Oiling up to Obiang

COUPLE of photos in the Herald caught our eye. First there was a picture of v

isiting Equatorial Guinea president Teodoro Obiang Nguema at the Victoria Falls. The Herald captioned their pic of Obiang in dark glasses as “Natural Wonder” although, on reflection, this could have referred to the Falls.

Couldn’t the Guinean leader have removed the shades for just a few seconds? Does he want us to mistake him for one of the late Papa Doc Duvalier’s tonton macoutes?

It must be said in all the reports we have read of Equatorial Guinea, it does seem a bit like Haiti on a bad day.
Firstly it is as hot as hell. Tropical, dank and unforgiving. Secondly it is one of Africa’s most repressive states. The present leader came to power by overthrowing his uncle, we gather, who subsequently died in mysterious circumstances.

The country is a police state where every wall has ears. The government was accused of rigging elections for the presidency in 1996 and the legislature in 1999.

The other pic which caught our eye was that of the two presidents receiving garlands from young girls at the airport. The two leaders looked uncannily similar. Do you think for one minute any of those well-wishers at the airport had heard of Equatorial Guinea? And will Obiang cough up any oil?

We somehow doubt it. As we found out with Libya and Iran, solidarity has its limits. Unless President Mugabe can show Obiang the colour of his money there is unlikely to be any black gold flowing his way.

In any case, nearly all the big oil companies operating in Equatorial Guinea are American. There are weekly flights from Malabo to Houston!

Needless to say, ZTV gave the state visit lavish coverage, only too thankful to have a visitor of any sort. But somebody should tell Reuben Barwe and the Herald that the “mercenaries” intercepted in Harare were not convicted of trying to stage a coup against the Obiang regime. The state could only manage charges of violating the Aviation and Immigration Acts!

Obiang said the visit would provide him with an opportunity to see “the great efforts you are putting into raising the standards of living of your people”.

Evidently he didn’t take his shades off at any point!

He toured the Zanu PF headquarters, we are told, another wonder of the ancient world. And he saw some other crocodiles at the Vic Falls.

Talking of crocodiles, the latest joke going around town is: if approached at your gate by carjackers, for goodness sake show them your MDC card.

Delusional thinking continues in the tourism sector which suffered a 49% decline last year. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chair Emmanuel Fundira attributed the decline to negative publicity from the Western press. But he felt things would pick up this year.

“We had a host of problems during the year under review which include a hyperinflationary environment, weak economy, fuel shortages and bad publicity,” he revealed.

The erosion of disposable incomes had also had an impact, he said. But with the “conclusion of the land reform” and “improvement of relationships with traditional source markets”, he expected to see an improvement in the sector’s fortunes.

Did he not hear the president’s remarks about whites and about Tony Blair and George Bush at Winston Changara’s burial? What improvement does he expect with those traditional source markets?

And at what point was the land reform programme “concluded”? Inflation has presumably come tumbling down has it, and the economy is no longer “weak”?

Where do they find these people?

Also becoming increasingly delusional, President Mugabe told a state dinner hosted for President Obiang that Zimbabwe would stand by its principles.

“Those opposed to our principles have enlisted the services of like-minded countries and their leaders, and deceitfully and dishonestly used the media, vilifying us as undemocratic because we have dared to put the interests of the poor and downtrodden first,” he said.

Isn’t it exactly the opposite: that his misguided policies have impoverished millions? That he has created the misery that he bitterly resents the press publishing? How else do we describe the impact of Operation Murambatsvina and the state’s response to criticism from the UN?

He was applauded by the hundreds of government officials attending the banquet, news agencies report.

Of course he was. The gravy train is the best place to be. We can imagine those chefs gulping down their food as the legions of the poor were kept at bay. Viva Equatorial Guinea!

Nathaniel Manheru, the oily spokesman for an oil-less regime, lashed out again at the Zimbabwe Independent last week accusing us of taking orders from our proprietor in the debate around Geoff Nyarota’s recent op/ed forays. And he had the cheek to talk about ethics!

For a newspaper whose circulation and influence he scorns he does spend an inordinate amount of time in his column responding to us. Not content with inventing sales figures for the paper (he was probably mixing us up with the Southern Times), he accuses the Independent of “writing letters to itself”.

This is evidently what they do at papers under his control! There are plenty of people ready to testify as to their bona fides as Independent letter-writers so long as Manheru tells us who all those “Patriots” are writing to the Herald.

Manheru can see Trevor Ncube’s hand behind the criticism of Nyarota. Does it really require Ncube’s intervention to take issue with Nyarota’s “excellent credentials” during his tenure at the Chronicle?

Geoff meanwhile will probably regard Manheru’s defence as less than helpful as he struggles to maintain his “credentials” ahead of publication of his magnum opus, Against The Grain.

We look forward very much to reading it but Geoff must promise not to write his own reviews.

