|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Many Zimbabweans might not live to cast their ballots in a crucial presidential election early next year as a major risk of mass starvation continues to hover over this beleaguered southern African country.
A recent report by the privately owned Financial Gazette said nearly three million villagers had registered for food aid with the government. The worst-hit people had already started eating tree roots and leaves for lack of other food, said the newspaper.
Conceding that three-quarters of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people were now living in abject poverty, the Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, warned last week that Zimbabwe urgently needed aid from abroad. But analysts say President Robert Mugabe will remain the major hurdle to efforts by some of his more moderate ministers to normalise ties with the donor community.
In his 2002 budget speech, Mr Makoni said the economy would shrink by 7.3 per cent in 2001. Inflation had reached 83.6 per cent – and that would be the average rate next year. But while Mr Makoni, a highly respected technocrat with no political weight, was urging Zimbabwe to re-establish ties with donors, the Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge, one of Mr Mugabe's closest allies, was summoning British and European Union diplomats based in Harare to censure them for their countries' stance on Zimbabwe.
"It's as if the world owes Zimbabwe a living," said Lovemore Madhuku, a University of Zimbabwe law professor. "What all this proves is that Mugabe is determined to persist in telling the entire world that it's wrong and he is right."
At a meeting with the British High Commissioner and the ambassadors of Spain and Belgium, Mr Mudenge is said to have expressed dismay at the EU's "confrontational attitude" towards Zimbabwe. He also launched a broadside at Britain for violating the Abuja Accord, reached in September, on ending Zimbabwe's land crisis. The Foreign Minister wanted to know what Britain had done to release funds to pay for Zimbabwe's land reforms, and claimed Britain was mobilising international sanctions against Zimbabwe and supporting the opposition.
Given Zimbabwe's defiance, despite evidence of continual human rights abuses, Professor Madhuku said most Western countries were unlikely to be sympathetic to Zimbabwe's appeals for aid. But while Mr Mugabe has continued to condemn the donor community publicly, his government has in private appealed to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help mobilise food aid worth £200m.
The president sent the Finance Minister to hold urgent private talks with Victor Angelo, the UNDP resident representative in Zimbabwe, reports said last week. But Masipula Sithole, a political scientist, said foreign donors were likely to go by Mr Mugabe's public statements, not his private appeals. "I don't see how the West can succumb to Mugabe's double dealings."
Another bank analyst, who preferred anonymity, said: "We have seen mass starvation in African countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and parts of Kenya, with no or very little intervention from the West. This was mainly because of the donor community's discontent with the regimes in those countries, and I don't understand why Mugabe thinks that he will get sympathy."
Zimbabwe needs to import at least 700,000 tons of wheat and maize to avert shortages caused mainly by the seizures of white farms for peasant resettlement, but has no foreign currency to buy it. Farming experts have predicted a 40 per cent fall in agricultural output this year due to the communalisation of the commercial farming sector.
Bread, maize meal and other basic commodities have also run short. Manufacturers have ended or cut production in response to a recent price controls decree. This was among measures Mr Mugabe introduced to return Zimbabwe to the socialist policies he abandoned 10 years ago in favour of economic reforms inspired by the World Bank and IMF.
From ZWNEWS, 3 November
Frantic lobbying frenzy falls flat
The flight home to Harare by the government representatives must have been dismal. A week of frenetic lobbying by a Zanu PF delegation in Brussels last week had fallen completely flat, with the EU Council of Ministers invoking Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement, and European and developing country parliamentarians failing to deliver the support the Zimbabwe government had been expecting, and relying upon. The recent setbacks began with the snub delivered to the Belgian foreign minister, Louis Michel, by Stan Mudenge, his Zimbabwean counterpart the week before. The Belgians, who are the current holders of the rotating EU Presidency, had met with Mudenge to discuss whether Zimbabwe would allow an EU observer team to monitor the run-up to the presidential election, and the poll itself, which must be held by 17 March 2002. "We will not accept demands…," Mudenge said on his arrival back in Harare on 24 October. "We want to tell them don’t try the Milosevic in Zimbabwe" – a statement which clearly angered the Belgian government. The spat set the tone for the meeting of the EU Council of Ministers the following Monday, 29 October.
