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Sunday, 22 October 2017

More About Sovereignty: Rhodesia to Zimbabwe to Disaster [and On to Honours from the United Nations]

The arbitrarily-drawn colonial-era boundaries that still delineate the African country called Zimbabwe were set in the last days of the nineteenth century. The area had by then been recognised as having significant potential for the development of agricultural estates; and a group of entrepreneurial individuals gathered around Cecil Rhodes [a magnate who became premier of the Rand diamond and gold mining area which was settled by large numbers of Europeans, predominantly British] agreed to venture further north into this promising territory. Approval from the British state was secured, a territory called 'Rhodesia' was marked out, and a Company on the traditional lines of the East India Company and the Hudson's Bay Company was set up to help to fund the venture. The Rhodesia Company - which mutated into Lonrho - was essentially a trading operation. White settlers accepted land grants individually to set up their own farms [of various sizes, but much larger than those individuals could have bought in Europe or North America], and several companies and consortia also took land grants, all employing 'native' labour, and with the intention to sell their output on world markets. It was quickly demonstrated that the land was generally fertile and well-watered, and favourable for growing food crops and tobacco and for cattle ranching.

The settled pattern of agriculture cut directly across the traditional migratory lifestyle of the Shona and other peoples who were well established on the territory; and there were frictional incidents as the allocations of land to white individuals and alien-owned companies proceeded. In due course accommodations were made with the indigenous tribal groups, chiefs were given status in the pattern of civil administration, and relations between settlers and native peoples became relatively calm.

One great disruption had occurred more or less simultaneously with the development of white interest in the territory: a significant sub-set of the warrior Zulus rebelled against their famous king Shaka, and to avoid his wrath they knew they must put a significant distance between his armies and their own. Thus they migrated to the territory that was soon to be Rhodesia [later Southern Rhodesia] where they could be used by the whites as a counterpoise against the majority Shona: in effect, they were allowed to settle, provided they collaborated with the colonial regime. With that uncomfortable mix of farmer-settlers, ex-Zulus known as Matabele and Shona [who had the longer claim to the territory] Rhodesia developed as a major exporter of food [crops and beef] and of tobacco; with significant mineral production as well.

Come the nineteen-sixties and the desire of the United Kingdom to slough-off direct responsibility for the colonies, the London government lumped together three colonially-administered territories into a new Central African Federation. The economic, social and political structures of the three components were very different. Southern Rhodesia was a relatively rich segment of Africa, with hundreds of thousands of white settlers and the major city of Salisbury as its capital: there was an apartheid-type parliament, dominated by whites but with representation for Matabele and Shona.  Northern Rhodesia had a much smaller white settler and technician population than its southern neighbour, but it had a semi-democratic representative assembly; and the territory had significant wealth both from agriculture and from mineral exports, most notably copper. The smallest territory in the Federation was the poorest, Nyasaland [now Malawi]; with the lowest level of white settlement, the least-developed economy, and no effective democratic institutions. Unsurprisingly, the Federation fell apart. The convention that nobody should upset the colonial frontiers was upheld, however, so Malawi and Northern Rhodesia [renamed Zambia, after the river that runs through it] drifted into post-colonial limbo within their existing boundaries. For more than a decade the informal white-Matabele coalition continued to control Southern Rhodesia [which became Rhodesia] but it became susceptible to an increasingly aggressive Shona-led insurgency which campaigned for independence under black rule.

South Africa and Rhodesia conducted joint military operations in several other African countries where the 'freedom fighters' holed up, often with assistance from the local government and from the Communist bloc; while the fighters waged an increasingly successful guerrilla war against the Rhodesian state. The freedom fighters fell into several sections, and included some Matabele; but their movement was predominantly a Shona enterprise. It had several leaders, of whom Robert Mugabe was one. Hence, throughout Africa, he is gazetted as a hero of the struggle for liberation. The eventual collapse of the isolated settler state and the grant of formal sovereignty to the new country of Zimbabwe - named after some impressive ruins left by a forgotten people - was followed by the seizure of power by Shona factions, the brutal suppression of the Matable and the botched 'Africanisation' of agriculture which deprived the country of its export surplus.

At the age of 93, Robert Mugabe is seen from Europe as a grasping, incompetent, brutal tyrant. By c contrast,Almost throughout Africa he is seen as a man who has an heroic past, who has tried constantly [and largely successfully] to remove colonial exploitation and all its hangovers from his country: as he promised to do half a century ago. In so doing, he has ruined the economy and once-great public services - not least, the health service - have suffered.  Thus it is paradoxical that a recently-appointed African chief officer of the World Health Organisation [WHO - a part of the UN] should think naturally of appointing an African legend to be a 'Goodwill Ambassador'; and that the aid-donating west should be horrified that the chief agent of waste and pillage in a once-rich country should thus be honoured. At least, the furore surrounding the appointment has made a few people remember the past and contemplate the future of a naturally rich part of the world.

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