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Charles Ray: White kisses through thick, dark lips

By Nathaniel Manheru

A story is told of a rasta-man who somehow found himself in the United Kingdom. Neither spectacularly educated nor gifted with a voice hoarse enough to chant any psalms to Nyabinghi, the brother-man knew he had to invest heavily in very long locks and his very hard African features which at once proclaimed iconoclasm and the archetypal virility of the raw African proverbially regarded as so appealing to fanciful minds of young English college girls. Better still if these girls happen to hail from a monied upper class, in which case his would be a double catch of passion with a purse.

US Ambassador Charles Ray meets Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe
US Ambassador Charles Ray meets Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe

The day Mwangi was not hot

It so happened that he went into an English pub one day, less for a drink and more to find a public convenience. Overseas the mad white-man levies taxes on just about anything, including accessing those vital small houses within which unfold processes which nature deems, and deems irrevocable.

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Clearly our poor, virile, locked man could not afford the going rate. Soon a presentable white lady joined our man from the Nyabinghi sect, choosing to sit right behind him, all to furtively feast long and uninterrupted on his adorable mien. Here was the virile African “Mwangi”, live, of English colonial lore. And Mwangi’s long, un-washed dreadlocks added to the fascination.

The odour the locks emitted was part of the overall allure, she convinced herself, savouring every visible inch of the man, imaginatively meeting the deficit on the unseen. It was a mealy site to behold and the mem-sahib ate, ate and ate hardly ever reaching satiety. She devoured the locks – strand by strand, long by long – from fontanel to neck, and back.

Enter the red-shot louse

In the busy, absorbing process, her eyes caught a fat, red-shot louse lazily battening on one lock, barely embedded. So overfed was the louse that it was sure to fall off with the spiritual man’s slightest stagger or stumble. But she would not wait for such a contingency.

She chose to intervene and wasted no time. Here was a golden opportunity to be both useful to African humanity and to pursue enlightened bodily self-interest. Armed with a compassion far greater than David Livingstone’s, or that of any of his successors combined, the girl leapt, and then leered, aiming for the parasite which she knocked and tossed off with one deft, liberating fling of her delicate fore-finger.

Repelling kind cruelty

“What you doing white lady,” chanted the rasta-man, a chant made harsher by a raw cockney accent.

“Excuse me, Sir. Sorry to startle you if I did. But there was this big, bloated bloody louse on your lovely locks. I have tossed it off you. You should be alright now,” came a thin, soothing voice, cracking with a satisfying sense of duty if not mission successfully accomplished. Another white-man’s burden discharged, this time by a saintly missus!

“Put it baa-ack, put it baa-ck,” screamed the locked, black ingrate. “White ma-aan fond of taking blaa-ack ma-aan’s property!”

The yell was sharp and hard, clearly presaging dire action in the absence of instant restitution. She stood transfixed, pale with fright.

The day the black American left the chill

This week Charles Ray, America’s ambassador here, called on President Robert Mugabe at the President’s Munhumutapa Offices. It was a meeting so long in coming, one heralded by “shadow” meetings involving both bureaucrats and party officials.

In the end, the President obliged, thereby lifting the envoy from a long diplomatic chill. Whatever personal pride says, it is the wish of every ambassador to be in touch with his or her hosts.

No amount of meeting with the nearly men and women of the Inclusive Government we have here will ever be satisfying to any ambassador, let alone one from a country which knows only too well where power lies. The meeting could not have taken place in more foreboding circumstances. Unfolding in an atmosphere clouded by WikiLeaks, the encounter was bound to trigger media frenzy.

Madame and a B-MATT officer

Besides, the meeting took place a matter of days from the presentation of credentials by Britain’s new lady ambassador, itself clearly an important development both on its own, and from messages swapped by the two antagonistic sides.

Please get these odious sanctions off our back, madame. We don’t deserve them, we have never deserved them, came a plea from President Mugabe, a plea whose vehemence was disguised by false plaintiveness and a show of acute vulnerability.

My Prime Minister has asked me to send weekly reports so he is kept informed on Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is very important to the United Kingdom, stressed the lady ambassador, likewise hiding the awesome menace of her message in stylistic matter-of-factness. The new ambassador is no stranger to Zimbabwe. She came here in the early eighties, at the dawn of our Uhuru, wife to a B-MATT officer. On this day, Her Excellency brought the officer in tow, his significance hopefully pared down to that of a mere husband. I actually wonder whether upon hearing the afore-quoted words from the envoy the President felt profoundly cared for by the “mother country”!

A hunter hunted

Thirdly and lastly, the week before Zimbabwe’s Attorney General had given notice to the EU bloc of Zimbabwe’s intention to sue Europe for the imposition of illegal and unfair sanctions on the country, on 160 or so Zimbabweans, and on about 31 companies, mostly parastatals.

