Monday, 14 February 2011 21:32 Opinion
By Farirai Chubvu
ONE hundred and twenty-six years ago, seven European powers were gathered in Berlin, Germany, for a conference to discuss how best to carve Africa among themselves to avoid infighting in the colonies.
Africa had no say in what transpired in Berlin as its citizens, just like the Aborigines in Australia, were considered a sub-human species and part of the natural resources to be shared between the pillaging settlers.
Tomorrow, more than a whole century and score years later, European leaders gather in Brussels, Belgium, to review their illegal economic sanctions regime on Zimbabwe, in flagrant violation of the Cotonou Agreement that governs relations between African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
And, despite the fact that more than a century has lapsed since Berlin, for some, particularly Britain, the ghost of Berlin still has to be exorcised.
Zimbabwe will not be represented in Brussels when the “all-knowing” Westerners meet to discuss “what’s best for Zimbabweans”.
The burden of history, however, rests on the shoulders of the Tories, who are duty-bound to demonstrate that there is a new party in town, that they are different from the blundering Labour whose two leaders were hounded out of office in succession.
This is the first time since Zimbabwe’s bilateral dispute with Britain flared up 13 years ago that EU ministers meet with the Tories in power, and David Cameron –— the British premier — must show he has a different way of doing things to his Labour predecessors.
The first point Cameron has to remember is that the EU sanctions stemmed from a purely bilateral dispute between Harare and London that Blair selfishly tried to internationalise; and as shown by the recent visit to Harare by the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Yang Jiechi, Blair’s subversive attempts came to nought as no one outside the Anglo-Saxon alliance bought into his rhetoric on Zimbabwe.
So, the logical thing for Cameron to do is to urge his partners in the EU to drop the sanctions, and then move to re-engage Zimbabwe to resolve the age-old colonial question that is basically our national question.
Secondly, it is important to note that sanctions were imposed in flagrant violation of international law. One, by being imposed outside the purview of the United Nations system, two by being imposed ultra vires the Cotonou Agreement that governs relations between ACP member states, and third and most importantly, by being imposed as a cover for the rank violation of the international law of succession that should have bound the New Labour government of Tony Blair to honour obligations entered into by the Tory administration of Margaret Thatcher at the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference in 1979, where the British government pledged to bankroll the cost of land reforms in Zimbabwe.
As part of the independence settlement, the British government with Margaret Thatcher at the helm and their American cousins then led by Jimmy Carter, pledged to assist Zimbabwe with land reforms after the first decade of independence.
And true to the terms of the moratorium, the Government only moved to acquire land by passing the Land Acquisition Act in 1992 to speed up the land reform process by removing the “willing seller, willing buyer” clause.
The Act empowered the Government to buy land compulsorily for redistribution, and a fair compensation was to be paid by Britain for land so acquired.
However, landowners could challenge in court the price set by the acquiring authority, and because of this provision, opposition by white farmers dominated the period 1992 to 1997 when the British Secretary for Overseas Development, Claire Short, wrote that infamous letter to the then Minister of Land and Agriculture, Cde Kumbirai Kangai, ‘‘absolving’’ her government of any obligations to fund land reforms in Zimbabwe. Claire Short wrote
”‘‘I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.
“We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests.
“My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers’’.
After reneging on their colonial obligations, the British government thought it economical to fund an opposition to unseat the Government and torpedo land reforms in the process culminating in the launch of the MDC on September 11 1999, a party that did not waste any time in promising to return all land to white commercial farmers.
MDC also gave the British government a much-needed excuse with which to mask their fight with Zimbabwe.
The opposition party played the powerless victim of alleged Government repression allowing Blair to pass his gross violation of international law as a fight for democracy in Zimbabwe.
This is why London has regurgitated, with sickening prurience, trumped-up charges of alleged political repression, closure of democratic space and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. The same platform on which the EU was duped into imposing economic sanctions on Zimbabwe in February 2002, the same platform Blair and Brown used to justify their puerile rhetoric on Zimbabwe.
That land (read the colonial question) is at the core of problems in Zimbabwe is captured in the sanctions law the US imposed on Zimbabwe, the so-called Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, which says the sanctions can only be revoked if land tenure is restored to pre-2000 levels, that is if land is returned to white commercial farmers.
In fact, Blair acknowledged the centrality of land to the problems in Zimbabwe in the Abuja Declaration of September 6 2001.
The admission was enshrined in the statement released by the Meeting of the Committee of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers on Zimbabwe, that also included the British Foreign Secretary, that said among other things,
‘‘land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern to the Commonwealth, such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy and the economy . . . A programme of land reform is, therefore, crucial to the resolution of the problem.’’
The centrality of land to the stand-off between Harare and London explains why the ACP, NAM, AU, Comesa, Sadc and other progressive people around the world have condemned the illegal Western embargo.
Sadc, in particular, not only called for the lifting of the Western sanctions but urged Britain to honour obligations to fund land reforms in Zimbabwe, among other things.
As such, Zimbabwe is a test case for the man called David Cameron, the way the EU deals with how a whole bloc was mobilised to gang up against a people whose only ‘‘crime’’ was daring to live a decent life in their country will tell us whether Africa-EU partnership is feasible or whether the horse-rider relationship endures.
Britain’s policy of destructive engagement towards Zimbabwe, a policy of exclusion and subversion, is against the spirit of EU-Africa dialogue, which is why the sanctions must be scrapped as the first step towards re-engagement and co-operation.
The problems in Zimbabwe can be traced to September 12 1890 when the Pioneer Column arrived at Harare Kopje where they hoisted the Union Jack 24 hours latter proclaiming Zimbabwe the Queen’s territory.
As payment for assisting him colonise Mashonaland, Cecil John Rhodes gave the 180 men in the Pioneer Corps and 300 paramilitary police officers huge chunks of land in Zimbabwe’s prime agro-ecological regions.
The tragedy was the lands so parcelled out were already inhabited by indigenous Africans who were unceremoniously booted out and confined to the most arid and unproductive agro-ecological zones, primarily regions four and five.
Not only that, but their cattle were compulsorily taken, their children and wives forced into providing unpaid labour (chibharo) on the ill-gotten farms.
Several pieces of racist legislation were crafted, among them the Maize Control Act that forbade African farmers from selling their produce so that they could forever be mired in poverty and stagnation, and provide cheap labour for the white overlords.
As a result of the excesses of successive colonial regimes, Zimbabweans were forced to take up arms in 1896 culminating in the First Chimurenga War that was ruthlessly put down by the settlers by virtue of their superior weaponry.
Luminaries like Chief Chingaira, Chinengundu, Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were summarily executed in cold blood for daring to lead the struggle for self-determination.
It was not until April 27 1966 that Zimbabweans once again took up arms to reclaim their heritage, the land that had been stolen from them, culminating in the Second Chimurenga that raged until 1979, stopping only when the British convened the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference in London to hammer out the terms of a ceasefire and subsequently independence for the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.