Sunday, August 19, 2007

Shame on all SADC leaders

What transpired at the SADC heads of state summit in Lusaka last week has left me wondering whether south African leaders know exactly what is going on in Zimbabwe or they are just so blinded with their love (or is it fear) of President Robert Mugabe that they just don’t care.

How on earth could Zambian president, Levy Mwanawasa say problems in Zimbabwe are being “exaggerated”?

How can anyone exaggerate hunger affecting 3-4 million people; 80% unemployment; more than 5,000% inflation; 3-4 million Zimbabweans exiled; hundreds of opposition and civic activists beaten up, tortured, jailed and killed? How possible is it to embellish that when most of these statistics are churned out by none other than the government or its agencies?

Mwanawasa should know better. Not long ago his own country was in a situation not even as bad as what is prevailing in Zimbabwe. But he is president now because long-time president (for 27 years), Kenneth Kaunda, allowed free and fair elections that toppled him in a labour and civic-driven vote not unlike the one being suppressed in Zimbabwe.

Why then, Mwanawasa do you want to help suppress Zimbabweans from exercising what you benefited from? We thought you were your own man when you stood out and condemned Zimbabwe as “a sinking titanic”. How powerful is Mugabe’s hold on you?

As for South African president, Thabo Mbeki, I wonder whether we are really underestimating the thinking behind the so-called “quiet diplomacy”. Surely a country “burdened” by no less than three million Zimbabweans crossing over in thousands everyday, should actively and urgently seek a lasting solution to the troubled neighbour’s problems.

Unless, of course, Zimbabwe’s troubles and loss of its people is a massive economic gain to South Africa. One just has to look at how many Zimbabwean professionals are running South African hospitals, schools, newsrooms, companies and more. Could it be that Mr. Mbeki has realized that Zimbabwean exiles are worth more to him?

As for the rest of SADC leaders, well, I kind of sense jealousy. After all Zimbabwe is really an economic giant that is only slumbering. Should it be woken up to play, it will rule the commercial playground again in no time.

This is the only way I can rationalize what is going on in SADC about the Zimbabwe issue. Forget all this “solidarity with a brother state” nonsense. Forget the phony condemnation of Britain and the US and others. It is all about insecure regimes happy to have national and international attention on someone else not themselves.

Everybody knows what the real issue is in Zimbabwe. It is about a politically and economically suppressed nation. A nation needing relief from an 83-year-old khulu whose recycled ideas and personnel are just too spent to recharge a modern economy needing modern leadership and ideas.

It is not a personal issue against Mugabe or anybody. It is an urgent national and regional matter that needs to be addressed now.

Mandela, Kaunda, Nyerere, Nujoma and even Mugabe’s own idol, the late Kamuzu Banda let their countries free to seek new leaders. This is all we are asking for please, President Mugabe.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What report will Mbeki present in Lusaka?

This week all southern African eyes will be on Lusaka and particular attention will be on one man, South African president, Thabo Mbeki.

Thabo Mbeki will take centre position at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state and government summit as he is expected to give a report back on his mediation in the Zimbabwean political and economic crisis.

A lot of regional and international hope has been placed on Mbeki mostly because he is believed to be the only man Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe will listen to and co-operate with. And, this is the reason why, in my view, it should not surprise anyone if come end of summit, no tangible progress has been announced by Mbeki.

The fact that Mugabe lends his ears to Mbeki means that Mbeki too listens to Mugabe and I am not inventing anything here because the evidence is already there. Mbeki subscribes to Mugabe’s theory that Zimbabwe’s problems have been caused and exacerbated by Britain and its western allies and Zimbabwean political puppets.

Yes, Britain historically caused problems to Zimbabwe like it did to all its other former colonies including South Africa. However, I am not willing to buy that Britain exacerbated these problems alone with its so-called allies and puppets.

If Britain played a part in the escalation of Zimbabwe’s problems, it was in cahoots with the current Zanu PF government or in reaction to actions of the Zanu PF government.

