to be deployed to Zimbabwe early in 2009 to foment a civil war. The turmoil would be used as a pretext for outside military intervention. This would follow the model used to oust the Haitian government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Already, British officials and clergymen are calling for intervention. British prime minister Gordon Brown says the cholera outbreak makes Zimbabwe’s crisis international, because disease can cross borders. Since an international crisis is within the purview of the “international community,” the path is clear for the West and its satellites to step in to set matters straight.

Botswana is decidedly hostile. The country’s foreign minister, Phando Skelemani, says that Zimbabwe’s neighbors should impose an oil blockade to bring the Mugabe government down.

Meanwhile, representatives of the elders, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Anan and Graca Machel sought to enter Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation. Inasmuch as an adequate assessment could not be made on the whistle-stop tour the trio had planned, Harare barred their entry, recognizing that the trip would simply be used as a platform to declaim on the necessity of regime change. The elders’ humanitarian concern, however, didn’t stop the trio from agreeing that stepped up sanctions – more misery for the population – would be useful.

The Mugabe government’s pursuit of land reform, rejection of neo-liberal restructuring, and movement to eclipse US imperialism in southern Africa, has put Zimbabwe on the receiving end of a Western attack based on punitive financial sanctions. The intention, as is true of all Western destabilization efforts, has been to make the target country ungovernable, forcing the government to step down, clearing the way for the ascension of the West’s local errand boys. Owing to the West’s attack, Zimbabwe’s government is struggling to provide the population with basic necessities. It can no longer provide basic sanitation and access to potable water at a sufficient level to prevent the outbreak of otherwise preventable diseases.

The replacement of the Mugabe government with one led by the Movement for Democratic Change, a party created and directed by Western governments, if it happens, will lead to an improvement in the humanitarian situation. This won’t come about because the MDC is more competent at governing, but because sanctions will be lifted and access to balance of payment support and development aid will be restored. Zimbabwe will once again be able to import adequate amounts of water purification chemicals. The improving humanitarian situation will be cited as proof the West was right all along in insisting on a change of government.

The downside is that measures to indigenize the economy – to place the country’s agricultural and mineral wealth in the hands of the black majority – will be reversed. Mugabe and key members of the state will be shipped off to The Hague – or attempts will be made to ship them off – to send a message to others about what befalls those who threaten the dominant mode of property relations and challenge Western domination. Cowed by the example of Zimbabwe, Africans in other countries will back away from their own land reform and economic indigenization demands, and the continent will settle more firmly into a pattern of neo-colonial subjugation.


Visit: Zimbabwe Watch

13 thoughts on “Cholera Outbreak Outcome of West’s War on Zimbabwe”

  1. Mugabe must go now

    Guardian Editorial
    Wednesday 10th December, 2008

    It seems as if some African leaders are finally waking up to the proposition that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is a sore on the body politic of the continent which must be removed as soon as possible.

    In the face of the deepening humanitarian crisis in the southern Africa country, Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for the immediate authorisation of an African Union (AU) force to be sent to Zimbabwe and for United Nations soldiers to be deployed if there were no AU soldiers available.

    And veteran anti-apartheid leader, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, echoed the call for African leaders to come together to remove this dictator from office.

    “I think now the world must say: you have been responsible, with your cohorts, for gross violations, and you are going to face indictment in the Hague unless you step down,” said the leading voice of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

    Even beyond Archbishop Tutu’s seeming Christian generosity to Mr Mugabe, it must be that whether or not he leaves, the Zimbabwe leader must be brought before the International Criminal Court for his brutal violation of the human rights of his own population.

    Nearly 600 people have died of cholera directly as a result of Mr Mugabe’s incompetent and corrupt leadership of Zimbabwe, moving it from being the “food basket” of southern Africa to the “basketcase” of the region, says Archbishop Tutu.

    After stealing an election tie earlier this year, Mr Mugabe perpetuated a sham of an election later in the year. In September he engaged in power-sharing talks sponsored by then South African President Thabo Mbeki. At the end of the talks he unilaterally decided to hold on to all of the key ministries for his Zanu PF cronies, effectively dismissing the threat posed by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to establish responsible and effective government.

    Over the decades since his very popular victory in 1980, President Mugabe, increasingly clueless about what to do with his country and especially since the arrival on the political scene of Mr Tsvangirai, has resorted to violence and murder. Reports indicate that hundreds have died at his behest.

