Once upon a time there was an African country that after several years of instability seemed to be moving shakily towards reform and democracy. Its ageing despotic president had signed a power-sharing deal with the opposition that created a unity government that would precipitate a new constitution and elections.
Sounds rather like Zimbabwe, doesn’t it? But I was actually describing Rwanda in early 1994 – only months before a genocide that would claim almost a million lives. While the Arusha Accords were being haphazardly implemented (but more often than not being ignored), fanatics in the countryside were setting up militia training bases. Arms and military advisers were being flown in to train and equip these ragtag groupings. President Habyarimana’s assassination in April 1994 was the catalyst for a hundred days of massacres, rape and torture.
Zimbabwe is in an eerily similar situation to the one that Rwanda was experiencing before its genocide. After a decade of brutality and economic devastation, it is tempting to hope that Zanu PF’s “partnership” with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) shows that Zimbabwe is irreversibly on the road to recovery.
Sadly, however, what we see in Zimbabwe is nothing but a false dawn: a Potemkin peace designed to lure us into the same indifferent complacency with which the world viewed Rwanda in 1994.
The violent repression that has characterised Zanu PF’s rule continues, flouting the provisions of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), the power-sharing agreement signed with the opposition in September. Zanu PF considers the unity deal after its defeat at the March 29 polls last year as a mere speed bump in its path of continued authoritarian rule – a speed bump which creates the illusion that it is prepared to accept reform and genuine democracy.
Don’t be fooled. Activists, lawyers and MDC supporters continue to be unlawfully harassed and detained. Senior opposition leaders face death threats. Opposition members of parliament are being targeted with ridiculous criminal charges by a brazenly partisan police and judiciary. Five have already been convicted (MPs have to resign if they serve a jail-term longer than six months).
The Zanu PF militias that unleashed a wave of brutality on suspected MDC supporters as punishment for the 2008 election result, have been accused by teachers of setting up “terror bases” at schools.
Even more frightening (and chillingly reminiscent of the prelude to Rwanda’s genocide when French weapons were despatched en-masse to Kigali) is the build-up of weapons in Zimbabwe.
Last month the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) revealed that in April 2008, Chinese arms (including several million rounds of ammunition as well as RPC7 rockets and mortars) destined for Zimbabwe reached to Luanda, Angola. It has been confirmed that the arms have subsequently reached Harare. Later, in August, an additional 53 tons of ammunition were flown to Harare from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2008.
There’s more. David Maynier, the Democratic Alliance’s defence spokesperson, has revealed that South Africa is seeking authorisation from its National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) to export ammunition to its neighbour. Maynier has been subsequently vilified by the ANC ruling party which seems more obsessed by how the opposition MP found out about the application than about what the arms will be used for should they be authorised for export.
President Mugabe has unleashed his military on innocent civilians before – in 1982 he used North Korean-trained troops to torture and massacre thousands in Matabeleland for their alleged support for Zapu, a rival anti-colonialist movement that he eventually forced to merge with his own party.
His army’s abysmal rights record continues, with Human Rights Watch recently exposing the army’s invasion of the Marange diamond fields in November 2008 where it has subsequently subjected locals to forced labour, torture and murder.
Two South African MPs, Wilmot James and Kenneth Mubu, who returned earlier this month from Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission reported, “There are reports from credible sources of increasing paramilitary activity in the countryside…”
They explained, “Under his [Mugabe’s] personal control he has a paramilitary machine consisting of soldiers, thugs, the so-called war veterans and ZANU political commissars. There are the hit squads. The police also collaborate…” They also have reason to believe that in addition to the arms exports uncovered by IPIS, “Mugabe is talking to Venezuela, Cuba and Korea to fund a war-chest in preparation for the referendum and election following on the implementation of the GPA.”
While Rwanda’s genocide was powered by ethnic hatred, this was merely a pretext: the tragedy was deliberately orchestrated by a shadowy ruling clique which knew its power was in jeopardy, and which refused to sacrifice it at all cost. So while ethnic tensions in Zimbabwe are no where near the levels of those in Rwanda in 1994, a similar intensity of hatred exists, as does the same desperate willingness for its rulers to do whatever it takes to remain in power.
The arms flooding in and the paramilitary training in the countryside are deliberate preparations for war – a war to be inflicted by homegrown postcolonial imperialists on an innocent and undeserving citizenry so that Zanu PF’s rapacious supremacy can continue.
We cannot ignore the warning signs. We know what happened in Rwanda in 1994. The world looked away while almost a million people were slaughtered. Will we let this happen in Zimbabwe?