It is an action sure to cause a stir, sure to give Mugabe yet another notch higher in fame or notoriety, depending of course on your vantage point. The norm has always been one of the white man hauling the native to white courts, principally the ICC. What is this Mugha-bi up to, again?

In between these momentous events, some little civil servant of the EU bloc had passed through the country, en route for South Africa for an annual EU-South Africa consultative meeting which has just ended and at which Zimbabwe came up for discussion. But his meeting with the President had revealed the other side of R.G: that of cynical tolerance.

He let the EU civil servant bubble and rumble on and on, even superciliously, before abruptly cutting in to end the small man’s lofty talk: “One has to be a faithful servant of his master, is that not? That is what loyalty means, isn’t?” It was a parting shot, literally, as the Briton and civil servant immediately picked himself up to leave, fresh wound gushing scarlet. A week of both hard and soft balls, it was.

Using CIA to sell safe sex

A bit of winnowing so we quickly remove the chaff for real tare. Someone has to tell our journalists and editors that WikiLeaks are not an issue at all in diplomacy. Only very naïve people imagine that Americans set up a whole embassy here, deployed CIA operatives in industrial quantities here, all to fund borehole drilling, teach and fund safe-sex, or to sell Monstanto’s wonder seed.

They are here to spy on us, here to further their geo-strategic interests which may or may not coincide or cohere with our political arrangements as we have them here and now. If they judge that our present politics are opposed to their long-term interests, they will, quite naturally, try and find ways of changing them for more amenable ones.

We similarly deploy to Washington and New York for no less reason, only diminished by our smallness, both by size and means. We might fall short by way of capacity and reach but, hey, that is the goal.

We have our own reports on American leadership and politics. We have our own impressions of American personalities and events. I bet my bottom dollar, these impressions are no less irreverent, no less melodramatic, no less mischievous. The only difference is that we have been able to look after our cables better than the Americans. Serious governments do not waste time asking for the whys and wherefores. They get down to business behind penned offices. Outwardly, they smile, conveying huge hospitality!

So stale a news, so new a story

Secondly, there is hardly anything new to emerge from WikiLeaks. Details maybe. Nuances and brilliant quotes probably. But generally who was doing what with the Americans, all that was quite known.

And such contacts went beyond Americans, to encompass many other western embassies. Assange just happens to have caught up with the blunderous. They are not the only ones; not even the worst. By way of the actual substance itself, there was no news in the fact that some Zanu-PF elements had a hand in the formation of the MDC, let alone in the subsequent fall-out between the MDC leadership and those elements in Zanu-PF.

There was no enigma in the formation of Mavambo, or those inside Zanu-PF who were behind it. What was rather surprising was why this element in Zanu-PF balked from the ultimate, namely excising themselves from the main body to join their project.

Zanu-PF and Marx

Nothing new in that as sanctions deepened, a few influential party stalwarts and officials, principally those who had acquired significant assets and/or had banked their savings abroad, would deviate from the party line, all to cut deals with the enemy.

Only a naïve Zanu-PF would not know the political consequences of an African petit bourgeois element born out of a national democratic movement or a patriotic front. Equally, only a naïve Zanu-PF would not know that once challenged, imperialism will recruit from this class to mount a challenge to radical politics it would want exorcised from the Zimbabwean body-politic.

Out parties, in classes

The past 31 years have been years of independence, true. But they have also been years of embourgeoisification, of pseudo-class formation founded not so much on relations of property and production, but on relations with those who own or control the means of production in our country.

Or relations with those countries from where such persons hail. We are looking at the political behavior of a servile, intermediary class for whom confrontation with imperialism bodes ruin for their little businesses and token shares.

They are called “reformers” in current, trendy nomenclature. They do cut across the political divide, something which certain naïve sections in our media cannot comprehend except with deep anguish and agony.

For them, the essential dynamic of our turbulent politics are party formations: Zanu-PF, MDC formations, Zapu, etc, etc. Between these lie unbridgeable chasms! So when they are confronted with new behaviours which confound these party dichotomies, they find refugee in loose words like “betrayal”, “sell-outs”, “turncoats”, etc, etc. they are still a long way from grasping that politics and political formations crystallise class interests, indeed to grasp that symbolically overwhelming though Zanu-PF is and may be, in the final analysis it will stand or fall by whatever class interest emerges dominant. It certainly cannot remain an omnibus front it was during the days of the nationalist struggle against settler colonialism.

When age does not matter

Similarly, President Mugabe may have risen to power on the history and aura of the liberation struggle. But he owes his political sustenance now and in future to class choices he makes, namely between his bourgeois colleagues so keen to cut deals with imperialism, and the broad and impoverished masses by way of peasants and workers, still hoping that Uhuru can one day smile on them, all to better fortunes.

