Division in international responses to Zimbabwe’s internal affairs are a decade old and have much to do with how Zanu PF has sought to cloak its domestic conduct from external criticism using various symbols, liberation history, race and sovereignty. To do this, Zanu PF has drawn on real, not imagined grievances.
There lies a widely acknowledged set of concerns in how Zanu PF has sought to defend itself from external, particularly Western, criticism. The genius of this defence is that it links real grievances and powerful moral narratives to an authoritarian and violent political survival project.
The land grievance, for example, had a long and real history. Popular grievance over imbalances in land distribution between whites and blacks was authentic. In 2000, Zanu PF used the need to redistribute land to mask a project of violent land seizures targeting black farm workers it perceived as opposition supporters.
Torn between their recognition of the emotive history of land grievance in Southern Africa and the obvious human rights violations attendant to the land seizures, most African states chose the former over the latter. In the human rights community, activists in Zimbabwe found themselves divided over whether economic rights took precedence to civil and political rights. What comes first: democracy or economic prosperity?
Fast forward to 2010 and a scenario not too dissimilar from the abovementioned one is once again playing out in Zimbabwe. Zanu PF argues that it has been unable to secure international development aid because of what it regards as Western sanctions aimed at “regime change”. The party adds that the discovery and mining of Chiadzwa diamonds is potentially a source of significant income for economic revival, but the Western sanctions brigade is now frustrating the export of diamonds so that its regime change agenda is not undermined.
Many Zimbabweans, Southern African states and observers are likely to view the ban on Chiadzwa diamonds as frustrating economic recovery in a real sense. They will scoff at the palpable double standards: Western countries are happy to buy up minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) without thinking twice about the human rights violations that occur in the process of extracting these resources, but they are up in arms about relatively lesser violations in Zimbabwe’s mining sector.
Western countries do not flinch from buying oil from Equatorial Guinea either — one of the most repressive, corrupt and human rights-violating African states. Moreover, according to the KP, “conflict diamonds” are “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments”. The Chiadzwa diamonds do not fit this definition by any stretch of the imagination.
Thus, Zanu PF is once again articulating real grievance in its refutation of the international response to the mining and sale of Chiadzwa diamonds. Zanu PF’s argument on the Chiadzwa diamonds has resonance with many Zimbabweans, Southern African leaders, observers and some in the human rights community who are aware of how double standards undermine the human rights agenda in Zimbabwe.
The flip side is that once again Zanu PF has linked what appears to be an economic venture designed to uplift and empower Zimbabweans with a project that violates human rights and one that aims to guarantee the party’s continued authoritarian rule. Human rights violations in Chiadzwa are real and well-documented.
Some of the revenue from Chiadzwa diamonds is also likely to find its way to Zanu PF coffers and will be used to fund the party’s campaign in the next elections, which, given the violence in the constitutional review outreach programme and the party’s past conduct in elections, will be a violent one.
In addition, just as the land reform programme benefited Zanu PF elites greatly, so will the Chiadzwa diamonds. Indeed, the untapped wealth in Chiadzwa provides Zanu PF with renewed and robust incentive to remain in power.
Zimbabweans, the human rights community, Southern African states, concerned observers and political parties in Zimbabwe will do well to avoid approaching the debate about the Chiadzwa diamonds in the same “for or against” approach they adopted on the land reform programme because this plays into Zanu PF’s divisive designs.
Zimbabwe can still export Chiadzwa diamonds and uplift the country economically while respecting human rights, just as land could have been redistributed from whites to blacks without the violence and human rights abuses that accompanied the process.
Blessing-Miles Tendi is the author of Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media. He is based in the UK.