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Public Diplomacy

Zimbabwe's Public Diplomacy Efforts

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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.

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 and Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, with 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.

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