I am here today to say thank you to America from the people of Zimbabwe.
And I want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for the great opportunities that you provide speakers like me to address these kind of forums. Thank you for your humanitarian aid, which as we speak, has saved the lives of a million Zimbabweans. Thank you for your support for our struggle for democracy, a struggle that continues today.
From your very founding, you stand upon the idea that all men—all men everywhere—are created equal. That revolutionary ideal echoed through your history—through Abraham Lincoln who looked for the day that the weight would be lifted off the shoulders of all men, and all would have a chance. And President Barack
Obama just last week, telling an audience in Cairo that the hope of America is the hope of all humanity.
So as you provide emergency food and medical assistance to the people of Zimbabwe, you also shine the light of hope to us and indeed to all the dark places of the globe. I first came to America 20 years ago as a young union leader. I had the good fortunate to be selected for an international visitors program. I spent 4 weeks, here, visiting all across the country from New York to Wyoming to California –I saw your nation from sea to shining sea.
This was an eye opening experience, as you can imagine, for a young man who had gone down into the mines in 1974. But one thing struck me that may surprise you.
I was struck by how much the people of America reminded me of the people of Zimbabwe. Mining, even in the best of circumstances is hard and dangerous work; and most who do it learn to be good judges of the character of those around us. And what I saw in the American people is also what I saw, and see, in the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans, like Americans, are a hard working people; people who persevere in hard times and people with—I’m told the American word is "gumption."
The independent Zimbabwe I knew as a union leader was the best country in Africa. We were a nation of different tribes, but without tribal differences. We were a place where people of different backgrounds came together working our farms and mines and making them the envy of our continent. Our school system
became the best in Africa—we had good health care, and our life expectancy rivaled that of nations in the global North.. In the last ten years, all that has been destroyed. Ten years ago we were the 2nd largest economy in our region, behind only South Africa. Now we are the smallest, behind the tiny nations of Swaziland and Lesotho.
The often unhappy 20th century saw too many countries devastated by war, and too many governments which intentionally persecuted portions of their own people. Despite the dawn of this new hopeful century, Zimbabwe stands as a remarkable testimony of the power of a corrupt government, in pursuit of selfish policies, to impoverish an entire nation.
The problem was evident to most Zimbabweans by the mid-1990s. In 1999, from my post as Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, I called a National Working People’s Convention, which led to the organization of the Movement for Democratic Change as a direct response to the people’s dissatisfaction with the current political dispensation. In the year the 2000, President Mugabe, in an attempt to circumvent a new people’s constitution, orchestrated one of his own which would have increased his own powers, while diminishing those of the people.
To prevent this travesty, I joined other church, civil society,
human rights and labor leaders in the The National Constitutional Assembly, to campaign against the imposition of this shamconstitution. In a national referendum it was rejected by the majority of Zimbabweans, the last election in Zimbabwe that outside observers have labeled free and fair. Sadly, rejection of the government at the polls did not lead to the democratic change that the people wanted. In the series of elections since then, marred by violence and voting irregularities, the results announced by the ruling party in each case left the democratic opposition just short of the votes needed to take power.
At the end of 2008, African leaders, many genuinely concerned about democracy and others who could no longer ignore the Zimbabweans dying on their streets, brought about a negotiated settlement which resulted in my becoming Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.
The leaders of our party, the Movement for Democratic Change, agreed to that negotiated settlement very reluctantly. Many of us had been tortured by the regime with which we were to form this new government; all of us had seen friends and supporters killed. In the weeks leading up to this negotiated settlement, President Mugabe began a campaign to force out the humanitarian agencies which were the only source of sustenance and medical support for the majority of Zimbabweans. To walk away from the negotiating table would have been to watch as many as four million people starve and generations lose their right to education and employment opportunities.
Thus, we decided that we had to take the struggle for democracy into a new arena— but this does not compromise our ideal to fight for democracy. Like Nelson Mandela, I agreed to work with a non-democratic regime as a transition to full democracy. June 11, marks four months since my swearing in as prime minister. Zimbabwe is changing. Already Zimbabwe is a different place, a significantly better place. As a society, we were near death, and we have come back to life. In our first hundred days we provided first aid in a desperate situation; and we did four big things—real change that brought real results.
First, we stopped the printing presses. The Zimbabwe dollar, 9
the most inflated currency in the history of the world, is gone. The US dollar and South African rand are effectively our national currencies. As a result, our record-setting inflation is gone.
