Robert Mugabe: Why the western media cried more than the bereaved and equated Mugabe to a country.

First to state that I have been to Zimbabwe.  Photographic evidence.

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Hello from Zimbabwe

It was the visit there (and only one so far, but would jump at the chance to return there) that opened my eyes to the true situation on the ground, and from observation, way diffe….rent… from the exaggerated tales in the western media.

If, Zimbabwe is as dire as western press have projected it, you will be pleased to here that their embassies remained open throughout the tumultuous times. 

Besides if you have a read through the tourist guide books on Zimbabwe in your public library (if you are in the UK at least) you will see that nationals of the developed world carried on going to Zimbabwe, in the ‘terrible times’ of Mugabe and being accommodated at the exotic places that testify to Zimbabwe’s stunning beauty to this day.

For starters, you can visit tripadvisor’s online sites yourself to see the facilities of Zimbabwe, read the views of Europeans and other visitors that have been going to the  country, that the western media depict to be in such doldrums.

It is while in Zimbabwe that a huge scale fell off my eyes. Seeing is indeed believing.

It is there that I got to understand why Mugabe-inspite his faults-is revered by his people and in Africa (not to discount his mistakes) whilst reviled, in the west.  A picture below that I took of Zimbabwe’s parliament.

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Parliament of Zimbabwe

And to declare that I am a journalist by education and career and the two form my observations. I am also an ardent media researcher and have been doing this for some good years now, through own volition. 

Myself.

And now, back to the subject matter of this blog post…

Robert Mugabe’s resignation on November 22nd 2017, was to me the final straw of western media’s relentless overt maligned reporting and fixation with him, for nearly 17 years.

Mugabe had in the west’s mainstream media personified the country of Zimbabwe so that the two had become one. Mugabe became Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe became Mugabe.

Hardly any story by the west’s main stream media (or legacy media as it is often referred to, in media studies, and journalistic circles-at times) was reported about Zimbabwe, without Mugabe being mentioned.

In the West, states Professor Mahmood Mamdani FBA (the distinguished Ugandan scholar and also Prof Political Science and African Studies at Columbia University), it is hard to think of a figure more reviled than Robert Mugabe.

In his 2008 essay ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’, Mamdani said, the West’s Liberals and Conservatives portray him as a brutal dictator and blame him for Zimbabwe’s descent into hyperinflation and poverty.

African dictator, strongman, wily politician, awful steward, deeply flawed, autocrat etc,  were some of the commonly used adjectives the west’s main stream media adopted and regurgitated about Mugabe, from 2000 onward.

At time of his resignation when he had turned 93, the new additive was ‘the world’s oldest Head of State’ and this being so….. repeated…. as though it was such a difficult fact for the public to comprehend the western media found it necessary to tirelessly drum it into their ears, for ‘complex understanding’ to be ‘simplified’.  

It was from 2000 onward, when white settlers reneged in apportioning land to the landless Black majority- and subsequently forcing the Government of Zimbabwe to fast track land redistribution-that the western media descended into an uncanny preoccupation with Mugabe’s character.

Until then, the white settlers who represented white priviledge and entitlement to pillaging Africa-were ‘touched’ by Mugabe causing the western media, their home governments and cheerleaders to spring into action, ‘to teach him a lesson’. 

By attempting to correct historic land injustice in which the minority farmers controlled  39% of the land in Zimbabwe and covering 15.5 million hectares and also accounting for all the prime land, Mugabe was turned into the West’s archenemy.  

Haphazard and ruthless as the land redistribution, was handled, Mugabe henceforth ‘fell from grace to scorn’ and thus started the western media’s fixation with him.

Full blown condescending language and overt prejudice towards Mugabe became the norm in western media’s narrative for afterall, the white settlers in whose “blessed hands the entire country’s economic and agricultural success lay”, had departed from Zimbabwe.  

All Mugabe’s fault: Why the Western media cried more than the bereaved. 

At time of Mugabe’s resignation, the western media-until then banned from Zimbabwe but sneaking in and creating an eerie feeling of the circumstances under which they were reporting their stories -were back in full gear.

Forget journalistic impartiality which is a core tenet of professional journalism. Mugabe’s resignation was yet another return of YELLOW JOURNALISM which western media had adopted for nearly 17 years, in covering ‘Mugabe the Zimbabwe’.

YELLOW JOURNALISM is a style of newspaper reporting that developed in America from 1895 and known to emphasize sensationalism over facts.

Some of the techniques used in YELLOW JOURNALISM include scandal mongering, exaggeration of news events and sensationalism, dramatised news, limited research and biased news in order to sell more newspapers or increase viewship.  

To me, the live broadcast that best depicts YELLOW JOURNALISM from western media, was Sky News coverage of the events leading to Mugabe’s final resignation.

When Mugabe resigned, their reporter relayed his live stories with full blown tremendous elation on his face,  caught up in the euphoria  of the  crowd that he should have been reporting about, yet had made himself a part, of the news story.

As professional journalists, we are not allowed to become part of the story we are covering (unless this conflict of interest is declared at the start of the story) or allow our personal biases to inform our reporting. There are countless stories where western media reporters reporting about Mugabe use countless derogatory adjectives that show their disdain of him.

Back to the Sky News Reporter that was reporting about Mugabe’s resignation. At one point, during his live coverage, he walked over to a group of young Zimbabwean men that were part of the euphoric crowd, in seek of their reaction to the resignation. 

Responding by speaking out their remarks yet the reporter seemed to be in seek of a more dramatic expression, the reporter proceeded to ask the young men to “express your reaction”. In response, they proceeded into a sing-song after their short remarks, to much beaming from the reporter. 

