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What planet is Chatham House on?

27 Jan 2014 at 16:04hrs | Views

There is shock and incredulity within the Zimbabwe diaspora community in the UK at the invitation of Zanu-PF to Chatham House this week despite the regime disenfranchising millions of voters in the disputed July 31 polls. As a result people are asking 'what planet is Chatham House on?'

Even more astonishing is what appears like the British think tank's 'hug a tyrant' gesture of trivialising concerns about the rigged  polls saying "as the dust from the election period settles the (Zanu-PF) government is increasingly looking towards attracting international investors as a means of boosting further recovery in the country" (see ZimVigil, 'What country friends is this?' 25/01/14').

One gets the sense that the UK is now more interested in trade and commerce with the Mugabe regime than help in safeguarding human rights, democracy and good governance in Zimbabwe.

With China enjoying almost unbridled control over Zimbabwe's Chiadzwa diamonds, it seems some western countries have realised they are missing out on business deals with Zanu-PF therefore they have suddenly decided to sacrifice democracy for the highly controversial gems.

A fortnight ago, the Manicaland Business Forum launched an attack on Chinese 'investors' in Zimbabwe accusing them of 'looting of diamond proceeds and unacceptable labour practices" (see The Zimbabwean, 'Business forum raps Chinese', 14/01/14).

As if that was not enough, just weeks before a second international auction of Zimbabwe's diamonds is scheduled to take place, ongoing abuses against panners and villagers have been revealed by the Centre for Research and Development (CRD).

According to SW Radio Africa, the report details incidents of assaults, dog attacks and prolonged detentions by security officials working for the mining firms. These and other rights abuses previously exposed by the BBC Panorama programme have never been investigated thoroughly in the haste to seal business deals.

Chatham House describes itself on its website as "home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is a world-leading source of independent analysis, informed debate and influential ideas on how to build a prosperous and secure world for all." However, little research seems to have informed its untimely engagement with Zanu-PF.

Although in its invitation letter to the Zanu-PF regime, Chatham House believes "prospects for investment in Zimbabwe remain strong", the few remaining white commercial farmers in Mashonaland West might disagree after they were last week ordered by Zanu-PF provincial chairman, Temba Mliswa to vacate their farms by May 15 this year or risk unspecified action.

The farmers alleged that Mliswa issued the ultimatum on Friday 24 January 2014 at Chinhoyi Training Centre at a meeting attended by at least 50 commercial farmers (see Nunurai Jena, 'Mliswa gives white farmers ultimatum', Newsday 26/01/14). One of the farmers, Pieter Zwanikken â€" who was at the meeting said Mliswa told them that the directive was in line with Zanu-PF's land policy.

The deplorable racist threats against white farmers are against the constitution of Zimbabwe and have no place in a democratic country. It is sad to note that a businessman whose firm was seized by Themba Mliswa had fled to Scotland in March 2013 claiming his life was in danger. According to Newsdzezimbabwe, an online news organisation, Paul Westwood said when thugs came to his door threatening to kill, his wife and his two young sons, he knew the time had come to leave Zimbabwe.

Weeks of intimidation and terror tactics had finally come to a head, forcing the 46-year old to grab a suitcase in the middle of the night and flee for his life. Report say leading up to that moment, large four wheel drives with blacked â€"out windows were parked day and night outside his house near Harare and followed him around the city on the rare occasions he ventured out.

In one terrifying incident, a thug cornered him and said: "If you don't take us seriously, there is a bullet with your name on it and you'll never see your wife and kids again" (See NewsDzeZimbabwe, Businessman who lost firm to Mliswa flees to Scotland, 14/03/13).

It is not only white farmers who have suffered retribution from Zanu-PF. For instance, in September 2013, Zanu-PF supporters invaded senior MDC official and ex-cabinet Minister Moses Mzila- Ndlovu's farm in which others see as persecution of opposition members persists.

About 30 families were said to have taken over three quarters of Khami Magazine Farm located in Figtree Matabeleland South, squeezing the former minister of reconciliation to just a quarter of the land (See SWRadio Africa, 27/09/13).

