Seumas Milne, a more than usually odious columnist for the Guardian
has a piece in today that is quite staggering in its relativism and its disingenuousness. Its premise is that the current focus on Zimbabwe and Tibet are evidence of western hypocrisy and racism. I'm just going to have a slightly closer look at this. He starts by identifying that something genuinely is
amiss in these two countries:
There is no question that the struggle over land and power in Zimbabwe has brought the country to a grim pass...
On a different scale, there's also no doubt that in Tibet - the other central international focus of western concern in the past month - deep-seated popular discontent fuelled last month's anti-government protests and attacks on Han Chinese, which were met with a violent crackdown by the Chinese authorities.
So far, so uncontroversial. But not for long.
The British media have long since largely abandoned any attempt at impartiality in its reporting of Zimbabwe, the common assumption being that Mugabe is a murderous dictator at the head of a uniquely wicked regime.
Impartiality as regards who? And I don't think Milne is right here either. The media regard Mugabe, and are right to do so, as a murderous dictator at the head of a wicked regime. It's not uniquely wicked; it is simply wicked - using Milne's terminology. And what impartiality should they be seeking? Between ZANU PF and the MDC? One is backed by the army, by fraudulent war veterans and the common-or-garden thugs known as Green Bombers. The other isn't. One shouldn't strive for impartiality between abuser and victim.
Then there's a nice little segue into the 'but things are worse in other places' routine, where Milne points out that Somalia is more violent than Zimbabwe (well, yes, and has been since the mid 1990s) and that vote-rigging exists in Togo, Cameroon, Egypt and Jordan. Yes, democracy in Africa is a pretty fragile thing. So, how to explain Western interest in Zimbabwe?
The crucial difference, of course, and the reason why these conflicts and violations don't get the deluxe media and political treatment offered to the Zimbabwean opposition or Tibetan separatists is that the governments involved are all backed by the west, compounded in the Zimbabwean case by a transparently racist agenda.
I admit to being confused as to how a stated preference that the black leader of a black-run party, who is widely acknowledged by independent monitors to have won the election, should supplant the black leader of a black-run party who is widely acknowledged to have lost the election should be remotely racist. It strikes me as exactly analogous to Kenya, where Britain's reaction was similar and I don't see that as being racist either. Milne appears to be throwing in the racist smear with no evidence whatsoever.
But it's not just an issue of hypocrisy and double standards, egregious though they are. It's also that British and US involvement and interference have been crucial to both the Zimbabwean and Tibetan conflicts. That's most obviously true in Zimbabwe, which was not just a British colony, but where Britain refused to act against a white racist coup, triggering a bloody 15-year liberation war, and then imposed racial parliamentary quotas and a 10-year moratorium on land reform at independence. The subsequent failure by Britain and the US to finance land buyouts as expected, along with the impact of IMF programmes, laid the ground for the current impasse.
As you would expect, that's a phenomenonally simplistic and reductionist view of the history of Zimbabwe. Just for a start, Rhodesia was never a British colony - never under the auspices of the Colonial office. It was self-governing territory from 1923, and before that was the private property of the British South Africa Club. Britain exercised direct rule for all of about a month in 1980. And the idea that Britain imposed racial parliamentary quotas is absurd. Britain chaired the negotiations at Lancaster House, to which all parties signed up. And there was no 'moratorium' on land reform - there was a moratorium on constitutional reform. Britain contributed a significant amount of money to land distribution - which was under-utilised by the ZANU government throughout the 1980s. And that last sentence is quite simply ridiculous. Not least because why the hell should the US be paying for Zimbabwean land reform? What's Milne been smoking?
Meanwhile, the best chance both of settling the Zimbabwean crisis and of meeting Tibetan aspirations is without the interference of western powers, which would do better improving the human rights records of their allies and themselves. The days of colonial dictat are over and where attempts are made to revive them, they will be resisted. China is now an emerging global power - and, as the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UN said yesterday, Zimbabwe "is no longer a British colony".
Passing over the Dr Heinz Kiosk elements of this, the idea that any diplomatic intervention in Africa is reviving colonialism is absurd. Simply because Zimbabwe is an independent sovereign nation does not mean that it is immune to criticism or to persuasion. Milne remains an idiot, and the only question is whether he is an ignorant idiot who is unaware that he is talking rubbish, or a mendacious idiot, who doesn't care.
Labels: Africa, politics, Zimbabwe