    The agriculture and tourism economy based on decades of exporting food and hosting guests to big game safari has been completely ruined. Inflation cannot be measured and the country’s currency is quite useless and without value.

    For every allegation made against him and his Government, Mr Mugabe has sought to resort to the claim that the white western world has been responsible for his country’s destruction.

    Now in addition to the calls of Archbishop Tutu and Prime Minister Odinga, other African leaders are saying that President Mugabe should be forcibly removed from the Zimbabwean capital. The calls from Africa have been joined by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

    The world community has not been very good at coming together proactively to remove dictators from the bare backs of suffering people. The white western world benefited from the suffering of black people in South Africa for as long it was possible to do so.

    Pol Pot and his brutal Khymer Rouge regime in Cambodia were said to have been responsible for the deaths of over two million people in that country. Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda came to power by murder and retained it by murder and corruption.

    In the Caribbean, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was responsible in part for the descent into the bush of Haiti, while the world looked on.

    From all reports, the situation in Zimbabwe is beyond desperate. The business community has been brutalised out of the country. People in Harare seem unable to comprehend what to do.

    The time is here for the African Union to formally take the decision to remove Mr Mugabe from office. The rest of the world community needs to mount a rescue mission to immediately alleviate the suffering within the country.

    It would be intolerable for the world to continue twiddling its figurative thumbs while the abomination in Zimbabwe continues unabated.

  2. “For every allegation made against him and his Government, Mr Mugabe has sought to resort to the claim that the white western world has been responsible for his country’s destruction.”
    Thats always the case…hahah..ohhh please

  3. It is one of the sorriest situation in a long while. Mugabe called an election, loss, his goons don’t want him to give up power so he stays on. He fools Thabo Mbeki into believing he will share power, in the end the west intensifies their quest to remove him and now we have this ugly sight of cholera. Mugabe to me is the problem, and, the solution he must go if he loves his people.

  4. The European are not blameless. Britain made a promise, as part of the Lancaster agreement to finance land reform in Zimbabwe. At that time the white minory controlled more than 80% of the arable farm land. Brittain reneged on that agreement, and then hypocritically protested when Mugabe instituted his ill-fated land reform policies.

    I am not arguing that Mugabe is blameless or that Africans and their leaders do not share blame for many of their predicaments. But there is this selective amnesia that always seem to condition any so called objective examination of the Zimbabwean issue.

    When Africans come to the realization that they are the only continent, nations, and groups that do not put themselves first in terms of the proceeds from their resources, than they will progress. If someone is taking gold from out under your house and you are still starving, you should cease allowing them that prerogative. Might as well sit on it and starve rather than to give it away and starve anyway.

  5. “Western” (=white) countries continue shed crocodile tears over the fate of Zimbabwe while keeping sanctions in place. Mugabe may not be perfect, but the British (Zimbabwe/Rhodesia’s former colonial oppressors) had promised to provide funding for land reform. Even this would have been inadequate compensation for their decades of exploitation, but the Blair government broke its promise and reneged on this meagre and long-overdue assistance. Then, to add insult to injury, sanctions!
    All Trinis should see beyond local ethnic squabbles, and rise together to condemn the oppression of Zimbabwe by Britain and the other “Western” nations.

  6. I believe that Mugabe had a decent vision in trying to right the wrongs of his nation. I wish the Zulus amongst others in South Africa would have done the same. The problem is that Mugabe didn’t have a reasonable plan and in return cost his country more harm than good.

  7. Who among us can say that this is not Nepoya and Suppoya land? If they were to rise again in large numbers to tell us to get out what would you do? If Native Americans became powerful and willing enough to kick all others off of their land after what has happend to them, could you say that it is wrong? What was wrong is Europeans traveling around the world torturing people and all others turning a blind eye to what was going on clammoring for scraps of power in a restricted society. Look at the world that we live in.

    Mugabe shouldn’t have done what he did from a strategic point, but who can argue with the idea of an African country existing for Africans on Afrocentric terms. Europe and Asia do so why not Africa? This situation reminds me of Haiti after Napolean was defeated.

    A change is going to come.

