George Shire: A Different Zimbabwean Narrative
Zimbabwean political analyst George Shire talks to Ishmahil Blagrove Jr. about the recent elections in his country, the cause of the crisis and the impact of Western interference on the democratic process of change in Zimbabwe.
What is your opinion on the outcome of the Zimbabwean elections?
The parliamentary elections produced a hung parliament contrary to what many people in the West have said. There are three political parties represented in the House of Assembly and in the Senate. ZANU (PF) won the Presidential run-off and has a majority in the Senate so it can choose the shape of the cabinet. Robert Mugabe has called for a dialogue with other political parties in Zimbabwe with a view to resolve the political and economic crisis in the country. I think he will try to use his prerogative in choosing the cabinet from talented people from all the political parties.
Were the elections free and fair?
Compared to the elections in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia, these elections were free and fair. The interference of the West and its media institutions meant that people felt they were being blackmailed by the West on how and who to vote for.
Do you believe the Western interference and stage managed media coverage had any influence on the violence and the reactions of the MDC?
The cycle of violence in Zimbabwean politics, which I condemn, is, as always, generated by people connected to all the political parties. Its history is connected to the conflictual nature of the central issue at stake, namely the land question and indigestion of the economy. The MDC has used the spectre of violence to galvanise the West's moral outrage on Zimbabwe. In that sense they have a lot to gain from the over-representation of violence in that country. The media has failed to report cases of violence committed by known MDC activists, including those who have been arrested and prosecuted. They have also failed to point out that both ZANU (PF) and MDC supporters have been arrested for such violence. Instead we had unsubstantiated claims that violence in Zimbabwe is driven by institutions of the state. I do not believe that is true.
Morgan Tchangirai sought refuge at the Dutch embassy. Do you believe his life was really being threatened or was this a stunt for Western media?
Morgan Tchangarai is a danger to himself, to the MDC, to Zimbabwe and to the SADC. He likes pulling these kinds of stunts and they provide good copy for the western media, but they do not translate into meaningful support from the people of Zimbabwe.
Never before has an African election received such attention. Why do you believe the British media and government are so hysterical about the situation in Zimbabwe?
The answer to that is very simple. The British government and allied media institutions are a central part of how the crisis in Zimbabwe has come about and how the world understands it. It is also because a ZANU (PF) led government in Zimbabwe stands in the way of a forward march of neo-liberalism in the whole of Southern Africa. Zimbabwe is a dress rehearsal of what is to come for the whole SADC region. South Africa is the real target for all of this.
Were it not for the dispossession of white farmers and Western interests, do you believe the West would be so concerned about the Zimbabwean elections?
The West could not care less who rules Zimbabwe or Southern Africa as long as their interests are secure. The bigger agenda is about discouraging African leadership from being independent of the West and punctuating the growing influence of China. The struggle in Zimbabwe is about land, fresh
water, minerals, and its people. These are the assets that Western capital would like to lay its hands on. The whiteness of the power that has secured these assets for the West is also what is being challenged by ZANU (PF).
Western voices have suggested military intervention. What would that mean for Zimbabwe?
The idea of military intervention in Zimbabwe is obscene. The fact that it is being talked about so openly shows just how bankrupt the West has become. They used to say to Africans that they would shoot us if we did not become Christian or civilised; now they want to shoot us because we will not choose Morgan Tchangarai as our leader. They refused to intervene militarily when Ian Smith was killing thousands of people and when he committed treason against the British crown because he was kith and kin. It is the return of colonialism.
It has been suggested that the MDC has received millions of pounds from European governments and Britain has pledged many millions more if Mugabe is ousted. What effects can such interference have on the democratic outcome of elections?
The implications of this are huge, and not just for Zimbabwe, but for all those people on the planet who are struggling against corporate capital. It means that people will always be bought and be ready to sell their birthright. It will be the end of democracy as we know it. Political parties in Zimbabwe are funded from the public purse. MDC's receipt of funding from outside the country is unlawful in Zimbabwean law. What we are also seeing is the birth of a new cycle of corruption being injected into Zimbabwean society. People end up voting with their stomachs and not their heads. It also breeds violence.
What built up to this crisis? The falling out of Mugabe with the West and the collapse of the economy?
This grew out of the unfinished business of the liberation war, the land question and the indigestion of the economy. Britain, the USA, the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are directly responsible for making the Zimbabwean economy scream. These are the countries that have put the "at-risk" tag on Zimbabwe and that, in turn, has driven inflation high. The Zimbabwean people's efforts to turn around their economic fortunes have been frustrated by the West at every single corner.
Are the media reports of violence and intimidation accurate? Is there a real culture of fear or have they been exaggerated or misrepresented?
Media reports on Zimbabwe have become part and parcel of what I call the grand bigotry against Zimbabwe and its political leadership. They are not designed to inform us of anything new but to reinforce the view that Robert Mugabe is the devil. The levels of violence that are going in Zimbabwe are unacceptable, but they pale into insignificance when compared to what happened in Kenya or Nigeria. Zimbabwe is not like Gaza, the West Bank or Baghdad; it is not like Los Angeles either.
What is your overall opinion about the way the elections have been reported in the West?
There was already in existence a script that the West followed. They wanted Morgan Tchangarai to win and at times the media behaved as if they were the information department of the MDC.
Do you believe there is a broader neo-liberal agenda for Africa that is being played out in Zimbabwe?
What are your hopes for Zimbabwe and how do you think the crisis will be resolved?
The solution to the Zimbabwean crisis rests with Zimbabwean people themselves with the assistance of their neighbours and friends in G77, the majority people of the world. It is only Zimbabweans who can stop the violence, it is only Zimbabweans who can protect their own institutions, and it is only Zimbabweans who can find peace for themselves. For that I have hope.