While the British think tank, Chatham House in its invitation to the Mugabe regime reportedly acknowledged Zimbabwe's "five consecutive years of positive growth" it failed to attribute that growth to the shaky coalition government formed by MDC formations and Zanu-PF from 2009-2013.

In 2009 Zimbabwe ditched its local currency after a world record inflation topping 500 billion percent which fell to 0.86 percent in 2013 when the country enjoyed an economic growth rate averaging seven percent after adopting a multicurrency economy. Nevertheless, economists forecast the GDP growth to decline to three percent after Mr Mugabe's disputed polls rendering his regime illegitimate.

It is also worth noting that economic growth does not necessarily translate into economic development, and economic development does not necessarily translate into social development given the high unemployment. However, while Zimbabwe's human social indicators remain below international baselines, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB) 2013-2015 forecasts, the country is on course to achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing the prevalence of HIV and Aids to 9 percent by 2015, from 14 percent in 2009.

Although Mugabe's regime has adopted the so-called Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Sop-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) economic policy which projects a GDP growth of 6.1 percent in 2014 and 9.9 percent by 2018, Tony Hawkins, the head of the University of Zimbabwe's Graduate School of Management reportedly said the plan failed to explain where the investment would come from.

While Zimbabwe registered 97 percent school enrolment in 2011 (World Bank) the UK's Telegraph newspaper recently reported that Britain is considering a request by Zimbabwe for funds to cover school fees for one million impoverished children around a third of the country's pupils. Despite Mugabe's sanctions mantra Britain paid school fees for about 300, 000 mostly disadvantaged children for three years during the multiparty government.

There are doubts that the ZimAsset programme will be implemented due to the tightening liquidity in the economy and experts "fear" Zimbabwe will seek a "superficially attractive" way out to finance campaign promises.

 "I suspect â€" perhaps fear â€" that the government will opt for some dual currency option," said Hawkins in a presentation of the 2014 economic outlook on Wednesday 6 November 2013 (See The Source, 'Liquidity crunch seen forcing Zim$ return,' NewZimbabwe, 09/11/13).

ZimAsset which will run from October 2013 to December 2018, was, according to the regime, formulated by a team of senior Government officials led by Chief Secretary Misheck Sibanda following consultations within Government ministries and departments, the private sector as well as non state actors.

"All the source documents recognise the continued existence of the illegal economic sanctions, subversive activities and interference in the country's internal affairs by some hostile countries," Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa is quoted as saying on the government's website.

"This therefore underlines the need to come up with sanctions busting strategies and to put emphasis on reliance on local funding for the plan, hence ZimAsset's focus on the full exploitation of and addition to the country's abundant resources," Chinamasa said (see', Cabinet endorses blueprint', September 2013).

Contrary to the grandstanding of ZimAsset the main major obstacles appear to be the endemic corruption and a sharp decline in business confidence as manifested by revelations of monthly mega salaries of US$200 000 at some parastatals (quangos) and the closure of 711 companies in Harare during the period July 2011 to July 2013 leaving over 8,000 people unemployed.

Among the big names which have folded up are Reckitt & Benckiser (formerly Reckitt & Coleman) manufacturers of Dettol and Disprin (pharmaceuticals), Willards crisps, Cairns Wines, Nugget shoe polish and Charhons chocolates. However, the few credible opposition parties in Zimbabwe including the MDC-T cannot be spared criticism for watching the country going to the dogs.

Inevitably, Chatham House faces a credibility crisis in its quest to re-engage Zanu-PF while turning a blind eye to the party's democracy deficit amidst claims that Zimbabwe's July 2013 elections were stolen with the help of the Israeli firm Nikuv and named African heads of state. Until legitimacy is restored, the economic will continue to shrink in the face of more than 70% unemployment rate.

Clifford is an author, political analyst, former diplomat and a social sciences doctoral candidate at London South Bank University,

Source - Dr Clifford Chitupa Mashiri
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