Reaching a wider audience (above: a cat listens to the live broadcast of the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4 at the British base in Basra Palace, 2006)

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Britains Whispered Policy on Zimbabwe

I awoke this morning to the news that the Security Council has vetoed sanctions in Zimbabwe (yes, I had fallen asleep with my laptop in bed with me again). The British representative said the UN had “failed the people of Zimbabwe”

Recently in Blogcatalogue discussion boards (and in plenty of other places) Britain has been getting a slating for its lack of action (and lack of clear stance) on Zimbabwe. I for one argue that Britain is really not the right person to be making any decisions for Zim (a bit like America not really being the right people to be brokering peace in the middle east). However that doesn’t mean we should keep quiet.

Stripping Mugabe of his knighthood was a pathetic attempt to chastise a man not just capable of rigging elections, but of rigging the state run lottery in his favour (perhaps greater media focus on this would appeal to the sense of fair play of the lottery playing public around the world). Given “Robert Mugabe uses the strident criticism coming from Britain to portray this as the old colonial power trying to brow beat Zimbabwe” (Dermot Murnaghan, Sky News), I expect Mugabe was delighted at the news of his loss of status in Britain – it would have played right into his hands. And the very fact that he is able to travel to Rome to a Conference on the world food crisis makes a mockery of our dithering debate about allowing the Zimbabwe cricket team into Britain. This is British public diplomacy at its worst.

Funny that the Foreign Office website claims it is a “modern and effective Foreign & Commonwealth Office that is clear about its role and focuses its effort where it can make the greatest difference” – I gave up after half an hour trying to find a clear articulation of the UKs policy on Zimbabwe. I found a statement from Gordon Brown which included “The whole international community must speak up against the climate of fear in Zimbabwe……We, and others, stand ready to help rebuild Zimbabwe once democracy returns. I pledge that Britain will be in the vanguard of this effort” Is THAT the policy? That everyone should speak up and then we will help once change happens? I then found some bloggers on the FCO website . Surely the FCO should realise that to use itself as a platform will immediately loose the Harare bloggers their credibility? Blogging is about independent thought – anyone who stumbles upon this will sniff the spin from a mile away. (personal bug bear sorry - the best Milliband could do would be to offer some off the cuff comment on other bloggers sites). There was more about the registration of British Nationals in Zimbabwe and travel advice than about UK policy.

Fact is, Britain spends about 30 million quid on Zimbabwe each year. It is spent on tackling HIV and AIDS and reducing food insecurity. According to Department for International Development website it is also spent supporting orphans and vulnerable children to help keep them in school and protect them from abuse. I want to know more about this. I KNOW it is not British. I KNOW DFiD would NEVER engage in Public Diplomacy, but come on, let’s take some credit where it is due and hear about exactly what we ARE doing in Zimbabwe.

If you believe Michael Holman the situation in Zimbabwe is all Britain’s fault. I beg to differ, 15 years ago I spent some time hitchhiking across Zimbabwe (through the unfortunately named Wankee Game park) and living in the township of Chinotemba (Victoria Falls) and I got to know the people and the country. I go with Robert Guests belief that this is the fault of one man. Mr Robert Mugabe (formerly Sir). The people of Zimbabwe I met were a friendly and hospitable bunch. As Guest writes in his book The Shackled Continent “They should be rich. There is plenty of land in Zimbabwe, much of it ideal for raising cattle or growing wheat, maize and tobacco. Under the ground lies reefs of gold, platinum and other precious ores. The country has a modern banking sector, skilled manufacturers and adequate roads”. It is Mugabe that has stripped his country of hope, it was his ZANU-PF that said Zimbabwe would “be better off with only six million people…we don’t want all these extra people”. (The population is 12 million).

Britain should rebut more. When she is accused of apathy over Zimbabwe she should point to not just the money spent but what this money has bought. When Britain is blamed by the likes of Holman she should articulate a response. Europe is often blamed for Africa’s ills. Again I quote Guest:

Another popular culprit for Africa’s ills is history. Many African’s argue that the current problems spring largely from the traumas that Europeans visited on Africa such as slavery. We must not forget that slavery was not introduced to Africa by Europeans – Arab slavers arrived earlier that the Portuguese, French and the British and Africans were enslaving each other long before the Arabs played their part. And although both Governments deny it slavery still exists in Sudan and Mauritania today.

So when David Miliband said on Sky recently “I think the truth is we've all got to up our game” – I think it is just too weak. If Britain’s stance is to keep their policies to a whisper, they should be aware that saying nothing or saying something quietly actually speaks volumes. There is no such thing as not communicating. And at the moment the message is loud and clear –
“erm….we are not quite sure what to do about this, nor what our role is in all this”.


pamela said...

This is the best post on this subject that I have read thus far.I wondered why China and Russia were meeting with Mugabe, I thought maybe he was trying to borrow money. After reading this, I am now wondering if it is the underground deposits that China and Russia ate after.
I pray that an answer will be found to stop the brutality and murder of this regime.

Anonymous said...

I see why Britain cannot take a leading role, but I didn't realize it's public stances were this flimsy. Come to think of it, I don't know what my country (the U.S.) is on record as saying either, though I seem to recall Secretary Rice speaking more forcefully.

Roy A. Hewitt said...

Hi Caloline,

I am English living in Korea, married to the daughter of a former diplomat to Japan and Chile.

I have come to realize famine and war could be easily ended.

It would take a revolution of all people to unselfishness from selfishness.

Keep up the good writings.