Has Zimbabwe’s Tsvangirai been co-opted?

By PAT WATSON

All eyes are on the chaos exploding in Tehran this month, while young Iranians both inside and beyond Iran protest a questionable voting outcome and years of theocratic repression.

Last month, it was Sri Lanka that took the international spotlight as young Sri Lankans, in particular in the Diaspora, rallied in capitals all over the world to make their desperate concerns known while the Sri Lankan government made its final offensive to crush the independence-seeking Tamil Tigers.

But the leadership of one nation in Africa that had garnered as much attention due to its own repressive regime and subsequent civil disorder in days past is now quietly going about its business, likely happy not to have the international media spotlight at the moment.

Conditions for those living in Zimbabwe haven’t changed very much under President Robert Mugabe even though his ZANU-PF government has entered into a power-sharing agreement with Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister since February.

Those who have suffered under the Mugabe regime and have fled to safe havens – there are thousands in Toronto – are still vigilant and very sensitive to concerns that justice has not yet come to the people of Zimbabwe.

That is why Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was booed and jeered loudly and repeatedly in London, England last week on the last leg of his recent tour of Europe during which he sought to drum up support, both financial and otherwise, from Zimbabwean expatriates and European governments.

In London, an audience of more than 1,000 Zimbabweans in exile turned out to hear Tsvangirai, but he quickly earned criticism that he has sold out to Mugabe in the power-sharing agreement that has resulted in Zimbabwe’s new unity government, as it has been labeled.

Tsvangirai painted a picture of a country that has weathered the crisis and is now in better shape, and he called on those in exile to return and support the country with their skills and money. While the jeers continued during his speech, he denied being co-opted and offered up optimistic news including stating that inflation had been cut.

But with an unheard of, and some say underestimated, 231 million per cent hyperinflation rate as of January this year, a 0.1 per cent cut in the rate is having little real effect. Since the introduction of the U.S. dollar, as well as other currencies, the local currency has all but been abandoned. A country so rich in natural resources continues to import on average more than five per cent above its exports annually. Last year Canada, for example, exported $5.2 million to Zimbabwe compared to $3.9 million in imports.

The response in London is therefore completely understandable, and one has to wonder what other kind of response Tsvangirai could have possibly expected given the wild ride on which Mugabe has taken that nation. Mugabe sought, for example, to minimize the tragedy of a cholera epidemic that spread rapidly to 100,000 and killed some 4,000 persons.

The far greater tragedy, not only for Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans, but for all exploited nations in Africa that had looked to Zimbabwe as a model for a prosperous future and Mugabe as its visionary leader, is that whatever promise there may have been has now been so cruelly crushed.

When, in 2000, Mugabe began to redress past colonial inequities by restoring land ownership to the country’s indigenous people, it was savaged by the mainstream media which highlighted the holdover post-colonial interests. Some observers called it a ploy to win the support of the populace. Africans, however, understood the advantage, despite Mugabe’s shrewd manipulation. But his increasingly bizarre pronouncements and thug politics have left many people disaffected.

Predictably, we witness, time and again, that men in positions of high authority become so obsessed with the power those positions carry that they will trade their souls and sacrifice untold human lives to have it and to keep it.

On a concessionary note…

Rather than take the extreme measure of breaking the law, the Harper government has conceded to allowing Sudan-born Canadian citizen, Abousfian Abdelrazik, to return to his home in Montreal.

Abdelrazik, 46, was first detained in Sudan at the request of the Canadian government in 2003 on suspicion of being a terrorist, although no evidence has been found to prove such allegations. He has spent the past year in the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum awaiting Canadian travel documents, which the government had been refusing to issue. A June 4 ruling by Canada’s Federal Court ordered the return of Abdelrazik within 30 days.

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