  8. I have to deviate from the love consensus re Mugabe and Zimbabwe. This octogenarian leader’s time has past. There is absolutely nothing more that he can do after 28 years in power ,for this country . The people of this desperate country deserves much better. To make him out to be some victim today is nothing short of preposterous. It is time African themselves begin to do some regional political house cleaning themselves and get rid of idiots such as these as they have contributed to making the continent the embarrassing disaster it has degenerated to. Let’s be honest for once.
    Speaking of South Africa , it is sad but true to say that many are reminiscing fondly about the good old days of racist white Apartheid after the sub par performance of the Mbeki stewardship from the post Mandela era.
    It’s a pity that the world respected Mandela cannot use his influence to encourage this old buffoon and liberation contemporary Mugabe to step down from power and hand the mantle over to someone else. It is for this and other reason why I have repeatedly said that of all the post colonial leaders in Africa Julius Nyerere might just be the only one worth remembering as a real champion of his people , as most of the rest were mere self serving European puppets and phonies. Without Mwalimi timely efforts , many more Ugandans would have had their skulls crushed and brains eaten by the East African political clown Idi Amin. Is it a coincident that once he was ousted from power the once powerful leader ran with his 2000 strong harem and stolen millions into the welcoming arms of his fellow decadent Muslim counterparts the Wahabi infested Saudis? Talking about phonies and deception ! These folks are obviously iIn bed with Israel on Suni dominated Hamas, silent on crazy African Muslims, pretending to be against terrorism and would do anything to destroy Ali’s descendent in the Iranians Shiite even if it means supporting the Iraq violence indefinitely.
    I stand corrected of course.

  9. I can agree that Mugabe has been in power too long and that his countrymen are suffering in part for that reason. However, I support any nation or group of people who would want their country for themselves on their terms. If Tom Cruise is the last Samurai, then some European is the last Zulu. It’s that rediculous. All of the infrastructure, laws and occupation of land is dictated by old European mandates that were formed regardless of how tribes broke down their territories, customs, and cultures. The whole thing is wrong. Could they work with the reality of their existence in their European territories in Africa? Yes is the answer. Will they? Probably not. Colonization was terrible. Erasing it as much as possible would be the best solution. To do that the invaders have to leave.

    I have a question about this crisis in the Middle East. How is what Isreal is doing now any different than what the U.S. scolded Russia for last summer? Hypocracy of democracy? Hamaas was voted in. The U.S. placed the Jews on that land and gave them the weapons to expand. Why is it right for some, but not others? 2009 is going to be interesting. Zhu ni xinian kuaile!

  10. 2009 is certainly going to be interesting as it is clear that the changes that some of us naively anticipated won’t be forthcoming as President Obama is prepared to continue the third term Presidency of either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush in terms of his Middle East obsessions .Europeans have mastered the game of divide and rule quite well hence their monopoly on power where ever they exist. History would show that Jordan , Kuwait and many other so called pan Arabic states have done more to destroy the cause of Palestinians refugees that Israel ,USA and even Europeans could have done altogether.
    There is something called empathy that many selfish Arab Muslims would never comprehend. Millions of Sudanese Christians are yearly loosing their lives at the hands of so called black African Arabs and Saudi Arabia the home of Islam remains silent as they have done when ethnic cleansings takes place in Nigeria, and other states in Africa where slavery began initially with their urgings.
    Ironically when Europeans ,America and the middle east pit-bull Israel run roughshod over selective Arabs by humiliating their leaders, and depriving them of basic and fundamental human rights then it’s ‘a horse of a different color.
    Your point on Mugabe and other African pseudo Statesmen is fully understood. African tyrants are more palatable than colonial and post European ones.

  11. “African tyrants are more palatable than colonial and post European ones.”
    That’s only if the world perception of African/ Black people holds true and that is their lives are meaningless and therefore expendable. Sadly your observation is all too true. Why is it ok for Africans to die in the minds of the power structure of the U.S., but as soon as one European ally gets a splinter from a less desirable neighbor, The U.S. extinguishes or seeks to without any time spared?
    I have been saying for the past six or so years that countries who have felt shunned by the U.S. should unite in more ways than one in order to ensure by all means possible a future for their children. It’s obvious that the U.N. and the United States are not that beacon and change must start from within.
    However, with the election of The United States first non traditional politician to the top post of President, I’m willing to give them another four years. I just wonder how many more times and years will Cuban, Haitians, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Vietnamese, and countless amount of others who rank low in social distance of the Euro based industrialized hierarchy of the west are going to put up with being told no you can’t! How long are we the, “less fortunate but expendable souls of the world” going to continue to let imperfect men of imperfect nations dictate the dealings and interactions of our everyday lives in our back yards” I think that the impoverished, uneducated, and cheated are learning one thing and that is that they are fed up. That’s what China was and now look at them. They changed the rules to the game of survival on our planet. No power in the world can deny the will of the masses when they mobilize for one goal which is Survival.
    We will see what happens over the next four and where we will be then. I’m hopeful, but still a skeptic.

