Human Rights in Africa (II)

HARARE/BERLIN | | aethiopiensimbabwe

HARARE/BERLIN (Own report) - With his demand for a regime change in Zimbabwe, the German foreign minister is intensifying the campaign the West has been waging for years against President Robert Mugabe. "Mugabe's regime has to come to an end," insisted Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) last weekend. Berlin is seeking a regime change since Zimbabwe's leadership refused to pursue Western economic projects in the late 1990s and began expropriating the descendents of European colonialists. Since then, Berlin, Brussels and Washington have been supporting Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition candidate. Berlin's pretension of concern for human rights in Zimbabwe is in no way due to "ethical considerations" of its foreign policy. When compared with its attitude toward another African state, Ethiopia, it is clear that human rights serve only as a pretext for enforcing German interests. All of the German government's accusations against Mugabe apply to his Ethiopian counterpart in Addis Ababa, Meles Zenawi. Instead of being threatened with sanctions for serious crimes against humanity, just a few days ago, Meles was rewarded with an increase in German development aid.

Power Policy

The German foreign minister's open demand for regime change in Zimbabwe [1] corresponds to western demands for sanctions against and even a UN intervention in Zimbabwe in reaction to the escalation of violence in Zimbabwe's election crisis. Berlin, Brussels and Washington allege that they must intervene out of their concern for human rights. But their demands are met with resistance from most African states. Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been the only one so far supporting the demand for military intervention. Following violent rebellions in Kenya, the West, including Germany, pushed for Odinga's sharing power in Nairobi.[2] The blatant power policy of the former colonial states is the reason for most African states opposing interventions. While applying sanctions against annoying African states because of alleged or actual crimes against humanity, the West is even supporting dictators as long as they serve western interests.

Harassed and Intimidated

The West's arbitrariness has recently become evident when comparing reactions to Zimbabwean elections and elections in Ethiopia. All of the accusations raised against Mugabe apply to his Ethiopian counterpart, Meles Zenawi. Just this past April, Meles insured that run-off elections and communal elections were held "almost without neutral election observers", reports the Heinrich Boell Foundation (close to the German Green Party).[3] Two large opposition parties were unable to participate in the elections because the majority of their candidates were not admitted on the ballot and "sympathizers in rural areas were harassed and intimated." Other opposition parties were disqualified through procedural tricks. "Before the elections, the government made sure that in fact only the ruling party (...) could participate," concludes the Heinrich Boell Foundation.[4] Of the 138 seats in the capital, President Meles' party won 137. After an enormous electoral defeat in 2005, Meles falsified the election results and ordered the shooting of demonstrators in the subsequent protests.[5] The brutal repression of the opposition continues and, as documented again recently, the Ethiopian authorities committed crimes against humanity including torture and the execution of civilians and opponents of the government. But because of his willingness to cooperate with the West, Meles is enjoying German support. Just a few days ago, German development aid to Ethiopia was increased 40 percent ( reported [6]).

Economic Conflict

Mugabe lacks exactly what distinguishes Meles - the willingness to cooperate. The conflict between Mugabe and the West dates back to decisions taken at the turn of the century. The Zimbabwean president refused to continue to implement the so called structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This was an affront to Western hegemony and affronts are usually met with fierce reprisals. Mugabe is also refusing a complete sell out of the country's industry to western companies.[7] This is why the IMF and the World Bank ceased their cooperation with Zimbabwe and are refusing to grant it access to favorable loans.[8]

Land Reform

The second issue on which Mugabe blatantly contradicted Western aspirations is that of land reform, which must be seen against the backdrop of the extremely uneven distribution of Zimbabwean land, inherited from the colonial period. "About 4,500 mainly white large-scale commercial farmers own around 11 million hectares of arable land, while more than a million small farmers' families have to content themselves with 16.4 million hectares" according to an analysis made in 2001.[9] Of the various land reform methods being discussed and applied in Southern Africa, Mugabe chose a radical method that brings about reform at the expense of the former colonial masters. Though this method has won him sympathy in the Republic of South Africa and Namibia among others, where Blacks are dissatisfied with the slow pace of their land reform measures, his method has brought him strong protest from the former colonial powers - not just Great Britain, from where the large-scale farmers originate, but also from Germany, which is worrying about the ethnic German large-scale farmers in the former German colony, Namibia.[10]


