PITIABLE Zimbabwean spin-doctors have had their tails up over the past 10 days. They are getting their own back against the US government. Like all mean-spirited cowards, they have b
een celebrating the United States’ failure to deliver humanitarian assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina which struck New Orleans last week.
The Zimbabwean government could not miss an opportunity to put the boot in on the fallen giant which, despite its vast resources, reacted slowly in evacuating those trapped on roof-tops and struggled to deliver food and water to thousands of refugees on flooded streets.
Black activists saw streaks of racism in the handling of the tragedy by President George Bush surmising that the response was slow because the afflicted are mostly black. Critics of the war in Iraq say if more troops were at home, they could have been mobilised to help move supplies and save lives.
Our presidential spokesman could not miss the fun.
“The US has experienced its own tsunami and we have seen the ineptitude of their relief agencies in dealing with the situation,” said George Charamba in an article in the Herald on Saturday.
Then there was the paper’s political editor Caesar Zvayi on Tuesday trying to draw parallels between Hurricane Katrina and Mugabe’s infamous Operation Murambatsvina. “Do I hear sceptics say Operation Murambatsvina was man-made and New Orleans is natural? Wrong,” wrote Zvayi. “New Orleans is man-made as can be seen from the way the US government settled over a low-lying area dangerously close to the Atlantic coast that is always ravaged by hurricanes.”
No sympathy here. And a striking ignorance of the city’s history which had more to do with France than the US government.
The difference between Operation Murambatsvina and Hurricane Katrina is seen in the world’s response to the tragedies. Both presidents Mugabe and Bush have been pilloried for their handling of the crisis in their respective countries. Bush appears to have taken more punches both at home and abroad. But is it not amazing that America’s foes like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela – whose president Hugo Chavez has described American “neo-liberal capitalism” as “hell on earth” – are among the list of countries that have offered assistance?
Not only has the crisis blurred longstanding ideological differences, but it has also turned rich-poor politics on its head. Tiny nations like the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Armenia are among three-score countries that have pledged to send aid. Sri Lanka, which was last year hit by a tsunami, will also assist the world’s richest nation. The poor assisting the rich; this is how powerful the forces of nature are.
“I hope that will remind Americans that we are all part of the same community,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted by AP as saying last Friday. Are we, when in July President Bush resisted British prime minister Tony Blair’s ambitious goals for aid to Africa?
The United States has a history of financing international relief efforts in the event of disasters. It however lags behind other rich nations in providing aid commensurate with its fortunes. Bush has said the US will double aid to poor countries to US$8,6 billion by 2010. After the gesture by poor nations to help, there should be greater pressure on Bush to revise the figure upwards.
Rice said contributions from poor countries were being accepted because “it is very valuable for people being able to give to each other and to be able to do so without a sense of means”.
Compare this statement by Rice to Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the United Nations Boniface Chidyausiku’s reaction to the UN’s attempts to mobilise assistance for victims of Operation Murambatsvina.
He said the countries the UN would seek money from “are the countries that are very vocal in trying to bring a regime change to Zimbabwe”.
Charamba supports this view. “Despite strained relations, the US was clamouring to help Zimbabwe to gain cheap political mileage outside its frontiers.”
This is partly the reason why the international community, including Zimbabwe’s so-called friends, has not responded quickly and favourably to our crisis. Those coming to help are frisked at the gate to ensure they are not agents of regime change. All sorts of concerns are raised as to why they want to help. The quest by Cuba and Venezuela to help the United States is testimony that the world has long stopped operating on the basis of friend or foe, especially in dealing with disasters. But our rulers just love to preside over poverty in the name of sovereignty.
All the same, Zimbabwe has an obligation to help the multitudes afflicted by Katrina. We await the swearing in of a team to mobilise assistance to help as we did when the tsunami struck Indonesia in December. Come on George, get the Tsunami Committee working again. Show us you’re not just full of hot air!