By JOHN CHIMUNHU
Now Daily Investigation
- Secret funding: Mugabe, Donald Trump.
Forget the hullabaloo about sanctions on Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Western governments, especially the United States, are at the forefront of funding the luxury lifestyle the despot still enjoys despite being banned from traveling to Western countries and shopping there for 16 years.
Despite the sanctions and threats by US president Donald Trump to act to remove Mugabe, the despot’s wife Grace Mugabe, who is eyeing the presidency herself, can still get a $2.5 million diamond ring from Cartier’s or Tiffany’s in New York and her favourite designer shoes from Ferragamo. The Mugabes can also afford to maintain multi-million dollar holiday palaces in Singapore and Dubai as well as villas in Hong Kong’s elite district where they spend several months on holiday each year while also escaping the poverty, suffering and disease that have engulfed their country.
Mugabe can afford a life of opulence knowing that the West will fund his basic needs. They are also there to sponsor the largesse that endears him with his relatives, friends and cronies and ensures their undying loyalty which keeps him in power.
Mugabe can afford to be reckless, knowing that the West will pick up the tab for his misrule and keep the population fed so that there is no revolution. Just recently, the despot threw a lavish $12 million birthday party for thousands of members of his Zanu PF party, friends, relatives and cronies at an elite holiday resort named after imperialist businessman Cecil John Rhodes.
Days later, Mugabe declared the flooding and damage caused by Cyclone Dineo close to the scene of his churlish festivities a national disaster and sent the begging bowl to all Western diplomatic missions in Harare and the United Nations. The sympathetic Westerners, moved by reports of death and destruction, were taken on a helicopter ride by Mugabe’s right-hand man, Saviour Kasukuwere, the minister of local government and an operative in the tyrant’s private army, the Central Intelligence Organisation.
Within hours, tens of millions of dollars had been raised. However, as past experience shows, the money will be shared among a few government ministers, who will spring it abroad in briefcases and keep it for themselves. No questions will be asked. The diplomats know how the game is played here. The shrewd among them will pocket what they can and look the other way while their countries’ taxes are looted by Mugabe and Zanu PF.
“The Mugabe government can mobilise $12 million within a few days from its bankrupt parastatals for his birthday celebrations but cannot provide for the needs of a few thousand flood victims? That doesn’t make sense unless you understand how the West props up Mugabe. He is a demigod. He uses the country’s taxes to pamper himself and his family. The West takes care of the needs of Zimbabweans, otherwise they’ll die. It’s an unwritten agreement, the kind that applied to Mobutu, Idi Amin, Kaddafi and Mubarak,” said a spokesman for activist group Consumer Action, which has compiled details of how Western aid funds and projects are hijacked by the dictator, his family and hangers on who include intelligence officers and military generals.
- Waiting in vain: Patients queue while AIDS funds disappear.
A week after Mugabe’s phenomenal birthday bash, the US ambassador Harry K Thomas announced that his government was providing $100 million ostensibly to assist people with AIDS in Zimbabwe. However, those familiar with the dictator’s system know that a good chunk of that money will be hijacked and go to fund Zanu PF’s 2018 election campaign. This week, committees were being formed by Zanu PF members across the country to steal the US funds through a programme called the Basic Education Assistance Module or BEAM by taking money meant for funding the schooling of nearly one million children orphaned by AIDS.
Here is how it works. After the US president George W Bush imposed sanctions on Mugabe in 2001 and the European Union followed suit the next year, aid funds dried up. This threw the regime into turmoil as it could no longer gain access to the billions of dollars of aid funds which were previously distributed to supporters along political party lines.
But there was a loophole. The West was still giving money for AIDS, which affects a quarter of the population. The United States, the country’s largest aid donor since independence in 1980, was still prepared to give money to causes to do with AIDS but this could only be done through non-governmental organisations. In 2008, Mugabe accused the NGOs of funding the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and banned them. Thousands of people who depended on the NGOs for medication and food died. Another 4 000 people died in the world’s worst cholera outbreak in modern times after the despot barred donors from assisting them.