Still on Manheru. Why is he so bitter that former Liberian leader Charles Taylor has been turned over to face the music for his sins while in power? He says Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo should have followed Zimbabwe’s example in refusing to surrender the fugitive Mengistu Haile Mariam to the Ethiopian authorities. Is that the view of Zimbabweans, that hiding human rights violators is in the interests of “pan-Africanism”?

What does he find so lovable in Idi Amin that he must thank Saudi Arabia for refusing to hand him over to the Ugandan authorities?

And why should Manheru be so worried about leaders like Obasanjo who are prepared to hand dictators responsible for human rights violations over to the international courts? Does he know something we don’t?

We also enjoyed his delusional thesis that “Africans” readily forgive and yearn for the return of their ousted “tormentors” rather than accept change. In its disembodied form, the thesis could pass for some thought process. But it ignores the longevity of the “tormentor” and the cult that he creates to make himself appear indispensable. For it would be a strange people that were “incapable of imagining” freedom.

Did Swedish ambassador Sten Rylander really say that sanctions against Zimbabwe should be “lifted immediately because they are hurting the ordinary people and not serving any purpose”?

That was the introductory paragraph to a story carried in the Sunday News, and reproduced in the Sunday Mail, last weekend. But nowhere in the story was there any evidence for such a bold declaration that contradicts Sweden’s adherence to the EU common position. In fact Rylander said that “ultimately” and “eventually” sanctions must be removed once Zimbabwe had “come to a normal situation”.

Not quite the same thing is it?

One veteran ambassador told us it usually takes new heads of mission six months to wise up.

“They arrive here all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed thinking Zimbabwe’s problems are amenable to sensible discussion and resolution,” the envoy said. “But give them six months of bashing their head against a brick wall and they soon see the light.”

Or stars!

Muckraker was intrigued by an article in the Herald saying suspended Chitungwiza mayor Misheck Shoko will soon appear before a disciplinary committee to answer charges of misconduct being levelled against him. The inquiry, we were told, will give him an opportunity to respond to allegations and findings made by the initial investigating committee led by Joseph Macheka and presented to the Ministry of Local Government.

Is that the same Joseph Macheka who lost the Chitungwiza mayorship to Shoko in the 2003 election? In other words, the losing Zanu PF candidate, who obviously has an axe to grind and is therefore unlikely to provide an impartial finding, is appointed by the minister to investigate the man who unseated him?

This violates elementary tenets of governance and is so obviously partisan as to beggar belief. But this is how we conduct our affairs in Zimbabwe today. And nobody seems to notice. By the way, what became of the bullbars Cde Macheka?

Given the solidarity being expressed by some of the regime’s more recidivist spokesmen for the late Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, Muckraker was interested to read of the graffiti campaign in Belgrade that helped bring him down. It consisted of two simple words that had a self-fulfilling impact. Those two words? “He’s finished”. There was never a need to say who.

You can imagine the depths of despondency to which a tyrant’s heart might sink on peering out of his tinted motorcade windows to see those simple words daubed on every wall!

Journalists must always beware of being hoodwinked by influential players in both the public and private sectors. A healthy dose of scepticism and an instinct for enquiry should form part of any self-respecting scribe’s equipment.

We need to remind ourselves of this as the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, an agency with close ties to the government and ruling party, is luring visitors to Zimbabwe to see for themselves how all the country’s difficulties are the product of a hostile Western press.

There have been visits from delegations of Malaysian and Chinese journalists and more are expected from France. Some appear to need little convincing.

“We read from the international media a lot of negative things about Zimbabwe, about the country being on the brink of collapse,” said Ravin Ravichandran, head of the Malaysian media delegation. “There is nothing like that. These are negatives that deserve to be corrected.”

Indeed they do. But exactly how far were the Malaysians able to see beyond the comfortable resorts they visited and the government spokesmen they met?

Did they speak to any victims of Murambatsvina? Did they speak to any of the women from Woza about their experience in jail? Indeed, did they manage to escape from their ZTA minders and speak to any non-governmental organisations during their stay?

The collapse of commercial agriculture and 1 000% inflation are not inventions of the Western press, nor are repressive laws designed to prevent criticism of the president. We reported last week a motorist in Harare being brutally assaulted because he did not pull over in time as the presidential motorcade passed.

These are Zimbabwean realities.

Ravichandran and his colleagues should remember the one golden rule of journalism: Don’t allow yourself to be used!

Governor of Midlands Cephas Msipa on Wednesday added a bit of fun to the usually drab and tedious Good Morning Zimbabwe newsreel on ZBH’s SFM. Responding to questions on progress made towards the construction of the Gweru Hospital mortuary, the governor said: “The mortuary is alive and well.”

He then went on to give a list of people who were in the mortuary including Zanu PF politicians and MDC Gweru executive mayor Sesel Zvidzai. “They are all in there and they are happy to be in there,” the governor told us.

If they are all in the mortuary, we wonder who is working on the project!

Those who have not read New Ziana’s community newspapers are missing a great literary treat. Muckraker recently came across this line in one of their Bulawayo editions: “Residents of Cowdray Park are living in fear of being mould (sic) by an alleged lion . . .” More nuggets from the community papers next week.