A Response to Mahmood Mamdani

•January 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Lessons of Zimbabwe
Mahmood Mamdani’s “Lessons of Zimbabwe” http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n23/mamd01_.html (London Review of Books, 4 December 2008) has provoked furious responses from many Zimbabweanists. Mamdani correctly emphasizes that Robert Mugabe is not an irrational political actor. He has shrewdly crafted an ideology about redressing colonial imbalances that has wide appeal in Zimbabwe and much of Africa. Mugabe has not stopped there. He has attempted to put it into practice by forcibly redistributing land once held by a minority white Zimbabwean population. This, again, is appealing to many. But while this is so the violence and undemocratic politics that have accompanied Mugabe’s programme cannot be whitewashed. Mamdani acknowledges this but fails to balance these two realities about Mugabe’s rule.
Mamdani simply ignores many important facts and is wrong about others. For example, the Zimbabwean trade union movement is not Ndebele-led and it is not in a struggle with the Shona peasantry. We are not told that many of the so called war veterans were not authentic war veterans of the liberation struggle but were ZANU PF supporters, soldiers and hired youth militia. Indeed in what was a faux pas, war veterans leader Chenjerai Hunzvi had in March 2000 announced that the war veterans had ‘entered into a 20 million dollar campaign deal with ZANU PF to campaign everywhere including in buses and bars to keep President Mugabe and ZANU PF in power’, and that ‘war veterans belong to ZANU PF’. In a 2005 interview, senior ZANU PF politician Kumbirai Kangai admitted that it was the ZANU PF Politburo which ‘mobilised the war veterans and told them to get on the farms’.
1990 is an important turning point that gave birth to some of the problems in land reform because the Land Acquisition Act (1992) transferred authority over property rights from the judiciary to the executive presidency with the purpose of facilitating expeditious land redistribution. The Act politicized land reform. It did not expedite land reform because it was too convoluted to serve this purpose. In 2001, Edison Zvobgo, ZANU PF’s legal chief, confessed that, as the relevant Minister, he had made a huge mistake in drafting the 1992 Land   Acquisition Act, making it “far too esoteric and complex, and quite overlooking that Government lacked the capacity to acquire land in the ways it prescribed. It had then proved all too easy for the Commercial Farmers Union to stultify the whole process in the law courts.”
Mamdani diverts scrutiny away from the ZANU PF government’s onslaught on civil and political rights. The Zimbabwe crisis must be understood in the context of ZANU PF’s inheritance of a highly coercive state machinery, and its resort to a polarising, intolerant and violent discourse amid waning legitimacy. The violence regularly reported in the country after 2000 was not necessarily connected to the land reform programme. It was connected to the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential elections. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reports that violence intensified during election periods.

The strongest pressure that catalysed the resort to land seizures was the MDC’s rise. Land was used for partisan purposes to an unprecedented extent in 2000 and after, during which it became the centrepiece in Mugabe and ZANU PF’s 2000 and 2002 election campaigns. Mugabe contended that an MDC parliamentary election victory and election of Tsvangirai as president would prevent land redistribution in Zimbabwe because they were ‘puppets’ of British imperialism. Re-electing ZANU PF and Mugabe would guarantee land redistribution because they were ‘true’ to the liberation struggle’s goal: land reclamation. These claims are false.
Furthermore, farm invasions and the violence that accompanied them also cloaked an agenda to discipline senior ZANU PF members perceived as disloyal. They were an arena for ZANU PF factional power struggles. For instance, in 2000, alleged war veterans raised the ire of Zvobgo when they invaded his farm in Masvingo. Zvobgo was Mugabe’s most outspoken internal critic and was locked in a factional power struggle with Vice President Simon Muzenda over dominance of the Masvingo province. The invasion of Zvobgo’s farm was factional power struggles by other means and a manifestation of his supposed ‘disloyalty’ to the land seizures. Indeed Zvobgo had argued that the farm seizures ‘tainted what was a glorious revolution, reducing it to some agrarian racist enterprise’. In the end Mamdani’s essay leaves us with the impression that Mugabe is a misunderstood and persecuted leader waging a sole anti-imperialist struggle against an evil Western capitalist force. This is far from accurate.