So far he has stood by the latter, which is why he has been so difficult to dislodge, whether at home or abroad. American cables run the risk of creating a false impression that age and claims of infirmities are behind the leadership challenge to President Mugabe, both by America itself, and by the comprador element in Zanu-PF which wants him “to go”.

Shorn of radical policies on land and the economy, Americans and many western interests would not care a hoot that Zimbabwe is being run by an 87-year old president. Ready to renounce a radical agenda and ready to secure their material interests, the so-called “reformers” will wish the President many, many more years.

The issue is not age. The issue is saving and serving western interests and what role each one of us plays in that equation. Similarly, in Tsvangirai the issue is not education. It is how well he provides leadership in the fight to safeguard western interests. In the present circumstances, such leadership translates to challenging Mugabe’s presidency and dominance in Zimbabwean politics.

Tools of tools versus tools of imperialism

It is significant that the only difference between MDC politicians and those drawn from the so-called Zanu (PF) reformers is that in the case of the former, a local white man – best exemplified by Clive Puzzey and Roy Bennett – hovers above the local politician, mediating between him and his American interlocutors.

That makes the MDC politician a tool of a tool, twice removed from source. In the case of the latter, we see a boldness to engage Americans directly with the hope of offering oneself as the direct fixer and direct point-man of American interests.

MDC politicians are tools of tools; Zanu-PF’s “reformers” exhibit a certain aggressiveness of a measured urge to own and control, albeit within strictures of imperialism. Often, that entailed blackmailing conglomerates for protection, with the demand for shares as the quid pro quo. That makes the reformers tools of the source. I leave you to judge whether there is much difference between the two.

Entering from below

I said the American envoy called on the President. Yes, he did. The only link between this courtesy call and WikiLeaks is the American continual search for a key to unlock the Zimbabwe enigma, which for Americans translate to the Mugabe enigma.

America has just told its envoys all over the world, principally those serving in Africa, to re-engineer American foreign relations towards greater business with and in Africa, which in their own mythology, amounts to the last resource frontier.

The statistics are glaring and exhorting enough. America has managed a mere US$24bn business with Africa. In sharp contrast, China – America’s main competitor and foe – has managed US$54 billion on the same continent which big American business has regarded as an investor’s cesspool.

China’s winning formulae has been to harness the power of the State to underwrite the risk, whether real or imagined. Now America wants to copy, hopes to improve. In place of State Corporations which China has used to gain a foothold, US hopes to get the better of its big but coy corporations by unleashing Americans SMEs on the continent.

Such a thrust would allow US to re-enter Africa from on below, from bottom going up.  Predictably, such an approach allows it to circumvent the larger political question of dealing with Africa’s so-called strongmen, but while being able to subvert him from this grass-root re-entry.

All that puts into context what America and the EU have been doing around agriculture and the so-called livelihoods boosting, does it not? This is the context within which Ray’s mission must be understood and appreciated.

No business outside Zidera

Time for some nasty truths which must confront this black-man on America’s employ. He seeks to circumvent the issue of sanctions, of Zidera, which his country has invoked against Zimbabwe. About Zidera, he says he cannot help, but still wants us to forge ahead building on the tenuous grounds that unite us.

He is anxious to do business with Zimbabwe, in spite of Zidera and we are supposed to be most grateful about that! In other words Zidera now hampers American interests here and Ray wants Mugabe, himself a victim of Zidera, to help him out in the name of wealth-creation through SMEs.

Predictably few months down the road Ray will brag that indeed Zidera is not about sanctions, only restrictive measures!

Who would contradict him?

The real issue is that America is hamstrung by its own sanctions law. It can only get more and more hamstrung as Zimbabwe’s pressure against EU begins to bear fruit. After all, the Europeans have no law in place, only a sanctions resolution which can be scrapped at a seating. Not so America.

The new thrust of mobilising the broad masses against sanctions leaves America on very slippery ground. America is most vulnerable to a sentiment that resonates right down to the butt of society. They don’t like it as that denies them the leverage of social engineering and social change.

Still, white man’s fondness through black

So? Well, this black-man must be told unambiguously that relations between Zimbabwe and United States of America cannot be normalised outside of the removal of sanctions by the rescind of Zidera. That must be the bottom line.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe must help the Americans decide by cutting more irrevocable deals with the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Brazilians and Iranians. Real deals that throw America and the West into a fit.

Besides, we must learn from Gaddafi and Libya. Western interests are not to be appeased. The West cannot be placated, except to one’s peril, whether in the immediate or in the long run. We are no Gaddafi for we have only taken what is ours.

That means apart from the forbidding example of Libya, we have very solid reasons to be adamant and insistent. The tables may have turned and, hey, we should tell America and the rest of Europe that, white man fond of taking black ma-aan’s property. It does not matter that there is a red-shot louse, and a heart that might mean good.

The point is the West has poisoned its relations with Zimbabwe that even love gets suspiciously harmful. More so when its lips are thick and black!


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