President’s olive branch: Will Obama reciprocate?

Stephen T. Maimbodei, The Herald (Zimbabwe), Dec. 4, 2008

It was a statement that passed without notice in an international media obsessed with Mugabe-bashing.

On November 7, Jitendra Joshi of AFP made a poignant remark, which should not only be applauded but also taken seriously for the good of the Zimbabwean people.

Joshi remarked that President Mugabe, long "branded a dictator" by the Bush administration, sent a congratulatory message and "extended an olive branch to (Barack) Obama" telling the US President-elect that he "cherish(ed) the hope of working with (his) administration".

Due to America’s global standing, it also means that Obama’s response can influence the West’s attitude toward Zimbabwe.

However, we all wonder whether Obama will reciprocate this gesture of peace and goodwill. Will he live up to the meanings of his names "blessing, the good"?

The historic election of November 4, which saw Americans choosing the first black person to the presidency, has come and gone.

The variables at play in the US presidential poll are important when interrogating pertinent issues in the Zimbabwe-West discourse.

For they mirror African Americans’ 400-year struggle to achieve the so-called American dream, vis-a-vis Zimbabwe’s revolutionary fight for self-determination.

At the party political level, initially it was race and gender (black/white and male/female).

When Obama emerged the Democrats’ candidate, it translated into race and ideology (black/white, Republican/Democrat; right, left, centre right and centre left).

Never has a presidential hopeful’s name been such an issue as happened with Barack Hussein Obama.

As is the usual case with US polls, Obama’s bid also became a religious issue although it was eventually played down.

Some tried to make the etymology, meanings, spellings and pronunciations of his names central issues, at the expense of real issue as the names underwent immense scrutiny.

Despite all that, Obama still emerged victorious.

This was why the Zimbabwean leader’s message was so full of hope, congratulating a leader whose roots are set in Africa and in a country which, like Zimbabwe, fought a bitter struggle to gain independence under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta.

The olive branch means that a new and positive chapter should be opened.

This writer hopes that Obama will appreciate that it has taken an African four centuries to be acceptable to the white world as a leader they can "trust".

However, I still question a justice system that puts in place mechanisms to prevent capable people whom it clams enjoy freedoms under its constitution to run for high office because of the colour of their skin.

Africa also had to pass that test from the colonial masters before being granted independence. Even then, the past five decades have shown that there are still many hurdles to be cleared before total independence.

Obama’s win was good for Africa and its impact was felt everywhere.

Although Africa acknowledges that Obama will not govern single-handedly, they still wonder what his win means for Africa.

How many positives will translate into tangibles from his election agenda?

Obama is now putting together his government and people are already second-guessing his policies through the key people he has so far picked.

There are great expectations after the ruinous Bush policies.

Three principles are central to any American establishment: economy; foreign policy and national security.

The team already in place shows that Obama has not been able to extricate himself from political dynasties like the Kennedys, Clintons and Bushes.

Thus, his policy changes span four decades, since John Kennedy had an immense impact on Obama and the majority of people who voted for him.

His is an unenviable task.

The present line-up for key ministries says it all.

After the rhetoric that characterised his campaign, it is now back to practicalities; serving the American establishment.

He is unlikely to have leeway to push through most of what is on his "change" agenda.

The line-up includes Caroline Kennedy who was a central figure in his campaign. She still has to get a substantive position.

Hillary Clinton is secretary of state-designate and she is true to what critics say about her: a cautious, pragmatist and shrewd contriver who does or says nothing for nothing.

Seeing the concessions former president Bill Clinton made to enable her to get the post, it goes to show how much power the position wields.

Obama said that he admires her because she is tough and they share America’s core values.

Another notable appointee is Bush’s secretary of defence who retains his post and his Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay policies seem to dovetail with those of Obama’s campaign promises.

Obama comes at a time of great instability and the president-elect is going the "African way" of inclusive governments.

On September 15, Zimbabwe’s three largest parties signed a Global Political Agreement, paving way for an inclusive Government.

And they did so under the watchful eyes of the Bush administration and other Western governments.

Now faced with a nation divided by Iraq and Afghanistan and reeling under a severe recession, Obama’s foreign policy will be intriguing to watch.

Arguments abound that he will be managing a lacklustre US whose superpower status is under threat from emerging economies such as China, Russia and India.

His task will be to "rebrand" America in a way that is acceptable to the establishment, the people who voted for him and an international community that is fed up with Washington’s arrogance.

That Susan Rice, dubbed an expert on Zimbabwe, was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, could mean any one of many things for Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.

Considering the huge investments in illegal regime change by the Bush administration, will Zimbabwe be one of Obama first ports of call in the "rebranding" exercise?

His administration already has Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice whose positions on Zimbabwe are well known.

However, what has been striking has been Obama’s conspicuous silence on his Africa policy, except for odd comments here and there.

