By Baffour Ankomah
This is the fifth in the series of my first interview with President Mugabe conducted on 9 April 2002.
Q: Why is it that the African has to always forgive, and even forget, his oppressor? But we see Slobodan Milosevic in court answering for his alleged sins. And more of his army generals have been declared wanted by the “international community”.
In Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, all over Southern Africa, massacres and genocide were deliberately committed against the African people, and all that the African does, or made to do, is to forgive and forget. Or at best, we get a truth and reconciliation commission. Why?
A: This is our nature, we are a forgiving people. And although there had been conflict situations amongst us, those conflicts have not instilled into us the spirit of vengeance, of seeking retribution that you get on the part of whites. Just look at them, just look at how the whites even now that we go for land in order to bring about justice, look at how they are ganging together against us. Tony Blair has said it, and they don’t question it.
Blair has said: “Mugabe is an evil man and Zimbabwe is a rogue state, believe it because I’m saying so.”
And they say: “Ah, Blair is white, Mugabe is black. We go with Blair.” That’s their nature. And perhaps we have not discovered the nature of the white man. But here in Zimbabwe we have now, we know what they are.
It doesn’t matter what the white man has done to the black man, he is always right, even when he is sitting on him in an oppressive way, he is always right. Our people must live in poverty when land is available. That land is in the hands of the whites, don’t touch it even if they have vast acreages to themselves. No don’t touch it. Let the blacks die of hunger, of poverty, as long as the white man thrives.
I think when you have been subjected over years, over centuries, in some cases to positions of poverty and inferiority (politically and economically), there is something that tends to register itself. And we knowingly or unknowingly, wittingly or unwittingly, even when the transformation takes place, your oppressor is still a dignified man, we don’t humiliate him.
And that I think is a wrong culture. We have had a rude awakening here in Zimbabwe, even though the struggle itself should have provided the rude awakening long ago, the struggle we waged. But no, it is only now that we have realised that the white man is this bad.
We should have learned during the liberation struggle the nature of the white man when no country in Western Europe was willing to provide us with arms to support us in our struggle, none. The best they did was to help refugees, help sick people here and there with clothing and medicines. That we got. But the Eastern countries that they regarded as regimental, authoritarian, that’s where we got arms, that’s where we got training so we could redeem our humanity, our culture, our very beings as African people, what Nkrumah used to call the African Personality.
They are the ones who did it – the Chinese for us, the Soviet Union and others for ZAPU, and other countries like North Korea. Of course, coming down to Africa, countries like Algeria and Libya – they are the ones who provided us with arms. But not one, not one Anglo-Saxon.
In fact they regarded us as terrorists in a situation in which we were calling here for legality, and legality meaning the restoration of the status of Britain as the colonial power over Rhodesia. We were the terrorists, not Ian Smith, just look at it.
And as we went to the Geneva conference, Crossman was the foreign minister, the Labour Party was then in power, he never lasted long, he never came to the meetings, it was their ambassador to the UN who chaired the meetings. And he was cold. I was a communist, a Hitler, some even called me a Napoleon, but I didn’t want to conquer any country.
Even as we negotiated at Lancaster House, we were the people to be dealt with by the press, very negative press, not Ian Smith & Co. Just look at it, the cause of the white man is always supreme, lift his flag high, the African must always be down, as a recipient of his gifts and crumbs from his table. But in Africa we are great.
And this is the gospel of Nkrumah, and the teachings of the great ones like Nasser and Ben Bella, he is the one who asked us to die a little in order to free South Africa. Their teachings did us good. They provided a high level of consciousness and gave us the spirit to fight, they gave us the opportunity, the material benefit.
The first 50 people we trained for the struggle, we trained them in your country Ghana. The very first group came from Ghana, and we are naturally full of respect, gratitude and appreciation for countries that gave us this new way of life. And if you received it from people like Nkrumah, the ideological direction, you can’t afford to get lost.
You can’t afford to sell, or as we say here, be a sell-out. And we are different, and as I told my colleagues at our last SADC meeting in Malawi, that if we are not careful and agree to be subjected to, to allow the Europeans to come and supervise our elections and we don’t supervise theirs, we are doomed as a people. But I said to them, I belong to the old school of thought and you may not like what I’m doing, but that is the school of thought that has been the mental and intellectual discipline that I espouse to this day.
Q: After independence, your government had work to do, building the infrastructure for future prosperity – schools, dams, roads etc. And it went swimmingly for the first 10 years.
You even resisted the IMF for 10 years, and then suddenly in 1990 you gave in and ESAP was born. Why did you give in, knowing the performance of the IMF and World Bank elsewhere?
A: You work in a situation of collective activity, collective thought and democratic practice. We started off with an ideology based on Marxism-Leninism, but not communism because we defined ourselves as socialists. Yes some aspects were borrowed from Marxism-Leninism, giving workers a dominant place in society, the issue of cooperative business, but we still recognised the right of the individual to private property, and the tradition of private ownership, people owning their own cattle, their own goats, their own sheep, their own plots.
