ONE of the enduring lessons I learnt while covering the international diamond trade is that there is no shortage of lobbyists and public relations strategists under the sun.
Candid Comment,Brezh Malaba
Be it in Washington DC, Dubai or London, these self-styled “strategic communications experts” come in all shapes and sizes. The phenomenon is particularly insidious in the US seat of power, where dangerously ambitious men in dapper suits are often seen criss-crossing the corridors of major hotels and conference halls, briefing clients and hunting for new business.
Lobbyists are in the business of making money — first and foremost — despite their sweet talk designed to trick you into believing that they are motivated solely by the glorious idea of serving your best interests.
On February 13, the Zimbabwean government signed a controversial contract with an American consulting firm, Ballard Partners Inc.
There were two signatories to the agreement. The government was represented by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Sibusiso Moyo. Brian Ballard — a prominent lobbyist in Washington DC and president of Ballard Partners Inc — signed for the consultancy.
According to the terms of the contract, the US company will lobby on behalf of the Zimbabwean government and provide advice on communications strategy. Harare will pay an annual fee of US$500 000 for two years. Where is the controversy? Well, for starters, why is a broke government blowing so much money on what is, quite frankly, a totally unnecessary expense?
Just last week, the head of United Nations humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, was in Harare to launch a campaign to raise US$234 million to buy food for 5,3 million hungry Zimbabweans who face starvation in the next few months if they are not assisted with emergency aid.
There has been lots of bombastic anti-imperialist bluster this week following the extension of US sanctions by President Donald Trump.
The sanctions issue is routinely used as a convenient excuse by Zimbabwean leaders for their breath-taking incompetence and gross mismanagement of the economy.
Sanctions have affected this country, there is no doubt about it. But to disingenuously attribute everything that goes wrong to the “Western sanctions” is the height of deception. Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1960, but the country produces world-class medical doctors and athletes. You will not see the UN providing emergency food aid to 5,3 million Cubans.
The inconvenient truth, though, is that the most devastating sanctions are self-imposed internal sanctions. These sanctions can be scrapped overnight and the government does not have to spend a cent in doing so.
What internal sanctions am I referring to?
There is no shortage of those: corruption-induced poverty; criminalisation of dissent; extra-judicial killings; cronyism; economic incompetence; patronage; tribal hegemony, nepotism.
Mnangagwa’s government can easily scrap all these self-imposed sanctions overnight—instead of wasting millions of dollars on offshore spin doctors.