There has been some optimism in Western media surrounding the new Zimbabwean administration headed by Emmerson Mnangagwa. The Guardian and the BBC led the way in hailing his ‘new democracy’, quoting his inauguration speech but not really go into any details about his long career as a Mugabe henchman.
Ultimately, this is cynical rather than naive. The Guardian and the BBC know full well that he has no intention to improve the country’s abysmal human rights record; Mnangagwa is as guilty as Mugabe when it comes to the murder of dissident politicians, serving as his right hand man throughout all of it. Instead, he has incited enthusiasm by voicing his intention to open up Zimbabwe’s vast resources to global markets, causing diamond exploration companies, such as the Cecil Rhodes-founded London De Beer group, to salivate at the prospect of being able to enter regions that were closed to them for so long.
However, media outlets voicing their hopes of an economically liberated Zimbabwe have failed to mention that Mnangagwa’s name sits alongside Al-Qaeda combatants and Raul Castro on the ‘US Foreign Enemies’ list, and is under strict economic sanctions by the UN. He has a sizeable backlog of corruption charges like every high-ranking member of the Zanu PF party who dominate Zimbabwean Congress through elections that almost never pass third-party inspection. However, his most significant crime which places his name on the hot list relates to his involvement in plundering Congolese diamonds during Zimbabwe’s intervention into a crisis in the Congo.
In 1998 Zimbabwe intervened alongside 8 other African countries in the burgeoning civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a conflict which has cost over 5 million lives and continues to this day (though it was officially ended in 2003, most casualties have actually come after the Sun City Accord ‘ended’ the civil war). However, it quickly became apparent that their interest was not philanthropic when then-Justice Minister Mnangagwa and the extremely influential Joint Operations Command underwent a campaign of racketeering in Congo’s resource-rich Katanga region.
The Joint Operations Command are a state security organ that were founded to protect White Supremacist rule in Rhodesia, and fought against both Mugabe and Mnangagwa in the Rhodesian Bush Wars – committing war crimes by using chemical and biological weapons and poisoning water supplies in many cases. The JOC transitioned over to the new black-majority liberated Zimbabwe, and instead of Mugabe choosing to check the powers of his former enemy combatants, they became his new favourite tool for rigging elections and orchestrating political violence.
Having served variously in almost every cabinet role for two decades, in 1998 Mnangagwa was placed in charge of Zimbabwean intervention in the Second Congo War and deployed his loyal JOC forces in mining regions to press-gang local peasant farmers into joining exploitative syndicates for extracting natural resources.
A Wikileaks-released cable from the US embassy in Harare dated September 2000 – two years after Zimbabwe intervened in the DRC – claims that Mnangagwa has ‘ongoing and ever-growing financial interests‘ in mining operations in the DRC. A later cable dated August 2001 reiterates that Mnangagwa is one of the ‘major beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s mining contracts in the DRC’. It doesn’t try and put a figure on how much money he has acquired from his DRC diamond racket, but they refer to Mnangagwa as the ‘richest man in Zimbabwe’ after previously stating that Mugabe’s fortune comfortably exceeds a billion dollars, implying that his DRC diamond plunder goes well into the billions.
The US heeded the advice of their Harare ambassadors and Mnangagwa duly earned himself a place alphabetically below ‘the butcher of Bosnia’ Ratko Mladić on the US Foreign Enemies List. The UN also placed economic sanctions on him after he was proven to violate the Kimberly Process for mediating the sales of conflict diamonds.
He remains on both lists to this day.
You can’t begrudge a nation for celebrating the ousting a man as ostensibly evil as Robert Mugabe; the people of Zimbabwe hope for and deserve better. However, it’s disingenuous for Western commentators to sing the praises of Mnangagwa’s ‘new democracy’ when they know full well that his only divergence from Mugabe’s political philosophy is a less dim view of free markets open to global investors. Make no mistake: they are buzzing for the prospects of Western markets rather than Zimbabwean freedoms.
Looking at the wider context, it’s difficult to cherry pick an example of a African country who achieved stability in the aftermath of a military coup. Mnangagwa has promised ‘free and fair’ elections for Zimbabwe next year, he must be held to this promise by the international community with the promise to lift sanctions on his assets if delivered. That is Zimbabwe’s hope of taking a step forward.
Remain skeptical in the meanwhile, though. The transition from Mugabe to ‘the crocodile’ changes nothing for the people of Zimbabwe at present.
Read a 2010 report below on Zimbabwe’s actions during their intervention in the Second Congo War, by the Partnership Africa-Canada, who oversee the Kimberly Process:
Amity Underground | Zimbabwe