•January 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment
My supernova

My supernova

I saw this in The Zimbabwean yesterday:

Cholera Sweeps Away Families In Chipinge, Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe
Friday, 09 January 2009, The Zimbabwean
The district of Chipinge in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province is one of the latest localities to be hit hard by the cholera epidemic which continues to claim many lives. Sources familiar with local conditions said Wednesday that the disease has spread fast and left entire families dead despite relief efforts by international organizations. As of Wednesday about 45 people had died of cholera in Chipinge, according to the latest epidemic statistics from the World Health Organization. Nationally, fatalities totaled 1,753 out of 35,330 cases through Tuesday, the U.N. agency said. The Red Cross said only 43% of those hit by cholera nationally have reached a treatment center where they could receive medical assistance. Chipinge South Member of Parliament Meki Makuyana of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai said the disease reached Chipinge last month and is now killing people in their homes as many are unable to get to a medical facility.

My parents live in Chipinge. Cholera has been sweeping across Zimbabwe for months now. I have been concerned all along but this bit of news made the concern that more personal. It never really hits you until it hits close to home. I tried to call my parents in order to find out about the extent of the outbreak and how safe they are from it. But phone lines have become unreliable in Zimbabwe. My calls did not get through. I lay in bed last night building a mountain of thoughts about why I feel down and unhappy with my life most times. I could not and still cannot find anything substantive that I loathe about myself. I love myself. I recognise the man in the mirror. I do not flinch from looking myself in the mirror. I like what I see inside and outside, though, more often than not, I will remark about my outside: ‘I wish I was good looking’. But that is trivial and I think many people do that too. They wish they had stronger knees, better hair, better this, better that. I think it is quite normal. I am not unhappy with myself fundamentally. I am unhappy with events around me. Contexts. We do not live in a vacuum. How can I be happy when every bit of news from back home is bleak? When the wheels of fortune just won’t turn? My mind explores various options but I keep coming back to my breaking out agenda for 2009. If it comes to pass my life will change for the better. How happy my mother will be when I finish her house. Being able to afford measures that will make my mother’s life in Zimbabwe better. Casting off millstones that cling to my neck like ticks in the hide of a diseased cow. My supernova.

Holding Back the Faithlessness

•January 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It is 2 January 2009 today. The year for breaking out has begun. Truly, there is nothing for me now in Oxford. I have done Oxford, breathed its fresh air, exhausted it, and sampled its delights. There is no more magic. I yearn to say goodbye. I woke up this morning feeling peripheral to everything. It seems the world is passing on without me, a world which I wish to be part of.  The effects of lingering (distraction, malaise, depression) threaten to become manifest. Winter has set in; its cold and damp and dark; all these factors bode ill and torment. To linger is to bring on doubt, and doubt undermines me and I find the leisure to inflict more cruelty upon myself. I am not sure I understand this role I have been given.
Still, I must arise every morning, every day. No matter the knock downs my thinking must remain forward. Forward looking. I wipe the dust off my bum and shoes. Stick my chest out, shoulders and head up, and march on. I keep believing that my world will come alive. All we have at the end of the day is faith. Be it faith in our abilities. Faith in a God. Faith in those we love. Faith in something, anything.


•December 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I have returned to Oxford. Spending Christmas in London was the best thing I could have done for myself in the end. I didn’t want to leave. I would like London to be my new home in 2009. To find a job there. A job I will enjoy.  Make good money. Take care of my mother. Apartment hunting. Redecorating the apartment to suit my tastes. Travel. A cat called August. Find someone who will love me.

I adore this university town, Oxford. It has given me a lot. I have given it a lot. However, I feel static now. I am aching to break out for good. Breaking out is the answer to my present unhappiness and forlorn outlook. I need it. Sail my worries away on the Thames. Get on the road to somewhere new. Run into someone new.

2008 was the year of the PhD. 2009 is the year for breaking out.

The Colour Of Memories

•December 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Memories of Geneva
Untiring fountains 
in the summer light
of a time long past
when I loved like a fountain
and you held back
because of the memory
of another

Memories cut through you
Films you rewind
Ghosts you won’t exorcise
Nothing fades, except you 
I can barely recognise you
I hate what you have become
I guess I am in love with a memory….


•December 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I wanted to be alone this Christmas. Alone to read, write and enjoy my own company. Nothing else. I do enjoy my own company. My own space. But its the 25th of December today and I am in London not Oxford. I am surrounded by people. People who love me.