Under EU rules, relations between the 15 EU member states and the rest of the world are not a matter of majority voting, but must be unanimously accepted by all 15 EU foreign ministers. Any single country can therefore veto changes to EU foreign policy. The Zimbabwe government had been relying on the French government to come to their rescue, as it has done so many times in the past. French foreign policy towards Africa has traditionally been driven by two factors : their desire to maintain influence in former French colonies, and, the more cynical of European commentators would say, the more important aim of destabilising the influence of the British in the rest of the continent. More recently, France’s poor relationship with the current government of Rwanda (dating back to French support for the Hutu side in the Interwehamwe massacres) has also left them as natural allies of Zimbabwe in the DRC war. This time, however, the "Alliance Francaise" broke down. On the Monday, the French voted with all other EU states to invoke Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement - the treaty which governs relationships between the EU and former European colonies. A letter will be sent shortly asking for talks on the human rights situation, and a 60-day deadline has been set, after which punitive measures will be considered. The Zimbabweans were stunned.
The remainder of this last week was taken up with a joint sitting of the EU/ACP parliamentary group – linking parliamentarians from the 15 European countries and 54 nations from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Decisions from this group cannot override policy by the EU council of ministers, but the Zimbabwe government was nevertheless determined to get some moral backing from the joint sitting. Further frenetic lobbying by the Zimbabweans, backed by the Namibians, began. Two motions had been put to the session. One, drawn up by European MPs, contained sharply-worded condemnations of the human rights record of the Zimbabwe government. It "insisted" that the EU council of ministers introduce travel bans and the freezing of the personal assets of President Mugabe and top Zanu PF politicians, that poll observers be allowed into Zimbabwe, that a special Commonwealth summit on Zimbabwe be called, and that there be close supervision of food aid to prevent it being used by the Zimbabwe government as an electoral tool. A second resolution, drawn up by Zimbabwe and Namibia, "deplored" the decision by the EU ministers to invoke Article 96, and offered general support for the Zanu PF view of the world.
The rules of the EU/ACP sessions are that resolutions can only be adopted if there is majority support in both the EU and ACP groupings – an overall majority is not sufficient. With two such diametrically opposed motions before the meeting, it was unlikely from the start that either would win support within both camps. With EU MPs backing their own motion, it would have required 27 of the ACP nations to vote with the EU for the resolution condemning the Zimbabwe government, and insisting on targeted punitive measures, to have been adopted overall. The Zimbabweans and Namibians were confident that their persuasive powers would result in the voting splitting neatly into voting blocs, with the ACP nations overwhelmingly backing their cause.
Not so. During the debate itself, speaker after speaker, from both EU and ACP groupings, stood up to condemn the behaviour of the Zimbabwe government towards its own people over the last two years. Zanu PF MP Edward Chindori-Chininga spoke in defence of his government’s actions, but, in an unprecedented move, MDC MP Abednico Bhebhe, was allowed to answer the Zanu PF claims. Mr Bhebhe is the MP for Nkayi who was abducted earlier this year by Zanu PF thugs and tortured for several days. Never before has an opposition MP been allowed to speak in rebuttal of his own government’s representative. Mr Chindori-Chininga then asked to reply, but was turned down. The voting confirmed the government’s fears. Out of 54 ACP nations, 17 voted with the EU MPs to condemn the Zimbabwe government – ten short of the required majority within the ACP group for the resolution to be adopted overall, but nevertheless nowhere near the solid backing the government had been expecting. There was also another defeat for the Zanu PF representatives. A compromise resolution, which, in the event, was never voted upon, was drafted by MDC MPs at the session and was backed by South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Lesotho. It concentrated on the forthcoming elections, and set out a strict, dated, timetable for measures to ensure a free and fair poll. As the old adage says: "Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you".