  12. Cynicism as a substitute for scholarship

    By Stephen Gowans
    December 30, 2008

    Mahmood Mamdani’s largely sympathetic analysis of the Mugabe government, “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” published in the December 4, 2008 London Review of Books, has been met with a spate of replies from progressive scholars who are incensed at the Ugandan academic throwing out the rule book to present an argument based on rigor and analysis, rather than on the accustomed elaboration of comfortable slogans and prejudices that has marked much progressive scholarship on Zimbabwe. Their criticism of Mamdani has been characterized by ad hominem assaults, arguments that either lack substance or sense, and the substitution of cynicism for scholarship.

    At the heart of what might be called the anti-Mugabe ideology lays the idea that the Zimbabwean leadership clings to power through crude anti-imperialist rhetoric used to divert blame for problems of its own making. This is an elaboration of elite theory — the idea that a small group seeks power for power’s sake, and manipulates the public through lies and rhetoric to stay on top. For example, one group of progressive scholars [1] complains about “Mugabe’s rhetoric of imperialist victimization,” while Horace Campbell argues that,

    ”The Zimbabwe government is very aware of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist sentiments among oppressed peoples and thus has deployed a range of propagandists inside and outside the country in a bid to link every problem in Zimbabwe to international sanctions by the EU and USA.” [2]

    Contrary to the empty rhetoric school of thought, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric is not unattended by anti-imperialist action, but in some extreme versions of anti-Mugabe thought, (for example, that put forward by Patrick Bond), Mugabe is an errand boy for Western capital. [3] The Zimbabwean leader’s anti-imperialist reputation is, according to this view, smoke and mirrors, an illusion conjured by a deft magician.

    The Mugabe government’s anti-imperialist and anti-neo-colonial credentials rest on the following:

    — In the late 1990s, intervening militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the side of the young government of Laurent Kabila, to counter an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan forces backed by the US and Britain.

    — Rejecting a pro-foreign investment economic restructuring program established by the IMF as a condition for balance of payment support (after initially accepting it.)

    — Expropriating farms owned by settlers of European origin as part of a program of land redistribution aimed at benefiting the historically disadvantaged African population.

    — Establishing foreign investment controls and other measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership of the country’s natural resources and enterprises.

    Progressive scholars typically avoid mention of these anti-imperialist actions, for to do so would clash violently with the idea that Harare’s anti-imperialism is based on empty rhetoric. A few, however, do acknowledge these actions, but insist they were undertaken to enrich Mugabe and, aping US State Department and New York Times rhetoric, “his cronies.” Zimbabwe is said to have intervened militarily in the DRC to profit from the Congo’s rich mineral resources. Land is said to have been redistributed to reward Mugabe’s lieutenants (in which case, with 400,000 previously landless families resettled, Mugabe’s lieutenants comprise a sizeable part of the rural population). And measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership in Zimbabwe’s economy are said to have no other aim than to enrich Mugabe’s friends.

    This substitutes cynicism for analysis. Has there been corruption in the land resettlement program? Asbolutely. But what human enterprise is free from corruption? What’s more, is the presence of corruption in a program, proof the program was undertaken for corrupt reasons? Measures to increase black Zimbabwean ownership in the economy are scorned by progressive scholars for being capitalist. Fine, but a failure to be anti-capitalist is not equal to a failure to be anti-imperialist; nor is it proof of being pro-imperialist.

