AFRICANGLOBE – Zimbabwe has been on the receiving end of Western-inspired pressures whose main thrust appears to be that of effecting a regime change. To this end, there have been targeted and general sanctions unilaterally imposed by the European Union (at the behest of Britain), Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America (USA).
It is worth pointing out that there should be little doubt that the developments in Zimbabwe since the late 1990s are largely framed by ongoing so-called Western democracy promotion, whose parameters are both being defined by the policy elites in Washington and embraced by their counterparts in Europe.
To put it differently, every analysis or report on the current challenges in Zimbabwe, the role of the external factor or agency in either prolonging or exacerbating the problems will almost surely be explicitly or implicitly raised. Basically, regime change is the practice of removing a government by external force or underhand manoeuvrings. Undoubtedly, it represents some form of international intervention.
Interestingly, the modern face of regime change has been associated with aspirations behind Western democracy promotion and assistance. It is this internationalist dimension of regime change that has attracted the attention of the writer in an attempt to give meaning to current Western interventionist policies and their nuances in Zimbabwe. A key argument that will be advanced in this paper hinges on the notion that the regime change agenda has different forms. In other words, it is Janus-faced.
Although ‘regime change’ entered the US foreign policy lexicon in connection with Iraq in the late 1990s and was popularized by the George W. Bush administration in the months preceding the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the concept or idea of changing regimes by the US government has been there for quite a long time. To take a practical example, in 1954 President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman of Guatemala who was democratically elected fours earlier was overthrown by a CIA-inspired operation.
Guzman’s crime was his determination to redress daunting economic problems, resulting largely from a drastically unequal distribution of economic resources. Only a mere 2 percent of the population controlled more than 72 percent of Guatemala’s arable land. Arbenz chose to address these problems by tackling the US trans-corporation, the United Fruit Company which owned thousands of acres of land, of which 85 percent were uncultivated at any given time (Yes that rings a bell). Other infamous interventions by the US included the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba, military intervention in the Dominican Republic, the overthrow of President Allende of Chile. Closer to home in the Congo (now DRC), the US and some of its Western allies orchestrated the assassination of the revolutionary leader Patrice Lumumba. Furthermore, the military overthrow of Ghana’s leader Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 had Western imprints all over.
In fact the list of Western interventions across the world, especially that of the US is endless.
Essentially, current approaches of regime change divide into two competing schools, that is, one advancing a hard landing that leads to regime change, and the other projecting a soft landing through re-socialisation or regime evolution (Source: Robert S. Litwak, 2007).
The former calls for a change of regime whilst the latter advocate for a change within a regime. Proponents of the hard landing approach use a number of diverse forms of external influence, including multilateral conditionality via the Bretton Woods twins (IMF & World Bank), and the use of unilateral sanctions and transnational civil society networks to undermine governments of weak states. Furthermore, this template of regime change hinges on rapid and negative economic change and evolving impacts which typically drive the mobilisation required for a challenge to a governing class.
In the Zimbabwean scenario the hard-landing approach was based on the assumption that an economic strangulation policy, if supported by a regional power (South Africa), would push the government over the edge. A variant of this regime change scenario is that some officials could be persuaded to engineer an internal coup that would lead to the removal of a sitting President and his immediate entourage, leaving a more acceptable alternative in power (possibly a Western lackey).
Meanwhile, soft landing advocates believe that internal evolution is possible either through the reformists (so-called softliners) finally gaining political ascendancy or through pragmatic hardliners’ willingness to cut internal and external deals to ensure political survival. The apparent objective of the soft landing approach is to let the ‘adversarial or target state (in our case Zimbabwe) that the objective of the West is to change behaviour rather than to change regime. However, this is a ruse. The so-called soft-landing approach is just one of the alternative routes to achieve regime change.
There is not one iota of doubt that Western forces have been hoping for a crisis or critical juncture to erupt in Zimbabwe.
Broadly speaking, a government or state usually experiences a crisis or ‘critical juncture’ when internal and external forces undermine the loyalty and cooperation of governing members, and also the ruling party’s resource base and capacity to respond to challenges.
The West has realised that a regime collapse is not imminent, and hence they have resorted to the soft-landing approach (which is being packaged as reintegration of the nation into the international community). There are reasons to believe that because such hard-landing policies like ZIDERA (an effort which extended US Law internationally through so-called secondary sanctions) have borne little benefits except worsening the economic fabric of Zimbabwe.
Cuba has faced a similar backlash as demonstrated by the passage of the Helms-Burton legislation. Now Russia is facing a similar fate including the consequences of the manipulation of world oil prices whose ultimate aim is to degrade the oil-exporting Russian economy, and possibly topple Vladimir Putin. Yes, we have seen this template before. As already seen, other countries such as Guatemala (in 1954) and Chile (in 1973) wilted under the economic strangulation strategy.
The concept of soft-landing approach of internal evolution — a process characterised by political scientist Alexander George as ‘re-socialisation’ — needs a little more elaboration.
In this process, Western imperial forces are willing to eschew the objective of regime change in return for profound change in ‘regime’ behaviour. In this respect, the imperial forces will change tact by offering assurances of political survival by removing the sanctions regime as well as reintegrating a target state into the international system. Nonetheless, the focal or referent point of the re-socialisation strategy is to target leadership or a country’s political personality. After all, the West has established that leadership is perhaps the key determinant of political change (therefore it is necessary to affect its pace and extent).
Tellingly, the most striking instance of regime change in the latter half of the 21st century was achieved through neither war nor revolution: that in the former Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. It was the political personality of Soviet power as represented by Gorbachev which shaped the Soviet Union’s conduct and its eventual demise in the international arena. In other words, a regime change can be accomplished by influencing leadership.
As already mentioned, Zimbabwe is a target state for regime change.
What, then, are the concepts of regime change and societal change that undergid Western strategies and inform their policies toward Zimbabwe. The West has sent mixed signals about which concept of political change is at the heart of its policy. Since the late 1990s the West politically energized civil society groups and other social movements to bring down the ZANU-PF led government.
At some point, especially in 2008 the West came close to carry out military intervention under the cloak of the United Nations Security Council — only for the historic double veto by the Russians and Chinese to save Zimbabwe.
The MDC-T, a potential major beneficiary of this sordid tale was jolted into shock and quickly forgo its intransigence and joined the Inclusive government.
In recent years, it seems the West has been putting pressure on the government to implement some liberal reformist agenda.
Dr: Knocks Zengeni