Eric Bloch Column

Spin-doctors worsen economic collapse
By Eric Bloch


DURING the Second World War one of the most effective weapons in the Nazi armoury was its intensive propaganda machine, headed by Josef Goebbels. Adolf Hitler appointed him as Minister for Public Enli

ghtenment and Propaganda.  

The Encyclopaedia Britannica described Goebbels in that office by saying that “the full resources of the Reich became available to him for propaganda which he, lacking any moral code save that of a nihilist, organised without regard for truth or principle”.

While not having the same holocaustic objectives — although victims of the mid-1980s 5th Brigade actions in Matabeleland and those of Operation Murambatsvina a year ago may believe otherwise — Zimbabwe’s government has demonstrated over 26 years its recognition of the power of propaganda, and has unhesitatingly sought to use the power of the written word, of radio, of television and of many other communication vehicles to brainwash the Zimbabwean populace. To that end, it has controlled and monopolised the audio and visual broadcast media, and the major circulation daily and weekend newspapers.

Surprisingly, the state-controlled media has some extremely able journalists of great integrity who do not fit into the mould of a brainwashing operation.  But, very regrettably, there are very many who do not have such admirable characteristics, and who will write and say whatsoever they are directed to do and, when not so directed, say whatsoever they believe will please their masters and advance whatsoever will advance their masters’ objectives, irrespective of whether or not that accords with the realities.

The tragedy is that, to a very considerable extent, these “spin doctors” contribute to the appalling economic conditions that have prevailed in Zimbabwe, and to the country’s ongoing alienation of the international community in general and those would-be friends who would assist in bringing about economic recovery, in particular. 

It is much of their spin that fuels the massive erosion of business confidence that has permeated all sectors of the economy, which business confidence is a prerequisite for economic wellbeing.  It is that same spin which causes much of the divide between the private and public sectors, and it is that spin which has helped to cost the country greatly needed support from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union and many countries previously well disposed to Zimbabwe.

A prime example is the repeated contention that the European Union has imposed “illegal economic sanctions” on Zimbabwe. In the first instance, it is in no manner illegal for a country, or a group of countries, to decide that they will not be engaged economically with another country. Except if a country is bound by an agreement to trade with another country or countries, it is its perfect right to determine which countries it will trade with, or conduct other economic relations with them. Therefore, the use of the term  “illegal” is misrepresentative and insulting.

Secondly, as oft before stated in this column, and elsewhere, the European Union has not imposed any economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. What it has done is to impose targeted sanctions against the hierarchy of the Zimbabwean government and of the ruling Zanu PF party and their families.

Those sanctions preclude such persons from travelling to any countries in the European Union, and from having any banking accounts or other assets in those countries. But they do not prevent trade. In fact, in 2005 the European Union purchased goods from Zimbabwe to an extent of 391 million euro, and sold goods to Zimbabwe to a value of 130 million euro. Clearly, there are no economic sanctions!

The spin-doctors seek to justify their contentions of economic sanctions by focusing upon the decline in tourist arrivals from the European Union and to diminished investment. However, the European Union has done nothing to prevent tourism or investment.  

The fall-off in tourism is due to Zimbabwe’s very negative international image, fuelled by farm invasions, by disregard for law and order, contempt for human rights,  scarcities of fuel and other tourist needs, and intensified and effective competition from neighbouring states.

Most of these reasons, as well as the excessive economic controls of government, and the poor economic environment, are the deterrents to investment, and not actions by the European Union.  

But the state-influenced spin-doctors would have the populace believe otherwise. Their acts of misinformation compound the perceptions of potential tourists and investors, and others of their being unwelcome in Zimbabwe, and therefore worsen the economy further.

Yet another example is the recurrent, unfounded and distorted attacks on various diplomats, of which the most recent and pronounced ones have been against US ambassador Christopher Dell and Swedish ambassador Sten Rylander. Because Dell had the courage to highlight the extent to which government curbs freedom of speech, with the oppressive legislation such as Aippa and Posa, excessive media control and demonstrated the degree to which some in the media and in government corrupt facts, the spin-doctors have scathingly castigated and belittled him, wholly without justification.

Similar treatment has recently been accorded the new to Zimbabwe Swedish ambassador. He has forcibly evidenced his desire to interact constructively and positively with government to bring about the very long overdue economic transformation, to enhance the lot of the populace, and to restore Zimbabwe to a position of a respected member of the international community.  In doing so, he has necessarily noted the “rapidly declining economic and social conditions and struggling communities and poor people who are desperately trying to make ends meet against heavy odds”.

But, necessarily and correctly, a prerequisite of such interaction and assistance is that government be willing to pursue essential reforms, consistent with those identified by the European Union, the USA and most other countries. The spin-doctors recognise the unacceptability of such reforms to government, and therefore they deliberately misconstrue almost all that he says, and they strive to denigrate him. In so doing, and being known to be mouthpieces of government, they are rebuffing the hand of friendship and the help of the European Union that could be so invaluable to Zimbabwe.

In a recent statement by Rylander, he quoted European Union ambassador — head of mission — Xavier Marchal,  on Europe Day last month as saying: “With hard work,  in the framework of meaningful dialogue  on issues of content,  we can eventually  move towards better mutual understanding,  with the view  to re-establishing full and prosperous relations.” 

Rylander expanded on that, saying: “Let us stop  being bogged down by what divided us in the past and concentrate on the future; on the openings, the ways out, on building bridges,  on constructive change which can take this great nation back to progress and normalcy.”

If those of the spin-doctors as are biased and narrow-visioned would only heed these words, in time government may also do so, for a populace no longer brainwashed by those spin-doctors would have a strong influence upon government.  The economic ills would  progressively disappear, and Zimbabwe would  enjoy the prodigious wealth that is its great potential. If they continue to be deaf to such words,   the economy and Zimbabweans will continue to suffer untenably.