Realising how heartless Mugabe was and that he did not care about the death and suffering of his people, the Global Fund on AIDS, to which the US and other countries contributes funds, finally agreed to a demand by the dictator that all aid funds were now to be channelled through the government through its agency, the National AIDS Council (NAC). Mugabe also banned credible AIDS service organisations and encouraged his supporters to form bogus organisations through which the US could grant aid. These are typically emasculated by Zanu PF’s tentacles, with senior party officials benefitting from the scam.
The National Aids Council now gets millions annually from the so-called Global Fund of the United Nations AIDS organisation UNAIDS and from a local tax, the AIDS levy, where all workers are forced to hand over three per cent of their salaries. The head of NAC, Tapuwa Magure is an army doctor who is famous for living large at the expense of buying medicines for sick people. The auditor-general Mildred Chiri accused Magure in a report of buying luxury cars, living in expensive hotels, dining regularly in trendy restaurants and travelling frequently abroad using NAC funds.
In 2015, nearly one million children orphaned by AIDS failed to attend school or write crucial examinations because millions of dollars earmarked for that purpose was stolen by officials in Magure’s office and he did nothing about it. He is also accused of running up the expenses of a luxury lifestyle for himself and his staff while people with AIDS cannot access drugs for which the donations are made. The auditor-general found evidence of theft of AIDS drugs, which flooded the black market but could not be found in hospitals. Theft of the drugs was rampant, according to the report, with health workers taking supplies in the names of dead people or relatives who were not sick. Apart from direct theft of aid money, Mugabe has stuffed the NAC and all agencies with access to aid funds with his relatives, cronies and CIO operatives.
The US President’s Pepfar project is also sponsoring dubious AIDS programmes in Zimbabwe run by people with close ties to the regime. Diplomats do not question this, or the provision of AIDS drugs and other assistance only to members of Zanu PF while the rest of the people are excluded. Former US ambassador James McGee who confronted the regime over these thefts in 2008/9 was arrested, threatened and harassed. McGee was denied the traditional farewell cup of tea with Mugabe when he left Harare, in an attempt to embarrass him but the diplomat remained defiant.
“I will not give a cent of American taxpayers’ money to thieves,” McGee said before he launched a legal case against Zanu PF militias that looted a US food warehouse in Mutare.
Other ambassadors have tried appeasement, giving money to causes and characters acceptable to the regime in the hope of riding out their terms without controversy.
- Mugabe wears the most expensive watches and Grace goes for diamond rings.
Days earlier, Thomas was at Musasa Project, a non-governmental organisation that gets millions of dollars from Washington and other donors ostensibly to support women suffering from spousal violence, but effectively to take care of Mugabe’s many relatives. Musasa is headed by Netsai Musanhu, who is related to senior Zanu PF politicians. The NGO is one of the few approved by the regime on condition that part of its funding is pooled into Zanu PF causes and that it does not ruffle feathers. Gatekeepers have also been planted within the organisation to block cases of domestic violence involving prominent Zanu PF and security officials. Several Musasa Project officers were sacked in the 1990s when they started investigating cases of horrific violence against women by police officers. Security forces remain among the greatest abusers of women, but the investigation into their conduct was dropped and is no longer discussed publicly.
There are many reasons why the US would give money to its declared enemy Mugabe just as there were good reasons to fund the brutal regime of Mubarak in Egypt. The logic is that if Western countries go all the way against Mugabe and allow the sanctions to be effective, Zimbabwe will explode into civil war. This would disrupt transport and communication within the southern African sub-region and dent the profits of mining and industrial conglomerates such as Unilever and Anglo American Corp, and the downstream beneficiaries which keep the world’s stock and commodity markets running.
So, regularly, Western ambassadors are featured on local television, not ashamed to be signing cheques and giving the millions of dollars that keep Mugabe in power and his killing machine oiled for the business of pulverizing the population. As for ordinary Zimbabweans, all they get is ‘moral support’ in the form of regular statements condemning Mugabe’s horrific human rights abuses. A day after Thomas announced giving $100 million to the Mugabe regime, the US state department published its annual human rights report for 2016, giving details of the gruesome activities of the killing machine that the dictator has perfected over the years using Western funds.