    The foreign policy of capitalist governments is based in large measure on protecting their nationals’ ownership rights to foreign productive assets and promoting their access to foreign investment and export opportunities. Under the Mugabe government, ownership rights have not been safeguarded and foreign investment and export opportunities have been limited by tariff policies, foreign investment controls, subsidies and discrimination against foreign investors. Absent in the analyses of progressive scholars is the understanding of the Mugabe government’s policies from the point of view of the banks and corporations of the imperialist center. One key US ruling class foundation, The Heritage Foundation, complains that Zimbabwe’s “average tariff rate is high” and that “non-tariff barriers are embedded in the labyrinthine customs service;” that “state influence in most areas is stifling, and expropriation is common as the executive pushes forward its economic plan of resource distribution”; that Zimbabwe has “burdensome tax rates” and that “privatization has stalled”…”with slightly over 10 percent of targeted concerns privatized”…”and the government remains highly interventionist.” Of equal concern is Harare’s practice of setting “price ceilings for essential commodities,” “controls (on) the prices of basic goods and food staples,” and influence over “prices through subsidies and state-owned enterprises and utilities” – odd practices for what we’re to believe is a group of errand boys for Western capital. But perhaps of greatest concern to Western corporations and banks is Harare’s investment policies. “The government will consider foreign investment up to 100 percent in high-priority projects but applies pressure for eventual majority ownership by Zimbabweans and stresses the importance of investment from Asian countries, especially China and Malaysia, rather than Western countries.” [4] This paints a picture of the Mugabe government, not as a facilitator of Western economic penetration, but as economically nationalist, pursuing a program aimed at placing control of Zimbabwe’s land, natural resources and enterprises in the hands of black Zimbabweans. It is, in short, a black nationalist government. Clearly, Western investors don’t think Mugabe is working on their behalf. The only people who do are progressive scholars.

    The Mugabe government’s pursuit of black nationalist interests, which clashes in important ways with the interests of Western banks and corporations as well as with the minority population of settlers of European origin, has been met by a strong, multi-faceted response from the US, Britain and the EU. This has included the denial of balance of payment support and development aid, the building up of civil society as a pole of opposition to the Mugabe government, the creation of and subsequent direction of an opposition party, and an international campaign of vilification aimed at discrediting the Mugabe government. [5] Progressive scholars barely acknowledge the Western response, treating it more as an invention of the Mugabe government, used to manipulate the population and to deflect attention from its failings, than as a reality – a bowing to elite theory, rather than to the facts.

    Campbell, for example, complains that,

    “The Mugabe government blames all of its problems on the economic war launched by the USA and Britain. For the Mugabe regime, at the core of this economic war, are the targeted sanctions against Mugabe’s top lieutenants under its Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), passed by the Bush administration in 2001.” [6]

    Campbell confuses targeted sanctions aimed at senior members of the Mugabe government, with ZDERA, an act which blocks Zimbabwe’s access to international credit, and, therefore, affects all Zimbabweans, not just Zanu-PF grandees. According to the act,

    The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against–

    (1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

    (2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.” [7]

    Zimbabwe’s economy, like that of any other Third World country, was never robust to begin with, and inasmuch as it has always relied heavily on Western inputs and access to Western exports, was never too difficult to push into crisis by Western governments intent on making a point. To pretend Washington, London and Brussels haven’t sought to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy, or are incapable of it, is absurd. ZDERA effectively reduces Zimbabwe’s access to the foreign exchange it needs to import necessities from abroad, including chemicals to treat drinking water, a significant point in the recent cholera outbreak. Development aid from the World Bank is also cut off, denying the country access to funds to build and repair the infrastructure needed to run a modern economy. Rather than banning the export of goods to Zimbabwe (the popular understanding of sanctions), the US has made importing goods a challenge. This doesn’t mean that Zimbabwe can’t import goods, or that there is no outside investment. What it does mean, however, is that Zimbabwe is denied access to the kind of financial support poor countries depend on to get by. The intended effect is to make Zimbabwe’s economy scream, and it has. Campbell, who, based on his equating ZDERA with targeted sanctions on individuals, doesn’t understand it, or hasn’t read it, dismisses the idea that the West’s economic warfare accounts for Zimbabwe’s economic troubles. He writes that,

    “What has been clear from the hundreds of millions of dollars of investments by British, Chinese, Malaysian, South African and other capitalists in the Zimbabwe economy since 2003 is that the problems in Zimbabwe haven’t been caused by an economic war against the country.” [8]

    This is like saying anyone exposed to an influenza virus couldn’t possibly be ill because he has received mega-doses of vitamins. Investment from non-Western sources may mitigate some of the problems created by ZDERA, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Chinese investment in platinum mines, for example, will not eliminate a balance of payment problem.

