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Hopewell Chin’ono: Mnangagwa’s administration is failing but let us use correct narratives to explain the failure

By Hopewell Chin’ono

I have read the attached Politico article (Not Free, Not Fair, Not Credible: Did Britain Back a Zimbabwean Autocrat’s Re-election?) that is being shared wildly on social media and I thought I needed to address a few misplaced arguments in it.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa inspects Russian honour guards during a welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on January 14, 2019. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)

We do not need to create our own truths and bend facts to justify how the current government is spectacularly failing, the evidence of its failure is glaringly present before all to see.

Whilst the Politico article looks at critical issues that we have always raised here such as reform or lack of it, it does so at times using weak and false narratives.

Gukurahundi was not an operation to target the Ndebele population, it was an operation targeted at ZAPU by Robert Mugabe and ZANU, it was meant to weaken Joshua Nkomo politically.

Joshua Nkomo said this on many occasions and even asked people to STOP creating this divisive ethnic narrative because it is false.

Mugabe would have done it whether ZAPU was predominantly stronger in Matabeleland or not.

He did it in Mashonaland and Masvingo to the Shonas in 2008, it was not about ethnicity, it was about power retention and political parties fighting each other for power.

Again in 2008 Mugabe and his goons that included the present President targeted the MDC regardless of color or ethnicity, anything that stood in their way was game and seen as a legitimate target.

The Politico article argues that Mugabe turned against the West in the late 1990s by embarking on land reform, this again is false.

Mugabe went for land reform due to internal political pressures where he found himself extremely unpopular due to a failing economy and restive young population without jobs.

The economic downturn emerged in earnest in 1997 when the Zimbabwe Dollar lost value due to ill thought out disbursements to war veterans, the unbudgeted Congolese war expedition and the 1999 withdrawal block by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund due to un-serviced arrears.

So land reform was not an anti-Western frontier but rather a political necessity for Mugabe’s survival, it was unplanned and done haphazardly because of the political pressure cooker Mugabe found himself in had become hotter.

He used land invasions as a political card to save himself from losing power to the opposition which had successfully mobilized against his proposed new constitution.

The Politico article notes that former British Ambassador Catriona Laing was sympathetic to ZANUPF and Emmerson Mnangagwa, I think that it is a reality that was self-evident for all to see.

However Laing was pursuing British interests, so to argue that her support was confirmed by her wearing of the now famous scarf in front of 10 Downing Street in December of 2017 is patently false.

The scarf only became associated with Emmerson Mnangagwa after Davos in February of 2018, Laing had worn it before that and for good reason.

Laing knew the young lady who designed the scarf, Celia Rukato, so the Ambassador was helping her get visibility, so Laing bought many scarves from Rukato that she then dished out as presents before Emmerson Mnangagwa had worn the scarf in Davos.

Many Western Ambassadors had worn the scarf including the American Ambassador, the scarf at the time had been seen as a symbol of Zimbabweaness.

However it was convenient for those opposed to Laing to accuse her of wearing the scarf in retrospect in isolation of the fact that she was not the only Western ambassador to have worn it.

Laing was sympathetic to the proposed New Dispensation but it is dishonest to articulate that point using the scarf argument.

I agree with Alex Magaisa that Britain was pursuing its own national interests, something that some Zimbabweans haven’t grasped yet.

I remember meeting Catriona Laing in 2016 at the British Embassy at her invitation as Ambassadors always do.

She explained to me that Western Ambassadors had behaved as activists in the past and that all she was doing was pursuing the traditional role of an ambassador, engaging the government of the day and also speaking to the opposition.

I understood her very well on that point and I agreed with her view that her job was to pursue British interests that included being sympathetic to a leader who will not stand in the way of those political and economic interests.

Grace Mugabe and her husband did not fit that bill and also Mugabe had not produced a credible heir to his Presidency.

Britain also realized that the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai had become weaker and was unlikely to loosen Mugabe’s grip on power.

Emmerson Mnangagwa had a team of business and corporate people who sold his case to the Western diplomats in Harare, he successfully made his case which unfortunately has now been blown apart.

He understood that any leader emerging out of Mugabe’s shadows needed Britain’s support, and to that effect ED diligently sought that political backing and got it.

I agree with Miles Tendi’s assertion in the Politico article that Zimbabwe has nothing special to it other than in my view, good weather and beautiful tourist attractions.

There has been a delusional attempt by our government and many compatriots to assume that the world needs us, there is nothing that we have that is not found elsewhere for less hassle for that matter.

We have imposed sanctions on ourselves by making it difficult for big money to come our way, we have no currency of our own, we have not reformed Mugabe’s political and economic architecture underpinned by repressive instruments, we are still using rogue language perfected by folks like George Charamba and the list goes on.

So in my view Catriona Laing was pushing for us to get on track because Britain’s interests would be better saved by a working Zimbabwe and not a broken state that we currently have become.

Many have argued that Laing picked a side, which is what governments do by the way, they pick sides, if you believe the democratic diplomatic nonsense that Ambassadors are impartial then you are ignorant to how foreign policy works.

Emmerson Mnangagwa understood this very well, that is why he doggedly pursued Britain’s endorsement, the fact that he has failed after getting it is his own fault.

Saudi Arabia kills journalists but America embraces it non-the less, it is because America is pursuing its own interests.

Zimbabweans who make this foolish equation fail to understand that countries turn a blind eye when their interests are affected, nations do not roll out a homogenous foreign policy.

When the butcher of Santiago General Augusto Pinochet was detained in England on the request of Spain so that he could answer charges of human rights abuses under his murderous reign, Margaret Thatcher reminded the British government of how Pinochet had helped Britain in the Folklands war.

As a country we have nothing that we can use to bargain with the superpowers, Uganda helps America with its war on terror in Somalia.

Kenya does the same in Somalia so regardless of the equivalent bad behavior between those countries and Zimbabwe, they will be treated differently because they save America’s national interests in the horn of Africa.

Mugabe failed to understand that aspect of foreign policy, ED understood that reality and Chamisa should understand it too, and start working towards being a viable alternative to those that matter.

So forget about how Britain and America behaves towards us and focus on what we are doing to make things better for ourselves.

The question that you should be asking yourselves is whether the Zimbabwean government is pursuing Zimbabwean national interests or not?

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.

He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.

The recently departed music superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.

It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France and in the UK at the Heart of England International Film Festival.

You can watch the documentary trailer below.

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