Needed: One White Colonial Ruler for Zimbabwe

Prospective Colonial Ruler Sarah Hager (on left) with several potential minions.

Prospective Colonial Ruler Sarah Hager (on left) with several potential minions.

As a mostly white person, I have decided that I would like to be the next colonial occupier of Zimbabwe. It’s a great country-fertile land, fabulous people, rich mineral resources. I think I should be able to set up operations fairly quickly and I love to tell people what to do.  So my life’s ambition to be a benevolent dictator will be satisfied far quicker than I ever dreamed possible.

I always thought that to establish said benevolent dictatorship, I would have to buy a private island and import my friends to serve as my minions. So imagine my surprise at reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times last week where he reports that apparently every Zimbabwean he spoke with really wishes Britain, the former colonial power, never left.

In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.

First of all, Mr. Kristoff doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact that foreign journalists have been allowed back into Zimbabwe for nearly a year. While said journalists are advised to operate with caution, and there have still been hiccups, the whole “cloak and dagger/new passport/kids as camouflage” routine was a tad overkill. Things aren’t great in Zimbabwe, but let’s not exaggerate the situation.

Second, Mr. Kristof admits to speaking to no government officials and he “can’t be sure that my glimpse of the public mood was representative.” I’m pretty sure, however, he didn’t bother speaking to any of the members of Zimbabwe’s civil society fighting for changed circumstances. Perhaps the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise  who were arrested today protesting poor service and exhorbitant rates of the electric service. Maybe the lawyers of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who promptly showed up at the police station and secured the release of many of those detained today. How about Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, kidnapped and tortured for her efforts to hold the government accountable for its abuses. I bet every single one of them would gladly step aside and let me take over because I could do the job so much better than they.

I appreciate that Mr. Kristof chose to highlight these remarks as a way to sensationalize the situation in Zimbabwe because he has a job to do selling papers. The rest of his commentary about the West focusing on white farmers at the expense of black laborers, the state of the medical and education system and the need for free and fair elections are all accurate statements. But the reader is initially and predominantly captured by this idea that Zimbabweans feel that if the white people had never given up power, things would all be better, disregarding the thousands of Zimbabweans fighting on their own to improve their country.  

So while Zimbabwe is a bit tattered around the edges, her will is strong and her beauty is evident. So I will gladly resume colonial control and begin my benevolent dictatorship. All the civil society leaders mentioned above and Zimbabweans in general know where to find me when they are ready to cede their struggle. Until then, I will continue my efforts to stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and help tell their story without unnecessary dramatic flourishes.

Zimbabwe's Heroes


Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams of WOZA

Zimbabwe gets a lot of bad press, but not many are aware of some of the amazing people making a difference there every day. These are people, who usually at great personal risk, fight for human rights, civil liberties, justice, equality and a better Zimbabwe for all. So here’s a shout out to some personal heroes of mine and I hope you are equally inspired.  (Feel free to share stories about other amazing human rights heroes in Zim or southern Africa in general in the comment section.)

Betty Makoni
Betty is a teacher who got tired of hearing about the relentless sexual abuse of young girls and decided to do something about it. She started the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe to provide a safe place, healing and support for young girls surviving sexual assault. Many of the girls were victimized because of a belief that sex with a virgin cures AIDS. As a result of her efforts, Betty has been targeted by security forces in Zimbabwe and forced to flee the country for her safety. A documentary film tells the story of Betty and the girls she helps. Betty has also been nominated as CNN’s Hero of the Year. You can vote for Betty on CNN’s web site until November 19th. Vote early and often! SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Zimbabwe: Mugabe's Sleight of Hand

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights recently reported that President Mugabe did NOT sign the Global Political Agreement. Well, he signed half of it. The entire 36 page document was ratified into law by Parliament as Constitutional Amendment 19. President Mugabe, however, only signed an 18 page document. The result is potentially unenforceable as “It is impossible, legally, to have an act in two different versions-one version approved by Parliament, another by the President.” The missing pages included clauses governing the mandated Constitutional revision and referendum process. This means that the entire agreement can be declared null and void, or those pages not signed by the President are not enforceable.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA) is the result of negotiations that occurred after contested Presidential and Parliamentary elections in March 2008. Although now-Prime Minister Tsvangirai received the majority of votes, he purportedly did not receive the necessary 50% +1 required to win outright, forcing a run-off election. Tsvangirai subsequently withdrew from the run-off over concern for the extreme levels of violence that occurred, including deaths, disappearances and torture and Mugabe was declared the winner. The Southern African Development Committee (SADC) stepped in and negotiated a political settlement that became the GPA and is now the guarantor of this agreement.

ZANU-PF’s commitment to the GPA has been suspect from the beginning including refusing to cede control of the Attorney General office and Reserve Bank and chipping away at the Parliamentary majority position Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s party MDC-T secured in the 2008 elections through pressing criminal charges. Further, while levels of violence have abated, political violence is an on-going concern including the recent murder of an MDC activist.

The law is meant to define the parameters that regulate behavior and establish social control. It is not meant to be a blunt weapon of force to repress, dominate and terrorize citizens. Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF, consistently uses the law to manipulate and oppress from laws used to stifle dissent such as the Public Order and Security Act, to withdrawing from the SADC Tribunal, to entering the agreement with false intentions by building in an escape hatch.

ZANU-PF’s withdrawal from the SADC Tribunal and the failure to sign all pages of the GPA are essentially contract disputes and there is no applicable court to turn where a judge can decide which terms apply and should be enforced. Instead, the judge is SADC, who must remove the blinders of reverence towards a one time freedom fighter and see him as the leader of a party of freedom oppressors. SADC announced today it will convene an extraordinary summit in three weeks to address the outstanding issues surrounding the GPA and it MUST force a resolution on both these concerns. 

The judge is also the international community, who bears the burden of standing strong in speaking out against the injustices occurring in Zimbabwe while still standing in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe by providing appropriate humanitarian aid to repair the schools, hospitals, water treatment plants and sewer systems, electrical capacity and agricultural industry. Finally, the judge is us, who must continue to demand respect for the rule of law and insist on accountability and an end to impunity for those who use violence to retain power and control.