Bernard Bwoni The Edge
So much has already been written about London Mayor Boris Johnson’s outrageous piece — albeit with some correct historical fact on Britain’s betrayal of the Lancaster House Agreement. There are a few choice comments to be made though regarding his remarks before we allow the article its deserved natural death.
The Conservative Party to which Bojo, as he is called, belongs, and the ruling Zanu-PF party in Zimbabwe have enjoyed cordial relations dating way back before the country’s independence and the Lancaster House Conference and as such this confused and confusing article would have made a lot sense coming from Tony Blair himself.
One can bet Mrs Margaret Thatcher would be turning in her grave at this unwarranted and nauseating tirade against President Mugabe. Johnson started off by calling President Mugabe’s 21st February Movement ‘an event of truly spectacular ugliness’ and he wonders ‘who on earth would want to there?’ The simple answer to Johnson’s lazy question is, the many Zimbabweans who voted the man into power would definitely want to be there.
I am convinced Johnson wrote this article whilst under the influence of something that is not legally available on the open market. He calls those who were going to attend President Mugabe’s birthday celebrations a ‘meat-maddened mob’ and ‘brain-washed Zimbabweans’ who will sing happy birthday ‘to the man who has impoverished their country’. From there onwards his article became a mish-mash of contradictions and confusion.
The fact of the matter is that in the last general election in Zimbabwe 61 percent of the electorate voted President Mugabe into power in an election endorsed as free, fair and credible by the SADC and African Union observers. These were the observers who were on the ground and that is the democracy which Boris claims to champion. So for him to call those who decided to celebrate President Mugabe’s birthday as ‘brainwashed’ is not only condescending but an attempt at muzzling people’s democratic right and downright dirty. President Mugabe is a hero for many Zimbabweans and the fact that he is not Boris’ hero does not make those Zimbabweans who see him as a hero ‘brainwashed’.
Reading through Johnson’s article one is left wondering where on earth he got his facts from to come up with this fiction of an article. He makes spurious claims that all teachers across Zimbabwe had been forced to contribute $10 each for these celebrations.
I initially gave Johnson the benefit of the doubt but decided to check with a few of my friends in Zimbabwe who are teachers just to make sure and none of them was aware of such a call. So where did Johnson get these distortions from? Or did he just make it all up in this moment of madness?
Johnson then goes on to make a revealing admission that it was the Labour Government under Tony Blair which played a ‘shameful part in the disaster’, and that is absolutely right.
It is this ‘shameful part’ in which the British Government reneged on funding the land reform process in Zimbabwe as agreed at the Lancaster House Conference. Tony Blair and his bosom buddy George Bush’s economic sanctions against Zimbabwe have indeed caused the untold suffering of the ordinary people in Zimbabwe. Johnson rightly points out that the British Government agreed to fund the land reform at Lancaster and he rightly places the blame on Tony Blair and Claire Short for going back on the arrangement. Now the question to pose to Johnson is why the uncalled for attack on President Mugabe?
It is the British government’s betrayal of the Lancaster House agreement that led to the fast track land reform in Zimbabwe and it was because of the fast track land reform that the EU and the USA imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe. It is the economic sanctions that have led to the ‘malnourishment of children’ and ‘the companies going to the wall’ that Johnson was going on about. He then goes on to pluck figures out of thin air (in his drunken state I assume) and makes yet more unsubstantiated claims that Zimbabwe is now the ‘poorest nation on earth’ and talks about the ‘ravages of HIV’, the ‘emaciated figures listlessly on street corners’ as his evidence of Zimbabwe being the poorest country on earth ‘beaten only by Congo’. I am left wondering what indicators Boris used to come up with such ridiculous claims.
Johnson puts that blame on Tony Blair for reneging on the arrangements agreed at Lancaster as the reason for the cause of the fast track land reform in Zimbabwe but then contradicts himself by claiming that ‘Mugabe’s long reign has been characterised by one overwhelming objective: to exterminate the last vestiges of white power’.
This is totally unfounded because President Mugabe is the first African leader to enunciate the policy of national reconciliation long before Mandela was credited as the icon of reconciliation.
After independence the whites in Zimbabwe were left untouched and they continued to live freely. Ian Smith lived freely in Zimbabwe until his death and he is buried in Zimbabwe.
President Mugabe embraced his erstwhile nemesis of the liberation struggle and even had whites in his cabinet. Johnson then goes on to contradict himself again by stating that it was this betrayal of the Lancaster House Agreement that gave ‘Mugabe his pretext to launch his pogroms against the whites’. No Johnson, this was not an attack on whites but rather a case of addressing historical inequalities and these had been tabled at Lancaster. The 6 000 whites Johnson refers to owned over 70 percent of the arable land in Zimbabwe whilst the over 10 million indigenous black people of Zimbabwe were relegated to the most unproductive lands of the country and the margins of all economic activity.
The London Mayor goes on to say that the Labour government allowed Mugabe to ‘launch a racist tyranny’ and that it was Labour’s betrayal of Lancaster that gave Mugabe the ‘pretext for the despotic confiscations’. Let it be made clear that the liberation war in Zimbabwe was about the land and hence the agreement that the British Government would fund the process of redistributing the land to its original owners.
The land reform in Zimbabwe, whichever form it took, was inevitable and necessary to redress the ruthless land tenure laws drafted by the crafty Rhodesian colonial system. The fast track land reform in Zimbabwe was a case of correcting a skewed land ownership pattern where a few whites owned the majority of the fertile land at the expense of the many black Zimbabweans who had been forced into the rock terrains of the country. President Mugabe did not make up the provisions of the Lancaster House but these were agreed by all principals.
Johnson is right about one thing throughout his article: that Tony Blair and his colleagues were responsible for the breakdown of the cordial relations between Zimbabwe and the British Government. He nailed it when he placed the blame on the Labour Government but then lost it when he went into this tirade against President Mugabe. It was because of the inexperience and hastiness of Tony Blair that the provisions of the Lancaster House Agreement were scrapped and President Mugabe had no choice but to redistribute land to the hungry and angry landless indigenous Zimbabweans. Zimbabweans have celebrated President Mugabe’s 21st February Movement for years now and will continue to do so. Those who decide to go, it is their right and not for Boris to decide or ridicule. Those who go are not ‘a meat-maddened mob’ or ‘brainwashed’ but willing Zimbabweans. There are children, educated adults and elders who attend and no one puts a gun to their heads to attend this over-subscribed yearly event.
Zimbabweans do not eat lion meat, so Johnson get your facts right before going to print. Mr David Cameron, like all the other Conservative leaders, has always accorded President Mugabe a modicum of respect and that is the bedrock of the Zimbabwe-British relations. Johnson got it terribly wrong when he launched this attack on President Mugabe. Whatever he is smoking these days has to be banned.
Bwoni is a UK-based agricultural economist and political analyst.