ABOUT 49 years ago United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee former chair, James William Fulbright — after whom the prestigious Fulbright exchange programme was named in his honour — delivered a speech at Johns Hopkins University on “the arrogance of power”.
Editor’s Memo by Dumisani Muleya
His book, The Arrogance of Power, dealt with the justification of the Vietnam War, congress’s failure to set limits on it, and the impulses which gave rise to it. Fulbright’s scathing critique undermined elite consensus that US military intervention in the Indochina region was necessitated by Cold War geopolitics.
It was a compelling argument which still resonates up to this day.
I was reminded of Fulbright’s observations because of what President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba and others in positions of power have been saying on the disappearance of journalist-cum-activist Itai Dzamara and to some extent on the Tokwe-Mukorsi flood victims in Masvingo.
Although Fulbright — a staunch multilateralist who supported the United Nations creation, yet also a segregationist — and Charamba’s remarks were made in completely different eras and contexts, the former’s observations and warnings on the arrogance of power appear profoundly relevant on the Dzamara case.
Usually, I find Charamba nuanced, cool-headed and calm, but his remarks on Dzamara and partly on flood victims not only displayed the arrogance of power, but also bordered on insensitivity. I’m sure on reflection he might well agree on this.
Check this: “It is clear to government that there is a vain hope to use the missing person for political parties to regain political foothold and mileage and in the case of foreign interests to put Zimbabwe back in the dock,” Charamba told the state-controlled media this week. “It leaves government wondering whether or not the whole incident is not a politically calculated contrivance …”
He added: “People go missing here and elsewhere in the world. I dismiss calls for the President to pronounce himself on the matter as pre-eminently political and thus not worthy of his attention. In our case, some skip the borders to go to foreign lands, others get caught up in mishaps and still others might just change location and withdraw from contacts …”
On the flood victims, Charamba said: “The victims of the Tokwe- Mukorsi floods, like in the past, have been confrontational to government, made unreasonable demands and allowed politicisation of their situation. They should be careful that they will end up being another political football.”
This was after the villagers last week wrote a petition to Mugabe requesting him to visit them so that he could see the deplorable conditions at their new settlement. Although Charamba noted Mugabe was concerned about their plight, it is difficult to believe that as his boss has been gallivanting all over world since January but failed to visit fellow citizens, villagers at that, reeling from floods in Masvingo since last year.
On the Dzamara affair, what is rather sad is that there are some in our midst who seem to think his abduction and disappearance is part of a contrived political agenda. Hence the tragic incident has now been reduced to a political conspiracy. That is why authorities and law enforcements agents appear unmoved and sometimes defensive. Instead of performing their constitutional duties to protect citizens, they hide behind politics and even casually justify dereliction of duty, saying people disappear everywhere; quite an absurd argument.
We all know here why people fear the state was behind Dzamara’s abduction. Zimbabwe has a history of forced disappearances like Argentina’s during the dirty war under dictatorships.
There is no need for authorities to be self-justifying and edgy if they are innocent; they must just do their jobs — help out the flood victims and find Dzamara, not display the arrogance of power.