Lying at the heart of south-central Africa, Zimbabwe sits between the Zambezi River to the North and Limpopo River to the South.
A country ravaged by HIV Aids, political unrest, unemployment, poverty and food shortages, Zimbabwe undoubtedly has a long and difficult road ahead if it is to reclaim its former status as "the bread-basket of Africa".
President Robert Mugabe’s policy of land redistribution, where white farmers were forcefully and violently removed from their lands, the many charges of human rights abuses as well as accusations of election tampering resulted in the country’s expulsion from the Commonwealth nations in 2002.
The regime has seen much bloodshed in Zimbabwe and has been met with widespread international condemnation over the past ten years.
With the World Health Organization citing the life expectancy of Zimbabweans as 34 for males and 37 for females, an inflation rate reaching a quarter of a billion per cent at its peak in July of last year and the continued rule of Robert Mugabe, it might be easy to dismiss Zimbabwe as a lost cause.
However, there are some some signs of change and improvement, providing hope for the country’s future. During his recent trip to Zimbabwe, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach had the opportunity to speak with MDC-M leader and recently sworn in deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara discussing with him the three-party government solution, the role of the west in African politics and the steps being taken to bring about a brighter, safer future for Zimbabwe.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach – Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, can you tell us about how Zimbabwe is changing?
Arthur Mutambara: Right now we are presented with a unique opportunity for Zimbabwe because Zimbabweans have decided to work together. For the past 10 years we have had acrimony and despair in our country so after the inconclusive elections of ’08 we decided the best way to move forward was to go into government together.
The first product of this new situation is political stability as all three major political parties of Zimbabwe form a working government, giving us an opportunity to build a shared vision.
Secondly, although we have experienced terrible economical circumstances in the past, the inflation rate is now at just three per cent which shows macro-economic stability is coming back into our country,that is a major change.
Thirdly, the quality of life is beginning to improve. Goods are now available in the shops, capitalisation of in the industries is improving, but there is still a challenge in terms of disposable incomes.
So now the focus is on trying to create jobs and build the economy, that is the third layer of change: economic growth and development, but it is still a work in progress.
The major one is number four: our brand as a country, ie what we are known for. We are known for censorship, for arresting our journalists, but we are making moves to change that now. It is important that Zimbabwe becomes known as a safe destination for investment, we also want to be known as a safe destination for tourism.
In other words we are pushing what we call a hexagon of branding: tourism, trade/investment, culture, people, governance in each of those six areas we are trying to create a competitive identity for our country, we are trying to make Zimbabwe a globally competitive economy.
RS: Would you say that some of the scepticism towards Zimbabwe on the part of the international community, the worry that the young leaders are not being heard or perhaps will be neutralised within a national unity government, is misplaced?
AM: There are two major reasons why there is scepticism: one of them is sheer ignorance and arrogance on the part of the west, I went to Oxford- I taught at MIT, I’m a Rhodes Scholar. I think it’s fair to say that I know better than Obama what is good for Zimbabwe, that I know better than Hillary Clinton what is good for Zimbabwe. So it is very arrogant and patronising for Hillary or Obama to prescribe what is best for Zimbabwe without talking to me first.
In my opinion, the starting point is to remove ignorance and to remove arrogance on the part of the west visa vi what’s good for Africa.
We as Zimbabweans, are the best analysts, and the best scholars on the subject called Zimbabwe. So when I say, in the short term there is no alternative to working together, that there is no alternative to an inclusive arrangement I believe that the West i.e. the Americans and the British, should respect that.
There is also a second reason which I will to in a moment, but in my opinion the issue of respect is the really the major one. If they, the political leaders of the west, were more reflective and decided to sit down and talk to me in this manner: "you are a young leader, a Rhodes scholar, you taught at MIT, you are smarter than me, tell me what’s going on" because I am – ya (laughs).
The second reason for scepticism is our own fault. We do have outstanding issues on our agreement, we are still doing things in the country that undermine confidence and credibility, so there are certainly some challenges but they are not insurmountable.
However those challenges do undermine our credibility, those problems on our farms, the problems with the agreement, the problems with our media damages our credibility and so people become sceptical. So that can be consider positive scepticism because it is due to our own misdemeanors and faults.
