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In Defense of Mugabe

Now that the White House has decided to contribute to the barrage of attacks on President Robert Mugabe, observers should begin to wonder what is really going on in Zimbabwe. The Western political establishment and media would like for the entire world to believe that Mugabe is a racist who hates white people and who wants to steal their land from them. But this is a phony argument that detracts from a specific issue in Zimbabwe and one that may soon spread throughout the continent of Africa.

Mugabe, far from perfect, has taken great pains over the years in the way that he has managed the race relations in his country. Instead of being attacked he should be commended for the way he has handled an almost impossible situation. Mugabe has been more than fair to the whites of Zimbabwe who only make up 0.6% of the population but who disproportionately own the best land. The numbers tell much of the story: 4,500 whites own one quarter of the most arable land while 8,000,000 rural Blacks are either landless or live in overcrowded settlements or on poor quality land. For years, Blacks have wanted to take the land from these farmers and Mugabe has stayed their hand and the result has been peace and prosperity for whites for 20 years when the result could just as easily have been bloodshed and murder.

Specifically, the charge that Mugabe sent former Black war veterans to go and confiscate land from whites (most recently uttered in a Wall St. Journal editorial) is baseless though often repeated. No shred of evidence has been produced to prove the charge yet it continues to be hurled at the president. Indeed, Mugabe has been slow to send police to confront the angry war veterans but it is not hard to imagine why. It is understandable that Mugabe does not wish to risk a violent confrontation with the veterans who currently are seeking the removal of white farmers from their land. And that is exactly what would happen if he sent troops in to confront these angry and hurt war veterans. Interestingly, the media fails to address the potential bloodshed that would result if Mugabe moved with physical force against these Blacks.

The real issue in Zimbabwe is not race but rather one of land and economic growth. But unfortunately since its independence, Zimbabwe has forfeited both of these issues to the IMF and World Bank. This is a critical factor continuously glossed over by the West and one that so far Britain and American officials have successfully ignored by positioning Mugabe as a racist. The fact of the matter is that Zimbabwe has been a member of the IMF since September 29, 1980 which means that even though the country has been free of direct colonial rule since April of 1980, its economy has been planned by the IMF for virtually its entire existence. That planning continues to this day and with disastrous results.

Currently, nearly 70% of the country lives below the poverty line, experiences an inflation rate of over 60% and endures a painfully slow growth rate of just over 1% annually. In addition, the country relies heavily on agricultural crops like tobacco, cotton and sugarcane and desperately depends upon an IMF-planned strategy of exporting its way out of poverty -- a strategy that never works. Furthermore, the IMF has demanded that price controls be lifted on food and that taxes be raised at the same time. It is hardly a wonder that the Blacks of Zimbabwe are angry and dissatisfied. If anything, their restraint to this date is striking.

Where Mugabe has erred is that in order to get foreign aid from both the IMF and World Bank, he has played the trump card of land reform. Instead of going directly and exclusively to Britain - the source of the land problem - Mugabe has offered to trade land reform for IMF and World Bank financing. Which means that he must bow to the dictates of both institutions which exacerbate the initial source of poverty among Blacks -- the lack of ownership of useful land. This of course is the result of Blacks having had their land stolen from the British last century. So if Mugabe is to be blamed for anything it should be his selling of the land reform issue and the economy of Zimbabwe to the IMF and World Bank but he should not be blamed for terrorizing whites.

The racism charge rings hollow because if there ever was a time to lash out at Whites for what they have done to the Blacks of the country it would have been after independence. That did not happen. Certainly over the last 20 years, Mugabe and the war veterans have had ample time to murder whites wholesale - if that really was there objective. Rather, Mugabe and the Blacks of the country have bent over backwards to not harm the whites of the country and the history of Zimbabwe in the last 20 years is proof alone of that.

No, this time it is the West who is playing the race card because it favors Mugabe's opponent in the upcoming presidential elections in the country. Mugabe's opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has spent the past week in Britain and America courting the favor of the American and British governments and media outlets, is backed by the 4500 white farmers of Zimbabwe and foreigners who believe that he will protect their interests in the country if elected President. Tsvangirai has a legitimate argument when he argues that Mugabe is using the land issue for political gain and he is correct to point out the corruption and major problems of Mugabe's administration, but if elected president there is no doubt that his leaning against Mugabe will play into the hands of Britain, the IMF and the World Bank. A major aspect of the debate between the two men is that Mugabe wants the land issue decided between Britain and Zimbabwe while Tsvangirai wants it decided between Zimbabwe, the IMF and World Bank.

Mugabe may be doing what he is doing to win votes but Tsvangirai appears to be doing what he is doing to win foreign investment which will come at a tremendous cost. The Tsvangirai approach ultimately will fail because the IMF and World Bank will be the arbiter of any new relationship between Zimbabwe and the world financial community. And wherever the IMF fills the role of arbiter they enact reforms that actually drive foreign investment away. As an example, last year the IMF advised Zimbabwe to impose a value added tax (VAT), excise taxes and the withholding of capital gains taxes; the combination of which makes investment unattractive - at a time when Zimbabwe is in dire need of capital.

Another aim of those in the west in their attack on Mugabe is to stop the spread of the land issue throughout Africa. Zimbabwe is not the only country in Africa that is having this problem. In Kenya and South Africa, poor Blacks whose ancestors had their land stolen from them by white Europeans also are contemplating taking land from whites. The west fears that Kenyan and South African Blacks, in particular, may emulate the few Blacks in Zimbabwe that have actually moved to take land back. The move to take land in Zimbabwe has been met with approval by many Blacks in South Africa who identify with the inequity in land distribution. In fact, in 1994 Nelson Mandela drew up a five-year plan that promised to redistribute 30% of the agricultural land that was, at that time, in the hands of whites. The plan was a dismal failure. Some measure that only 1% of the original 30% has been redistributed to Blacks. In Kenya, the land question has been an issue for nearly 30 years stemming from the fact that over 2 million acres of land was taken by Britain from Blacks and then given to whites. The land has yet to be totally redistributed. If the war veterans of Zimbabwe are successful in their efforts there exists a fear that Black South Africans and Kenyans will similarly take matters into their own hands.

By branding Mugabe a racist, Britain and America are making it increasingly difficult for the international community to deal with him. But that is there goal - to prevent him from resolving the land issue between the two parties that it really affects the most- Britain and Zimbabwe. They are much more comfortable in the position of using Zimbabwe's need to resolve the land question as a means to shape the Zimbabwe economy to their liking. Though he has sought their help, Mugabe has never fully implemented all of the reforms that the IMF and World Bank have desired and he has never fully accepted that land reform should be implemented at the Zimbabwe government's expense (a view shared by a majority of the people of Zimbabwe). In these two areas he has become a problem to both the white farmers and the world political establishment that principally operates out of Washington and London.

So a replacement for Mugabe has been found and financially backed and the demonization of Mugabe has intensified. But as the entire affair is observed one has to ask the question, if Mugabe is ousted, who benefits? Is it 99% of the population of Zimbabwe or is it 0.6% of the population of Zimbabwe as well as Britain, America, the IMF and the World Bank? Will the lives of the people of Zimbabwe really improve if Tsvangirai takes over? The answer to that question should give pause to those who currently can't see the efforts of the West to mask the real issue of right vs. wrong with a smokescreen of Black vs. White.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, April 20, 2000

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