Listen to Briggs on Africa Today with Walter Turner

March 20, 2008

[Posted by Michael Swigert from Africa Action’s office in Washington]

Last week, veteran journalist and Africanist Walter Turner spoke with Briggs about the upcoming elections, and his expectations for this trip. You can download or listen to their in depth conversation at the KPFA website here.

A climate of tension

March 20, 2008

[posted by Michael Swigert, from Africa Action’s office in Washington]

As the elections approach and Briggs makes his way to Zimbabwe, the political environment is growing increasingly on edge. Human Rights Watch just released its latest report on Zimbabwe yesterday, to much high profile hand wringing by Western media. The damningly unambiguous title of the report speaks for itself: “All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe’s Coming General Elections.” International Crisis Group today followed HRW up with its own new report on Zimbabwe, calling for the international community, lead by the African Union, to prepare “contingency plans” in the event that public frustration with election rigging leads to a violent crisis.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a consortium of independent civil society groups, put forward a similar assessment Thursday when it criticized recent changes to election laws as overly restrictive and likely to undermine the legitimacy of the polls in the eyes of the public.

What about the official observers put in place by SADC (the Southern African Development Community)? According to one representative, things are going smoothly. “The administrative arms of government are all working, everybody who is supposed to contribute to the election is doing his or her duties unhindered,” said Jose Marcos Barrica, Angola’s Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture and head of the SADC monitoring team.” SADC has been very uncritical of previous elections in Zimbabwe – at odds with the view of Western governments, international NGOs and the reports of many local civil society groups. HRW’s Georgette Gagnon is unequivocal in her view that March 29 represents a major test of SADC’s committment to democracy. “If southern African leaders are serious about ending Zimbabwe’s political crisis, they need to tell the Zimbabwean government there will be consequences if it again flouts its commitment to hold free and fair elections. Another round of flawed elections should not lead to business as usual.”

How do ordinary Zimbabweans and local community leaders feel about recent changes to the electoral laws? Do they think that SADC observers will accurately report their experience with the democratic process? How are they preparing for the changes (or lack thereof) they are expecting at the end of the month? The government is playing tough with Western journalists, screening vigorously for European or U.S. spies among the hundreds of reporters and camera crews hoping to converge on Zim, so reports over the next ten days in mainstream newspapers and other media coverage may be drawing from an even narrower base of content than usual for any African issue.

A BRIEF STOP OVER IN SOUTH AFRICA!

March 19, 2008

Day 2: A BRIEF STOP OVER IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa turned out to be an intense political experience as i had anticipated. I arrived at my host’s place at midnight on Monday 17 March and my host Mhlobo an active member of South Africa’s social movement wasted no time in giving me a heads up on the state of the social movements and the general political situation in SA. The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) – An umbrella body for civic organisations mobilising and organising against neo-liberalism in SA had just convened its elective Annual General Meeting the weekend before, which was marked by robust political debates on the future of the social movements in SA. The movements expressed disappointment in the ANC’s embrace of harmful neo-liberal policies and when the discussion of Jacob Zuma came up with certain affiliates of the APF suggesting that the social movements must back Jacob Zuma as a way of relating to and winning the support of the working class and the masses of SA behind him, a comrade tells me that this motion was shot down with activists saying choosing between Mbeki and Zuma is like ‘choosing to befriend one crocodile over the other’ – since both promote neo-liberalism

Tuesday – March 18

Started the day meeting with comrades at Khanya college. Khanya college has for decades been in the forefront of proving education for the working class and social movements – ‘Education for liberation’ as they call it. Now Khanya college has a six story in central Johannesburg that is shaping out to be the ‘house of movements’. The building already houses the APF, Jubilee South, Women Reproductive Health Centre and other progressive organisations with groups like Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) expected to move in soon. My contact work was made much easier as i was running from one floor to the other meeting with colleagues and exchanging notes on Africa Action and work and work going on on the continent. Watch out for my images coming soon! I was quite delighted to find Africa Action material from back in the day (Africa’s Right to Health Caampaign’ at the APF offices. In discussing with comrades , it was interesting to make the connection between water privatisation and its attendant restriction to water access and the impact on people living with HIV.

Unfortunately i was not able able to meet half as many organisations as i had intended partly because Joburg is a city in crisis right now. There are daily electricity outages in the city center and residential areas and this adversely affects how people work. For me, i had to haul my luggage 5 floor because the elevators were out. On the street traffic lights were out and the congestion was bad making it impossible to reach people. Whilst Internet access is available at many places – most of the time it was excruciatingly slow. I had to abandon plans to work in the beautifully set up Khanya college’s Social Movements Resource centre because the Internet was terribly slow and comrades tell me that its because they do not have enough bandwidth.

All the SA movements i met were greatly concerned about Zimbabwe and many already participating in solidarity efforts. It was great meeting with an old time comrade of mine, comrade Mao Nyikadzino a Program Officer with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, South Africa office and exchange notes on solidarity work in the run up to the elections and possible post election scenarios.

Time and a malfunctioning city were my biggest let down! In the middle of very interesting engagements with comrades i had to make the painful decision to turn back and run to the airport. In fact i had to walk down the dark COSATU House, which houses, COSATU, SACP, YCL, Zimbabwe Liaison Office and others, and run to the airport without meeting all the people i wanted.

I am now bound for Zimbabwe – Stay tuned for the most anticipated landing!