    Understating the effects of ZDERA is not the only area in which progressive scholars go wrong; their failure to acknowledge Western efforts to build up a civil society with a mandate to destabilize Zimbabwe is another. This is inexcusable, since the efforts of Western governments to create, nurture, support, direct, and mentor opposition to the Mugabe government, including overthrow movements, is well documented [9] – mainly because these governments have been open about it — and is hardly new. It has been used elsewhere, famously in Chile, and recently in Venezuela, Belarus, and the former Yugoslavia.

    One reason for the failure of progressive scholars to acknowledge the role played by Western governments and ruling class foundations in destabilizing Zimbabwe may be because they too benefit from the same sources of funding. Campbell’s critique of Mamdani, for example, was published at Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News is a project of the US ruling class Ford Foundation and of the Open Society Institute [10], a vehicle of billionaire financier George Soros to promote color-coded revolutions, under the guise of democracy promotion, in countries whose governments have been less than open to Western exports and investments. Pambazuka News is also sponsored by Fahamu [11]. While Fahamu no longer lists Western governments as funders, it has, in the past, been funded by the US State Department through USAID, by the British Parliament through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, by the British government through the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Department of International Development, and by the European Union. The US, Britain and EU are on record as seeking the overthrow of the Mugabe government. They fund the organizations that disseminate anti-Mugabe analyses and sloganeering. They do so with one aim: to overthrow the Mugabe government. Campbell’s protesting that he is opposed to imperialist interventions is a bit like buying crack on the street while professing opposition to drug dealing, or placing a Think Green sticker on the bumper of your new SUV. Similarly, progressive scholar Patrick Bond, whose anti-Mugabe diatribes can also be found at Pambazuka News, describes the overthrow movement Sokwanele as an independent left, seemingly unaware it is on the US government payroll. [12]

    Not only do progressive scholars ignore the links of Zimbabwe’s opposition to imperialist governments and foundations, they celebrate the opposition. Campbell refers to members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) as “brave fighters.” [13] Brave fighters they may be, but Campbell does not let on (or know) what Woza is fighting for. The group’s leader, Jenni Williams, won the US State Department’s 2007 International Woman of Courage Award for Africa, a plaudit presented to Williams by Condoleezza Rice in a March, 2007 ceremony in Washington. [14] It shouldn’t have to be pointed out that the US State Department’s priority is to secure the interests of US corporations and banks abroad, not the interests of the women of Zimbabwe. So why is the US State Department recognizing Williams? Not for her service to women’s rights, but because her activities help to destabilize Zimbabwe and bring closer the day the black nationalist program of the Mugabe government can be swept aside to clear the way for the unfettered pursuit of US corporate and banking interests. A US government report on the activities in 2007 of its mission to Zimbabwe reveals that the “US Government continued its assistance to Women of Zimbabwe Arise.” [15] US government assistance to Woza and other civil society organizations is channelled through Freedom House and PACT. Freedom House is interlocked with the CIA and is a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing,” according to Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman. [16] It is headed by Peter Ackerman. Ackerman runs the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, of which Stephen Zunes, another progressive scholar, is chair of the board of academic advisors. Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, is a former director of the Albert Einstein Institute, an organization which trained activists in popular insurrection techniques to overthrow Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and has consulted with members of Zimbabwe’s civil society opposition on how to use non-violence to overthrow the Mugabe government. [17] Woza supports two US State Department propaganda vehicles: SW Radio Africa, a US State Department funded short-wave radio station that beams anti-Mugabe propaganda into Zimbabwe, and the Voice of America’s Studio 7, also funded by the US State Department to broadcast US foreign policy positions into Zimbabwe. [18] Zunes says Woza can by no means be considered American agents [19], echoing the progressive scholars’ line that there are no Western efforts to overthrow the Mugabe government; it’s all part of the anti-imperialist rhetoric Mugabe uses to stay in power.

