Mutambara Speaks out on banned Foreign Media and Sanctions

Harare- One of Zimbabwe’s two vice prime ministers and key party to Zimbabwe’s infant tripartite government of national unity, Professor Arthur Mutambara on Wednesday threw ice cold spanners in the works of President Robert Mugabe dictatorship when he announced that the country will immediately allow back in to the country the foreign media.

The controversial politician from the smaller formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), promised he was to immediately facilitate the return of the big foreign media and singled houses such the BBC, CNN and ITN which are all banned from operating from Zimbabwe.

Local correspondents of all foreign media operate illegally under a wide range of repressive legislation such as the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Broadcasting Act which has seen them detained, tortured and imprisoned for operating "illegally" if they are not "registered" with the government’s Media Information Commission.

The Commission is well known for its links with President Mugabe’s spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation.

Prof Mutambara said the new government would reverse the old order where the State determined who should report and how. "No government has the right to control how it should be reported, by whom and from where," he said adding that while Zimbabwe had external sanctions; its leadership had to remove internal sanctions they imposed on themselves through their misrule.

Prof Mutambara’s broad shot will not only litmus test President Mugabe’s commitment to ending dictatorship but will begin actualizing a new democratic political dispensation.

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology robotics engineering professor had no kind words for Zimbabwe’s present junta’s iron fist rule.

"We want to re-brand Zimbabwe, but what are we known for? How are we perceived by the rest of the world? "We are known for violence, farm invasion, disregard for the rule of law, electoral fraud, cholera, an unheard of rocket propelled inflation, gigantic corruption and mafia style abductions and kidnappings of journalists, human rights activists and anyone seeking their democratic space," he said amid applause from the large turn out that included Vice President Joyce Mujuru, one of President Mugabe’s key allies.

Prof Mutambara said Zimbabwe needs a complete paradigm shift in the manner in which it runs its affairs.

"You cannot re-brand for instance tourism to just start this economy instance without first re-branding Zimbabwe first. To re-brand a country, you must first have a product."You must be known for something and have triggers for delivery but not certainly what Zimbabwe is presently known for. You must be perceived for the right things for you to be attractive, and then you can sell.

"You then have to go beyond and build love marks which will then market loyalty for your product," he told the country tourism stakeholders citing Coca Cola and Mercedes Benz which he told them has branding equity of 65% and US$22 billion on their balance sheets respectively.

In another fora, in Parliament Mutambara hit out at western governments describing as "ignorant and arrogant" a decision by US President Barrack Obama to extend targeted sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his allies.

In his maiden speech, Mutambara criticised western governments for imposing and extending targeted travel sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his lieutenants in spite of the establishment of a government of national unity (GNU) between ZANU PF and the two MDC leaders.

"We understand why the US, Britain, and the EU are sceptical to remove the sanctions. But we are determined as the three political parties to make this agreement (Global Political Agreement) work. Please do not give us conditions like (such as) we are waiting for progress. If we don’t get balance of payments support and humanitarian assistance this government will collapse. Don’t patronize us. So we are saying remove any type of sanctions you have imposed on our people. You are undermining the Prime Minister. You are undermining the efforts of Zimbabweans. Mr Obama has extended sanctions to our country by one year. That decision was based on ignorance and arrogance," Mutambara said.

Obama extended U.S. sanctions that target Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler President Mugabe and others linked to him for another year at the beginning of this month, saying some people are continuing to undermine the country’s democratic processes.

Although both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have asked the US and the European Union to lift the sanctions to help the country pull itself out of its man-made economic crisis, both Washington and Brussels have ruled out any early lifting of targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his close associates until there is more progress on democratic reforms and human rights.

The EU and the US first imposed sanctions targeting scores of people and companies linked to President Mugabe with travel bans and asset freezes in 2002 and 2003 respectively to protest human rights violations in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe’s dictatorial rule.