Dare to Invent the Future!

Briggs

On the Road to Witness Democracy? in Zimbabwe: March 29 Elections

March 18, 2008

(Written 03/16/08)

Hello,

On March 29 Zimbabweans vote in what is turning out to be the most anticipated and yet unpredictable general election since the momentous 1980 vote that ushered in the country’s independence and attracted a record 98% participation from the electorate. At a time when Zimbabwe is experiencing the most severe social, economic and political crisis in the country’s history, March 29 embodies the ‘fierce urgency of now’ than any other time. I am on a journey as part of Africa Action’s historic solidarity with democracy, human rights and social justice struggles in Africa that for Zimbabwe, manifested in the 70s as support for the national liberation struggle. It is this same principle fo solidarity that propelled Africa Action [then as the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), the Africa Fund (AF) and Africa Policy Information Center (APIC)] to the forefront of the antiapartheid mobilisation in the U.S. I invite you to walk with me as I retrace the footprints of my predecessors at Africa Action who have been there, in Africa, at key moments not only to capture people’s aspirations and lift up seldom heard social justice voices but also in order to inform and strengthen solidarity and efforts to reshape U.S. – Africa policies.

I will be updating this blog regularly with my experiences and welcome all your questions and comments.

My journey starts now as I step onto this ‘silver bird’ with a strong feeling of a historical mission. 37,000 feet above the Atlantic ocean my impatient mind races ahead to the country I last visited close to one and a half years ago as I try to imagine what awaits me this time. Vague memories of things, the way they were then, play back in my mind like a grainy 60s video. So much has changed, at such a fast pace – it makes me feel like I am going to a totally different place. The most tracked and publicized change is in prices (inflation), – prices went up by over 150,000% in the last 18 months according to conservative official government estimates. I imagine the devastating impact of such skyrocketing cost of living, in survival terms, on families. I think of the thousands of workers who lost their jobs in factory closures, I think of thousands, who could not bear it, and left for the diaspora and i try to the impossible mathematics of estimating the disruption of this forced migration on families, friendships, relationships and culture. I remember a colleague of mine, months back, telling me that when the immigration officer stamped his passport to cross into South Africa, ‘ I felt like I escaped!’. I think of the dilapidated state of health care and education and millions of dreams crushed under the weight of the present crisis, for all these years and i wonder if a single day – March 29, can hold the answer to so many questions.

As I think of the dire humanitarian crisis gripping Zimbabwe and the hopes millions of Zimbabweans place in the coming elections, I start to put together questions i would like to ask Zimbabweans in the run up to this much expected date:

  1. Do you think you will be able to vote for the candidate of your choice on March 29? Why?
  2. What is the foremost priority to you right now?
  3. Which candidate do you think can best tackle the country’s problems?
  4. Do you have confidence that the invited observers will observe the elections impartially?
  5. Take me through your month on a paycheck that is a tiny fraction of your monthly needs?

While the March 29 vote combines the presidential, parliamentary, senate and local government elections, all eyes are on the main price –the presidential election pitting the incumbent Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe Africa Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) against veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and new comer Simba Makoni, a former cabinet minister and senior member if Zanu PF.

In light of the well publicized coup threats by Zimbabwe’s army and security chiefs in the event of Mugabe losing the ballot, I wonder how much this will influence the vote. In addition to asking people direct questions, I am interested in observing the general environment in the lead up to the election focusing on issues of intimidation, violence, access to state media and impartiality of state institutions.

My first stop is South Africa where i will spend Monday night and Tuesday reconnecting to Johannesburg based vibrant Zimbabwe solidarity movement and also talk to Africa Action’s allies in the social justice movement.

Stay tuned for an update….

Dare to Invent the Future!

Briggs

Walk with me in Zimbabwe…

March 13, 2008

About

The press is already heating up with stories about Zimbabwe in advance of the March 29th elections. The question is – are you getting the whole story? If you are tempted to go deeper than the mainstream press on this important issue, we invite you to journey with Africa Action and TransAfrica Forum to the region through our new blog JustZimbabwe.

You can follow the lead up to the Zimbabwean elections, read about Election Day and examine the aftermath of the elections with us through the blog. We hope that you will check in regularly and comment on the postings so that we can generate a national dialogue at this historic moment.

Africa Action has a long history in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. In the 1970s this solidarity took the form of supporting the liberation struggle and standing with Zimbabweans against the human rights abuses of Ian Smith.

Today, Africa Action has joined with our ally TransAfrica Forum to revive into this legacy of solidarity and reach out to support Zimbabweans as they seek to continue the unfinished business of the liberation struggle in this historic election. Briggs Bomba, Africa Action’s Program Associate in our Department of Public Education and Mobilization and a citizen of Zimbabwe, is traveling to the region with two representatives of TransAfrica Forum.

The delegates will spend time meeting up with allied organizations in Zimbabwe and then split up to go to three regions of the country to reach out to ordinary Zimbabweans. Collecting stories and testimonies and analysis from the field, the delegates will absorb the full environment surrounding the March 29th elections. On Election Day, the three delegates will informally and un-officially observe the proceedings. Through the blog, they will be able to report directly
from Zimbabwe about the lead up to the elections, Election Day and the aftermath. When they return to Washington, DC, they will de-brief their journey at a reception on April 10th hosted by TransAfrica Forum. If you are in the area, we hope you will join us. Please visit Africa Action’s website for future details of this event.