From IRIN (UN), 2 November
IRIN Focus On Impact of Political Violence
As the shadows of the evening lengthen, the children still play freely out in the fields, but the elders huddle in their huts, speaking in low tones. You do not need to look hard to notice the unease that has settled over Mudzi, a rural communal area about 200 km northeast of the capital, Harare. More than 15 months after political violence rocked Zimbabwe during the run up to the country's parliamentary election, the memories are still fresh in Mudzi - one of the areas worst hit by the unrest. At least 35 people, most of them opposition supporters, died across the country in the violence that marred the country's watershed poll in which the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) offered the first credible challenge to the ruling Zanu PF's political domination.
The human cost of those events are still being felt in Mudzi. There is a suspicion of strangers and a guardedness that seems to reflect a new mood in the communal area as a result of the political campaign last year and the renewed politicking around Zimbabwe's upcoming presidential poll due in early 2002. At Katsande primary school near Nyamhanga village, one of the school teachers who would identify himself only as "Mr Chiwanza", told IRIN that the school had experienced no disturbances during the upheavals last year. Chiwanza insisted that he and his colleagues felt free and secure at the school, but he refused to give his full identity because, he said: "That would be just testing my luck too far, you never know what might happen."
Maria (not her real name) has been more seriously affected. She says she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and calling her husband's name. She told IRIN she has "this constant fear and anxiety, which is sometimes accompanied by headaches and it never goes away". In May last year, at the height of the violence, a group of about 20 pro-government "veterans" arrived outside her homestead demanding that everybody should come out. They allegedly dragged her half-dressed husband out of the hut, accusing him of supporting the opposition MDC and started beating him with logs and iron clubs. Maria's husband died on the spot while her eldest son was left for dead. He died the next morning.
Francis Lovemore, a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) trained medical doctor, provides counselling to victims of violence and believes that the symptoms Maria reports are trauma-related. He heads the clinical department at Amani Trust, a Harare-based non-governmental organisation that has led research into political violence and torture in Zimbabwe. The psychological impact of Zimbabwe's political crisis is only slowly being realised. Of the several thousands of clients Amani has dealt with in the last 20 months, Lovemore said 75 percent required specialised counselling in stress management. He believes that much more needs to be done to address the growing numbers of socially damaging violence-related disorders.
The police say they are still investigating the death of Maria's husband and son. But the villagers in Nyamhanga IRIN spoke to said they could identify the killers if asked. Many of them are allegedly unemployed youths from the area. "There is a general perception among some people that the police are not doing enough to bring some of these culprits to book, but we are doing all we can to ensure justice is done," police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told IRIN. Bvudzijena could not provide details of the investigation into the murders of Maria's husband and son, but he insisted that the police "are making impressive progress in all these cases".
Villager Samuel Chiromo has a different perspective. "The government has always regarded us as gullible and illiterate," he alleged. "It appears that after wrecking our lives so we could vote it back into power, we have been abandoned. No one can tell us who murdered our relatives or let alone do something about the killings." According to Lovemore, when victims "get the impression that nothing is being done against the perpetrators of violence, it only worsens their situation. But by far the main problem in rural areas is the lack of facilities or qualified personnel to deal with the various cases of stress disorder left behind by political violence." Deputy Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, himself a medical doctor, told IRIN that the public health system - the only source of health services for more than 95 percent of rural people - could in most cases only adequately deal with the physical injuries of victims of violence. "The physical aspect of it can in most cases be dealt with at the district hospitals. It is the mental scarring, the stress that results from the physical wound, that is difficult to handle," said Parirenyatwa.
From The Washington Post, 2 November
Al Qaeda cash tied to diamond trade
Freetown, Sierra Leone - The terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden has reaped millions of dollars in the past three years from the illicit sale of diamonds mined by rebels in Sierra Leone, according to US and European intelligence officials and two sources with direct knowledge of events. Diamond dealers working directly with men named by the FBI as key operatives in bin Laden's al Qaeda network bought gems from the rebels at below-market prices and sold them for large profits in Europe. Investigators in the United States and Europe are still trying to determine how much money al Qaeda derived from its dealings with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), but they estimated the amount to be in the millions.