Later on in the night, yet another of Sky’s presenters whilst updating viewers on the latest developments regarding the awaited resignation, descended into apologising to them  “for disappointing you with a no resignation update”. Viewers had otherwise been propped to await a resignation and Sky’s presenter had obviously taken sides in the  story by expecting one outcome.

Being a journalist I am aware of the principal of journalistic impartiality.

Being concerned about the lack of journalistic impartiality in the coverage by Sky News reporters, I thought of updating myself with their editorial guidelines. I checked out their website to appraise myself on their stance on impartiality- if any.

Below is some of what I noted as stated under their editorial guidelines on due impartiality. 

Item 11: Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy

Sky News must always be duly impartial and duly accurate. We always strive to solicit a broad range of views and voices on our stories and never to show favour to-or to be influenced by-any side of a story.

Still under their impartiality guideline, they state consent to special impartiality requirements for coverage, for matters relating to political controversy by

  • not allowing our personal views or opinions to form a part of our coverage.
  • making sure all views and facts are not misrepresented
  • making sure any personal interest of a reporter or presenter is made clear to the viewers-they must not use their position to express their own views
  • making sure particular views and opinions are not given undue prominence over others

If Sky News editorial guideline above on impartiality, is a mirror of that of other western media houses and the journalism profession, you don’t have to be a journalist to spot what western media flouted, in its coverage of Mugabe.

Under the cover of celebrating the hope the resignation had brought to ‘long suffering Zimbabweans’, western journalists and their home governments disguised the true intent for their euphoria. 

In the west, the celebration of Mugabe’s resignation was cosmetic because it is their governments that imposed sanctions on an entire nation, for the actions of one man. 

Mugabe who was an affront to the West for standing up to their sense of entitlement to pillaging Africa and obsessive control of it- even after independence- had at last stepped down. The removal of this threat is what was celebrated in the west under the cloud of   suffering Zimbabweans. 

It is Western governments that caused this long suffering by imposing sanctions on a nation, because of the axe they had to grind its leader. Who imposes sanctions on a nation, simply because they have issues with the leader?

Whilst demonising Mugabe and solely blaming him for the implosion of Zimbabwe’s economy-and this to much convincing to their home governments, public and other cheerleaders-western media white washed the far worse contribution of the sanctions. This narrative they have cleverly omitted from their coverage.

However, as with all one sided narratives, the other alternatives that offer balance exist and are found by those intent on getting a balanced story and further research. 

To me, Dr. Gideon Gono, the retired Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe from 2003-2013, best reveals the impact caused by the punitive land-sanctions from Western governments and their institutions on Zimbabwe.

They were imposed on Zimbabwe after white farmers left. It was all about the land- that was dubiously acquired in the first place- and the correction of this injustice, resulting in the punishment and scapegoating of Mugabe.

In an exclusive interview with Baffour Ankomah, the Editor of London based New African magazine of July 2014, Gideon the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (2003-2013) in the sanction days, gives best insight into their effect. Extracts below (not in chronological order) from the big length interview with him, by New African.

GIDEON GONO

Gideon Gono-former Governor Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (Picture The Standard-Zimbabwe)

Q: Turning to the economy, what was the greatest challenge that precipitated the decline in the country’s fortunes for almost a decade?

A: Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions! The country’s liberation struggle was centred on the land and it became inevitable that in order to fulfil the aspirations of the people, land redistribution, which was part of President Mugabe’s government agenda from 1980, had to be tackled head on. You know well that land is an emotive issue the world over.

To put the land question into perspective, one needs to go back to President Mugabe’s historic speech on the eve of our independence: “There are people without land who need land, people without jobs, children without schools who need schools, and patients without hospitals who need them. My government will certainly do its best to meet existing needs in these areas.”

Twenty years on, there was no land redistribution to the landless majority, so the masses took the matter into their own hands and demanded that the president fulfil one of his inauguration promises. The government had no option but to embark on a Fast Track Land Redistribution Programme and this was the whole genesis of the illegal Western sanctions that were imposed on the country from 2000 onward.

The economic measures and tactics employed were brutal, vicious and dirty and all aimed at bringing the Zimbabwean economy to its knees and causing “regime change”.  Uninformed people will talk about economic mismanagement, human rights abuse, absence of the rule of law, and all other forms of nice-sounding descriptions as he causes of our economic problems, but the real reason was the illegal sanctions that were imposed on our small country. They led us to behave and react the way we did, as we tried to survive the unprecedented onslaught against our country.

No other country in Africa has been visited by such sanctions and pressure from all corners of the West, and survived a change of government or regrettable re-enslavement and re-colonialisation of its people other than Zimbabwe.

Q: So in effect, you are saying the implosion or whatever you call it, was not due to your and the government’s mismanagement of the economy as your critics say?

A: No, what was there to mismanage tell me. If anything, it is heroic survival. The figures are there for all to see. So we had to think outside the box, guided by the President! It was like having a car that has no fuel, and yet you must take the children to school in Mutare (the capital of Manicaland, 250kms away). You have to think outside the box how to get there! 

Q: You have been saying that “sanctions are equivalent to massive military action against poor societies”. Is that how dramatic it is?

A: It is worse than that. It is genocide. It is indiscriminate. Therefore, it is a fallacy, the height of hypocrisy, for any nation to have said these were targeted sanctions. What targeted? When a country cannot get funds to buy drugs, there is nothing “targeted” about it. 

The lack of medicines in hospitals affects the unborn, it affects the woman who is in labour, it affects the newly born, it affects the elderly, it affects the child who is going to a kindergarten, it affects teachers, nurses, priests, drivers; it affects adults who are supposed to be working, it affects even the dead in the sense that when they are in the funeral house waiting to be taken to their final places of rest, they stay in the morgue longer than they should.

The reason behind that the hearse does not have fuel or has broken down, and there are no spare parts. This is the nature of the banditry called sanctions.