Tendai Biti’s Sanctions Lectures: Is he discrediting himself?

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri,
10th January 2013.

Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti’s recent claim in Canada and in other previous university lectures that ‘sanctions’ are ‘not serving anyone’ has fortunately been diplomatically shot down by his hosts in Ottawa who told him they will stay.

No disrespect for Tendai Biti who has been struggling to put together a “pro-poor budget” against all odds, but I will explain briefly why I disagree with his latest escapades which contradict what he stood for in the previous election – democracy ,human rights, transparency and accountability.

I am also fully aware of the harassment Tendai Biti has experienced and continues to endure at the hands of Mugabe’s militarised Zanu-pf regime including a nasty spell in Mugabe’s prison and appearance in court on 17, 18 and 19 June 2008 and was charged with four counts including treason.

Tendai Biti in 2009 received a live bullet through the post and his house was bombed in June 2011 but there have been no arrests. As if that is not enough, Zanu-pf war vets have besieged Biti’s office more than once – in June 2011 and in July 2012 and in October 2012.
However, I disagree with Tendai Biti’s global crusade against restrictive measures that were imposed on Robert Mugabe and about 200 other Zanu-pf loyalists for rights abuses and stealing elections.

There should be no illusions about the effectiveness of the measures, but at least they are service a useful purpose by hitting the right people – the selected elites and not the ordinary people as claimed by propagandists and regime apologists.
In my view, Biti’s campaign is actually what is not serving anyone given that he previously described foreign travel expenditure as the “Archille’s heel” in his 2011 Budget statement.

Although Biti is walking a tight rope, he seems to be barking the wrong tree by targeting foreign governments without credible evidence of reforms on the ground which has been missed by their diplomats in Harare. No wonder why those foreign governments have politely ignored his calls e.g. the United States, Australia and now Canada.

The GNU partners need not look any further for the need for change especially after the recent resignation of the Human Rights Commission Chairman Professor Reginald Austin due to for lack of resources to deliver services.
Indeed that “exposes the regime’s apparent lack of commitment to upholding human rights” as some analysts have commented.

Prof Austin said an unnamed senior government official had demoralised the new team when he compared the new commission with a baby whose birth the parents had made no preparations for – “no nursery, no cot bed, no blankets and no baby food” (Newsday 09/01/13).
Biti needs to know that the ongoing problem of human rights abuse in Zimbabwe will continue to discourage the easing of restricted measures on the Commander in Chief and his allies especially ahead of the referendum and elections.

For instance the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s Human Rights & National Institutions Report Sept ember 2012 to December 2012, documents the “continuing harassment” of civil society and political activists that characterised the period.
The operating environment for NGOs, says the report, continued to be very challenging. Police arrested and ill-treated peaceful protesters, especially the Women of Zimbabwe Arise activists.

Other organisations that faced raids and arrests included The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, the Counselling Services Unit and many other civil society organisations offering vital services to vulnerable Zimbabweans, the report adds.

It is also worth noting that the Zimbabwe’s human rights report presented by Zanu-pf ‘s Patrick Chinamasa in Geneva was described by civil society as “appalling” and naturally did nothing to placate diplomats who have the power to remove targeted restrictive measures especially after he rejected security sector reforms and described the ICRC as a ‘kangaroo court’.

Also weakening Tendai Biti’s case is the budget deficit and the non-remittance of diamonds cash to Treasury by Zanu-pf elites while Zimbabweans endure “endless miseries and health challenges” mentioned in the Human Rights NGO Forum report due to “an appalling level of service delivery” and water borne diseases such as typhoid and dysentery.

Even the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare which falls under MDC-T has confirmed that close to half a million people in Zimbabwe were infected with diarrhoea in 2012.
Surely, Zimbabwe needs foreign investment, but there needs to be an enabling environment first in the form of the respect for human and property rights and the rule of law including BIPPAS.

Probably, investors will be keen to know which constitution will be guaranteeing their investments and what will happen to Nestle before they can take the plunge.
While understandably under pressure from the securocrats, Tendai Biti risks discrediting himself by trying to appease them at the expense of the generality of Zimbabweans including those forced to leave the country because of Zanu-pf rights abuses which remain unresolved despite the GNU.

By marginalising the Diaspora and alienating victims of political violence for expediency, the new partners in the coalition government in Harare may prove to be their own worst enemies in their rush to go to polls with Mugabe without any credible security sector, legal and media reforms.

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri, Political Analyst, London, [email protected]



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