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.


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