On 4 July 2004, President George Bush's then secretary of state, Colin Powell, announced that the US and European Union had "ended all official assistance to the government of Zimbabwe", and that they were lobbying other governments to do the same.
This, he stressed, was punishment to President Robert Mugabe and the government of Zimbabwe for what he termed "authoritarian rule" and for pursuing "wrong policies", principally "his [Mugabe's] cynical 'land reform' programme", which Powell alleged had rendered "millions of people [to be] desperately hungry".
By this policy, the Bush administration seemed to have broken new ground in international relations, with a foreign power unilaterally seeking intervention in the affairs of another as punishment for "pursuing wrong policies".
If such a novel ethic were to be accepted and implemented in international relations, one wonders what fate would have befallen the Bush administration and virtually all its predecessors.
Backing up the US charge of "wrong policies", Powell added: "Worse still, the entire Zimbabwean economy is near collapse. Reckless governmental mismanagement and unchecked corruption have produced annual inflation rates of near 300%, unemployment of more than 70% and widespread shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities. Is it any wonder that Zimbabweans are demanding political change, or that President Mugabe must rely on stepped-up violence and vote-rigging to remain in office?" As if unaware that his rhetorical question acknowledged that the Zimbabwe body-politic had avenues for dissent and mechanisms for correcting and punishing politicians who pursue "wrong policies", Powell made another staggering revelation: "And we [Bush administration] will continue to assist directly, in many different ways, the brave men and women of Zimbabwe who are resisting tyranny."
Powell continued: "The US expected Zanu PF and the opposition party [to work] together [to] legislate the constitutional changes to allow for a transition. With the president gone, with a transitional government in place and with a date fixed for new elections, Zimbabweans of all descriptions would, I believe, come together to begin the process of rebuilding their country."
Powell even dropped sufficient pecuniary enticements: "If this happens, the United States would be quick to pledge generous assistance to the restoration of Zimbabwe's political and economic institutions even before the election. Other donors, I am sure, would be close behind. Reading this, Robert Mugabe and his cohorts may cry, 'blackmail'. We should ignore them. Their time has come and gone."
Now we know whose time has really come and gone! But Powell was making it clear US policy and measures went beyond stopping official assistance and mobilising the Western world against Zimbabwe. They included sponsoring opposition politics in Zimbabwe, and envisaged the removal of President Mugabe from both the leadership of his party and government through processes well outside of the ballot.
It was the US government's prerogative to determine when Robert Mugabe and his government's "time was up".
This marked a significant departure from the policy the US had pursued all along and which its assistant secretary for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, had articulated to the African affairs subcommittee of the Congress' Committee on Foreign Relations on 28 June 2001, when he stressed that the US always had to be clear that "it is up to Zimbabweans themselves to decide who will govern them, and [that] they must be given the opportunity to choose freely".
The US expected the replacement of the Zanu PF government by a miscegenated one born out of a collaborative legislative programme combining a reconstituted leadership of Zanu PF and the Western-sponsored MDC. In short, US policy envisaged "regime change", with elections only coming in as an aftermath, if not an afterthought. Curiously, it is the programme which the MDC and its Western sponsors espouse to this day.
Powell also made it clear that Zimbabwe's land reform programme, itself the cause of this bellicose American policy, was not, in the view of Washington, legitimate or part of "the rebuilding" of Zimbabwe.
In any case, a programme for "the rebuilding" of Zimbabwe was incompatible with Mugabe's presidency. Again, this was a marked departure from Kainsteiner's June 2001 position which admitted that land distribution "was a legitimate problem which Zanu PF has".
The legal framework for US policy on Zimbabwe remains the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act which was passed by the US Administration in 2001 (see p112). Far from encouraging ballot-based democratic practice, let alone economic recovery, the law proposes and authorises blanket sanctions on Zimbabwe, albeit couched as "targeted sanctions" aimed at persons in, or associated with, Zanu PF and its government.
It also instructs US officials in international financial institutions to "oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe" and to vote against any reduction or cancellation of "indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe".
It allows President Bush to fund "an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe", with US$6m granted for "democracy and governance programmes". It makes the reversal of Zimbabwe's land reforms to pre-2000, a condition for reengagement.
Described by the current US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, as "the cornerstone of US policy on Zimbabwe", this policy has been hyper-actively pursued by Washington since 2001. From that date to this year, President Bush has made one proclamation (February 2002) and three executive orders (March 2003, November 2005 and most recently, February 2007), all meant to expand measures against Zimbabwe under the Act.
Each executive order starts from the premise that Zimbabwe pursues "actions and policies [that] pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States".
This challenges the compassionate face Powell sought to give to US policy on Zimbabwe. In any event, history does not quite make the US famous for worrying about the fate of other peoples, let alone Africans, indeed for regarding such a non-existent worry "an unusual and extraordinary threat" to its foreign policy.
If the US did, Zimbabwe and many other African nations would never have been colonised, let alone having to wage liberation struggles to free themselves against racist colonials that the US was quite happy to recognise and/or do business with.
In the case of Zimbabwe, the US had no problems in getting chrome from white Rhodesia, against the dictates of the UN sanctions against Rhodesia. Even its much advertised "mercy industry" (NGOs) is always underlaid by clear foreign policy goals which are non-humanitarian.
It was, therefore, ironic that Powell, himself an African-American made famous by America's unjust wars abroad, was questioning policies of another country--an African country--seeking to reverse the effects of the colonial economy and to empower Africans. It is a stance which his successor, Condoleeza Rice, again an African-American, has upheld on behalf of a Republican administration without any sense of embarrassing irony. Indeed, it does dramatise the abuse of certain elite African-Americans by the US government to weaken the whole argument of restitution which should be immediate to all victims of the West's encounter with Africa, starting with victims of the slave trade. The Zimbabwe Democracy Act enjoyed bi-partisan support, itself an indication that what was at stake in that policy was considered vital enough to transcend party politics.
Indeed, this bi-partisan support which included the majority of the black caucus in the Democratic Party showed how powerful the fads of democracy, good governance and human rights were in clouding real issues to do with reasserting the black man's place in the contemporary economy.
It is important to recall that Zimbabwe had lost American "affection" way back in 1998 when it decided, alongside Angola and Namibia, to ward off a Western-inspired invasion of DRCongo by that country's neighbours.
This "regime change" project on the Congo would have reasserted the West's interests in that mineral-rich country whose president, the late Laurent Kabila, had taken a nationalist line reminiscent of the stance of the Congo's founding leader, Patrice Lumumba whom Western countries, including the US had toppled and eliminated (see NA, April 2007).
Apart from "straying" into America's backyard, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola had exhibited a new capacity on the continent where progressive African countries could deploy in a sister country to defend Africa's sovereign rights. It marked new politics quite incompatible with Africa's underdog status and amounting to a definite threat to Western interests on the continent.
The domino effect
Zimbabwe's land reform programme...