Thursday, December 21, 2017
Coups and History: An Interview on Zimbabwe
By Brenan Daniels
This is a transcript of a recent interview I did with Abayomi Azikiwe of Pan African Newswire and Nefta Freeman, an Analyst and Events Coordinator for the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a longtime organizer in the Pan-African and international human rights movement, 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, on the recent coup on Zimbabwe, putting it in current and historical context.
1. The coup in Zimbabwe seemed to happen all of a sudden. What were the events leading up to it?
Abayomi Azikiwe: These factional dispute within the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ruling party have been coming to a head for over three years. With the expulsion of the former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her supporters in Dec. 2014, the stage was set for an intensified struggle between those aligned with the now Interim President Emmerson D. Mnangagwa on the one side and the forces surrounding First Lady Grace Mugabe on the other.
The Generation 40 Group aligned with the First Lady appeared to be gaining the upper hand when the-then Vice President Mnangagwa was expelled during early Nov.
Nonetheless, the Lacoste Group, the supporters of Mnangagwa, had strong backing within the military and this was the determining aspect of the struggle which shifted power toward the current leadership group. On the surface the conflict appeared to be an internal struggle within the ruling party itself although there have been suggestions and some documented proof that outside interests such as the United States and Britain may have played a role as well in forcing the resignation of President Robert Mugabe. It was quite interesting that the Voice of America reported on Nov. 21 that the State Department had already outlined the terms for the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Whether the sanctions are actually lifted will remain to be seen. There have been western business-friendly statements made by some officials of the current leadership within the party such as a willingness to compensate the British settlers for land confiscated in 2000; the scaling down of government personnel including ministerial portfolios; the amendments already made to the indigenization policy; and the potential for Zimbabwe re-entering the Commonwealth.
Nefta Freeman: Some are disputing use of the term coup given that it doesn't fit other historical examples of coups in Africa. But getting into that would be too much and would deviate from the question.
First, nothing of this nature can happen all of a sudden. The context might be a little too complicated to explain in this interview but a synopsis seems to be that this was the culmination of power struggles within the ruling party ZANU PF that have been brewing since at least 2015 or 14. Contributing factors to their acuteness are the economic tensions largely due to imperialist sanctions imposed on the country and concerns over who would succeed the aging President Robert Mugabe now 93.
It should be no wonder that tensions about succession would arise and intensify.
As they say politics abhors a power vacuum. Factions formed, one delineated as a younger strain of ZANU PF party members known as G40 or Generation 40, led by Grace Mugabe and the other being the old guard of members many of whom fought in the liberation struggle for independence led by one of two Vice-presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Some very contentious politburo meetings ensued with accusations being leveled against one another of plots to force a government take over. The tensions led President Mugabe to depose Mnangagwa of his post. This seemed to set off what seemed to be a contingency plan already in place by Mnangagwe and Defense Commander Constantino Chiwenga to use the military to constrain the police forces and anyone under the influence of G40. Then assume control of the various levers of the government.
I can't pretend to know which of the factions (G40 or Team Lacoste, as the other is known) were motivated by the more altruistic concerns or revolutionary principles. The lessons for African and the struggling world are many. What we do know now is that after initially holding out, Mugabe has resigned.
2. Generally Mugabe is seen as a dictator. Can you shed some light on who exactly Mugabe is?
Abayomi Azikiwe: President Mugabe's position in modern African history is secured as a liberation movement leader, progressive governmental head-of-state and an ideological contributor to the African revolutionary struggle for Pan-Africanism, Anti-imperialism and Socialist-orientation. Mugabe worked as an educator and youth leader during his younger years. In the 1960s he was imprisoned by the settler-colonial regime of Rhodesia for ten years. After being released in 1974 during an internal crisis within ZANU, he was able to steer the liberation movement to victory by 1979-1980.
After gaining independence in April 1980, he presided over a government of reconciliation and transition for five years as prime minister. The 1985 constitution made Mugabe president and by late 1987 he along with Joshua Nkomo, considered the "father of the movement", who headed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), merged the two groups into ZANU-PF which ended the initial instability which occurred in Matebeleland in the early 1980s after independence where a rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) Fifth Brigade. The reconciliation with Nkomo was historic and can serve as a model for African governance moving forward.
The 2000 Land Reclamation program was key in consolidating the genuine independence of the country. However, it drew the ire of western imperialism which imposed sanctions that hampered the capacity for economic growth and development. In addition, the advent of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) parallels the land redistribution program debates and enactment from 1998-2000. MDC has been funded by the West along with other groups in a failed effort to reverse the independence process. These methods have failed due to the incompetence of the opposition leaders largely stemming from their lack of support among the people and gross opportunism.