What I mean is; Britain may have played part in the land chaos in Zimbabwe, but it did not influence or sponsor the subsequent economic rot and political persecution of the opposition and civic groups.

Nevertheless, Mbeki will not be expected to initiate and force Mugabe to see reason in redrawing the constitution and redressing the current injustices perpetrated on the nation by Mugabe’s government. Mugabe simply does not want that and what Mugabe does not want, Mbeki will not push for.

This is why recently the South African president announced that the main SADC goal is to ensure “free and fair” elections next year. He makes it sound like “free and fair” is a new catch phrase in Zimbabwe or the region.

The fact is that Zimbabwe has had “free and fair” elections since independence and SADC has been one organization that has always led the way in declaring Zimbabwean polls “free and fair” despite clear and mounting evidence to the contrary.

So, I wonder whether there is a new “free and fair” that Mbeki is talking about. We all know that unless something quite dramatic happens in the remaining months until March 2008, Zimbabwe will go to the polls, Zanu PF will win and Mbeki will declare a “free and fair” election.

Already the so-called talks have been beset with problems of Mugabe refusing to have the constitution discussed and his envoys not availing themselves for meetings. Word has it that not much really has been discussed except a few house-keeping matters.

So, I can predict what Mbeki’s report will say: “Progress has been made and continues to be made.”

Life goes on.


Calling CIDA---Hello, hello?

I have dealt with a number of both federal and provincial departments and I have been as satisfied as anybody could be with all except CIDA.

I have since come to the conclusion that guys at CIDA are reluctant to respond to enquiries and my writing about this comes from being frustrated three times in less than a year.

On Monday, July 23, I received a news piece from Voice of America that Canada had donated $3.3 million worth of food to Zimbabwe. The story did not have much detail, so on Tuesday I called CIDA for more information.

A media officer, Jinette Thibodeau answered my call and after I told her that I would appreciate an answer by the end of the day, she promised to do her best. She had not answered by the following day and I followed up. She said she had forwarded my request and was still waiting for answers which should come by the end of that day.

Nothing happened for more than a week until Friday, August 3 when I called and left a message registering my disappointment. Ms. Thibodeau called back and said she too was waiting for answers but promised again that answers would be provided by the end of that day.

Nothing came my way until Monday, August 6 when a brief answer restating what I already knew came via e-mail from Greg Scott, Chief of Media Relations.

Needless to say the editor I had pitched this story to had already lambasted me for promising what I could not deliver. To make matters worse, the information provided by Greg Scott left me where I started off, meaning I would have to call CIDA, again, and repeat the questions I wanted answered.

I gave up just like I did late last year when I was part of a group of journalists seeking funding for a project. We wanted to apply to CIDA which has such programs as the Mass Media Initiative and Journalism Development Initiative.

We called and e-mailed CIDA several times and all we got were voicemails which promised to respond to us promptly if we left detailed messages. We did but for weeks we never got any answers until May or June (more than six months later), when I received an e-mail informing me that our application had not been approved. I had forgotten we sought help from CIDA.

In March, after the release of the Senate report recommending that CIDA be closed because it had only done work worth 20% of its $12.4 billion budget for Africa in 38 years, I attended a meeting at the University of Ottawa, on aid to Africa and the future of CIDA.

Participants were hoping CIDA would answer questions but a lady who identified herself as a CIDA worker said she was there in her personal capacity.

“Do not expect an answer from CIDA,” she said and everybody there seemed to accept that it was in fact the way CIDA operated. Well, I still tried to seek comment but my call was not returned.

Still I defended CIDA because I really believe in the work they do in Africa, insignificant as it may seem to Canadian Senators. But the shoddy treatment I have received from CIDA every time I seek information is making me wonder whether I was too quick to defend them.

From talking with other people who deal with CIDA regularly, among them diplomats and journalists, it appears I am not the only one to be treated shabbily by this public institution and I wonder why.