Thursday, May 10, 2007

Don't forget Zim land issue in Blair's legacy

AS British Prime Minister, Tony Blair counts down his days in office, his legacy is already being written by many a writer.

As far as most of the world is concerned, Blair will be remembered as the Prime Minister who ended the age-old conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

He will also be remembered as the Prime Minister who became a friend indeed to a US President (George W. Bush) who was fast running out of allies as he invaded Iraq on false charges of developing weapons of mass destruction.

But this is not all he should be remembered for. People in Africa – Zimbabwe precisely, will remember him as the British Prime Minister who dared tell President Robert Mugabe off, helping spark an economic and political crisis that has consumed the southern African nation all his entire tenure.

Zimbabweans do not forget that the main reason Zimbabwe’s independence was finally won around the table at Lancaster House rather than in the streets of Harare was because the British government promised to pay for land redistribution in Zimbabwe.

They did some of it under the so-called “willing-buyer, willing-seller” concept. The money stopped during the time of the last Conservative PM, John Major.

Then Blair came into power in 1997. He represented the Labour Party, traditionally the party that understood the feelings of the down-trodden. He would be better to deal with, Mugabe and his government thought until Mugabe met the 44-year-old new PM in Edinburgh where he hosted Heads of the Commonwealth.

It was touted as the highlight of the Summit. Mugabe brought up the issue of funding land redistribution and horror of horrors, Blair would have none of it.

Blair said Britain provided in excess of BP44 million since 1980, most of which went into the fat bellies of Mugabe’s political cronies.

“But promise is a credit,” argued Mugabe.

“Was I there when you were given that promise? I was in school and I do not honour promises I had nothing to do with,” countered the young PM.

It ranks as the only time anyone dared tell Mugabe off like that and the consequences are there for everyone to see.

Blair might have had a point that Britain provided money that had not been properly accounted for, but to pretend as if he did not know Britain’s obligations to Zimbabwe is criminal.

Much as we blame Mugabe for the chaos that resulted from his badly planned land redistribution exercise, Blair must shoulder some of the blame, if not in equal measure.

This is the reason why most African leaders would rather ignore Mugabe’s atrocities to his own people because they consider that he stood up for them.

However, this, of course, is now an issue for historians to argue. Blair is no longer a factor in the scheme of things as you read this comment. Gordon Brown is the man now.

I am sure Mr. Brown does not need anyone to tell him how important it is for him to approach the Zimbabwe issue more pragmatically than his soon to be predecessor.

Britain cannot afford to ignore its political and economic ties to Zimbabwe and a fresh start may help us all.


Mutambara sneaks into Canada

MDC faction leader, Arthur Mutambara snuck into Canada in the last week of April and secured a rare meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter MacKay in his Parliament Hill office.

The key words here are "snuck in" and "rare". For a national leader whose party boasts the majority of political Zim-Canucks, Mutambara's visit was somehow not communicated to anyone in the Zimbabwean community.

But much as this might surprise many, Zim-Canucks are the list bit fazed.You see, those Zim-Canucks who support the MDC identify themselves with the Morgan Tsvangirai faction so, they have no time for a robotic politician. Some middle of the road Zim-Canucks believe Mutambara is just not worth their time. The rest wouldn't have cared even if it was Tsvangirai or President Robert Mugabe who had come.

Still, for a man seeking to lead MDC to victory against Zanu (PF) and possibly lead the country, Mutambara acted as if there are no Zimbabweans here and that smacks of arrogance. A smart politician, especially one seeking support, would have sought even a single Zimbabwean family and be seen grinning, holding a baby and saying something like: "We are fighting for our children here to come back to a free country and play their part…"

That aside, Mutambara got a very rare meeting with the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, the second most important politician here. Such meetings do not just happen and given Canada's lukewarm response to the Zimbabwe crisis, Mutambara must be congratulated for securing that opportunity.

Now, when you get a one in a million chance, you have to throw in that card you know will win. In this case, Mutambara should have pressed MacKay to bring out his blazing gun of condemnation of Mugabe's human rights abuse and even promise to act on it.

Well, what does our robotic leader do, he asks for "technology transfer" when (or more precisely, if) he takes over power. How childish. No wonder MacKay responded by offering "moral support" and ushered Mutambara out of his office.

If I had been there, I would have said: "It is not robot science, AGO."Now, you may remember that a few weeks ago I mentioned that the local MDC branch was so dysfunctional that the chairman was contemplating quitting. Last week, he quit.

Vice chairman, Andrew Mudzingwa takes over the leadership in an interim capacity until an election is held in 90 days. Manyevere said his retirement followed extensive consultations with his executive and was driven by a desire to give a chance to "enthusiastic" young party members who wanted to lead. Smart move. Politics never seemed to be his calling and it definitely contradicted his teachings at the local Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church where he is a respected elder.

What's next for him? Watch this space.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Beating up lawyers is spitting in faces of African leaders

THE attack by Zimbabwean police officers on lawyers is a slap – no actually a phlegm-filled spit on African leaders’ kid’s glove diplomacy on President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF regime.

The insult to the African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) heads becomes even embarrassing because on the very day the lawyers were given a public flogging like delinquent neighborhood kids, the Pan African Parliament was sitting in South Africa to determine, among other issues, the way to handle the Zimbabwe crisis.

Even more embarrassing, AU chairman, President John Kufour of Ghana and SADC mediator, President Thabo Mbeki were also meeting with the former hoping to hear of progress in the Zimbabwe crisis talks.

To those who may not have known of the issue I am ranting about, here is a brief account:

On Tuesday a group of Zimbabwean lawyers went to the High Court to demonstrate in solidarity with two colleagues who had been arrested and detained on politically motivated charges.

When they gathered to demonstrate, they were told by the police to disperse and they were in the process of doing so when some police officers decided they were not walking fast enough.

"They physically forced us onto a truck drove about three or four kilometres and asked us to disembark. They asked us to lie on our stomachs and then they started assaulting us," said the Law Society of Zimbabwe's president, Beatrice Mtetwa.

According to other accounts, it appeared the police had found themselves something to amuse themselves with judging from how they ran around beating the lawyers like rowdy goats that strayed into a neighbour’s maize field.

How does President Mugabe hope to get sympathy for any of his arguments when his security people show such disrespect for human rights?

Exactly two months ago, it was the opposition and civic leaders who were attacked, resulting in a worldwide outcry that led to the emergency meeting of SADC leaders where Mbeki was chosen to lead talks between Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The government has maintained that Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleagues deserved to be beaten up because they had defied police orders not to politicize a prayer meeting.

What law did the lawyers break when they complied when they were ordered to disperse? Okay, let’s suppose they did actually break the law in some way, what does the policing rules say in the Constitution? Is there anywhere it says load the offenders on a truck, drive them out of town and proceed to beat them up?

These beatings are senseless to say the least. They tell a tale of fear within the core of the regime. They tell a tale of a cornered bully whose reaction to legitimate challenges is to lash out at anyone within reach.

Last September it was union leaders, what law did they break to deserve a beating? As for members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and their children, they have actually become target practice for an inept police force.

There are people who believe in President Mugabe’s argument over land and other “injustices of the west”. How convincing, President Mugabe, can you be to them when you continue bashing in the heads of your own people?

African leaders, how justified is the beating up of lawyers, unionists and women and children?

My question to you all at AU and SADC is: When are you going to say enough is enough?

Beating up people does not bring back land; neither does it stop Britain and America or even China from colonizing Zimbabwe if they want to. You are actually making it easy for them.