Placing Zimbabwe in an historical context is vital to understanding the country’s public diplomacy practices both today and in the past: How are they shaped? By what factors? And what purposes do they serve?
In 1888 Zimbabwe became a British Protectorate; its name was changed to Southern Rhodesia and it became a self-governing, white-led state in the British Empire. In 1965, Ian Smith declared Southern Rhodesia independent from the British Empire and installed his own white- led government, denying black Zimbabweans majority rule in a nation where they made up the majority of the population. Neither the British Empire nor the black Zimbabwean community recognized or accepted Smith’s government, and his suppression of blacks eventually led to the creation of two rebel groups seeking independence from white-rule: the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe, and Zimbabe People’s African Union (ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo. Though initially separate, Mugabe and Nkmomo eventually joined forces to wage guerilla warfare on Smith’s forces.
The fighting finally came to standstill following the 1979 Lancaster House Conference organized by the United Kingdom . At this conference Southern Rhodesia was granted independence, its new name became Zimbabwe, and a new Constitution for the sovereign republic was drawn up by Mugabe and Nkmomo. Parliament was in charge of electing a new Prime Minister that would serve as Zimbabwe's Head of State and Commander in Chief of the defense forces. Mugabe won the elections by a long run in 1981, and has since served as the nation's first and only black leader. It is this history of racism and imperialism in Zimbabwe that can not be overlooked or underestimated in understanding and explaining its public diplomacy practices.
- Capital - Harare
- Population - 12,236,805 (July 2006 est.)
- Government – Parliamentary Democracy
- President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe's Public Diplomacy EffortsEdit
Zimbabwe's public diplomacy efforts began during the Lancaster House Conference when three delegations, that of the United Kingdom, that of Mugabe and Nkomo, and that of Bishop Muzorewa whose delgation included several Whites such as Ian Smith, came together for the first time to hash out the future of the country and its leadership. This was the first public diplomacy effort on the part of the warring factions in then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); after nearly a decade of fighting the two sides finally agreed to find common ground. Following Mugabe's presidential victory, panic spread among the white community in Zimbabwe. Through several televised speeches Mugabe attempted to defuse these fears, promising no wholesale nationalization, guaranteeing whites protection of their jobs and pensions, and encouraging all Zimbabweans of all colors to forgive and forget the colonial past. He even retained Smith's presidential quarters and resided there, which served as a symbolic representation of the new wave of public diplomacy that was taking hold in Zimbabwe. These attempts at reconciliation esteemed Zimbabwe in the eyes of the global community and soon after independance it was receiving financing from Britain (who also sent military advisors), and the United States provided an aid package worth $225 million and various other international donors provided up to $636 million. (Zimbabwe Conference on Reconstruction and Development- ZIMCORD).Mugabe made an attempt to further strengthen his nation's relationship with the erstwhile colonizers by portraying a positive image of his relationship with them, both at home and abroad. In 1982 he had tea with the Queen of England in BUckingham palace and even watched cricket with the former British Prime Minister, MargaretThatcher.
But Zimbabwe's good footing and efforts at constructive public diplomacy have since taken a turn for the worst, and the issue of land is vital in explaining the sudden turn in events. The current land conflict pits white Zimbabwean farmers against black Zimbabweans, whose land had been given to the whites during colonial rule. Mugabe went against the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement and began forcibly taking the land owned by white farmers for the stated purpose of fairer distribution. These actions coupled with reports by a Commonwealth observer team that Mugabe's participation and victory in the 2002 elections was neither free nor fair led to it's suspension in the Commonwealth. Britain also refused to stop help financing the land resettlement that it had agreed to in the Lancaster House Agreement.
Since then the wave of constructive public diplomacy between the governments of Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom has certainly collapsed, however as with the U.S., thousands of Zimbabweans study in the U.K., and private links remain close even though official relations are strained. Zimbabwe's Ministry of Foreign Affiars and Ministry of Information have been the prime players whose activities have strained offical relations with the West.
To further add to the tension straining public diplomacy efforts between Zimbabwe and the West, the country has alloweded Al-Jazeera International to establish a permanent bureau in Zimbabwe, thus becoming the first international news channel since 2003, when President Robert Mugabe's government chased away Western television and radio broadcasters. President Robert Mugabe's government has also partially jammed Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts into Zimbabwe which follows a successful clampdown on private radio station South West Africa, which broadcasts into Zimbabwe from London. Mugabe aslo forced closure of Voice of the People (VOP), which broadcast from the Netherlands via Madagascar.
Zimbabwe's policies and attitude towards homosexuals has further undermined its public diplomacy efforts with the rest of the World. President Mugabe has enforced a no-tolerance stance towards Zimbabwe's gay community; this attitude became especially apparent during Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1995 when the organization, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe(GALZ,was accused of deeply offending African values during the fair. Since the incident, GALZ has preferred to keep a low profile, leaving much of its activism to foreigners and heterosexuals. In 1999, on a visit by Mugabe to the United Kingdom, three British activists from the gay pressure group Outrage, led by Peter Tatchell, tried to carry out a citizens' arrest on Mugabe as a result of his 'anti-gay' camapign. According to the BBC, Mugabe accused the British Government of setting "gay gangsters" on him over his controversial land reforms. During the time, the BBC also reported that gay activists in South Africa had promised 'noisy' protests in Durban and Johannesburg when President Mugabe was visiting South Africa to attend the Commonwealth Summit. Many Zimbabweans were shocked by such a strong reaction from gay activists against what they understand as an internal "cultural" matter that should be left up to Zimbabweans to decide. According to Marc Eppercht in the department of history at the University of Zimbabwe, many black Zimbabweans believe homosexuality was introduced to the country by the erstwhile colonizers and white settlers, and is perceived as a phenomenon mainly propogated by the West. The resulting tension has thus weakened Zimbabwe's public diplomacy efforts with nations where homosexuality is tolerated and openly expressed.
On the flip side, the government of Zimbabwe is engaging in positive pubilc diplomacy efforts with revolutionary, socialist, and communist nations.Its activities have strengthened and maintained Zimbabwe's diplomatic ties with a number of revolutionary states and organizations. Among these are the People's Republic of China, Cuba, the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, Iran, Libya, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Some Scandinavian countries that share certain philosophical affinities have provided much assistance to Zimbabwe, as have France, Canada, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Portugal and Greece maintain links partly because of the sizable Portuguese and Greek communities in the country. Similar historical ties have led to the establishment of relations with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Zimbabwe's "look east" policy has led to closer diplomatic relations with East Asian countries such as Malaysia and China. According to the South West Radio Africa, Zimbabwe hosted Chinese experts to help jamm radio stations which the Zimbabwean government claims were "pirate" radio stations sponsord by the US and Britain.
In 2007, the issue of land according to Mugabe is the "last colonial question qualifying Zimbabwe's sovereignty," and how this issue evolves and resolves itsef will play a significant role in determining and shaping Zimbabwe's public diplomacy practices in the future.
Zimbabwe Ministry of Foreign Affairs www.zimfa.gov.zm
Voice of America (VOA)- Zimbabwe www.voanews.com/english/Africa/Zimbabwe/index.cfm
Voice of the People (VOP)- Zimbabwe www.kubatana.net