And we said we would practise socialism in many fields in the social sector. The government had the responsibility to build schools, hospitals, clinics and to help the poor in the collective sense, to make education free.
And we started with all that. But 10 years down the line or thereabouts, with the economy not yielding as much as some people had thought it would, and we needing great amounts of expenditure, it was felt that in order for us to attract investment into the country, we should change our ideology.
And we had united – ZAPU and ZANU, forming the unity in December 1987 – and therefore once we had unity there were people from both sides who thought we should liberalise the economy, with no restrictions. And so, we gave in on socialism and yielded to capitalism.
But we still said no, we don’t want rampant capitalism where the government does nothing for the people. We will still continue with the social thrust – schools, building clinics, in the area of welfare, we will continue the work we had started. But in education where we had assisted people in the past, we said there should be a contribution from the people as well.
Previously, there was free primary education but now we said some contribution should come from the people towards the education of their children at the primary level. And the fee structure in government secondary education was also to be raised somewhat. And the economy was liberalised. We followed the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP).
No controls in regard to labour. Employers previously could not just dismiss workers without reference to the Ministry of Labour, now they could. No restrictions on prices, even on essential commodities which was the situation previously. So we liberalised and opened ourselves up. Yet the IMF would not be forthcoming.
They still found fault with us. They will always find fault when they do not want to give you money. And of course they don’t want to give money all the time. Whether because they don’t have it or they have it and they don’t want to give it, one doesn’t know. But there is hardly a country that can boast of having been given billions by the IMF.
They will always give you little and then demand you do 1, 2, 3; and their demands are not progressive, some of them are actually negative and destructive. When they say you devalue, and they know that devaluation doesn’t benefit us, devaluation doesn’t benefit a small economy at all, because the prices of the commodities are not governed by market forces.
And the list of commodities that we produce, whether it is cocoa as in Ghana or gold as in our case and in the case of Ghana, we don’t take the issue of the cost of production into account as the Western countries take into account.
The prices are ‘The IMF is an iniquitous institution with no right to existence at all’ fixed elsewhere, in London, in the Metal Exchange, they fix the prices there; coffee the same, all commodities, the prices are fixed outside.
Here you say we want our market forces, but you don’t have them, you don’t have these market forces within your country, they are outside, that’s where the market forces are. So if you devalue, you do it at your expense. Yes, those who export might benefit.
What about when it comes now to procure machines, and a developing country must acquire machinery and technology, and these come now at great expense, and so you will not be able to acquire the technology or the machinery you need in the quantities in which you need them. So you get restricted immediately there. But you continue to ship out things, in the meantime your economy is hard put, and the prices go up because they are not fixed by market forces here.
Q: Even then your government still continued with ESAP for 10, or is it 12 years? Now I hear you’ve dumped it.
A: Yes, we kicked it out of the door.
Q: So, with your experience, do you think Africa needs these IMF and World Bank programmes?
A: No, not at all, not at all! World Bank perhaps yes. World Bank as before, for reconstruction, for the building of roads, dams, in the areas where high capital is required, and also in regard to urban reconstruction programmes, yes.
But now they are also saying – associating themselves with the IMF – that unless you have an IMF programme, then we are not going to give you assistance. Before, they would say no, we are different.
In fact, during the first 10 years when we told the IMF please stay with your money, the World Bank used to say we were right. We were saying the IMF did not want us to proceed with our education-for-all campaign.
The IMF were saying no, you cannot educate everyone at the same time. And I said to them, tell me which children I should leave out of school. I can’t have an immoral attitude to the education of our people. And in fact some of my top civil servants were repeating that to me. I remember Dr Mswaka of Finance saying: “You can’t educate everyone at the same time.”
I said: “OK, Mswaka, I will educate the children of the poor first, all of them must have schools, and the upper class can find education elsewhere for their children. Is that what you want?”
Then he said: “No, no.” You see, you can’t follow a doctrine of that nature. Yes, you may be deficit in resources but a country like ours, we have enough resources to spread education across the board. And that’s what we’ve done. The poor now can boast of children who went to university, and at least they can boast of a secondary school in their neighbourhood.
Of course we can improve the quality of education, that’s what we are trying to emphasise at the moment. This is how we see it, that’s the thinking at the moment. And we tell the IMF, please keep out. But they still come, you know. It’s like the wolf, it can’t keep away from the sheep. They want to come and do us harm.
We are better off without them than need them. If they actually decide to keep out of Zimbabwe – but of course we can’t close the door to people who want to visit us – we would be much happier.
The World Bank, they still say to us, well, you have a debt to pay; if you pay your debt we will continue. I have no quarrel with the World Bank, but the IMF is, as I have said, an iniquitous institution with no right to existence at all.
And it is politically manipulated to cause certain unpalatable situations to occur in countries, so those countries then come under the control of the big masters. It is very sad … They don’t want a government to have the ability to continue and make the country to prosper.
If we don’t prosper then they have the chance to come and manoeuvre and manipulate us, at times at our invitation, at times by pushing themselves into the situation.