The Government of Zimbabwe has officially become a tyranny – fraught with all the legislative tools to be justifiably labelled a pariah state.
Tendai Ruben Mbofana
By the country’s Parliament passing the much-loathed so-called ‘Patriotic Bill’, Zimbabwe has effectively joined the unenviable international ‘Hall of Shame’ – joining other nations, such as North Korea and Iran, ruled by draconian ruthless leaders, with scant regard for their citizens’ rights.
What I find most distasteful, though, is the shoddy and disingenuous attempt by the authorities in Zimbabwe (and, their usual sycophants) in portraying such shameful measures, of legislating patriotism, as a common trend in democratic nations.
Such laughable shameful claims have gone as far as citing the ‘USA PATRIOT Act’ – promulgated in the United States of America in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – as worthy notable examples.
Nothing can be more ridiculous than this!
Well, for starters, there is a very good reason the name of this law is written in capital letters.
This is because it is an acronym!
The long name of this act is actually the ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism’ – which in short reads, USA PATRIOT.
In other words, the law has absolutely nothing to do with enforcing some version of patriotism on Americans – but, is purely intended at tightening national security, particularly against foreign terrorism.
This is achieved by putting in place measures for ‘snooping’ or surveillance of communications, strengthening counterterrorism efforts, and tightening terrorism penalties.
Of course, it is undeniable that this law is problematic, as far as the protection of personal privacy is concerned.
Nonetheless, nowhere in that piece of legislation is there any attempt at defining what constitutes ‘patriotism’ for Americans, and what would be regarded as ‘unpatriotic’.
Thus, endeavours by the Harare administration to justify its own enactment of a ‘Patriotic Act’ – which criminalizes what the regime characterizes as acts intended to ‘damage the country’s national interests’, under the pretext of following the American example – is the height of insincerity and deceit.
However, there are those who – possibly having noticed the error of their misunderstanding of the ‘USA PATRIOT Act’ – have gone for another US law…the ‘Logan Act’.
Surely, for any 21st-century government, expecting to be taken seriously as a modern-day democracy – resorting to the copying of an 18th-century archaic law, is a serious cause of concern – as the Logan Act was enacted in 1799.
This law – which seeks to criminalize negotiation by unauthorized American citizens with foreign governments having a dispute with the US (intended to undermine the government’s position) – has, understandably, not gone unchallenged.
This was witnessed in 1964 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, in Waldron v. British Petroleum Co. – which asserted that the Act was likely unconstitutional, due to its vagueness.
Is there, then, any wonder that only two people have ever been indicted on charges of violating the Logan Act – one in 1802 (Francis Flournoy) and the other in 1852 (Jonas Phillips Levy) – with neither being convicted?
As recent as March 2015, a petition was signed by over 320,200 Americans seeking President Barak Obama’s administration to prosecute, under the Logan Act, 47 Republican Senators who had penned on Open Letter to the Iranian government regarding his (Obama’s) attempts to broker a nuclear arms agreement between Iran and the six major global powers (P5+1).
In this open letter, the legislators warned the Iranians not to agree to any deal with Obama – yet, which had not been endorsed by the American Senate – since, a new US president could easily renege on such an agreement.
Furthermore, in April 2018, former US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Iranian foreign minister (Mohammad Javad Zarif) urging the Middle Eastern country to ‘keep its commitments under the (nuclear) deal’ – a move some believed was in violation of the Logan Act, as Kerry was no longer a government official.
Of course, none of these people were ever charged under the Logan Act.
The question is then, “Why did various US district attorneys refuse to prosecute these individuals”?
Actually, the main reason why no one has ever been found guilty of violating this law – as well as the seeming reluctance in instituting legal charges against certain individuals – is premised on the Logan Act’s broadness and vagueness.
This makes the law impractical and unworkable.
Furthermore, the US Constitution is very big on freedoms and rights, such as those of speech and communication – thus, making it virtually impossible to prosecute an American citizen for communicating with anyone – including a ‘foreign government’.
Why, then, would a government in 2023 be so keen on replicating questionable legislation – as much as it may desire to protect its national interests, and preserve sovereignty?
This is where Zimbabwe’s own so-called ‘Patriotic Bill’ is found wanting.
First of all, there is no clarity on exactly what constitutes ‘national interests’.
How am I, for example, to know what these ‘national interests’ are, if they are not clearly spelled out in the law?
In fact, I seriously doubt if even the staunchest ZANU PF supporters can meticulously articulate what constitutes Zimbabwe’s national interests.
I am quite certain when asked what exactly entails ‘damaging Zimbabwe’s national interests’, most will give the usual drivel – something utterly bizarre and laughable as, ‘criticizing your own country’, or ‘calling for sanctions’.
This brings up another issue.
What exactly does ‘criticizing one’s country’ mean?
Are we to genuinely believe that Zimbabweans are incapable of differentiating between the government (or ruling establishment) and the country?