That is reason number two, reason number one is arrogance and ignorance but there are also good reasons why people should be sceptical. The most important thing to remember now is that we have no alternative, we have no plan B- all of us: Tsvangirai, Mugabe, myself, are stuck with each other in the short run.
This inclusive government must work. And how will it work? By creating a new constitution, creating national healing, recovering the economy, making political reforms and media reforms, so that we can create conditions for a free and fair election next time.
RS: So is it fair to say you are confident that this unity government, and the input that you and Morgan Tsvangirai are bringing to it, is not only giving your respective parties a voice but is also bringing about change?
AM: Absolutely, it is creating fundamental change, political stability, economical stability, we are opening up the media, our people want us to stay in this government. Our people are experiencing a new reality. Yes there are problems, yes there are challenges but they are not insurmountable. On the main, in general, we are making progress, and the progress is towards a new Zimbabwe.
RS: The perception of Zimbabwe is one of a government which is inaccessible and one where Zimbabwe has become synonymous with political intimidation. Do you believe that also is changing?
AM: You see this is brings us back to the issue of our brand as a country; it takes a long time to build a reputation and quite a second to destroy it. What we have done in the past is destroy our own reputation, we used to be the bread basket of Southern Africa, now we are the basket case.
We used to be the model of reconciliation in the country, now we are known for intimidation, violence and so on. So we are now going back to our old brand position, to our competitive identity.
We are now recasting ourselves as a nation of inclusiveness, as a nation of harmony, as a nation of reconciliation, we need to recreate it because it has been destroyed over the past ten years. We are moving there slowly but surely, but we have take a bit of time to build that brand position.
RS: So back to your relationship to the west, you feel that the American position is one of dictating to you whether or not you should work with president Mugabe, and your feeling is that they really don’t understand the situation and that they need to sit with you and hear what you have to say.
Did you think that Obama in particular would be willing to talk to you?
AM: Well he’s inexperienced so I think he’s very careful. He doesn’t want to rock the boat too much, and yet what we want to see is leadership and creativity. What we are saying in our environment, given our previous election, there is no alternative to an arrangement of accommodation.
When we achieve the reforms we need to achieve we can prepare ourselves for a free and fair election, with that election then producing a legitimate government.
RS: Do you have a timetable for the next election?
AM: Two years is the time frame in the agreement for a referendum, two years starting from September last year. If we are not ready we can extend that time period. What is important is to create conditions for freedom and fairness.
So if after two years we are not ready then we will say "let us do more work". Remember that in Zimbabwe the question is not"when is next election?" For the past ten years we have had elections which were not free and fair and we have no clear answers as to why that was.
The issue in Zimbabwe is the calibre and the quality of the election. So the right question is how and when can we make sure that Zimbabwe has a fair and free election. The 2000 elections where problematic, 2002 there were issues, 2005, 2008 also issues- so elections are not the answer. Creating circumstances for a free and fair election is the answer.
RS: So do you feel you, Tsvangirai and Mugabe have a good working relationship? As a triumvirate?
AM: We have no choice, but we have a working relationship. We are doing this for our people, we are doing this because it is in the national interest, we are doing this because it is the African solution. We might not like each other, because we are coming from three different directions, but unfortunately for us, our individual fortunes are intertwined and inseparable at this juncture.
That is why it is foolish of the Americans to say, pull out of the government and have the election, they are being unwise, because if we did have the election it would be unfree and unfair and another victory for Mugabe.
Myself and Tsvangirai must hold on in there, work on a new constitution, work on the separation of powers, work on national healing work on political and media reforms. So that next time around we can get the free and fair election in which Mugabe might loose. So do we have a nice working relationship? Not necessarily- but we do have a functional relationship.
RS: And the Americans aren’t prepared to hear this?
AM: Perhaps, perhaps not, but now the most important thing is the African dimension, this is very important, to be influential in Africa you must be with African opinion. What do I mean about African opinion? SADC (Southern African Development Community) and AU (the African Union).
These are the African institutions, if you can’t convince them to move then you have to move with them because otherwise you’ll be ineffective. America cannot have a foreign policy position that is opposed to SADC or the AU and succeed. So we for example in this inclusive government were guided by SADC member countries, they said " do it it’s in your country’s national interest".
Once they advise us to do that we cannot succeed if we go up against them. So the greatest influence over the future of Zimbabwean politics lies not with the intervention of western governments but rather lies with Africa and the will of the African people. author/source:Beliefnet (US)