Nefta Freeman: I can't agree with that. Generally seen by whom as a dictator? I do know that the West consistently refers the leaders of countries that do not bow to them economically and politically as dictators.
But if a dictator is defined as a ruler with total power over a country then how can one be a dictator in a country with a parliamentary system constitutionally consisting of Executive, Judiciary and Legislative structures? This is what has been in Zimbabwe. And on top of that it's been a multi-party system? Even if accusations were true that the system has been manipulated to give disproportionate power to Mugabe, it can’t be said that he held total power.
But to answer your question who is Mugabe; Robert Mugabe was the son of a carpenter and as a youth attended Roman Catholic mission schools. He won a scholarship to go to a Black University in South Africa where he achieved the first of his 6 degrees in one year and became an African nationalist. He returned home to what was then called Rhodesia to teach for 4 years before going to teach and study in Ghana and becoming influenced by Kwame Nkrumah.
Once he returned to Zimbabwe he involved himself in African nationalist politics advocating revolution through non-violent direct action, propaganda, and civil disobedience. At that time he considered himself a Marxist and staunch anti-racist. In the early years of the struggle he was arrested several times by the white minority regime. In a 1965 government crack down on the African nationalist movement Mugabe was incarcerated for 10 years without trial. While in prison he taught and also earned 3 law degrees.
During this time was when he and his comrades determined that armed struggle was the only way to liberation. After his release he was given refuge by the new revolutionary government in Mozambique where he founded ZANLA, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army with many of his former fellow political prisoners and entered into the fray. ZANU, the Zimbabwe African National Union was formed later as the political arm.
To make a long story short, in 1979 the Rhodes as they were referred to were forced to the negotiation table in Lancaster. After the Lancaster House Agreement established elections for a new president in 1980 in which Africans ran for office, Mugabe won in a landslide victory.
3.Talk about how the economic situation has changed and deteriorated over the past several years.
Abayomi Azikiwe: Zimbabwe has been hampered through the sanctions imposed by the United States, Britain and the European Union. There have been discussions held with Washington for a number of years around lifting the sanctions particularly after the acceptance of a Global Political Agreement and coalition government after the disputed 2008 national elections. Yet despite the bringing of opposition forces into the government between 2008-2013, the U.S., Britain and EU have maintained the sanctions.
This clearly reveals that the ultimate objectives of the sanctions were to either topple ZANU-PF or drastically shift the domestic and foreign policy of Zimbabwe. The impact of the sanctions have been compounded by the worst drought in recent history which exists throughout the entire Southern Africa region. Also there has been a precipitous decline in commodity prices over the last three years that was a direct result of U.S. economic policy under the administration of President Barack Obama. Prices are starting to rise again in the energy and strategic mineral industries.
Zimbabwe has large deposits of diamonds and platinum. Consequently, the imperialists are set on gaining favorable terms for any long term economic relationships with Zimbabwe and other states in the sub-continent.
Nefta Freeman: Yes there is hyper-inflation and high unemployment and the value of currency is very precarious. But what is often missing from the explanation are the effects of the EU, UK and US sanctions legislation explicitly designed to damage the economy. This is done by denying any extension of credit and loans to the government or any balance of payment assistance from international financial institutions. The sanctions also actively dissuade investments in, or trading with the country. All this has had devastating effects on the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe in multitude of ways, a fact that Western media and liberal progressive pundits never fail to ignore.
I'm not denying that there is some mismanagement and corruption. The government officials in ZANU PF and Mugabe himself acknowledge it but this is not to blame for the magnitude of the economic problems. The economic warfare that had been being waged against Zimbabwe also included denying it access to foreign exchange which is needed to carry out diverse international business transactions.
4. There has been some talk of China possibly giving the green light to the coup plotters, what are your thoughts on this?
Abayomi Azikiwe: I have not seen any evidence that China was involved in the military intervention and the resignation of President Mugabe. Typically Beijing does not get involved in the internal affairs of African states. China is a large trading partner with Zimbabwe and its assistance along with the neighboring Republic of South Africa and Republic of Mozambique have been essential in maintaining stability in Harare. Relations between the People's Republic China, the ruling Communist Party of China, and ZANU-PF goes back to the era of the national liberation war. These ties have been maintained, strengthened and enhanced over the years since independence.
Nefta Freeman: This seems a mischaracterization.
As we know China has a strong and long relationship with Zimbabwe in many economic areas. And it has been further strengthened by ZANU's "Look East Policy" in response to the belligerence of the West toward them. Mnangagwa and General Chiwenga were simply assuring that China would not feel compelled by a change of forces to interfere in Zimbabwe's internal affairs and that the diplomatic and economic relationship would remain.
