Why Freedom and Democracy are Important

Talking to a Zimbabwean who had just come home from a trip abroad, I was struck by what he said about the freedom he saw in many developed countries. He said it came as a bit of a shock to realize how repressive the situation is here at home and the extent to which he had accepted as "normal" the loss of his own personal freedom and democratic rights.

Whatever those who support the Mugabe regime might say, they simply cannot deny that over the past decade, we have lost most of the very rights that the liberation war was fought for. We no longer enjoy "one person, one vote" democracy; we no longer have the right to meet and discuss issues without restraint and we have lost our freedom of expression and the media.

Why should we take this seriously? Just because western governments have some sort of ideological hang up about these issues? Or just because they are contained in many of the global agreements that are now enshrined in things like the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? No, while all of this has some importance and relevance, in fact the real value of these things is found in what they can deliver to ordinary people and how they can change their lives for the better.

Most developed States value these principles and characteristics of their own societies because they were secured only after centuries of struggle and conflict. Those who came up in the world as a result of societies applying these principles to the way they govern themselves are in fact their strongest defenders.

Take Ms. Rice as an example. A black American woman from a rural background in the deeply racist southern States of the USA, she is the product of 200 years of struggle in the USA to take the rights of black Americans from the slave ship to the White House. It was not easy, it cost lives, it took courage, and it took time. But at the end of the process we have Ms. Rice - a brilliant and cultured person who has held several very senior posts in the United States and now is arguably the most powerful woman in the world.

100 years ago - even 50 years ago, this was unimaginable. She knows that she owes her education and opportunities not to chance but to the deep changes wrought in the USA by men and women who gave their lives for Martin Luther's dreams. For that reason she supports the drive by the US to try and give all nations and peoples the same rights that brought her own liberation and opportunity.

Without personal freedom and democratic rights countries can never hope to break the shackles of poverty and inequality in their societies. Only a truly democratic system can curb the excesses of the State, corrupt political and administrative leaders. Only a truly free society can create the conditions where the vitality and abilities of its peoples can be harnessed for development and growth. No one has a bigger stake in this struggle than the poor and disadvantaged. The rich and powerful can always find a way to get ahead and protect their interests - not so if you are marginalized and poor.

So when we call for a restoration of our rights in Zimbabwe - it's a call just to give us back what were seen as the main objectives of the struggle for majority rule and personal freedoms in colonial Africa. If we could achieve that I have no doubt in my mind that development and a better quality of life will follow for the majority - but especially the poor and disadvantaged.

Was the struggle for human and political rights in Africa just a sham? An attempt not to bring freedom and democracy to African countries but simply to grab power away from the colonial minority so that this power could then be used for personal enrichment and greed? From where I sit it certainly looks like that and for this the Mugabe regime has a lot to answer for. Not just to those of us who have lived through this nightmare, but also to those who died that these rights might be secured for the majority. Without democracy and individual freedoms, underwritten by the rule of law, Africa can make no progress in the fight against poverty and deprivation.

There are sound reasons why people who live in genuine democracies do not starve of hunger. We have half our population teetering on the edge of starvation and the State claims this is the product of drought. Not at all - last season was not a bad one here in the main cropping zones. Ours is a drought of good governance, not rainfall. Our Minister of Agriculture, a man aptly named Made, is again claiming that we are headed for an "abundant harvest". The man has no credibility at all and we wonder how on earth he ever managed to graduate from some University somewhere. We are going into this coming wet season with very little prospect of more than a tiny proportion of our needs being met from our own production.

As for the rule of law, the specter of Didymus Mutasa, our Minister of State Security, going around the country saying that they are going to strip all remaining "white" farmers of their land and assets and are going to ignore bilateral investment guarantee agreements, is very helpful to our drive to restore confidence and invite investment! Quite clearly he has no fear of the electorate, and for good reason, he and his masters have become experts at subverting our fragile democracy since they gained power.

This government must know that statements like these by Made and Mutasa simply confirm the status of this regime as a rogue regime and further intensifies its isolation and slide into the category of a "failed State". Governments that go around tearing up legally binding agreements without regard for the consequences simply cannot be taken seriously in any international forum. The consequences of such acts for the region are so serious that they defy computation.

I despair of the United Nations, the AU and the SADC who seem unable to come to grips with the reality of the situation here and the seriousness of it for the ordinary man and woman in Zimbabwe and regional States. This is not an issue for the UK, the EU or the USA. It does not impact on them and does not affect their direct interests. Yet they seem to take more interest and concern about the situation here than those who have the power, the responsibility and direct interests to intervene. To intervene, not on the side of the "whites" or the "haves" but on the side of those nameless millions who suffer every day under the heel of Mugabe's tyranny.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 22 September 2005