at the heart of southcentral Africa, Zimbabwe sits between the Zambezi
River to the North and Limpopo River to the South. A country ravaged by
HIV Aids, political unrest, unemployment, poverty and food shortages,
Zimbabwe undoubtedly has a long and difficult road ahead if it is to
reclaim its former status as “the bread-basket of Africa”. President
Robert Mugabe’s policy of land redistribution, where white farmers were
forcefully and violently removed from their lands, the many charges of
human rights abuses as well as accusations of election tampering
resulted in the country’s expulsion from the Commonwealth nations in
2002. The regime has seen much bloodshed in Zimbabwe and has been met
with widespread international condemnation over the past ten years.

With the World Health Organization citing the life expectancy of
Zimbabweans as 34 for males and 37 for females, an inflation rate
reaching a quarter of a billion per cent at its peak in July of last
year and the continued rule of Robert Mugabe, it might be easy to
dismiss Zimbabwe as a lost cause. However, there are some some signs of
change and improvement, providing hope for the country’s future.

During his recent trip to Zimbabwe, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach had the
opportunity to speak with MDC-M leader and recently sworn in deputy
prime minister Arthur Mutambara discussing with him the three-party
government solution, the role of the west in African politics and the
steps being taken to bring about a brighter, safer future for Zimbabwe.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach – Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, can you tell us about how Zimbabwe is changing?

Arthur Mutambara: Right now we are presented with a unique
opportunity for Zimbabwe because Zimbabweans have decided to work
together. For the past 10 years we have had acrimony and despair in our
country so after the inconclusive elections of ’08 we decided the best
way to move forward was to go into government together.

The first product of this new situation is political stability as
all three major political parties of Zimbabwe form a working
government, giving us an opportunity to build a shared vision.
Secondly, although we have experienced terrible economical
circumstances in the past, the inflation rate is now at just three per
cent which shows macro-economic stability is coming back into our
country,that is a major change. Thirdly, the quality of life is
beginning to improve. Goods are now available in the shops,
capitalisation of in the industries is improving, but there is still a
challenge in terms of disposable incomes. So now the focus is on trying
to create jobs and build the economy, that is the third layer of
change: economic growth and development, but it is still a work in
progress. The major one is number four: our brand as a country, ie what
we are known for. We are known for censorship, for arresting our
journalists, but we are making moves to change that now. It is
important that Zimbabwe becomes known as a safe destination for
investment, we also want to be known as a safe destination for tourism.
In other words we are pushing what we call a hexagon of branding:
tourism, trade/investment, culture, people, governance in each of those
six areas we are trying to create a competitive identity for our
country, we are trying to make Zimbabwe a globally competitive economy.

RS- Would you say that some of the scepticism towards Zimbabwe on
the part of the international community, the worry that the young
leaders are not being heard or perhaps will be neutralised within a
national unity government, is misplaced?

AM: There are two major reasons why there is scepticism: one
of them is sheer ignorance and arrogance on the part of the west, I
went to Oxford- I taught at MIT, I’m a Rhodes Scholar.  I think it’s
fair to say that I know better than Obama what is good for Zimbabwe,
that I know better than Hillary Clinton what is good for Zimbabwe. So
it is very arrogant and patronising for Hillary or Obama to prescribe
what is best for Zimbabwe without talking to me first. In my opinion,
the starting point is to remove ignorance and to remove arrogance on
the part of the west visa vi what’s good for Africa. We as Zimbabweans,
are the best analysts, and the best scholars on the subject called
Zimbabwe. So when I say, in the short term there is no alternative to
working together, that there is no alternative to an inclusive
arrangement I believe that the West i.e. the Americans and the British,
should respect that. There is also a second reason which I will to in a
moment, but in my opinion the issue of respect is the really the major
one. If they, the political leaders of the west,  were more reflective
and decided to sit down and talk to me in this manner: “you are a young
leader, a Rhodes scholar, you taught at MIT,  you are smarter than me,
tell me what’s going on” because I am- ya (laughs) .

The second reason for scepticism is our own fault. We do have
outstanding issues on our agreement, we are still doing things in the
country that undermine confidence and credibility, so there are
certainly some challenges but they are not insurmountable. However
those challenges do undermine our credibility, those problems on our
farms, the problems with the agreement, the problems with our media
damages our credibility and so people become sceptical. So that can be
consider positive scepticism because it is due to our own misdemeanors
and faults. That is reason number two, reason number one is arrogance
and ignorance but there are also good reasons why people should be
sceptical. The most important thing to remember now is that we have no
alternative, we have no plan B- all of us: Tsvangirai,  Mugabe, myself,
are stuck with each other in the short run. This inclusive government
must work. And how will it work? By creating a new constitution,
creating national healing, recovering the economy, making political
reforms and media reforms, so that we can create conditions for a free
and fair election next time.

RS: So is it fair to say you are confident that this unity
government, and the input that you and Morgan Tsvangirai are bringing
to it, is not only giving your respective parties a voice but is also
bringing about change?

