21 November 2012

Zimbabwe: In Defence of Marange Gems


Serious changes of opinion are rare in international politics, occurring maybe only once every quarter of a century.

For example, it took the international community a lifetime before it could accept that Nelson Mandela was not a terrorist. It took even much longer for the world to embrace Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that a man should be judged by the content of his character and not the colour of his skin. Happily, another change of perception is taking place right now and it concerns Zimbabwe.

Until about a year or two ago, scores of governments and no doubt millions of people around the world, bought into the idea that "President Robert Mugabe no longer serves the interests of his people." So entrenched was this position that many governments gladly imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. It was almost compulsory to do so.

But this sense of duty has vanished. Practically everyday now, someone somewhere is questioning the motivation for slapping Zimbabwe with economic sanctions. The human rights pretext, long used by America and the European Union as the basis for isolating Zimbabwe, doesn't appear to wash any longer. Nor does the claim that the sanctions are meant to hurt, and do in fact hurt, only a selected few.

Since the start of the coalition government in 2009, many African nations have recommended that the sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted. South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Angola have led the pack. It has to be said that the importance of this group is not so much its support for the anti-sanctions rhetoric as its strategic value.

Zimbabwe's coalition government was brokered by South Africa and any call by that nation either way could go a long way in determining the future of Zimbabwe. For their part, the United States and the European Union (EU) had hoped to use the rainbow nation to condemn President Mugabe and to amplify the so-called Zimbabwean crisis.

That would have been convenient because any criticism of Harare, especially by a strategic nation like South Africa, could be used as a credible basis for intensifying economic pressure on Zimbabwe. Thankfully, South Africa chose to do the right thing not just by refusing to be used but by calling for the removal of sanctions. In the fullness of time, it will count amongst Jacob Zuma's finest achievements as President of South Africa.

Nor is that all. Even a grudging Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has publicly demanded that Zimbabwe be allowed the freedom to engage in unrestrained economic activities.

The EU, too, was just a few months ago on the verge of revising its position on Zimbabwe and only decided against it after being cautioned, I'm reliably informed that to do so would be detrimental, even lethal, to their regime change agenda in Harare. The British government was likewise seriously considering a rethink in the way it has treated Zimbabwe over the years but, like the EU and for the same reasons, also decided against doing so at the last minute.

But perhaps the most crucial voice of all has been that of Navie Pillay, the former South African Judge and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Not only did she call for the total removal of the sanctions, she dismissed as false the argument that only a few individuals bear the brunt of the economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Pillay's assessment is a profoundly credible one. Balanced and unprejudiced, she came to Harare on a fact-finding mission and had the chance to see things for herself. As a former judge, she is also equipped with a legal mind, an ability to make an objective assessment of facts. Her account ought to be taken into consideration by those feigning concern for the suffering people of Zimbabwe.

But apparently her voice isn't the only one the US needs to listen to. About a week ago, I had the honour and privilege of attending the International Diamond Conference in Victoria Falls.

Speaker after speaker and delegate after delegate lamented Zimbabwe's inability to unlock its full diamond potential and all of them blamed it on the sanctions imposed by the US government.

For the benefit of everyone, it helps to explain that the US government prohibits any of its citizens or allies from doing any kind of business with Zimbabwe. It is also entitled to freeze any funds that might come through its banking systems whose purpose might be to conclude or make possible any sort of transaction with the government of Zimbabwe.

Not only has this deprived the Zimbabwe diamond industry of a major market, it has caused many potential buyers and investors to shun Zimbabwean diamonds for fear of losing their money. And the damage this has caused to the economy of Zimbabwe cannot be understated. It is this unfairness that delegates in Victoria Falls condemned.

Regrettably, while this refreshing stance was being taken in Zimbabwe, a Toronto-based but American-funded group, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), was busy releasing for public consumption a flagrantly false and potentially damaging report on Zimbabwean diamonds. The reason for that was simple: to assist the US in her regime change agenda by casting Zimbabwean government officials as corrupt and in the process, encouraging the international community to continue to circumvent Zimbabwean diamonds.

It didn't end there. Hardly days later, the same cabal published one more audacious, inaccurate and overly exaggerated story. They claimed that Mines and Mining Development Minister, Obert Mpofu, had acquired his wealth through dishonest means.

But what else did we expect PAC to say: that black people are actually capable of starting businesses, working their butts off and making it big in life?

That the real reason, and possibly the only reason, Zimbabweans have yet to benefit in any meaningful way from their resources is not because of President Mugabe or Mpofu or any other Zimbabwean government official for that matter but because the US, the EU and their proxies like PAC continue to make it impossible for Zimbabwe to trade her resources fairly on the market? Sweetdreams!

Indeed, it would have been too much to ask to expect PAC to reveal that, in Zimbabwe, the only person who really should be investigated is PM Tsvangirai who is clearly living beyond his means, having recently paid one of his wives over US$250 000 just to get her off his back. And that doesn't include his US$4 million mansion in Highlands. Nor does it factor in the fortune he has to spent towards sending his kids to some of the world's most expensive colleges. Let PAC condemn the real killers of our economy. Let them tell the US in her face that the real perpetrator of rights abuses in Zimbabwe is the US and not President Mugabe. Because of the sanctions on Zimbabwe, particularly those prohibiting the free sale of Zimbabwean diamonds, the people of Zimbabwe have been deprived of their dignity as millions are now jobless, scores live in extreme poverty and the Zimbabwean government is struggling to meet even the most basic needs of its people including clean water, electricity, education and health.

While PAC is at it, Zimbabwe should pray that those nations that have chosen to do the honourable thing of condemning the sanctions on Zimbabwe will continue to do so. We must also hope that the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme meeting scheduled for Washington in just over a week will be used to send a stern, unified and clear message to the US government that the people of Zimbabwe have suffered long enough and that the sanctions must, without further ado, go.

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