Portugal re-ignites debate on Zimbabwe ahead of the Africa-EU Summit

The Forum recently had an extensive interview with the Portuguese’s leading Daily ‘Publico’ on the sidelines of the Portuguese civil Society preparatory Conference to articulate the Portuguese position ahead of the Africa-EU Summit. The interview with the Publico (in Portuguese) focused on the developments in Zimbabwe since the elections and their implications on democratic development on the continent.  The following is the unofficial summary English rendition of the interview.

There is need to re-think and repackage promotion of democracy in Africa in a way that ordinary people would understand how democratic transition is linked to bread and butter issues.

If we are to contain the retreat of democracy in Africa, it is necessary to rethink the way it is presented, which ” has been neo-liberal and Eurocentric, or American, not taking into account the African context. There is need to explicitly link democracy on how it brings food to the table.

Regarding the human rights situation in the country, there has been an improvement on the violations relating to the integrity of the person and dignity with cases relating to  organised violence, torture kidnappings having decreased substantially but the situation has either remained the same or worsened in regard to civil liberties: the right of assembly, association, freedom of expression and political participation freedoms – as you know there were elections last year, international community as not having reflected the people’s will . People are not free to associate, and to express their views. As we live in a thought police state where people exercise mendacity for fear of prosecution.

Since the elections the government has relaxed a bit as there is nothing to fight for since it consolidated power, which in turn eased the threat to their hegemony.

Even taking into account the allegations of electoral fraud and bad economy – inflation, poverty, unemployment, how does one explain Mugabe’s political longevity?  Yes his party ahs the support of many people and there are many reasons for this. First he appears as this grand father of independence to them, [as someone ] who has the people’s interests at heart. And the more you hear it, the more there are those who will eventually feel indebted to him. Combined with this there is a lack of credible opposition and buying of voters with populist policies such as agrarian reforms. If one looks at voting patterns within the largest urban areas, where there is more information, there is more votes for the opposition, but not so in rural areas-information ghettos, where people continue to vote for Mugabe and Zimbabwe has a predominantly rural population.

Mugabe is also benefiting from the heritage of the struggle for independence and reminds people that voting for the opposition means a return to war. The memory of the war is present and many people think that there is no alternative but to vote for the party of power. With the policies of ” indigenization ” [which determined that 51 % of corporate capital was transferred to blacks and led to the departure of many white farmers in the country] also explains the maintenance of Mugabe in power.  When the President became aware that he could lose power to the opposition he decided to take the land, take it out of white farmers and give it to blacks, citing the national interest as the reason. But we all know that the decision was motivated by political rather than national interests. Yes redistribution is necessary, but was made in a chaotic manner and to serve particular political interests.

This had negative knock on effects on the economy. Although President Mugabe accuses the West and the international sanctions for the country’s situation, however it is Zimbabwe’s sovereign decisions – chaotic land distribution, sending troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo, printing money, rewarding the war veterans and other reasons- combined with corruption that have had more impact on the country than the economic sanctions. People only hear of sanctions but not the other side of the story.

Unfortunately many Zimbabweans both in urban and rural areas, but more so in the latter, strongly believe in the external conspiracy theory. It is worse in rural areas where there is little or no access to information. Unfortunately, even in urban areas are people who believe that. However the facts contradict this argument.

Despite international criticism Mugabe has now been chosen for vice president of the Executive Council of the African Union (AU). The choice of Zimbabwe reflects a symbiotic relationship between Zimbabwe and the region. Those in power in Zimbabwe needed acceptance by the AU of the results of the elections. At the same time, the international reintegration of Zimbabwe serves countries desirous of being seen as influential, [shows their importance]. There is a second reason: when you look at Africa, it is governed by a ” club of friends ” who put the [personal relationships] ahead of the principles in the logic of relations, ” I support you today, and you support me tomorrow.” They close ranks when it comes to their relationship with the West and protect each other in case one day there are called to account for their shortcoming before the international criminal systems such as the International Criminal Court.

There are also personal and historical relations. In many cases these are rooted in liberation struggles, but also based on corruption. For the acceptance of the regime of Zimbabwe there is a combination of factors. One is the ability of Mugabe to manipulate the region, the AU and SADC. This manipulation is based on the fact that some younger leaders do not know what to do with the old generation of leaders like Mugabe, they have fearful respect for him as an elder which is akin to resignation, let him do what he wants, because the African society has a patriarchal basis which is built on respect for older people. There is another reason which is malicious: some countries in the region strive to be competitive, to have better relations with Europe and America, they place Mugabe put on a pedestal and mock him in private while they break rank in private, and to that extent they are smart.  An example is how countries such as Zambia and Nigeria purport to support Mugabe on the land issue but grabbed all Zimbabwean white farmers who are now feeding their own nations.

With regards to sanctions, we often do not have a position on that as an organisation. Whether to lift or impose sanctions is a sovereign decision of other countries inasmuch as Zimbabwe has the right to make its own sovereign decisions. Our view is that the human rights situation must improve, regardless of whether the sanctions are there or not. However the U.S. also has to keep on making its own sovereign judgment and to assess whether the sanctions are effective or not and if not it might be time to reconsider other ways of encouraging reforms. In our opinion its hard to say whether they have been effective or not , although many people, at least those who dare speak out on this issue , since most do not, think they are not effective anymore. The question now is after the sanctions what strategy should the U.S follow, which is also a question that is difficult to answer. In the U.S. there was the same debate on Iran, which was very divisive but how the U.S is approaching the Iranian situation can help. Full interview here:


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