    One of the biggest problems for progressive scholars is that their wish to see the Mugabe government brought down inevitably means its replacement by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC. If Zanu-PF is deplored by some progressive scholars and demonized from the left for being capitalist, the MDC should have two strikes against it: it’s not only capitalist, it is unquestionably the errand boy of the imperialist center, a point one doesn’t have to twist oneself into knots to make, as is done whenever progressive scholars claim Mugabe, despite being sanctioned and vilified by the West, is kept afloat by and works on behalf of Western capital. The MDC’s subservience to Western corporate and banking interests is amply evidenced in its origins (Britain and British wealth provided the seed money), policy platform (decidedly pro-foreign investment), [20] and its advisors (the John McCain-led international arm of the Republican Party, the IRI [21]). Under an MDC government, the stalled privatization program the Heritage Foundation complains about will quickly be restarted. Foreign investment controls, subsidies, tariffs, and price controls will be terminated. Reversal of land reform, while it may come slowly, will inevitably happen, as a condition of ending ZDERA. IMF and World Bank loans will be extended, and the pro-foreign investment measures which are the inevitable condition of these loans will gladly be acceded to.

    So, what do progressive scholars like Campbell offer as an antidote? “That Zimbabweans…oppose the neoliberal forces within the MDC to ensure that the suffering of working people does not continue after the ultimate departure of Robert Mugabe.” [22] There is more naiveté in this single sentence than there is in the average five year old. Please! Neoliberal forces have controlled the MDC from day one [22], and they’ve controlled the party because they hold its purse strings. Their control won’t disappear the moment Mugabe is gone; on the contrary, it is at that moment it will be strongest. But suppose, for a moment, that Campbell’s naive fantasy comes true, and that the forces that provide the funding that is the lifeblood of the MDC, yield to pressure from Zimbabweans, who, at one moment, vote the MDC into power, despite its neo-liberal platform, and at the next, ask the MDC to abandon the platform it was elected on. Were the MDC to yield to this pressure, it would face exactly the same response the Mugabe government faced when it backed away from neo-liberal policies: sanctions, destabilization, demonization and the threat of military intervention. The failure of Campbell to understand this evinces an unsophisticated understanding of the foreign policies of Western countries.

    How droll, then, is the pairing of this breathtaking naiveté with the utter arrogance of progressive scholars. They dismiss Mamdani for failing “to look more deeply at the crisis” and for being “fooled by Mugabe’s rhetoric of imperialist victimization,” and then moan that preventing non-experts from falling for Mugabe’s rhetoric is “one of the more difficult tasks for scholars working on Zimbabwe.” And yet a far more difficult task, it would seem, is for the same scholars to acquaint themselves with the basics: what ZDERA is; why the West is waging economic warfare; what the policies of ZANU-PF are compared to the MDC’s and how these policies align, or fail to align, with the interests of Western banks and corporations; and who created and guides the opposition. Indeed, it could be said that one of the most difficult tasks for anti-imperialists working on Zimbabwe is to persuade progressive scholars to look more deeply into the crisis and not be fooled by imperialist rhetoric.

