As the United States moves ever so closer to end 50 years of political isolation of Cuba through detente talks, it is apt time to remind Britain, the US and EU that it is high time they ended more than 15 years of punishing sanctions imposed on Robert Mugabe’s led Zimbabwe. Just like Cuba was punished, isolated and ignored for over five decades with no results achieved, the sanctions on Zimbabwe have also not achieved any intended results and they cannot be allowed to go on in perpetuity or while waiting out Mugabe to pass on as the country’s leader.
Zimbabweans have been made to suffer unfairly for agitating for their own human rights, while Britain and the US have over the years systematically used the powers of the media to heap all the blame for the sufferings of the people of Zimbabwe on the country’s long serving President Robert Mugabe, conveniently forgetting that the history of that South African country is not ancient and the issues that led to the sanctions are of very recent memory. The British came into what is now known as Zimbabwe in the 1880s from South Africa through the Matabeleland (Ndebele region) under the auspices of British South Africa Police Company (BSAP) led by the company’s leader Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodes quickly named the new land Rhodesia (after himself) using the Gold Rush era doctrine of 1884 of “first in time, first in right” without due regard for the black land owners he met there.
Rhodes, the founder of the world largest diamond company De-beers, was a staunch advocate of colonialism and a believer in the greatness of the Anglo-Saxon race (the race Britain originated from) and would do anything to expand the British empire including naming an entire land after himself. The Berlin conference of 1885 provided him the opportunity to colonise the new found land as he got a Royal Charter from Queen Victoria to lord it over the new land of Rhodesia. His intention and that of BSAP was to mine gold but they later became farmers due to the small deposits of gold they found in Zimbabwe and thus went on to annex lands from black owners that excluded the original land owners from owning lands in agricultural regions. The Land Apportionment Act effectively formalised the taking over of most fertile land from blacks and giving it to white farmers. White farmers that constituted about 3% of the population had ascribed over 80% of arable land to themselves, which led to several armed struggles (Chimurenga wars as the Zimbabweans fondly called them). It would eventually end in a ceasefire agreement in December 1979 in what is widely known as the Lancaster House Agreement prior to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
The Lancaster Agreement was a significant foreign policy coup and an achievement for the late Thatcher’s conservative government at the beginning of her first term in office. The Agreement stipulated the obvious land imbalance would continue for another period of 10 years, while the British government raised enough funds to pay for black Zimbabweans to acquire their lands from White settlers on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller basis’ which was a win-win for the British as they only relinquished land willingly and any monies paid went to white farmers (who were their kith and kin anyway). The Americans were also to set-up an agricultural land development fund to help with compensations when land where to be given up by willing white settlers. This led to a peaceful independence for Zimbabwe and many years of white minority prosperity in the country. Problem only started after the end of the 10 year moratorium when the Mugabe government started reviewing land reform as white farmers had not been forthcoming in willingly relinquishing land and both the British and US government reneged on the close to US$ 2 billion promised under the Lancaster Agreement to return substantial land to black land owners.
A change of government in 1997 to that of Tony Blair led to worsening diplomatic ties. Clare Short Labour’s Minister for International Development declared arrogantly that the British government under Blair had no links to former colonial interests and had no obligations to meet the cost of land purchases, effectively meaning black landowners had to purchase their own lands back from white settlers if at all they were willing to sell, as Britain was reneging on an agreement it made in 1979 to address issues of land imbalances created in that country more than a century ago. By 1999, with Britain rightly pushing Mugabe to establish multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe and allegedly together with the US sponsoring the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mugabe listed 1,500 white owned farms for forceful acquisition and insisting Britain would pay for it as set out in the Lancaster Agreement. Britain refused and war veterans aligned to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF led forceful takeovers of white-owned farms driving lots of white farmers out some of which never to come back. In the end about 4,500 white-owned farms were seized by over 170,000 black Zimbabweans, which led to massive sanctions on the country by Britain, US and the EU (who have eased some of their sanctions). The untold sufferings have been numerous, ranging from hyperinflation in the country’s economy, destruction of their agricultural sector, starvation, mass emigration of Zimbabweans, poverty, increased crime, poor quality of life amongst others.
