Letters to the editor: December 1 to 7
Zimbabwe, the colonial cock-up
Eusebius McKaiser is right to say “Mugabe did not wake up one morning and decide to be an autocrat. It was a slow slide ...” (“We dismiss Zim lessons at our peril”).
But readers should be aware there were two events, in 1998 and 1999, that were “tipping points” for the sudden deterioration in Zimbabwe’s economic performance — massive off-budget expenditure for “war veterans” and a flight of capital, and subsequent hyperinflation.
The Labour government that took power in the United Kingdom in 1997 decided the time had come to tell the Zimbabwe government that, unless it took the funds agreed to under the Lancaster House Constitution of 1979 for land reform, they would be used elsewhere, whereupon the Zimbabwe government called a conference to decide how the funds would be disbursed.
In the interim, the British government discovered very few farms had changed hands in the way anticipated, which drew the ire of Britain’s department for international development and the funds were peremptorily withdrawn. Imagine the effect on president Robert Mugabe.
Then, some months later, and partly as a result of the falling-out between the two governments, Mugabe called a referendum on constitutional change, intended to grant him more powers to confiscate land without compensation. He was voted down by 55% to 45%, whereupon, in 2000, he decided to barge ahead with land seizures regardless, so furious was he with both the British government and his own people.
We all know what happened after that, leading to the sorry state of the country today. But, over the years, the British government has been careful not to say anything about the ignoble and, as it turned out, disastrous decision to withhold the funds promised in 1979, although it was by no means the first time it had funked its dealings with Zimbabwe since its highly controversial founding of Southern Rhodesia in 1891. — ADH Leishman, Cape Town
Ethiopia fuels ethnic hatred
The international community ignored Ethiopians who opposed the election of Tedros Adhanom as director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO). They ignored the human rights abuses by his Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) regime in Ethiopia.
But the Western media were shocked when Tedros chose a fellow African autocrat as WHO goodwill ambassador — Robert Mugabe.
With Zimbabwe replacing its old dictator, we should be reminded of the Ethiopian regime’s cosy relations with African tyrants.
Tedros, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, was infamous for covering up epidemics that killed many Ethiopians in the rural areas. South Africa outlawed racial apartheid in 1991, but the TPLF imposed ethnic apartheid in Ethopia that same year. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have since died under TPLF rule, including hundreds in the past few months. Instead of establishing nontribal democratic institutions that respect individual rights and the multicultural heritages of all Ethiopians, the TPLF preys on their differences with a system of “ethnic federalism”.
By politicising identities, the TPLF has turned Ethiopians against each other, despite most of them being of mixed ethnic heritage.
Meanwhile, assimilated communities such as the Welaita and Hadiya, whose lands were annexed by ancient Oromo warriors and later by the Abyssinian kingdom, face renewed disenfranchisement by recently invented ethnic borders.
In Addis Ababa, the TPLF has used an Oromo puppet clique to label the majority residents as “foreigners”. To weaken Ethiopian nationalism among the urban population, the TPLF also promoted a separate “Amhara” identity. By amplifying tribal awareness and perceived ethnic differences, it has instigated mass killings in the north between the Amharas and the Tigres, and between the Oromos and Somalis in the east. But these peoples’ ancestors were one family.
Like an arsonist playing firefighter, the ruling party often stages conflict-resolution conferences. For example, soon after instigating massacres, the TPLF recently sent its top stooge, Lemma Megersa, to dramatise a fake “Oromo and Amhara unity” forum, a ploy designed to raise his profile and the nonexistent “Amhara people’s” ethnic nationalism.
Despite the daily growing death toll in Ethiopia, the West has continued to support the TPLF. History shows that appeasing such cunning tyrants has no benefits; instead, it emboldens them.
Lemma recently announced a disturbing ethnic school segregation policy, in effect banning Somalis from “Oromia” colleges. Ten Ethiopian protesters in Ambo, some as young as 13, were shot by the TPLF’s special “Agazi” force, according to the local hospital. The savagery of the executions was documented in a BBC video, in which the TPLF commandos are heard telling each other: “Finish him off!”
This horrific video should be seen by all Western officials who still believe the regime in Ethiopia is a dependable ally.
Without any hope of accountability, there is no end in sight for the recurring ethnic bloodbath. The TPLF is expected to rig its sixth election in a row in 2020, even as it sends cooked-up economic growth statistics to the International Monetary Fund.
One thing is certain: when political change happens in a future Ethiopia, it will be much more bloody than in present-day Zimbabwe, thanks to the proliferation of tribalism over the past two decades.
But Western policymakers can regain credibility in African eyes by holding all dictators to the same standard to which they held Mugabe. — Teshome M Borago