5. It was reported recently by the Australian Broadcasting Company that Zimbabwe is looking to go back into the British Commonwealth. Why would they do that? What about giving the white farmers back land?
Abayomi Azikiwe: Zimbabwe under President Mugabe in 2002 did not leave the Commonwealth voluntarily. They were in effect expelled. London set terms for their return and these conditions were rejected by ZANU-PF. These are colonial institutions. ZANU-PF has developed a "Look East" policy. The objectives are to build economic relations with other African states, countries in Asia and Latin America. This is the future of the world. Britain is facing a tremendous crisis due to the vote by the electorate to withdraw from the EU in June 2016.
There maybe an attempt to re-enter the Commonwealth under Interim President Mnangagwa. Nevertheless, what will Zimbabwe have to sacrifice in order to re-enter this declining system? There are many other former British colonies in Africa who are Commonwealth members yet their people remain impoverished and uneducated. Zimbabwe has the largest literacy rate in Africa where over 95 percent of the people can read and write. This is a monumental achievement of the Revolution.
Nefta Freeman: First on the land question, no one could give back the land to the white farmers even if they wanted to. That process is past the point of no return. Besides doing that would be the easiest way to get the country to revolt against the new dispensation. The media is fond of showing images in the urban areas, particularly Harare the capital, of what are basically opposition forces to ZANU and Mugabe. But the majority of the population is in the rural areas, which are also the areas that benefitted most directly from the 2000 fast track land redistribution.
What Emmerson Mnangagwa did say was that the land reform would remain untouched but that they would continue to compensate the white farmers for certain upgrades they made to farms. That part really wasn't anything new and had already been part of the 2000 fast track land reclamation process.
About the British Commonwealth, I don't know. I've been hearing that said but not yet from the leaders of the new dispensation themselves. Every time i read it is Europeans saying that they would welcome them back if they meet certain conditions. If they are looking into it, i would be careful that we not have a knee-jerk reaction to it, as if that in and of itself is a sellout move. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonweath in 2002 based on imperialist hegemonic demonization that claimed among other things that Zimbabwe elections weren't free and fair. But this is bull for two reasons.
One is that those elections were certified by independent electoral observes, including a delegation of the NAACP that drafted a detailed report on how fair those elections were. The second reason is the West doesn't really care about democracy in other countries. They will invade and over throw democratic countries.
But many people, myself included, applauded Mugabe's response to them suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. He basically said Africans don’t need the approval of Europeans and then left the body all together. But because Member states have no legal obligation to one another and there are some benefits to being a part of it, like in trade agreements and working together to cooperate on things like migration policies for instance, I don't think it should be seen as principled position to stay out of it. It has a different history than the OAS, Organization of American States but essentially serves the same purpose. Countries just need to make sure rejoining is not based on compromising its sovereignty and revolutionary or socialist principles.
This is actually is the area that I am concerned about in the new developments
6. What are your thoughts on what lie with the future of Zimbabwe?
Abayomi Azikiwe: This will depend on the policies coming out of the interim government between now and the elections slated for mid-2018. If the Party maintains its legacy it will do well in the elections. However, the imperialists now perceive an opening and will utilize the current situation in an attempt to influence domestic and foreign policy. As I have outlined in a previous report, there are four areas which are significant in assessing the direction of events in Zimbabwe.
The land question, indigenization, the country's commitments to regional institutions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), and the role of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The developments in Zimbabwe should be a lesson as well for the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. There are factional problems within ANC and the imperialists along with their allies within the opposition parties inside the country are seeking to overthrow the ANC using similar methods.
Therefore, the situation in Southern Africa is at a critical stage and the next year will be important as it involves the region and the continent as a whole.
Nefta Freeman: It is still too early to determine what lies ahead and to know where the heads are of those who have assumed leadership of the country. I’m very concerned over some things we're seeing. All the imperialist countries that have had Zimbabwe in their crosshairs are now pledging to help with economic recovery and sending emissaries to the country etc.
The new leadership seems to be working toward re-establishing dealings with institutions of neo-colonialism, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These institutions are notorious for imposing their "economic structural adjustment programs" (ESAPs) on underdeveloped countries. These programs obligate countries to surrender to foreign trade relations tilted to benefit multi-national corporate interests, like privatization of public goods and services, deregulations, wage caps, and all sorts of things not in the interest of the masses.
It is hard to pass judgment on the leaders for the decisions they make. I am not in the predicament they are in and don't know what decisions i would make if actually in their shoes. But history teaches us that Imperialism does not make such commitments unless they are certain that their economic interests are secured. So what is being worked out behind closed doors concerns me. I do think that peace and justice loving people outside of Zimbabwe should take the principled stand for the unconditional lifting of sanctions and for her people's right to national self-determination.