I have gone down historical lane to paint the full picture of the issues that led to Zimbabwe’s sanctions and economic disruptions as the West has been good in twisting the story and demonising Mugabe for all of the problems, but it doesn’t necessary end there as the future really looks bleak for Zimbabwe if genuine talks are not opened to end the sanctions in that country. Iran despite the threat of developing a nuclear weapon that is an existential threat to countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US was involved in talks to end sanctions imposed on them, it is therefore atrocious for the Britain and the US to conveniently ignore Zimbabwe over land issues that are not existential a threat to any of the two nations other than an over-reaching display of the might of the two empires particularly colonial Britain whipping a tiny African country into order so to speak.
Thus it is time for the African Union with clear leadership from President Buhari to pressure Britain and the US to open talks with Zimbabwe as led by Mugabe to resolve the issues now. As a Nigerian struggling with petrol scarcity and economic difficulties you might be wondering how does Zimbabwe affect you or what business has our president got to do with their issues? The answer is a lot, as a country as big as Nigeria has to be very much aware of geo-political issues around it to guarantee it’s national strategic interests and security. A Zimbabwe in the aftermath of Mugabe’s death would be a messy place in terms of political transition. According to some sources (if I’m not wrong) during President Obasanjo’s tenure our National Intelligence Agency (NIA) did some studies on Zimbabwe and their predicted outcome was a likely civil war in that country post-Mugabe if issues surrounding political transition are not well handled. The signs are quite clear in that regard, as the armed forces of that country are mostly from Mugabe’s dialectical tribe (Zezurus) and would have a say in who succeeds him. The Ndebeles (an ethnic tribe who had an uprising against the state in the 80s) would be more vocal in the absence of the old man, while in-fighting in the Zanu-PF has led to the ouster of former VP Joice Mujuru (a.ka Spill Blood). The former war lady veteran, a dialectical Korekore, has formed her own party and can’t wait for 2018, while present VP Emmerson Mnangagwa (ak.a Lacoste or Crocodile), a Karanga, is also keen on the presidency in 2018. The possibilities of a civil war in Zimbabwe (despite the fact the people love to see themselves as one regardless of tribal dialects or ethnicity) should Mugabe drop dead today (an he would not be too young at 92) is very much certain as predicted by Nigeria’s NIA.
This would lead to a refugee crisis that would spill over to their rich neighbours South Africa. At the moment about one-third (over 3 million) of Zimbabweans have left the country out of a population of circa 13 million with most of them in South Africa, Botswana and the Britain, while over 1 million of Zimbabweans are infected with the deadly HIV virus. Another 1 out of 2 children are expected to be malnourished and diseased this year according to UNICEF due to food shortages. The civil war in that country post Mugabe and a spill over of refugees into South Africa would put pressure on public amenities and social cohesion there which might lead to another round of massive xenophobic attacks in that country. To separate South Africans from xenophobia is unfortunately like removing a malignant tumour, you would need a blast of radiation to do so. Any form of deadly xenophobic attacks in South Africa under such a scenario would hurt Nigerian businesses and lives there and create an instability that would reach our own shores, yet such a scenario would still not resolve the issue of land reforms in that country.
Britain and the US need to understand that the land reforms undertaken by Mugabe are irreversible due to awareness it has generated amongst a people who have the highest literacy rate in Africa (at 93% of the population) so waiting out Mugabe and hoping to plant a puppet government would not change the reforms, it would only worsen it. The AU driven by Nigeria need to appoint special envoys in former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Thambo Mbeki of South Africa to get Zimbabwe, Britain, US and the EU back to the negotiation table and thrash out how to effectively redistribute the over 10 million hectares of black owned lands ‘seized’ from white farmers. The new Zimbabwean constitution of 2013 has guaranteed a lot of the rights of white minorities but more negotiations can be done in that regard to ensure white settlers return to Zimbabwe and are able to prosper economically side by side with Black Zimbabweans, while issues surrounding the commissions to discuss peace and reconciliation, new land reforms and economic disparities between men and women need to be discussed at such AU brokered five party talks (AU, Britain, US, EU and Zimbabwe). Also a peaceful transition post Mugabe era also needs to be fully discussed to guarantee peace in that country after he’s gone. Not doing anything and waiting out Mugabe is not an option Zimbabweans should bear any longer, neither is it in the best interest of the whole of Africa.
