U.S. Plans for Post-Robert Mugabe Zimbabwe?

Ottawa — WASHINGTON'S plan for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe has been sketched out by Michelle D. Gavin, White House advisor and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, while she was a research fellow at the influential Council on Foreign Relations

In Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, a paper which spells out "a vision for (Zimbabwe’s) future and a plan for how to get there", Gavin explains how the "existing roster of (Zimbabwe’s) civil society leaders . . . lends itself to the US desire" to put Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources, including its farmland, up for sale to US investors.

Gavin cautions that a populist and nationalist reaction against the US plan could arise, and recommends three counter-measures: a job creation programme; co-opting the corps of Zimbabwe’s middle-level military officers with training programmes, exchanges and pay increases; and entrepreneurship programmes to divert the energies and attention of politicised youth.

What is the Council on Foreign Relations? The Council of Foreign Relations is the largest US ruling class policy organisation. Founded in 1921 by bankers, lawyers and scholars interested in carving out a larger role for the United States in world affairs, the organisation’s membership is today dominated by finance bankers, corporate executives, and lawyers, supplemented by journalists, scholars and government and military officials.

The CFR is funded by corporations, wealthy individuals and sales of its journal, Foreign Affairs. Its most important function is to bring together small discussion groups, of 15 to 25 corporate executives, State Department and Pentagon officials, and academics, to explore specific issues in foreign affairs and identify policy alternatives.

Discussion groups often lead to study groups, led by a research fellow, Gavin’s role at the CFR. As sociologist William Domhoff explains:

It is quite astonishing that the United States can deny that it is imperialist, when scholars, government and military officials and CEOs, meet under the auspices of the CFR to plan the future of other countries.

In an affront to democracy and geography, Gavin, a US citizen, articulates the CFR’s "vision for (Zimbabwe’s) future and a plan for how to get there".

Gavin attributes Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties to "gross mismanagement" rather than US efforts to undermine Zimbabwe’s economy, a commonly practiced deception by US officials.

She was a long-serving foreign policy advisor to US Senator Russ Feingold, a co-sponsor of the so-called Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery of Act of 2001.

Gavin, herself, describes ZDERA as "a law prohibiting US support for both debt relief and any new assistance for Zimbabwe from the international financial institutions".

This means that Zimbabwe has been barred from accessing development assistance and balance of payment support since 2001, a virtual economic death sentence for a Third World country.

Gavin’s deception extends to claiming that while "it is true that major donors oppose extending any additional support to Zimbabwe at international financial institutions, Zimbabwe’s own deep arrears and the Zanu-PF government’s unwillingness to pursue sustainable economic policies prevent this support from being extended anyway".

If this is true, why did the US government go to the trouble of creating ZDERA?

"We are looking to expand the category of Zimbabweans who are covered.

"We are also looking at sanctions on government entities as well, not just individuals." She added that the US Treasury Department was looking into ways to target sectors of Zimbabwe’s critical mining industry.

On July 25, 2008, George W. Bush announced that sanctions on Zimbabwe would be stepped up. He outlawed US financial transactions with a number of key Zimbabwe companies and froze their US assets.

Two aspects of Gavin’s comments on Zimbabwe’s economy must be addressed.

First, her reference to senior Zimbabwe officials as "cronies" of President Mugabe: This is a transparent effort to discredit Zimbabwe’s Government through name-calling, a hoary practice that, during the Cold War, led US officials and mass media to adopt differential terminology depending on whether they were referring to capitalist or socialist countries.

The Soviet Union had a "regime", "secret police", "satellites" and an "empire" while the United States had a "government," "security organisations," "allies," and "strategic interests". The propaganda function of the term "cronies" becomes evident when used against the United States.

Second, Gavin’s attributing "Zimbabwe’s own deep arrears" to international lending institutions to the former "Zanu-PF government’s unwillingness to pursue sustainable economic policies," requires some explanation of what sustainable economic policies are.

Sustainable economic policies, from the point of view of the World Bank, IMF and the North Atlantic financial elite that dominates these organisations, are policies which benefit the lenders.

Credit does not come without strings attached, and the strings are often deeply inimical to local populations. The economic policies the Mugabe government pursued, under the guidance of the World Bank and IMF, hardly sustained the people of Zimbabwe.

In January 1991, Zimbabwe adopted its Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, designed primarily by the World Bank. The programme called for the usual prescription of actions advocated by Western financial institutions, including privatisation, deregulation, a reduction of government expenditures on social needs, and deficit cutting.

User fees were instituted for health and education, and food subsidies were eliminated. Measures protecting local industry from foreign competition were also withdrawn.

"The impact was immediate. While pleasing for Western investors, the result was a disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. According to one study, the poorest households in Harare saw their income drop over 12 percent in the year from 1991 to 1992 alone, while real wages in the country plunged by a third over the life of the programme.

