The enigma that is Mugabe, internationally and in the Caribbean (1.2)

So filled with anti-imperialist scorn on this blog, but when it comes to Mugabe, and the possible cooptation of anti-imperial discourse as justification for oppressive rule, then this blog suddenly goes silent. And why is that?

No apologies here, I cannot comment on everything and everyone in the world, but having said that I will confess that I have deliberately avoided the subject of Robert Mugabe on this blog, as much as it touches on issues that are near and dear to this blog: independence, liberation, anti-colonialism, post-colonialism, and power.

Given that much of the “information” I receive about Mugabe comes from Western media, I have reason to distrust the picture that has been painted, and I simply do not know enough about Zimbabwe to comment, and perhaps neither do BBC reporters who “cover” Zimbabwe all the way in Johannesburg. And who is this Morgan Tsvangirai? Media reports never seem to describe or discuss his emergence, his background, in what he is grounded, and what role if any foreign governments may play in supporting him. But when George W. Bush proclaims the recent election in Zimbabwe to be a “sham election,” I have enough reason to balk, to switch off, and to give Mugabe the benefit of the doubt. After all, Mugabe has all the right enemies to suggest that the story is more complicated than one of a power-hungry dictator and a heroically democratic opponent. Finally, I confess that I am biased by where I first heard of reports of Mugabe’s persecution of white farmers: I was still living in Australia then, and right wing media hearts were bleeding for these expropriated rich white folk who owned obscenely vast tracts of Zimbabwe, even going so far as to urge granting them refugee status in Australia, while ignoring black asylum seekers from other parts of Africa, and while those fleeing the Taliban were mocked by the immigration minister as “queue jumpers” and bundled off to Nauru, or sequestered in detention camps in the Australian outbacks, like criminal “wogs”. As I said, Mugabe seems to have the kind of enemies that dignify him, enough to give me reason for pause and consider giving him the benefit of the doubt and to remain very skeptical of the media, the kind which asserted the “fact” that Iraq had WMDs in 2003.

What I am more interested in here, and closer to home, is how the image of Mugabe is being handled in the Caribbean. On the blog, My View of JamDown from Up So, a post titled, “Is it just a cartoon?” features an astounding cartoon from The Jamaica Observer:

The blogger, diatribalist (Dwight Dunkley, a Jamaican in New York) makes some excellent observations:

It’s one thing when white supremacists on YouTube post a racist comments under videos of news from Zimbabwe implying that black people are unfit to run our own countries. It is another thing entirely when a black cartoonist, in a country where over 90% of the population is black, chooses to portray an African leader as an ape [MF: as King Kong to be exact] – and to put the words “Black man time” on the ape as if to imply that the problems taking place in Zimbabwe are due to the color of the leader.

Not only that, he links this image to the racist undertones of all King Kong images, and makes some useful comments on the inherent anti-black stigma that has been internalized and reinforced by Jamaican media, inherited from British colonialism … and this is 2008. So much for “change.” And so much for those who would challenge the validity of the generalization that black identity is still the most stigmatized identity in the Caribbean.

On a Trinidadian blog, instead, Ramblings and Reason (not to be confused with my Trini friend GirlBlue’s Rantings and Ramblings), a post on today’s date titled “Hail Robert Mugabe” features this sign on a street in Trinidad:

It is by the Beetham Estate, what is in fact a sprawling garbage dump in which people live and work. This is a controversial sign, which in some ways reinforces the racial supremacy message of the Jamaican cartoon above, this time presumably not to lampoon it. Ramblings and Reason does not take kindly to the sign:

I’ve heard opinions on why Mugabe is so popular. Land ownership is an emotional subject for Africans because the place where your ancestors are buried is very important. Mugabe’s expropriation of white-owned farms appealed to Zimbabweans and all Africans whose ancestors had had their lands taken from them in less than ethical (read violent and tyrannical) ways. Mugabe, like Castro and Chavez, is also seen as a bastion against Western neo-imperialism. Yet, like others who spew similar rhetoric and live in luxury while their people struggle for food, Mugabe’s methods of maintaining power are violent and repressive and human rights take a back seat. So black people must suffer in order to fight the white oppressors.

