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Comment & analysis

When uncle Bob and uncle Sam were friends

Mphutlane Wa Bofelo

2008-06-25, Issue 384

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This is not the first time that America and the West, bankrolled and oversaw a one party dictatorship or military rule for decades only to ditch the regime when it is no longer serving their interests, writes Mphutlane Wa Bofelo. But only after dusting off blood from their hands and clothes, and presenting themselves as the moral voice, urging for war crimes against the very regime that they baby-seated, reared and mentored.

The political and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe is traceable to the hold on the country’s policy alternatives and developmental possibilities by the restraints of the Lancaster House concessions and the constraints of the Structural Adjustment Programmes. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU (PF) implemented these programmes to the letter from 1981 up to 2000. Mugabe and ZANU’s reward was the blindness, silence and tacit collusion of the western powers in the genocidal attack on the people of Matabeleland in what is called the Gukurahundi.

Despite the fact that Mugabe and Zanu PF continued with the culture of violent clampdown on political dissidence and repression of media freedom and the freedom of association and assembly, the custodians of democracy remained prepared to portray Mugabe as an astute statesman and scrupulous ruler. For as long as he trod the path of the Washington Consensus and cracked his whip against labour and ensured that there was no room for leftists to raise their heads in Zimbabwe, Mugabe could reign on opposition to his rule by any means at his disposal.

Throughout the 1990’s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and the G8 gave a standing ovation to the social policy path and political economy trajectory pursued by Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia. As late as 2001 political science textbooks at tertiary institutions celebrated Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mandela of South Africa, Museveni of Uganda, and Zenawi of Ethiopia as the crème de la crème of African leaders, and hailed them as former guerillas who had woken up to the realism of running a country.

In 2001 popular disenchantment with the failure to meet liberation expectations and pressure from the war veterans forced the land reform project on the agenda of Mugabe and Zanu PF. Mugabe and Zanu PF then failed dismally to come up with a systematically designed land reform project, with clear targets, performance indicators and monitoring and impact assessment mechanisms. Instead of genuine land reform aimed at sustainable development of communities, they opted for a mixture of anarchist, populist, propagandistic theatrics and bureaucratic centralism, elite’ self-enrichment, and the politics of cronyism and patronage aimed at using the land reform project to prop up the power of the establishment.

Suddenly western governments, with the aid of the media and our ‘fuckademics’ started to shift the focus away from the suffering landless, jobless and poor multitudes of Zimbabwe - who continue to live in utter poverty and squalor - to the fate of white farmers. Both the Western governments and the White farmers in Zimbabwe never raised even a murmur of protest against the rule of Mugabe for as long as their bread remained buttered. All of a sudden, everybody forgot that Mugabe built his repressive machinery under the watchful eyes of the super powers and the so-called multilateral institutions. Nobody cared to remember the role played by the restraints of Lancaster House agreement on a legal-constitutional and peaceful land reform process in Zimbabwe and the ravages of the market forces unleashed by the Structural Adjustment Programmes on the people, economy and environment of Zimbabwe.

Whenever the issue of the war crimes against Mugabe is raised, often the focus is not the crime of the Gukurahundi or the genocidal impoverishment of the people through handing them over to the brutality of the market forces for a decade of subservience to the Washington Consensus. The focus is rather the “crime” of taking land from white farmers. When the Gukurahundi is mentioned no one speaks about the need to also charge Mugabe’s main backers throughout this period - the super powers and the Washington institutions - IMF and World Bank.

This is not the first time that America and the West, bankrolled and oversaw a one party dictatorship or military rule for decades only to ditch the regime when it is no longer serving their interests. But only after dusting off blood from their hands and clothes, and presenting themselves as the moral voice, urging for war crimes against the very regime that they baby-seated, reared and mentored. From Mobuto Seso Seko, Saddam Hussain, Charles Taylor and the Taliban to Uncle Bob—the list of rulers utilized and dumped like used condoms by Uncle Sam and his brethren is endless.

There is no prize if you guess what trajectory Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change are most likely to tread if they ascend power. My two year old son, Goitsemodimo, has whispered to me that Zimbabwe will be under the tyranny of the market and remote control by “the empire.”

*Mphutlane Wa Bofelo is a writer, activist, life-skills facilitator and performance poet who has been published in several journals, websites and anthologies and has performed at various events.

*Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

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