    1. Timothy Scarnecchia, Jocelyn Alexander et al, “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” Letters, London Review of Books, Volume 31, No. 1, January, 2009.
    2. Horace Campbell, “Mamdani, Mugabe and the African scholarly community,” Pambazuka News, December 18, 2008.
    3. Bond, Patrick, “Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Like a Reactionary: Zimbabwe’s Descent,”, March 27, 2007,
    4. Heritage Foundation, Index of Economic Freedom, 2008,
    5. Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008.
    6. Campbell.
    7. US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001.
    8. Campbell.
    9. See the section titled “Regime Change Agenda” in Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008.
    10. Look under funders at Pambazuka News’ “About” page at .
    11. Ibid.
    12. See Stephen Gowans, “Grassroot Lieutenants of Imperialism,” What’s Left, April 2, 2007, and Stephen Gowans, “Talk Left, Funded Right,” What’s Left, April 7, 2007,
    13. Campbell.
    14. Jim Fisher-Thompson, “Zimbabwean receives International Woman of Courage Award,” USINFO, March 7, 2007.
    15. . See also Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes’ false statements on Zimbabwe and Woza,” What’s Left, September 30, 2008.
    16. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon Books, New York, 1988, p. 28
    17. Michael Barker, “Sharp Reflection Warranted: Non-violence in the Service of Imperialism,” Swans, June 30, 2008.
    18. See Woza’s website, ; “Studio 7, launched in 2003, is the Zimbabwe program of Voice of America, which is funded by the United States. The program is broadcast in Shona, Ndebele and English, and is beamed into Zimbabwe from a transmitter in Botswana on the AM signal and by shortwave.” Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 26, 2005. In an April 5, 2007 report, the US Department of State revealed that it had worked to expand the listener base of Voice of America’s Studio 7 radio station. On SW Radio Africa see .
    19. See Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes’ false statements on Zimbabwe and Woza,” What’s Left, September 30, 2008.
    20. In 2000, the (British Parliament’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy) provided the MDC with $10 million. Herald (Zimbabwe), September 4, 2001 cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “WFD has been involved in over 80 projects aiding the MDC, and helped plan election strategy. It also provides funding to the party’s youth and women’s groups.” Herald (Zimbabwe), January 2, 2001, cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “In a clandestinely filmed interview, screened in Australia on February 2002 on the SBS Dateline program, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was caught on camera admitting that his organization was financed by European governments and corporations, the money being channelled through a British firm of political consultants, BSMG.” Rob Gowland, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,” Communist Party of Australia; Civil society groups “and the Movement for Democratic Change…have broad Western support, and, often, financing.” New York Times, December 24, 2004; The International Republican Institute, the international arm of the Republican Party, “is using (the US State Department’s) USAID and the US embassy in Harare to channel support to the MDC, circumventing restrictions of Zimbabwe’s Political Parties Finance Act. Herald (Zimbabwe) August 12, 2005; USAID bankrolls sixteen civil society organizations in Zimbabwe, with emphasis on supporting the MDC’s parliamentary activities. “Zimbabwe Program Data Sheet,” U.S. Agency for International Development, cited in Gregory Elich, Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit, Llumina Press, 2006; “USAID has a long and successful history of working with Zimbabwe’s civil society, democratic political parties, the Parliament and local government.” Testimony of Katherine Almquist, USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa, The Crisis in Zimbabwe and Prospects for Resolution. Subcommittee on African Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, July 15, 2008.

    From the MDC’s 2008 policy platform: The MDC does not believe that government should be involved in running businesses and it will restore title in full to all companies; Private enterprise in general, and industry in particular, will be the engine of economic growth in a new Zimbabwe; The MDC government will remove price controls and reverse the coercive indigenization proposals recently adopted; (An MDC government will show) an unwavering commitment to:
    * The safety and security of individual and corporate property rights.
    * Opening industry to foreign direct investment and the unfettered repatriation of dividends.
    * The repeal of all statutes that inhibit the establishment and maintenance of a socio-economic environment conducive to the sustained growth and development of the industrial sector.
    The MDC will…(open)…up private sector participation in postal and telecommunication services; (The MDC believes) the private sector is in a better position to finance new development and respond to customer needs (in telecommunications); (An MDC government will) look into…the full privatization of the electronic media.

    According to progressive scholar Patrick Bond: “…very quickly, what had begun as a working-class party … was hijacked by international geopolitical forces, domestic (white) business and farming interests, and the black petite bourgeoisie.” Noah Tucker, “In the Shadow of Empire,” 21st Century Socialism, August 3, 2008,
    21. The “IRI held a workshop for Tsvangirai’s shadow government at which each shadow minister presented and defended his/her policy positions. A panel of technical experts grilled presenters on the technical content of their policies.” US State Department report. See Stephen Gowans, “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008.
    22. Campbell.
    23. That Campbell thinks there’s any possibility of the MDC being budged from its neo-liberal position shows that he should spend less time worrying about whether others are falling for Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and more time worrying about whether he has fallen for the rhetoric of the MDC and its imperialist backers. The nascent MDC appointed an official of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Eddie Cross, as its Secretary of Economic Affairs. In a speech delivered shortly after his appointment, Cross articulated the MDC economic plan. “First of all, we believe in the free market. We do not support price control. We do not support government interfering in the way people manage their lives. We are in favor of reduced levels of taxation. We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.” Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe’s Plunge – Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Merlin Press, 2002.

    A policy paper issued by the party in 2000 spelled out its plans to attract “foreign direct investment…on a substantial scale.” The party planned to: “Appoint a “fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies”; “Privatize all designated parastatals [public companies] within two years”; Encourage “foreign strategic investors … to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatized.”
    “Social and Economic Policies for a New Millennium,” MDC policy paper, May 26, 2000.

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