I have actually not heard that Mugabe is popular, so this is interesting. Apparently, at least in Trinidad, there are those who liken Mugabe to Chavez and Castro — that may be good news for Mugabe, or bad news for Chavez and Castro, I am not sure if either would be true. Either way, R&R is not buying into the imputed heroism of Mugabe.

Mugabe remains an enigmatic figure as much in the Caribbean as in my mind.


Another Trinidadian blogger, Attilah Springer a.k.a. tillahwillah of four fingers and a thumb 2.0, writes in a post titled, “Dictators in our midst“:

A dictator in the world is like the abusive father in the community that no-one wants to report.

Everybody knows what is going on. Everyone hears the screams coming from the house. Night after night. Everyone sees the state of the children. No one questions the father’s authority.

I for one am fed up of the unquestioned authority of the patriarchy.

Enough already. And in the same way that communities have to start speaking out against abusive fathers, I began to feel a huge sense of relief this week when Nelson Mandela finally publicly expressed concern about what is going on in Zimbabwe.

Tillahwillah also quotes a song by Fela Kuti, titled “Beasts of the Nation” that reminds me a little of the Jamaican cartoon at the top of the post:

Many leaders as you see dem
Na different disguise dem dey, oh
Animal in human skin
Animal, he put on tie, oh
Animal, he wear agbada
Animal, he put on suit, oh

You can read more from tillahwillah’s post here. Her quote from Fela Kuti reminded me of another video using a Fela Kuti song, and I include it here mostly for that song. Incidentally, my ambivalence about Mugabe remains, but I am thankful for the alternate views from writers I am more likely to trust than the BBC or CNN.

6 thoughts on “The enigma that is Mugabe, internationally and in the Caribbean (1.2)

  1. Triniman

    Atillah Springer’s comments are far off and show much much she has gotten the issue wrong. As much of she sprouts revolutionary talk, some of which is on point, she is too trusting of mainstream media, who have a very anti Mugabe agenda. It is like asking the opposition for views on Manning, of course they will have negative things to say, and vice versa
    PMN views of the UNC will tend to be negative. I will recommend that you check out for better perspectives on the issue.

  2. Maximilian Forte

    Thanks Triniman and thanks for that link as well. You’re right that there is a lot that the mainstream media in the West is suppressing and obscuring — that the last election was called a “one-man election” when there were a total of four candidates; that this is the greatest political violence Zimbabwe has seen during an election, which is also false; and the fact that Mugabe and the opposition are making plans to negotiate a government of national unity, etc. So while I personally have nothing to gain by defending, or attacking Mugabe, I do resent the media here clouding our minds with the usual BS. This is especially true of “award-winning” journalist Christina Lamb in the UK, who has apparently produced false reports of acts of brutality that simply never occurred. And as for that plot by the UN to impose sanctions over a domestic election issue, one has to note how many other elections they ignore, including the 2000 sham election in the U.S., for which there were no calls for sanctions. Sanctions for Zimbabwe but not for the U.S.? And to think that some get ruffled up when you mention “racism in the international system.”

  3. Pingback: More on Caribbean Reactions to Zimbabwe « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  4. Jacob

    FYI – Mamdani on Mugabe

    “…What distinguishes Mugabe and Amin from other authoritarian rulers is not their demagoguery but the fact that they projected themselves as champions of mass justice and successfully rallied those to whom justice had been denied by the colonial system. Not surprisingly, the justice dispensed by these demagogues mirrored the racialised injustice of the colonial system…”

  5. Maximilian Forte

    Thanks very much Jacob. When he says “not surprisingly” one can add it is not surprising given that many British “lessons” were taught with canes and whips, that governance was a matter of applying force, power centralized and coercion distributed. Mugabe is known to be an Anglophile, Amin was trained at Sandhurst.

    What I think is overlooked in the international, media demonization of Mugabe, is that this “dictator” negotiates with his opposition to formally share power. I would like to see a figure like Bush share power with Al Gore before established Western media interests deliver pronouncements on Mugabe.

    Many thanks for sharing that link as well, right up to date too, in fact, ahead of date even.

    Very best wishes.

  6. Pingback: Mamdani on the “lessons of Zimbabwe” « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

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