The EU and the USA imposed sanctions and drastically reduced their development aid to Zimbabwe years ago. These punishment measures took their toll and accentuated the country's economic crisis - which also was politically significant. The economic decline is seen as the decisive factor for the increase in votes for the opposition in the most recent elections.[11]

Cooperation Partner

On both issues - economic policy and land reform - the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party provide the West a loyal cooperation partner. This is not surprising. Tsvangirai has good contacts also to Berlin, for example to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (SPD), which had participated in the founding of the MDC in 1999. ( reported.[12]) This opposition leader planned to invite officials of the German Bundesbank to Harare as "advisors," granting them wide-ranging powers in the national bank, if he becomes president of the nation.[13] These plans to accommodate finance and economic policy to Western demands were accompanied by plans to revert the land reform. Tsvangirai and the MDC intended to either return the land to the large-scale commercial farmers or make them leases. "In any case, they (the large-scale farmers - gfp) will return - something Mugabe would never allow," concluded the German press.[14]

A Single Trump

Because it cannot be expected that Mugabe will concede to Western demands, Berlin - out of principle - is against all mediation attempts by African nations. In Nairobi it is being proposed that, in Zimbabwe - as recently in Kenya - a sharing of the power between Mugabe and Tsvangirai could be initiated, which would offer the only hope of an easing of tensions in this divided nation. This approach is also being supported by other African statesmen. Berlin is opposed. Mugabe - like Kibaki in Kenya - would thereby retain the office of president, giving him decisive influence. "Mugabe's (...) leadership of the government" would be unacceptable "to the Western Community" assumes the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).[15] Berlin, the EU and the USA are therefore placing all their bets on a single trump and pursuing their policy of escalation.

Escalation of Violence

The West already shares responsibility for the preceding tension. For example Berlin's earlier public support for Tsvangirai already helped provoke the government's crack-down on interference into Zimbabwe's domestic affairs - causing an intensification of domestic tension. Recent press reports are confirming that Tsvangirai also financed this year's election campaign with Western help. According to these reports, his "foreign backers" - "namely America and Great Britain" - had "financed his campaign in the first round" at the end of March.[16] Subsequent to the first round of elections, Tsvangirai fled the country. "After Tsvangirai's extended absence, the American ambassador in Harare is said to have ordered him to return to Zimbabwe for the election campaign." "The same ambassador," according to this source, "flatly rejected calling off the run-off elections in favor of the formation of a government of national unity and proclaimed the run-off election to be a question of national survival" - at a moment when even Tsvangirai was appealing for forming a common government with Mugabe, to prevent further bloodshed. As with earlier interference, the new threats coming out of Berlin, Brussels and Washington have a sole objective: getting rid of an insubordinate president. In doing so, the West is prepared to risk a further escalation of violence.

[1] Steinmeier ruft zum Machtwechsel in Simbabwe auf; Reuters 28.06.2008
[2] see also Neokoloniale Interventionen and Netzwerke
[3], [4] Christian Peters-Berries über die Kommunal- und Nachwahlen in Äthiopien;
[5] see also Indispensable Rights
[6] see also Human Rights in Africa (I)
[7] Stephen Gowans: Zimbabwe's Lonely Fight for Justice; 30.03.2007
[8] Steffen Stübig: Wirkungsloser Druck: "Pariastaat" Simbabwe zwischen westlichen Sanktionen und regionaler Solidarität; GIGA Focus Afrika Nr. 5/2007
[9] Christian Peters-Berries (ext.): Simbabwe 2000: Zwischen Aufbruchkrise und Abstiegsangst; SWP-Studie S 4, März 2001
[10] see also "Äußerste Geringschätzung", Future operations, "Naked Racism" and Hilfreiche Pionierleistungen
[11] Der Abgang des alten Mannes?; 02.04.2008
[12] see also Der nächste, bitte! and No Better Opportunity
[13] Deutsche Bundesbanker sollen Staatsfinanzen sanieren; Spiegel Online 08.04.2008
[14] Der Albtraum geht weiter; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.06.2008
[15] Stefan Mair: Simbabwe zwischen den Wahlen; SWP-Aktuell 39, Mai 2008
[16] Der Albtraum geht weiter; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.06.2008