According to Plato, writing in the Republic, “the State is the individual writ large” meaning that the state is like the individual, but larger and easier to examine. Plato compared a well run state (government) to a balanced individual. Similarly, with Zimbabwe in mind, it could be argued that a poorly run state or government is comparable to an unbalanced individual. A recluse can be defined as a person who withdraws from the world to live in seclusion, often in solitude. The death of Sabina, Mugabe’s sister was seen as a big blow to her brother who, according to Edgar Tekere, has always been a “loner”. So the question is: “Could Zimbabwe become a reclusive state as well?”
Mugabe has been averse to international criticism of his bad governance and chosen to distract attention to the emotive issue of land and sovereignty!
Let’s start by examining why Zimbabwe left or was “pushed” out of the Commonwealth. According to the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002, and the country (or to be more specific in this case Mugabe) decided to withdraw from the Commonwealth in December 2003 with serious implications for its citizens.
Looking back at what prompted Zimbabwe’s suspension, we learn that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration (CMAG) met in London on January 30 2002. In their concluding statement they stated that: “The group reviewed the situation in Zimbabwe in the light of developments since its last meeting on December 20 2001. It expressed its deep concern over the continued violence, political intimidation and actions against the freedom and independence of the media”.
CMAG condemned the then “recently enacted” Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the General Laws Amendment Act, as well as the “proposed” Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill (Aippa), “as further direct curbs on the freedom of speech, of the press, and association in Zimbabwe and contrary to the Commonwealth Declaration.” Posa and Aippa are some of the most repressive laws in Zimbabwe.
On March 19 2002, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Chairperson’s Committee on Zimbabwe decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth for one year. The issue of Zimbabwe was on the agenda of the CHOGM held in December 2003 in Abuja, Nigeria.
Before the end of the summit, then Foreign Affairs minister, Stan Mudenge wrote to the Secretary General Don McKinnon a letter dated December 11 2003 confirming that Zimbabwe had terminated its membership of the Commonwealth with effect from December 7 2003. In response, the Secretary General McKinnon expressed disappointment with the move taken by Zimbabwe and clarified the country’s new status saying: “Zimbabwe becomes a non-member state and is no longer eligible to receive Commonwealth assistance or to attend Commonwealth meetings. Commonwealth organisations should now treat Zimbabwe as a non-member state.”
The implications of Zimbabwe’s withdrawal are still being felt seven years later. For example, Zimbabweans can no longer access Commonwealth scholarships. One consequence, however which was immediate, was that Zimbabwe’s high commissions became embassies and our high commissioners became designated ambassadors, a rather awkward status for a country that enjoyed so much international respect, admiration and freedom of movement at independence.
Just before announcing Zimbabwe’s withdrawal, Mugabe chose to distract attention from poor governance saying: “If the choice was made for us, one for us to lose our sovereignty and become a member of the Commonwealth or to remain with our sovereignty and lose membership of the Commonwealth, then I would say, then let the Commonwealth go. What is it to us? Our people are overjoyed, the land is ours. We are now the rulers and owners of Zimbabwe”. Mugabe further argued that “the Commonwealth is a mere club, but it has become like an ‘Animal Farm’ where some animals are more equal than others. How can (Tony) Blair claim to regulate and direct events and still say all of us are equals?”
What Mugabe did not tell the nation was the real reason why the country had been suspended and that instead of jumping, Zimbabwe had actually been “pushed out” (by the suspension) because of its poor record on human rights, freedom of the media, of expression, of assembly or association, electoral violence and the notorious Posa and Aippa despite signing the Harare declaration on good governance.(1991)
Strangely these undemocratic laws are still on the statute book to this day even when there is now the so-called government of national unity formed in February 2009. Rather than completely abolish these harsh laws, we sadly learn that Zanu PF and MDC are jointly working to amend Posa. It is just incredible. By sprucing up Posa, somehow the coalition regime expects a conducive environment for free and fair elections to prevail in 2011, as if the experience of Copac has not been enough testimony of the fact that Zanu PF is beyond redemption.
The characterisation of Zimbabwe as a reclusive state would be incomplete without mention of a few more acts of seclusion. The country is not participating in the United Nations funded Nepad or African Peer Review Mechanism which checks on good governance but Mugabe does not want to miss UN conferences in New York, Geneva and Rome. In August Zimbabwe successfully helped Sadc to suspend its Tribunal for six months because it was becoming increasingly critical of Zimbabwe’s treatment of white farmers. In February 2002, Zimbabwe expelled Pierre Schori, head of the EU observer team. The UN’s torture expert Manfred Nowak was detained overnight at Harare International Airport before being deported to South Africa in October 2009.
In November 2008, the elders delegation of prominent figures and former statesmen comprising former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former United States president Jimmy Carter and Graça Machel, an international advocate for women’s and children’s rights was refused entry into Zimbabwe by Mugabe’s regime. The elders were on a humanitarian mission and were forced to assess the situation from South Africa.
Through a well-resourced propaganda campaign thanks to ZBC’s radio and television as well as Zimbabwe Newspapers, Mugabe’s regime has managed to brainwash some people into believing that all the people he is disagreeing with in the world, especially the West, are after land or if they are black Zimbabweans, they are “Western puppets”.
Zimbabwe’s isolation has caused a lot of unnecessary hardships to ordinary people.
Despite Zanu PF bragging about its land reform programme, sad reports continue to come out of Zimbabwe about food shortages. For example hungry villagers in food-deficit Beitbridge, Gwanda and Mangwe districts are said to be exchanging goats for maize while hungry Mwenezi villagers are surviving on baboons.
As Zimbabwe limps on shielded by Zanu PF from any international oversight of poor governance, the vulnerable will continue to pay dearly for Mugabe’s bloated ego.
Mashiri is a Zimbabwean political analyst based in London.
By Clifford Chitupa Mashiri