Since July, the sources said, the diamond dealers have changed their tactics, buying far more diamonds than usual and paying premium prices for them. Investigators said that is a strong indication that al Qaeda, perhaps anticipating its accounts would be frozen after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, sought to protect its money by sinking it into gemstones, a commodity that can be easily hidden, holds its value and remains almost untraceable. "When prices go up and supply goes up, it means someone is seeking to launder or hide cash, and we believe that is the case here," a US official said. "Diamonds don't set off alarms at airports, they can't be sniffed by dogs, they are easy to hide, and are highly convertible to cash. It makes perfect sense."
US and European intelligence officials, overwhelmed after Sept. 11 and with very few agents in West Africa, said they realized only recently how important the diamond flow was to fund al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. "I now believe that to cut off al Qaeda funds and laundering activities you have to cut off the diamond pipeline," said a European investigator. "We are talking about millions and maybe tens of millions of dollars in profits and laundering." The diamonds are mined by RUF rebels, who became infamous during Sierra Leone's civil war for hacking off the arms and legs of civilians and abducting thousands of children and forcing them to fight as combatants. The country's alluvial diamond fields, some of the richest in the world, were the principal prize in the civil war, and they have been under RUF control for the past four years.
Small packets of diamonds, often wrapped in rags or plastic sheets, are taken by senior RUF commanders across the porous Liberian border to Monrovia, according to sources. There, at a safe house protected by the Liberian government, the diamonds are exchanged for briefcases of cash brought by diamond dealers who fly several times a month from Belgium to Monrovia, where they are escorted by special state security through customs and immigration control. The diamond dealers are selected by Ibrahim Bah, a Libyan-trained former Senegalese rebel and the RUF's principal diamond dealer, the sources said. The buyers' identities are known only to Bah and a few others. Bah's contacts and sympathies were forged on the battlefield, according to intelligence reports and sources who know him well. After fighting with the Casamance separatist movement in Senegal in the 1970s, Bah trained in Libya under the protection of Col. Moammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.
Like bin Laden, he spent several years in the early 1980s fighting alongside Muslim guerrillas against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Bah then joined the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia to fight Israeli forces in southern Lebanon before returning to Libya at the end of the 1980s. In Libya, Bah met and trained several men who would go on to lead rebellions in West Africa, including Charles Taylor of Liberia and Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone, the RUF's founder. Bah himself later fought in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.
According to intelligence sources and two people who have worked with him, Bah now acts as a conduit between senior RUF commanders and the buyers from both al Qaeda and Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim organization linked to Lebanese activists who have kidnapped numerous Americans, hijacked airplanes and carried out car bomb attacks on U.S. installations in Beirut. Bah, who lives in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, declined through intermediaries to be interviewed for this article. In the past, he has refused to talk to UN investigators probing the region's weapons-for-diamonds trade. Senior RUF officials, who are overseeing the disarmament of the rebel movement as part of a U.N.-brokered peace agreement, said this week in response to a query from The Washington Post that they were shocked by allegations of Bah's dealings with terrorist organizations and would thoroughly investigate the matter.
How much money terrorist organizations made in diamond sales brokered by Bah is difficult to ascertain. A UN panel of experts estimated the market value of RUF "blood diamonds" sold in 1999 at about $75 million. But since the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF agreed to a cease-fire last year, diamond mining has greatly accelerated. Sources in the diamond trade estimate that the RUF receives less than 10 percent of market value for the diamonds it sells, paid mostly in the form of weapons, food and medicine. Taylor, who is now Liberia's president, receives a commission on each transaction in Monrovia, and Bah and the other brokers share the rest, according to sources involved in the dealings. Taylor repeatedly has denied involvement in illicit diamond dealings.
