“SOME Africans still view the concern for human rights as a rich man’s luxury for which Africa is not ready, or even as a conspiracy imposed by the industrialised West. I find these thoughts demeaning — demeaning of the yearning for human dignit
y that resides in every African heart,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the opening of the 54th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on December 10, 1998.
“Do not mothers weep when their sons and daughters are killed or tortured by agents of oppressive rule? Do not African fathers suffer when their children are unjustly sent to jail? Is not Africa as a whole the poorer when just one of its voices is silenced? Human rights . . . are African rights. They are Asian rights; they are European rights; they are American rights. They belong to no government; they are limited to no continent, for they are fundamental to humankind itself.”
While the world marked Human Rights Day this year, the Zimbabwean parliament was railroading the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill designed to ban some civil society organisations, including human rights groups, that defend democracy and governance seen in Harare as Western and peripheral.
The Bill — which seeks to effectively criminalise the defence of human rights and democracy — will be complemented by a slew of other equally repressive legislative measures currently being bulldozed through parliament.
One of the proposed laws which will have a chilling effect on the civil and political liberties — freedoms of association, assembly and expression — is the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill.
It proposes up to 20 years in jail, heavy fines or both for anyone who publishes or communicates information deemed “prejudicial against the state”.
There is already a raft of suppressive legislation in existence. These include the Public Order & Security Act (Posa), the Broadcasting Services Act and the Access to Information & Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).
A Security of Communications Bill seeks to gag the Internet and snooping on telecommunications, including perhaps telephone eavesdropping.
The laws are calculated to suppress the remaining civil society and political voices. The civic movement has been a platform for debate and expression of the interests and demands of the people.
The media is already under authoritarian siege through Aippa, the BSA, Posa, and other archaic laws such as the Official Secrets Act. In the process, press freedom is drastically curtailed and democratic voices in their diversity are being suppressed.
Dozens of journalists have been arrested and systematically subjected to malicious prosecution. Three newspapers have so far been closed as government sought to revive its failed totalitarian project — whose key elements included a one-party state, command economy and a virtually closed society — of the 1980s.
Zimbabwe is simply becoming a police state.
At the centre of this unfolding dramatic political soap opera has been embattled Information minister Jonathan Moyo whose hobby had become hounding the independent media and free press journalists with reckless abandon.
The crackdown has been society-wide. Judges and magistrates have been attacked in public or in anonymous newspaper columns written in highly inflammatory and uncouth language unbefitting of government ministers.
The state media was re-engineered in Moyo’s image and the airwaves were saturated with his music, which he sought to impose on the population. This included his own carte du jour from his band PaxAfro.
In a bid to fill and dominate the public space, Moyo also organised music galas. He even roped in beauty queens and football teams in his project.
PaxAfro’s Back2Black album, launched with pomp and fanfare at the primary holiday resort town of Victoria Falls in July, suffused the airwaves. Taxpayers’ money was spent like confetti in the process.
Moyo squandered about $2 billion in his music activities. Some MPs said this was a criminal abuse of public funds and public office.
In the meantime, Moyo buried his rural home of Tsholotsho — whose name in Zanu PF circles is now synonymous with subversive political activities — under an avalanche of donations.
The rural area, hitherto seen as an archetype of underdevelopment, became a hectic growth point.
Latest computers, mobile telephone lines, advanced hospital equipment, beauty pageants, premier league football matches and possibly billions of dollars rained over the area — suddenly creating a development spectacle out of a rural backwater.
Moyo combined propaganda, hard work, donations, abuse of the state media, and political aggression to advance his interests. In his hawkish crusade, he always seemed to get what he wanted.
In all this, Moyo had his eyes firmly focused on winning the Tsholotsho parliamentary seat currently held by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
His motive was clear: to become an elected MP and a political gladiator, something which might have shaken off the derogatory “mafikizolo” (newcomer) tag currently attached to him and propelled him into Zanu PF’s exclusive, elite political club.
Some gullible individuals, including newspapers, began to even entertain an outrageously wild dream that Moyo would become president!
But just as Moyo — a know-it-all sham — thought his exponential rise had become irresistible and it was now fait accompli that he was going to storm into the top hierarchy of Zanu PF as he did after his dramatic volte-face four years ago — disaster struck.
Moyo had lost the plot. Tsholotsho, which looked as if it was certainly going to be his springboard to power, soon became his political graveyard.
Mugabe accused Moyo of convening an “illegal and clandestine” meeting at Dingane Secondary School to plot leadership changes without approval.
In no time Moyo had fallen from grace to grass. He was booted out of the Zanu PF central committee and politburo. Now he is hanging onto his cabinet post by his fingernails. As they say, the rest is history.
But before that, Moyo’s devastating propaganda exploits, which have prompted parallels with Joseph Goebbels, and his malign political influence, likened to Grigori Rasputin’s record of putting the Tsar into disrepute, had far-reaching ramifications for fundamental freedoms, human rights and democracy.
He defended in slapdash fashion the relentless assault against the media and his crusade to establish a de facto police state.
A police state is a political system where those in power use brute force largely by the police, intelligence agents, the military and even private armies or militias to control and dominate the population.
Essentially a police state is identified by its contempt for ordinary notions of the rule of law, as well as ignoring any idea of civil liberties.
It is the immediate power of the executive, or whomever controls the forces of repression or security apparatus, to inflict punishment — including death — on particular individuals or groups of people, without having to prove them guilty of breaking formally constituted laws in such a country.
As inevitable consequences of such political behaviour, police often wield unchecked power on their own behalf, as well as on behalf of their political masters, with resultant impunity and an even wider spreading of terror.
Moyo, reviled by friends and enemies alike, turned a revolution from being Mugabe’s acerbic critic to his bootlicking spin-doctor.
But now he faces the grim reality of dismissal and crashing out of office in ignominy.
After his somersault, Moyo, initially an independent-minded and a powerful academic, fiercely defended Mugabe left, right and centre. From being a critical scholar of repute, he became a master of spin and spleen.
He defended the indefensible, almost everything which he had opposed, and in the process damaged his credibility and intellectual reputation.
Moyo used to be a leading light in defence of democracy, human rights and press freedom but after his appointment as Mugabe’s spokesman he joined the forces of darkness in trampling on the same values.
Appointed minister in July 2000, he found himself in an invidious position of handling the contentious media law reform, while rebuilding the bridges his scorched earth policy during the abortive constitutional review process in 1999 had left in ruins.
In so doing, Moyo has broken the cardinal rule of spin-doctoring — diverting from the storyteller and becoming news himself.
He has failed to appreciate that dealing with the media is not like rocket science. It has its own ground rules and conventions, tricks of the trade and techniques.
For a start, Moyo seems not to understand his job description and that he cannot meaningfully defend Mugabe unless he is credible to the press.
Moyo’s former associate David Nyekorach-Matsanga, a Ugandan who acted as Mugabe’s publicist abroad, had this to say about the beleaguered spin-doctor:
“Moyo is a ranting and shallow-minded propagandist who has sapped the moral authority of the president.”
Although Matsanga’s comments could easily be dismissed for sour grapes because he made the comment after Moyo barred him from entering Zimbabwe, few would disagree that Moyo, like Rasputin, had simply become a symbol of evil.
No one — not even his sycophantic colleagues and his toadying embedded journalists — believes or takes him seriously anymore. As they say, the higher you climb the harder you fall!