AM: Absolutely, it is creating fundamental change, political
stability, economical stability, we are opening up the media, our
people want us to stay in this government. Our people are experiencing
a new reality. Yes there are problems, yes there are challenges but
they are not insurmountable. On the main, in general, we are making
progress, and the progress is towards a new Zimbabwe.

RS: The perception of Zimbabwe is one of a government which is
inaccessible and one where Zimbabwe has become synonymous with
political intimidation. Do you believe that also is changing?

AM: You see this is brings us back to the issue of our our
brand as a country; it takes a long time to build a reputation and
quite a second to destroy it. What we have done in the past is destroy
our own reputation, we used to be the bread basket of Southern Africa,
now we are the basket case. We used to be the model of reconciliation
in the country,  now we are known for intimidation, violence and so on.
So we are now going back to our old brand position, to our competitive
identity. We are now recasting ourselves as a nation of inclusiveness,
as a nation of harmony, as a nation of reconciliation, we need to
recreate it because it has been destroyed over the past ten years. We
are moving there slowly but surely, but we have take a bit of time to
build that brand position.

RS: So back to your relationship to the west, you feel that the
American position is one of dictating to you whether or not you should
work with president Mugabe, and your feeling is that they really don’t
understand the situation and that they need to sit with you and hear
what you have to say. Did you think that Obama in particular would be
willing to talk to you?

AM: Well he’s inexperienced so I think he’s very careful. He
doesn’t want to rock the boat too much, and yet what we want to see is
leadership and creativity. What we are saying in our environment, given
our previous election, there is no alternative to an arrangement of
accommodation. When we achieve the reforms we need to achieve we can
prepare ourselves for a free and fair election, with that election then
producing a legitimate government.

RS: Do you have a timetable for the next election?

AM: Two years is the time frame in the agreement for a
referendum, two years starting from September last year. If we are not
ready we can extend that time period. What is important is to create
conditions for freedom and fairness. So if after two years we are not
ready then we will say “let us do more work”. Remember that in Zimbabwe
the question is not”when is next election?” For the past ten years we
have had elections which were not free and fair and we have no clear
answers as to why that was. The issue in Zimbabwe is the calibre and
the quality of the election. So the right question is how and when can
we make sure that Zimbabwe has a fair and free election.  The 2000
elections where problematic, 2002 there were issues, 2005, 2008 also
issues- so elections are not the answer. Creating circumstances for a
free and fair election is the answer.

RS: So do you feel you, Tsvangirai and Mugabe have a good working relationship? As a triumvirate?

AM: We have no choice, but we have a working relationship. We
are doing this for our people, we are doing this because it is in the
national interest, we are doing this because it is the African
solution. We might not like each other, because we are coming from
three different directions, but unfortunately for us, our individual
fortunes are intertwined and inseparable at this juncture. That is why
it is foolish of the Americans to say, pull out of the government and
have the election, they are being unwise, because if we did have the
election it would be unfree and unfair and another victory for Mugabe.
Myself and Tsvangirai must hold on in there, work on a new
constitution, work on the separation of powers, work on national
healing work on political and media reforms. So that next time around
we can get the free and fair election in which Mugabe might loose. So
do we have a nice working relationship? Not necessarily- but we do have
a functional relationship.

RS: And the Americans aren’t prepared to hear this?

AM: Perhaps, perhaps not, but now the most important thing is
the African dimension, this is very important, to be influential in
Africa you must be with African opinion. What do I mean about African
opinion?  SADC (Southern African Development Community)  and AU (the
African Union).These are the African institutions, if you can’t
convince them to move then you have to move with them because otherwise
you’ll be ineffective. America cannot have a foreign policy position
that is opposed to SADC or the AU and succeed. So we for example in
this inclusive government were guided by SADC member countries, they
said ” do it it’s in your country’s national interest”. Once they
advise us to do that we cannot succeed if we go up against them. So the
greatest influence over the future of Zimbabwean politics lies not with
the intervention of western governments but rather lies with Africa and
the will of the African people.

More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

There are two people running against me in the Republican primary for New Jersey’s Ninth district and recently I had an interesting lesson in politics from both. Call me naïve, but I really thought we could have a primary where people respected each other and treated one another as friends. For that reason I invited […]

It’s good that Hilary Rosen apologized for her comments that Ann Romney, who chose to be a stay-at-home mom to raise her five boys, had ‘never worked a day in her life.’ It took a day for Rosen to finally acknowledge that her comments were unhelpful, but she finally said, “I apologize to Ann Romney […]

Hamid Karzai recently called the brave and selfless members of the United States military ‘demons’ who were guilty of perhaps ‘500’ atrocities against the people of the Afghanistan. One would have thought that the American Commander-in-Chief would swiftly denounce this stunning act of ingratitude by reminding him that nearly 2000 American troops have given their […]

No Holds Barred: It is high time that our warm allies in the Mormon Church cease the posthumous baptizing of any and all Jews. My much-publicized dispute with Canadian TV host Michael Coren last week taught me valuable lessons about the Jewish community and the new relationship with our Christian brothers and sisters. For those […]