Falling income levels forced people to spend a greater percentage of their income on food, and second-hand clothes were imported to compensate for the inability of most of Zimbabwe’s citizens to purchase new clothing.

A 1994 survey in Harare found that 90 percent of those interviewed felt that ESAP had adversely affected their lives. The rise in food prices was seen as a major problem by 64 percent of respondents, while many indicated that they were forced to reduce their food intake.

ESAP resulted in mass layoffs and crippled the job market so that many were unable to find any employment at all.

In the communal areas, the rise in fertilizer prices meant that subsistence farmers were no longer able to fertilise their land, resulting in lower yields. 

ESAP also mandated the elimination of price controls, allowing those shop owners in communal area who were free of competition to mark prices up dramatically.

By 1995, over one-third of Zimbabwe’s citizens could not afford a basic food basket, shelter and clothing. From 1991 to 1995, Zimbabwe experienced a sharp deindustrialisation, as manufacturing output fell 40 percent.

"The Government of Zimbabwe felt it could no longer endure this debacle, and by the end of the 1990s, started moving away from the neo-liberal programme. Finally, in October 2001, the abandonment of ESAP was officially announced. ‘Enough is enough,’ declared President Mugabe."

Gavin estimates that the overall costs of undoing the damage of US economic sabotage "fall between US$3 billion and US$4,5 billion over five years," representing a substantial investment for the US government.

But "such a substantial investment makes sense," Gavin concludes, because "private investors have expressed strong enthusiasm for Zimbabwe’s long-term potential."

However, taking advantage of Zimbabwe’s long-term investment potential may not be easy, she cautions, for the suspicions of populist and nationalist Zimbabweans must be overcome.

This says that US investors should tread carefully when gobbling up Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources, and that creating jobs may be a way to stifle nationalist and populist sentiment.

The Zanu-PF programme of making Zimbabweans masters in their own house would be reversed, and Zimbabweans would return to the role of creating wealth for foreign owners, mired in poverty and condemned to perpetual underdevelopment.

Zimbabwe’s long-term potential for US investors can’t be realised unless investments are protected from expropriation. Restoring private property rights is also critical to Washington’s plan for Zimbabwe’s farmland.

The essence of the plan is to clear "away obstacles to private investment," by according ownership rights to families on redistributed land. They would be able to sell their land, transferring ownership to the highest bidder.

Foreign investors could also buy large tracts of lands, helping to "facilitate the consolidation of small parcels into more economically viable entities."

This is a vision of a commercial agricultural sector based on ownership of vast tracts of land by foreign corporations and white farmers restored to their former dominant positions, in which black Zimbabweans are relegated to the role of farm workers, or, once again, to the least favourable land.

Not surprisingly, the future the CFR envisions is one of a more open investment climate in which US corporations, banks and investors can buy Zimbabwe’s valuable natural resources and purchase vast tracts of farmland to establish profitable commercial agribusinesses.

Having moved to the US National Security Council as Senior Director for African Affairs, Gavin is ideally situated to see the CFR plan and vision she articulated converted into action.

To guard against the United States realising its plan to plunder their wealth, Zimbabweans should recognise that:

Washington has followed a two-step approach to Zimbabwe’s economy. First, sabotage it, and then attribute the country’s economic difficulties to "mismanagement."

It’s important for Washington to avoid blame for Zimbabwe’s crippled economy, and to attribute blame wholly to Zanu-PF. Accordingly, Washington will continue to minimise, if not hide altogether, the role of its financial sanctions in undermining Zimbabwe’s economy, citing mismanagement as the cause.

The North Atlantic mass media, which tends to uncritically reflect the pronouncements of US officials on foreign affairs, will echo Washington’s fabrications.

If Washington manages to sideline Zanu-PF, and the US-backed MDC secures a decisive grip on power, Washington will pressure the MDC to create a reform agenda that emphasises the creation of an investment climate favourable to the sale of Zimbabwe’s natural resources, and its State-owned assets, including arable farmland, to foreign investors.  

Programmes to promote entrepreneurship, training and skills development will be used to depoliticise Zimbabwe’s youth so that their patrimony can be stolen from under their feet.

Job creation will be used as a sop to mollify nationalist sentiment. In this, Zimbabweans should recognise that the economic sabotage policies of the United States and its North Atlantic partners are implicated in the problem of mass unemployment, and that foreign investors, while promoting job creation as a necessary political manoeuvre to guard against a populist reaction to the sell-off of Zimbabwe’s assets, will allow unemployment to rise again once Zimbabwe has been parcelled out to foreign investors.

The United States will seek to safeguard the investment of its banks, corporations and wealthy individuals, by co-opting the middle-level officer corps, and using Zimbabwe’s military as an extension of US military power, to suppress populist revolts.

This is an abridged version of an article by Stephen Gowans, a Canadian writer and political activist based in Ottawa.