Second, we stopped forcing the print media to be licensed. If I may paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, a people with newspapers and no government are safer than people who have a government but no newspapers. Third, we have launched constitutional reform, which will lead to a people driven constitution and free elections. This was the promise of the National Constitutional Assembly; and it will come to pass. Fourth, we took the riot police off the streets. Our capital city, Harare is no longer a city under armed occupation. With those four steps, we have kept hope alive.
Our schools, which had almost all closed, are now mostly open.
The year’s backlog on marking exam papers has been cleared, so children can receive their grades. Some of our hospitals have some medication to treat some of the sick. Garbage is being removed from the streets in our cities and towns. Food aid is mostly available for the five million people who need it. The basic necessities of ordinary life are present on our store shelves. All these are the results of our specific policies but also of the people’s trust. The people have gone back to work because they trust that the struggle for democracy in the new arena will be successful and that henceforth their government will be on their side. As the people gain hope and change gains momentum, bigger challenges lie ahead.
On June 1, the Movement for Democratic Change at its tenth
annual convention, formally appealed to SADC—the South African Development Community—to resolve the government deadlock over Reserve Bank Governor and the Attorney General. Under the Global Political Agreement, both of those positions were to be filled by consensus of all parties; and both incumbents were unilaterally re-appointed by President Mugabe. It is time that the Africa leaders, those who said the Global Political Agreement was an African solution to an Africa problem, it is time for them to step up. The people of southern Africa, led by their labor unions, churches and liberation heroes have proved to be friends of the people of Zimbabwe in their time of need; their government leaders need to follow suit.
I welcome the involvement in Africa of President Barack
Obama. And his emphasis on rebuilding what you call America’s "soft power." The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is the architect of the worst inflation in the history of the world. Our reserve bank has managed the economic policies that pushed at least three million refugees (out of a population of twelve million) to swim crocodile infested rivers to escape our once happy land. We need to rectify the un-procedural appointment of the Reserve Bank Governor and the Attorney General. The office of the Attorney General has been so compromised that instead of dispensing justice to all fairly, we have witnessed selective application of the law.
The Africa leaders who are guardians of the inclusive government need to step forward now and tell President Robert Mugabe that Gideon Gono and Johannes Tomana must go. The
global political agreement, of which those leaders are the guarantors, must be enforced. As I am here in Washington DC, I also need to address the application of the GPA on the question of the restrictive measures against officials of the prior government.
The GPA calls for all parties in Zimbabwe to work for an end to these restrictions. I am committed to the implementation of the GPA and the restoration of the rule of law. Those in our government who are personally listed, should join me in that stand. When they do, world support for the removal of all restrictions will be unstoppable. Now, let’s look ahead. Zimbabwe over the last decade, can serve for many years as a bad example. A government that refuses to be accountable to the people can implement policies that bankrupt a nation.
I look forward to Zimbabwe serving as a good example. Under our Short Term Emergency Recovery Program, farmers are no longer required to sell their crops to the government’s grain marketing control board. The government’s prior monopoly policies meant low prices for the farmer, high costs to the consumer, and overseas bank accounts for a few. No wonder we were producing only 20% of the food we needed. Our STERP also allows our mines to sell minerals at world prices which should reverse the collapse of our mining sector. The plans of the previous government to nationalize the mines have been shelved.
We will also change the policies that brought our manufacturing sector to operate at only 10% of capacity.
In addition, we will again welcome the world at our airports. Tourism is 10% of our economy yet we scared away our tourists while preventing airlines from bringing them to our beautiful country. Finally, one of our greatest needs is the return of talent. Sadly, many of those who first fled from the previous government were those whose language proficiency and educational attainment made them most marketable in other countries—the brightest graduates of what was once the best school system in Africa. We need those people to come back home. They have an indispensable place in the new Zimbabwe.
Let me reiterate, once again, that democratization is the first plank of our economic recovery program. We will build Zimbabwe around democracy, free elections, freedom of speech and assembly, respect for property rights, and the rule of law. The growth of prosperity that follows these policies will be slower than the collapse brought about by their absence. But just as inevitable. Each time I am amazed and challenged by America. Amazed by what free people, blessed by rich resources, can do. And challenged by the knowledge that Zimbabwe, also blessed by rich resources and burning with the desire to be free, can do what you have done here. As America has been a beacon of hope for the world, Zimbabwe can be the engine of progress and democracy that transforms the African continent.
Thank you, America for having kept hope alive. Join me, 17
America, as our peoples move forward together.