A perfect example is when opposition CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere travelled to the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva Switzerland, two weeks ago.
After perfectly articulating the country’s egregious state-sponsored human rights abuses and poverty, the Zimbabwe regime immediately attacked her for ostensibly ‘criticizing her country and unpatriotism’.
Honestly, at what point did she condemn Zimbabwe?
What is wrong with crying out to one’s neighbours or community when being wantonly abused and violated in one’s own home?
As a matter of fact, is that not precisely what our nationalist leaders did?
Did the likes of Joshua Nqabuko Nkomo, Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo, Edson Zvobgo, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, and others not travel around the world – speaking on the heinous racial segregation and subjugation faced by the ordinary citizenry?
Did they not even call for punitive measures to be implemented against the country, so as to pile pressure for the acceptance of majority rule?
Are we to accuse them of condemning their own country and unpatriotism?
Just as with the Logan Act, Zimbabweans have every right to speak and communicate with whomsoever they wish – including crying out against the unbearable pain and suffering they are enduring each day at the hands of those in power.
Attempts at preventing the exercising of this right may actually be a violation of our Constitution.
That is why on 17th June 2020 Philonise Floyd freely addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, over the tragic killing of his brother, George Floyd, at the hands of the American police.
The US never accused him of denigrating his country, or of unpatriotism – nor did they ever try to charge him under the Logan Act.
It was well within his rights to express his grievances against US authorities in front of a global audience.
He was not attacking his country – but the US system and those in authority who were brutalizing ordinary citizens.
This is what most of us here in Zimbabwe – who are being relentlessly accused of being unpatriotic – are actually also doing.
We are simply condemning the heinous system of oppression and marginalization, and those behind it – which has resulted in the unimaginable suffering and impoverishment of millions of Zimbabweans.
Let us not forget that, Zimbabweans by their very nature, love their country, and only want what is best for the majority of its citizens.
At least, that is what motivates and drives people like me.
If there are those who have committed any crimes against the country – then, why have they not been brought to book under current laws?
Let us be reminded that, well before the ‘Patriotic Act’ is enacted – Zimbabwe already has laws that criminalize such deeds as treason, subverting a constitutional government, and economic sabotage (which can include sanctions) – under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Does the conspicuous absence of any such convictions not tell a clear story – that, there is no one the government of Zimbabwe can genuinely prove of having committed ‘unpatriotic acts’ against the country?
In spite of the over two decades of relentless accusations, mainly targeted at the main opposition (firstly, the MDC, and now the CCC) – of not only ‘inviting sanctions against Zimbabwe’, but also plotting ‘illegal regime change’ – not a single person has ever been charged and convicted of this grave offence.
So, why this envisioned ‘Patriotic Act’?
Is this not simply another attempt at intimidating and stifling voices of dissent – even if no one will actually be found guilty of the crimes stared in the law?
Indeed, numerous opposition and human rights activists will be arrested – and, possibly, as Job Sikhala, made to languish in prison for months or years – without any reasonable trial, and repeatedly denied their right to bail.
Yet, all we want as supposed ‘anti-government activists’ is merely a better Zimbabwe – where all its citizens can finally enjoy the fruits of our hard-won independence.
Admittedly, we may differ on which is the most effective way or policies for the achievement of a that ‘better Zimbabwe’ – but that can never be considered ‘unpatriotic’.
Of course, all genuinely patriotic Zimbabweans will always be viciously opposed to any acts of looting of national resources, mismanagement of our economy, as well as the brutal barbaric repression of the citizenry.
We may even cry out to the international community for help – should we sincerely believe that our leaders are not listening to our calls for justice and the equitable distribution of our resources.
Nonetheless, that is only natural when people feel trapped and under siege by those who are supposed to lead and protect them.
As such, painting this as ‘unpatriotism’ is most unfortunate and misguided.
Crying out to be treated fairly by those in authority, and a desire for a dignified and decent livelihood can surely not be regarded as ‘unpatriotic’.
Legislating against our natural inclination for justice and a better life can only be described as cold-hearted and evil.
In actual fact, those presiding over the demise of our once prosperous country – who have plundered nearly everything into oblivion, leaving millions wallowing in destitution – are the ones who have proven, beyond doubt, their unpatriotism.
Those are the people who should be brought to book for their villainous crimes against the people of Zimbabwe.
Love for one’s country runs deep in ordinary Zimbabweans’ veins – and, can neither be legislated or imposed on us.
We actually understand what ‘patriotism’ means – far more than those who have authored our poverty and suffering, by running our beautiful country into the ground.
Instead of expending so much time, resources and energy in crafting laws that criminalize citizens from crying out in pain and hunger – would it not have made more sense for those in power working hard in ensuring that Zimbabweans were happy?
● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700| +263782283975, or email: email@example.com or visit the website: http://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/