(en) Editorial on Jesse Jackson in Zimbabwe

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Mon, 4 Aug 1997 01:41:29 +0000


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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- From: Lachapp@aol.com Date: Mon, 4 Aug 1997 00:47:16 -0400 (EDT) To: redlyn@loop.net, madrum@ix.netcom.com Subject: Editorial on Jesse Jackson in Zimbabwe

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The Zimbabwe Independent

published every Friday PO Box BE 1165, Belvedere, Harare, Zimbabwe Tel: 263-4-773934-8, Fax: 263-4-773941 email: newsdesk@zimind.samara.co.zw

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- Summit compounds Africa's problems [Editorial]

July 25, 1997

Harare - With breathtaking cynicism, the co-leader of the United States delegation to the African/African American summit, Reverend Jesse Jackson, declared this week that the Zimbabwe government's ban on demonstrations was not an issue for him.

"I think it would be a mistake to attempt to micro-analyse a particular issue like this," he calmly observed. "Sometimes in a democracy you take hits...These protests are not defining for Zimbabwe as we know it."

A little matter of clamps on freedom of expression, it seems, was not going to get in the way of African-American solidarity. Indeed, the whole tenor of the summit was one of mutual back-slapping which all but submerged issues of democracy and human rights that conference organiser Revd Leon Sullivan had promised would be high on the agenda.

In his defence, Jackson was simply following the script handed to him by US ambassador Johnnie Carson that Zimbabwe was not getting the credit it deserved. The official view is that Zimbabwe's independence "set the tone" for democratic transitions in Namibia and South Africa and President Mugabe's government can best be persuaded to embrace reform by gentle coaxing and large dollops of flattery.

Mugabe is not a Moi, the Americans have convinced themselves, and his cooperation is in any case useful to the development of American trade in the region. That genuine democratisation is sacrificed on this particular altar is not, as Jackson crudely reminded us, of compelling importance to our American brothers.

But what could be more illustrative of the hollowness of Zimbabwe's democratic credentials than the arbitrary and unconstitutional ban on the right to demonstrate imposed this week by the Minister of Home Affairs? And what could be more defining to the health of any democracy than freedom of expression?

For a leading US civil rights leader, whose claim to fame is his leadership of a movement rooted in civil mobilisation and protest, to dismiss the ban as inconsequential is an egregious betrayal of the values for which he stands. More to the point, it is a betrayal of Zimbabwe's fragile democratic sector.

Washington is in any case wrong on the fundamentals. Namibia and South Africa's constitutions reflect lessons learnt from the Zimbabwean post-Independence experience. Democratic rights are much more fully enshrined elsewhere in the region now. And South Africa's liberation, with its emphasis on constitutional governance and free expression, has inspired the struggle against vestigial dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

What other way is there to describe a society which circumscribes the rights of its citizens by ministerial decree on the grounds that the exercise of those rights might embarrass the government in front of international guests?

If Zimbabwe today fails to match the democratic standards of the region it is precisely because public discourse is confined to ministerial pronouncements and constitutional liberties are determined at the whims of a ruling party still profoundly hostile to democratic fundamentals.

Only recently an opposition mayoral candidate in the country's second largest urban centre was severely beaten up in the presence of a cabinet minister and ruling party MPs. Nothing whatsoever has been done to the culprits.

Sullivan and his associates are also out of touch on other issues. Their advocacy of more aid for Africa is misconceived. Africa needs investment and job creation, not crutches. And it is ironic that Sullivan should indignantly refer to the looting of Africa's resources in the same week it was disclosed that nearly $1,5 billion in public funds had been looted by state officials in Harare.

There are profound contradictions here. And it seems many among our African American guests are intent upon ignoring them. Jackson was overflowing with praise for Zimbabwe's leadership upon his arrival at the airport. But when asked about the ban on demonstrations he said he didn't want to be drawn into domestic issues!

There is a clear need to stimulate American investment. We should all be able to look forward to something more than new hair salons! But if that investment is not tied to improvements in governance, which requires robust criticism from our friends, the success of that investment will remain in doubt. The failure of the phone system, an unreliable airline, and collapsing infrastructure are all symptoms of an arthritic state clinging to the levers of control.

The African American lobby contributed enormously to the anti- apartheid struggle in South Africa. But it now seems to be resting on its laurels, deaf to democratic demands elsewhere on the continent.

If it continues to see these biennial summits as opportunities for extravagant rhetoric and mutual affirmation, while deliberately ignoring the real issues of economic development, it will have simply compounded Africa's problems.

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