An issue not of benefit to Nigeria and indeed Africa is also playing out in Libya. Following near imbecilic decisions by Britain led by David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy to destabilise Libya and remove it’s long term ruler Mouammar Gaddafi, the effects we see is the present civil strife and divisions in that country where there is an Islamic government in Tripoli, yet another in Tobruk, while Britain and the EU under the auspices of the UN are trying to insert a new government in Tripoli led by little known Fayez Seraj.
The same old means have been adopted by the Europeans in trying to force their beliefs on Libya with the use of sanctions on the leaders of the opposing governments in Tripoli and Tobruk and also likely threat of violence and force to back up Seraj’s government. The aim is to eventually get permission from the newly installed Western backed government to come into Libya and go after Islamic State militants (IS) whose over 5,000 combatants have found a safe haven in Libyan cities like Benghazi and Sirte. The aim of the West is to stop them before they capture the oil-rich terminal city of Adjabiya, which if fully entrenched there maybe difficult to ease them out later as they would control all of the oil flowing out of Libya. As usual for the West their major concern apart from terrorism is oil, which is the life-blood of their economy. They would use violence, force, sanctions and invade countries just to guarantee their access to oil, but for Africans and indeed Nigerians Libya needs an African brokered solution under the mandate of the AU. This is so because the West would only solve their own issues there and leave the rest to us Africans. Once they can insert a puppet government in Libya, push IS militants away from Adjabiya’s oil terminal, and stop the flow of migrants off the Libya’s Mediterraneans coast into Italy they have achieved their own objectives. In doing this, they would pump in a lot of arms, ammunition and lethal weapons into the hands of the UN backed Libyan government forces, and they do not care where the IS militants shuffle off to next and if the proliferation of arms (many of which would get into the hands of terrorists and black marketers) would lead to a new crisis elsewhere.
With Nigeria just trying to get on top of the Boko Haram crisis, having terrorists chased out of Libya without any coordination with African countries around the Sahel belt, would see many of them link up with terror cells in the Mauritanian mountains and Sahel deserts of Algeria and Mali from where they can regroup and find new countries like Mali, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria to attack. Renewed terrorists attack in Cameroon for example could test the resolve of the people against their long-term leader Biya Paul thereby leading to more instability in that neighbouring country, and this is apart from the Al-Shabab terror attacks in East Africa. Africa indeed is flanked with terror on all sides. Thus in essence Nigeria needs to take the AU leadership by the horn and ensure we get an African solution in Libya that would truly rescue that country and save Africa from needless crisis rather than let Britain, EU and the US have their own self-centered solutions. To solve the migrant crisis from Libya and other North African countries for example, the AU needs to propose and negotiate with the EU to get the kind of deal Turkey got. Billions of Euros need to be poured into Libya to reconstruct it, as well as into the economies of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
These countries have a descent standard of living and basic infrastructures that would make it suitable to convince African migrants to stay back there rather than make dangerous crossings into Europe. The same way the EU is pumping monies into Jordan and changing the origin of products rules for their manufacturing sector so as to keep Syrian migrants back there, should be the kind of deal the AU should negotiate for Libya, Tunisia and Morocco so that African migrants under such a deal can get work and residence permits in those North African countries and work there while the EU buys products made in those countries to encourage their manufacturing sector and keep migrants working there. It was so under Gadaffi’s Libya as he allowed plenty African migrants to work in Libya and earn a living rather than make dangerous crossings to Europe. Most migrants heading out to Europe on dinghy boats risking their lives are not greedy economic migrants as being made out to be. A large chunk of them at least coming from Nigeria are simply leaving for social-economic reasons. They live in country that has failed to live up to it’s potential and cannot provide basic amenities like energy, water, roads for its people compared to what they see in European countries. Thus if the economies of the countries close to the Mediterranean are boosted by the EU, most migrants would stay there because it meets their social-economic reasons for leaving their own countries in the first place.
All said and done it is time for Nigeria to drive the AU to engage with Britain, US and the EU to end the wicked, inhuman, barbaric, imperialistic and no objectives achieved sanctions in Zimbabwe while calling for mutually beneficial solution that would rescue Libya and save Africa and indeed Africans from looming chaos, no thanks to the near imbecilic decisions of mostly Britain and the US the world has seen in the last two decades.
Ola’ Idowu is a Management Consultant, Researcher and Humanist.