"I was asked the other day about the ban on The Daily News. I said it was not banned, it banned itself. Our laws say you register when you want to operate a media outfit, but they said they didn't want to register because they didn't recognise the law, and they would go ahead and publish anyway. Well, if you were in another country other than Zimbabwe, you would be saying that from prison," says Dr Tichaona Jokonya, Zimbabwe's new information minister.
Dr Tichaona Benjamin Jokonya, 66, brings to the government a wealth of experience, integrity, tenacity and exceptional leadership qualities. Born on 27 December 1938 and a holder of MA and PhD degrees (from Sussex University) both in Economic History, Dr Jokonya is an old ZANU hand who, between 1966 and 1968, became the president of both the ZANU student movement in exile and the youth wing of the party.
A graduate of the University of Nairobi where he obtained his first degree in History, he was the chairman of the ZANU party in Europe for four years where he mobilised Zimbabweans for the armed struggle. His portfolio at the time included negotiating for humanitarian support for the liberation struggle and discovered to his chagrin that, unlike the Eastern Europeans, Western Europe did not want to give military support to the liberation struggle.
Dr Jokonya's diplomatic career started in 1981, first serving as his country's ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, and later in 1992 as ambassador to Austria and permanent representative to the UN in Vienna and Geneva. He then moved to New York in 1999 as ambassador to the UN and returned home in 2002 to assume the post of advisor to the minister of special affairs in the Office of the President.
Between 2003 and 2004, he served as the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. Of the 180 countries accredited to the UN, Dr Jokonya, affectionately called "Ambassador", has travelled or lived in 165 of them.
A man of immense negotiation skills, the soft-spoken Jokonya was ZANU's chief negotiator in Europe and at the OAU where he represented Zimbabwe at the negotiations of the Preferential Trade Area Protocols. He was elected five times as chairman of the OAU's powerful Advisory Committee, a body that ran the OAU in between the heads of state's summits. This brought him into direct contact with every political leader in Africa past and present. Between March 1990 and September 1992, he was transferred to the foreign ministry in Harare as senior permanent secretary. Part of his portfolio was bringing together South Africa's civil political and corporate leaders at a meeting in Zimbabwe and preparing them for the then impending change that finally took place in 1994 when President Mandela came to power. Dr Jokonya prepared the political road map for the Frontline States--Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana and Angola--in the task of bringing South Africa back into the international fold. In this, he became intimately linked to all the leadership of South Africa's various political groups--ANC, PAC, Inkatha and, very clandestinely, the Home Land leaders. A man of many parts, Dr Jokonya has also served in various capacities in government and the ruling ZANU-PF party. No better candidate could have been found for his new position. New African interviewed him on his vision for the media in Zimbabwe, especially in these difficult times.
New African: For the past five years, Zimbabwe has faced severe hostility in the Western media. As the new man at the helm, what will be your road map to combat this hostility?
Jokonya: It is not going to be easy. When you deal with any problem, you look at the root cause, and the root cause of the problem in Zimbabwe is to do with the decision of the government to correct the injustices of colonialism, to regain our birthright and take back our land, the land which had been taken from us by force. This is the source of the problem in Zimbabwe. It has nothing to do with the laws of the country or how we operate other things. And your question is how am I going to deal with that. We are going to deal with it in a number of ways. We take the position that if the root cause is land, then quite obviously, from our point of view, the issue is over and done with. I think even the worst reactionary in the UK today agrees that the land issue is over, it's history now. We are now busily consolidating the gains of the decision we took to take back the land. And as far as I am concerned, we are going to deal with this in the normal way a nation deals with problems of this nature.
NA: But they also say you have "draconian" laws and you also have problems with democracy, human rights and so on. So it is not only the land issue.
Jokonya: Yes, if you look at what is being said now as the casus belli, for the hostility to Zimbabwe, they try to pretend that the problem is our media laws. They try to pretend that it has to do with the manner in which the country handles its opposition parties, especially the MDC. And some even go to the extreme extent of saying that there is no democracy in Zimbabwe. Now, as far as the media laws are concerned, I don't, and cannot myself, subscribe to the fact that we, in any way, have a draconian media law. I don't know whether you have had the chance to look at the media in the United States, the dissemination of information in the United States, the treatment of individuals in the United States post-September 11. The government has taken decisions to legislate in order to protect the state.
Now if you compare our decision to protect Zimbabwe from its detractors and enemies via our media laws, you find that it is nothing compared to the United States. The laws now governing how you enter the United States, who you talk to, what happens to you if you are suspected, are, to say the least, more than draconian.
Yet, the word draconian is used in respect to Zimbabwe, but it is nothing; it pales into the shadow when you compare it to the laws that restrict the movement of people and freedom of speech in the United States as a result of the panic post-September 11. You see, we were under terrible, terrible siege and this siege was made worse by the fact that our enemies came into our country and decided to create institutions to fight against us. Under normal circumstances when a national joins an enemy to assail or fight his own country, he is a traitor, and every country in the world knows only one way of dealing with a traitor.
They also created the opposition party which they now claim is not being given the freedom to speak. As a matter of fact, I can say to you that with all the disorders that have happened in Africa, including the problems in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, and Cote d'Ivoire, in all these cases, you are dealing with problems that are indigenous, that have to do with the disagreements of the people in those countries. You are not dealing with foreign leaders or people who take their orders from Paris. In Zimbabwe, you have an opposition that was created, supported and is still being supported by the British. Then you had a situation where they came into our country and established radio stations and newspapers that they funded and directed from afar, with remote control. And under normal circumstances, a country has to protect itself. And that is what we did.
Regarding the other matters, as far as we are concerned, we think that the battle on the land issue has been won. The land issue is over and done with. We have had elections which have been hailed as free and fair by every reasonable person in this country. Of course, the British and the Americans are still saying they were not free, and the local opposition quite characteristically, has also said they were not free and fair. This is the kind of opposition we are dealing with, a mole in the nation, a Trojan horse in the form of the MDC! Then you have all these other vestiges of infiltration in the media. So what I am going to do as minister of information is to continue the struggle to consolidate the gains of our independence. My responsibility, first and foremost, is to the people of Zimbabwe, to the nation--that is the responsibility of every minister, indeed it ought to be the responsibility of every Zimbabwean.
NA: That shouldn't be a tall order.
Jokonya: Of course, it shouldn't be. I see the people of Zimbabwe not as supporters of ZANU-PF or as Shonas or Ndebeles. I see them as a nation, all of us together. And I am going to look at all the actors in the field of information, we have been given the mandate and the greatest responsibility now by the people, they have given us now almost a two-thirds majority, and it is time to pay back. It is now time for the government and the party in power to serve the people. We are servants of the people. And the president has declared that the new cabinet is a "development cabinet", a cabinet of...