I had some amazing seafood for dinner, washed down with half a bottle of whisky. I must have been a fish in my previous life because I can drink. Drink like a fish and smell like a rose…..

It is difficult to relax and enjoy London. My thoughts are with my family and Zimbabwe. There is not much of a Christmas there. Little to cheer. No food. No water. No electricity. No state. Only hope. Hope that things will be better some day.  

I talked to my mother a few days ago. She spoke of how the family has resorted to collecting rain water in huge drums and boiling it before use because that is the ‘safest’ form of water readily available where they are. 

We were comfortable once. I had everything I needed when I was growing up. Good schools. Running water. A beautiful suburban home. Everything. Everything an ambitious young boy needs to have a chance of making something out of himself in this life. All that is gone now. Long gone.

It is difficult to be genuinely merry over Christmas because life is an abyss back home. I cannot forget. I cannot forget.

Words, not force

•December 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

– Diplomacy led by South Africa, not an unfeasible military adventure, is the only answer to Zimbabwe’s troubles –

Jeremy Kuper’s clamour for an invasion force to be sent to Zimbabwe is troubling. The conditions in Zimbabwe are deplorable, and the country is on the brink of becoming a failed state, but calls for regime change are worrying.

Kuper is a democrat with a cause, but it is unfortunate that he resorts to the concept of regime change in making his case for change in Zimbabwe. There are hazards for democratic forces if they conscript terms and ideas from western centres of power that are regarded as harbouring “imperial” objectives by many in the world today. America and the “coalition of the willing’s” occupation of Iraq have discredited the concept and language of regime change internationally. Regime change has become the lingua franca of a “new imperialism”, which makes it easy for Robert Mugabe to outflank critics. It is imperative that democrats and critics of Mugabe take on this charge as well as attacking his misrule.

Kuper’s assessment of the feasibility and consequences of military intervention in Zimbabwe are unsatisfactory. The Guardian reports today that the UK is obstructing the deployment of a European force to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a crisis of much larger proportion than that in Zimbabwe has persisted since the mid 1990s. In light of this, the likelihood that the UK would back a European force to Zimbabwe is diminished. The west has no appetite for new military adventures anywhere in the world. Indeed, it is at great pains to extricate itself from protracted misadventures such as Iraq.

As for Africa, the African Union has ruled out the use of force in Zimbabwe. The African voices making public calls for military force in Zimbabwe are not new. Botswana, Zambia, Kenyan PM Raila Odinga, and Archbishops John Sentamu and Desmond Tutu are established critics of Mugabe. Most African states have remained silent on Zimbabwe. There is no “powerful anti-Mugabe coalition” building, as Kuper puts it.

Kuper also suggests that Mugabe should be arrested and made to stand trial at The Hague. This is a favourite and uninformed strategem of many who would like to see change in Zimbabwe. The international criminal court (ICC) has no jurisdiction over Zimbabwe, because the country did not ratify the ICC treaty. And while it is within the power of the UN security council to refer a human rights situation to the ICC for investigation, this has failed to materialise for years now – and it is debatable whether consensus for such a measure could ever be reached, given that Mugabe has some long-standing “allies” on the security council.

Yesterday Mugabe described Morgan Tsvangirai’s lobbying of several countries in Europe and Africa to put pressure on Mugabe to form an equitable unity government as a form of “prostitution”, Such crude insults reflect the disdain Mugabe and ZANU-PF have for Tsvangirai and the MDC. Bringing both parties together in a workable unity government seems impossible, but it is more likely than establishing democracy by force in Zimbabwe.

ZANU-PF and the MDC – by far the most obdurate obstacles to negotiation – must be brought back to the table, and only Zimbabwe’s regional neighbours can accomplish this. Tough diplomacy led by South Africa is the only practical way forward. Many in and outside of Zimbabwe are understandably frustrated with South Africa, but the country is still Zimbabweans’ best hope. There are many carrots and sticks South Africa can use, if only it could be bold and innovative in its diplomacy. Mugabe is either out of touch with realities in Zimbabwe or he simply does not care, as demonstrated by his ludicrous claim that the outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe is now under control. Urgent diplomacy is required before more lives are lost.