"Even if only 10 percent went to terrorist organizations, you are talking about millions of dollars in virtually untraceable funds, every year," said a European investigator. "That is enough to keep a lot of people going." European and American intelligence sources have long known that Hezbollah has raised significant amounts of money in West Africa through the largely Shiite Muslim Lebanese communities in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Togo. There are an estimated 120,000 Lebanese in West Africa, mostly involved in import-export businesses. "Hezbollah is active in all these countries and are deeply involved in many businesses across the region," said one European official tracking the movement. "It is only a small part of the Lebanese community that is sympathetic, but many people contribute to them just to keep Hezbollah off their backs."
For at least 20 years, Hezbollah had also raised some cash through the sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone, intelligence sources said. Bah, they said, was long suspected of brokering diamond deals through buyers connected to Hezbollah, assisted by sympathetic Lebanese businessmen across the region. After Sept. 11, US officials began focusing more intently on the West African diamond network. Transcripts from court cases against al Qaeda members contained evidence that the network has people with expertise in the diamond business and who previously dabbled in the gemstone trade in Tanzania.
The connection to al Qaeda was cemented in September 1998, when Bah arranged for Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah to visit Monrovia, according to two sources. Abdullah was described on the FBI's recent poster of most wanted terrorists as a "top bin Laden adviser" who "helped plan a number of Al Qaeda's attacks." After spending one night in Monrovia, the sources said, Bah and Abdullah flew in a Liberian government helicopter to the town of Foya, on the border with Sierra Leone. There Abdullah met with a senior RUF commander, Sam Bockerie, better known as Mosquito, to discuss buying diamonds on a regular basis. The sources said the RUF did not know who Abdullah was but agreed to do business with him because of Bah's presence.
A few weeks later Bah arranged a visit for two more al Qaeda operatives now on the FBI list, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the sources said. Together, they also met Bockerie, taking him $100,000 in cash and receiving a parcel of diamonds in an introductory deal, the sources said. Ghailani, the FBI alleges, is an al Qaeda operative from Tanzania who helped buy the truck used in the 1998 bomb attack on the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Fazul, from the Comoros Islands, is identified by the FBI as the "head of Al Qaeda's Kenyan cell" who had trained at a bin Laden camp.
Since the 1998 contact was made, Bah, through several Lebanese businessmen based in Belgium, has steadily expanded his operations in Monrovia. Sources identified the key brokers working with Bah as Aziz Nassur and Sammy Ossailly, two Lebanese diamond dealers based in Antwerp, Belgium. Nassur did not respond to numerous messages left on his voice mail. Ossailly's telephone was not in service. By the summer of 2000, Ossailly had moved to Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to oversee Bah and Nassur's diamond operation, according to people who knew them. He stayed until April.
Last January, Bah and the diamond buyers signed a three-year lease on a four-bedroom house in Monrovia. Ghailani and Fazul, who had left the region, returned to Liberia, then spent at least two weeks in the Kono mining fields in Sierra Leone, according to RUF members who identified them from photographs. They said the two had a satellite telephone they used to talk to "Alpha Zulu," the code name given to Nassur, according to sources. Sources said that because Ghailani and Fazul were light-skinned strangers who spoke little English, and therefore attracted attention, Bah asked Nassur to send in darker-skinned people, at which time he brought in Africans from Senegal. The Senegalese now staff the Monrovia safe house, where they watch videos of Hezbollah suicide attacks on Israeli troops and have plastered the walls with pictures of bin Laden and Hezbollah posters, according to two people who visited the house.
Two sources with direct knowledge of a meeting at the Monrovia safe house in mid-July said Nassur visited and asked the RUF to step up its mining activities. "At the meeting, Aziz Nassur, whom we call Alpha Zulu, asked the RUF to double its mining production and offered to pay a better price for what we mined," a source said. "General Bah sent Nassur to Monrovia to meet with us because he said it was very important." Nassur, according to the sources, was met at the airport by senior Liberian security officials and escorted through the VIP lounge without going through immigration or customs formalities. Now, said a US investigator, "Antwerp is awash in Sierra Leonean diamonds, and they are going through Monrovia."