HomeOpinionInconsistency dents human rights drive

Inconsistency dents human rights drive

In his article Raftopoulos wrote: “Western countries, through an increasingly problematic sanctions regime, have added to the political gridlock in Zimbabwe in the guise of being the arbiters of global human rights. In the face of the inconsistencies in the application of the ‘right to protect’ by the Atlantic emporium in contemporary global politics, this potentially noble project is in danger of being cast as yet another form of imperial arrogance”.


I concur with him that as the West involves itself ever more frequently and ever more inconsistently in the affairs of other non-Western societies, the legitimacy of its human rights standard is put into question. Western moral authority on human rights is diminished when the United States ignores Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record because it is an ally in its fight against terrorism, but imposes targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Moral authority also diminishes when Britain calls for its national team to boycott cricket tours of Zimbabwe because of its poor human rights record but remains silent when its cricket team tours Pakistan, which is a grave human rights violator.

Where I part ways with Raftopoulos is on his silence on the complicity of some MDC and civil society elements in the imposition of the Western sanctions regime he decries. Zanu PF complains opposition forces campaigned for  the application of unjustified sanctions to achieve regime change in Zimbabwe.

However, the MDC and civic groups deny that they campaigned for the imposition of sanctions but their retort has never been as cogent and consistent as the Zanu PF argument. For instance, former MDC MP Gabriel Chaibva on September 22 2009 stated that in 2000 the MDC met in Nyanga to draft Zidera which formalised the US sanctions. Chaibva’s revelation has not been effectively rebutted by the MDC to date.

Moreover, after the 2000 parliamentary election, David Coltart advanced the following rationale as one of the causal factors for the MDC’s choice not to enlist mass action or civil disobedience: “The international community pleaded with us to hold off on the use of mass action, promising at the same time that if we backed off, they would do all they could to increase pressure on Mugabe”.

Such declarations allowed Zanu PF to infer that by “pressure” the MDC meant sanctions or any other such measures. It did not help that opposition members at the time, such as Trudy Stevenson, publicly boasted that “we (MDC) have good contacts with the international community and Mugabe is going to have to negotiate with us”.

I vividly recall a 2005 interview with Andrew Nongongo, then a local civil society actor with the non-governmental organisation Hivos, in which he admitted to me that he and other prominent civil society actors I will not name here, for now, lobbied the European Union to impose targeted sanctions on Zanu PF in 2002.  

The West’s condemnations and targeted sanctions against Zanu PF would command more authority if the same human rights standards were applied everywhere evenly, but it is intellectually dishonest for Raftopoulos to be silent about the “invisible hand” of some MDC and civil society figures in the Western sanctions regime’s genesis. It is high time some MDC and civil society actors took responsibility for their strategic blunders. They made their bed and must lie in it. 

Secondly, I find problematic Raftopoulos’ assumption that Zanu PF will stand by while sanctions, which he maintains “strengthen Mugabe’s hand”, against it are lifted. If sanctions benefit Zanu PF politically as Raftopoulos maintains, what is to prevent Zanu PF from timely upping egregious violations of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in order to guarantee their renewal during the annual periods of sanctions review by Western states?

If sanctions are indeed beneficial politically to them then Zanu PF has good reason to perpetuate them, albeit indirectly. There is physics in sanctions renewal that Zanu PF can easily manipulate, and it does. Raftopoulos must have considered this.   

Thirdly, Raftopoulos grasps at the shadow, while losing the substance when he writes that “unlike the Kenyan agreement, negotiated by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with the full support of the Western countries, the Zimbabwean GPA has been bogged down by the continuing dispute between Sadc and the West over its implementation”.

Far more civilians died following Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections than in Zimbabwe between March and June 2008. The reasons why Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki formed a power-sharing government that was embraced by Western powers is Kenya’s greater economic significance compared to Zimbabwe, and the fact that unlike Mugabe he has not attacked whites and seized their farms. Face it, the West largely regards Mugabe as an irredeemable “demon” for the farm seizures and mollycoddling on this naked reality is unhelpful.

Lastly, it is deeply flawed and superficial for Raftopoulos to think that it is “instructive to compare the current period in Zimbabwean politics with that leading up to the Lancaster House agreement”.

Lancaster House was a defective decolonisation process and agreement. Many of the problems Zimbabwe has faced during the independence era have their roots in the fact that nationalists were forced by the convergence of regional and international forces into the agreement which tied the new government’s hands in pursuing its national objectives around decolonisation and other related issues.

Raftopoulos mistakenly lauds the Lancaster House agreement that maintained racially-biased land

distribution, compartmentalised races and deepened a culture of impunity as a progressive arrangement when clearly it was not.

In fact, it can be argued that a number of post-independence problems in Zimbabwe could have been avoided had it not been of the Lancaster House Agreement and how it was structured and sustained. Let us see the past and present for what they are, not what could have been. Superficial comparisons will not get us anywhere. Otherwise, Raftopoulos’s piece was useful in many different ways.

Blessing-Miles Tendi is a Lecturer in African History and Politics at the University of Oxford (UK) and author of Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: Politics, Intellectuals and the Media.

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