It is doubly odd because his Middle East policy was outlined the day he clinched the party candidacy.

So, whither Zimbabwe under Obama? What are the "changes" under Obama? Will these be changes meant to fullfil America’s illegal regime change plans?

Will it be change that takes cognisance of the ruin that Western-induced sanctions have done to Zimbabwe?

Obama and Clinton vigorously supported these illegal sanctions and the regime change agenda.

Will there be an appreciation in the new administration that the land question is core to the principles and values of an independent Zimbabwe?

Will people like Susan Rice and Susan Page of the National Democratic Institute, who was recently in Zimbabwe, tell the truth that land has always been the issue?

Will it be change that will recognises Zimbabwe’s sovereignty?

A bitter and protracted liberation struggle left thousands dead and maimed, as well as destabilising neighbouring states, some of which the US is now using to vilify Zimbabwe.

Will there be acknowledgement that the US, Britain and the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world have unfinished business dating back to Jimmy Carter and Margaret Thatcher?

Will the Obama administration also realise that the land issue, even in his native Kenya, is the epicentre of Africa’s struggles, that Africa has to empower people using its rich natural resources?

Will the Obama administration realise that as much as we want democracy, human rights and good governance, these cannot exist outside of economic empowerment?

It is an understatement to tell the Western world that Africans want to be masters of their destiny.

Policies crafted by fly-by-night "experts" will not work until people are fully empowered.

Well-meaning policies on HIV and Aids and poverty should be premised on realities on the ground, such as who exactly is benefiting from Africa’s rich natural and human resources.

Why should Africa play second fiddle in

organisations such as the World Trade Organisation and the UN where they cannot even get a permanent veto-status seat?

Africa operates on policies which do not work imposed by the West, and when they do not work, it is reduced to governance problems.

Africa has become a dumping ground for Western excesses and has been negatively impacted by these excesses, resulting in climate change that is causing perennial droughts that threaten food security and regional peace and security.

Why should Africa be so indebted to the West when it is so rich in mineral wealth? Who is fuelling the continent’s conflicts when Africa lacks manufacturing capacity?

These are issues ignored by previous American administrations and the European Union, and Zimbabwe and Africa now hope that Obama will look closely and address them with a human heart.

Foreign Secretary-designate Clinton should realise that in a global village no one nation can be allowed to call the shots at the expense of others.

It is not true that Africom is being force-fed on a continent that is lagging in development.

Would the Obama administration pursue a project that Africa has rejected simply because it seeks to preserve American lives at the expense of lives elsewhere?

Late national hero Cde Eddison Zvobgo said in 1980 that the West’s unwritten policy was "(Robert) Mugabe must be stopped".

Twenty-eight years later not much has changed and we wonder if Obama will make any changes.

Successive US administrations have sponsored anyone who seems capable of stopping President Mugabe at the expense of real development that benefits all Zimbabweans.

Successive US ambassadors have been posted with the sole mission of dislodging the Zanu-PF Government from power and installing a puppet regime.

The divisive policies of past administrations while perpetuating US interests have been meaningless for the people they claim to be "fighting" for.

This antagonistic approach to Zimbabwe and Africa is what Obama should look at.

Obama should realise that the world is watching him acutely.

Some analysts argue that Obama’s Southern Africa policy (read Zimbabwe) will be based on close partnerships with what they say is an amenable emerging leadership in the region.

Such divide-and-rule tactics keep Africa in perpetual underdevelopment.

Clinton’s policy influence on Zimbabwe dates back to her days as first lady when she visited Zimbabwe in 1997, and she had the opportunity to meet various interest groups, most of which were anti-Government.

Two years after her visit, MDC was formed with immense backing from the West and with the mandate of effecting an illegal regime change.

The so-called Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (commonly known by its acronym ZDERA) followed soon after that and sanctions are there for all to see.

In June 2007, Clinton sponsored the "Clinton Bill to Support Democracy and Human Rights in Zimbabwe", calling on Washington "to address ongoing human rights concerns in Zimbabwe".

Clinton said that the Bill would send a message to the region that America supports a "free and fair Zimbabwean election and a lasting democratic peace in the years that follow."

These sentiments were echoed in her acceptance statement last Monday, after the appointment.

Obama is no different.

In March 2007, he introduced the "Obama Resolution Condemning Human Rights Violations in Zimbabwe", which basically called for regime change and was passed in June 2007 by the Senate.

However, campaigning and governing are separate issues.

Come January 20, 2009 Obama will be governing, and Zimbabweans anxiously await Obama’s response to President Mugabe’s olive branch.

Zimbabwe’s revolution is ongoing and generations later many will continue from where Cde Mugabe left. The region has also made it clear that it does not want to again host the likes of Jonas Savimbi, Afonso Dhlakama and Laurent Nkunda in order to feed Western interests.

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