“Instead of continuously giving emergency aid to Mugabe, which he always abuses, the United States and Western countries should do more to encourage democracy in the country and allow us to solve our own problems,” Consumer Action’s Kate Nhema told Now Daily. “AIDS is a poverty disease. As long as Mugabe is in power and ruling by decree and by terror, the economy will not improve and poverty will increase. The US can give Mugabe a trillion dollars but that will not end poverty and AIDS will continue to flourish.”
Zimbabweans are sceptical about Trump’s promises to act decisively against Mugabe. Bush, who issued regular threats and called Mugabe a ‘tyrant’, did not follow up his harsh statements with practical action. In power for the last 37 years Mugabe, like his hero Fidel Castro, likes to boast that he has outlasted several American presidents and is not afraid of the latest threats.
Apart from hijacking aid programmes meant for Mugabe’s victims, the dictator has received training and logistical support for his brutal military and intelligence services as well as propaganda systems. The Central Intelligence Agency, along with the United Kingdom’s MI5, Germany’s BND, Israel’s Mossad and the South African apartheid-era spy agency BOSS trained Mugabe’s private army, the Central Intelligence Organisation in terror tactics in the 1980s while the latter was carrying out the Gukurahundi massacres in which up to 50 000 people were murdered in Matabeleland and Midlands. The CIA maintains close ties with key operatives of the CIO such as Chris Mutsvangwa, the chairman of the war veterans association, who was found to have hosted Washington’s alleged former top agent in Harare, Eric Little, at his farm in Norton. Mugabe’s government exposed Little as a ‘spy’, triggering alarm within the ranks of opposition parties with whom the US operative had developed close ties, posing as a ‘political and economic officer’.
The United States army has also trained some of Mugabe’s top military officers, such as Brigadier General Chimombe and others like information minister Supa Mandiwanzira, who went to the US under a government programme while he was an operative at Mugabe’s propaganda outfit, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), a massive information gathering operation for the CIO.
Many of Mugabe’s top advisers, including cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo, Ignatius Chombo, Joseph Made, Oppah Muchinguri, the late vice president John Nkomo as well as virulent media regulator Tafataona Mahoso were trained in the US. Moyo is still on the editorial board of a key Indiana University publication while a US embassy official in Harare showed me Mahoso’s secret communication with the mission.
- Royalty: Mugabe’s daughter weds.
The US has also done a lot to take the heat off Mugabe by accommodating his relatives and children of top officials on educational programmes. When the US government’s Voice of America propaganda station introduced a broadcast service for Zimbabwe known as Studio 7 or English to Zimbabwe, they went about recruiting at the state-run ZBC and New Ziana news agency where staffers are known to be inducted into the CIO before getting employed. For that reason it took long for the station to get traction with the pro-democracy movement, to grasp the issues or to get a grip on independent journalism for characters so used to parroting their master’s voice.
Such a waste of America public resources or sponsorship for this dictator is never reported in the American media. Journalists who dare question this abuse risk getting blacklisted by the US embassy here, which means not being invited to official events and not getting responses to enquiries or requests for interviews. I asked former ambassador Bruce Wharton why he was meeting so publicly with Mugabe’s officials, including the ruthless former state security minister Diymus Mutasa, which was interpreted as tacit approval of the dictator’s policies soon after the rigged 2013 elections. He told me that I could not tell him how to do his job or who to meet and not to meet. Such insensitivity by US officials has only served to harden the attitudes of ordinary Zimbabweans towards Washington and American interests in general.
A militant narrative against the US is emerging in Zimbabwe, especially among the youth, women and students who bear the brunt of Mugabe’s misrule. Many here feel that the US is protecting Mugabe in the same way they protected other dictators like Mubarak and Mobutu because he allows foreign companies to loot the country’s resources at will despite his aggressive nationalistic statements. The death of Cecil the lion at the hands of an American hunter who has not been punished for the offence has done a lot to reinforce this view in the Hwange area, where a lot of US tourists visit.
“If you kill these animals to eat because you are hungry, Mugabe will send you to jail for a long time. But these Americans come here to kill the animals for fun, so that they can display their skins in their cupboards as trophies and they get special treatment from the government. I don’t understand this,” said a youth who lives close to the game park popular with US tourists.
© Now Daily 2017. All Rights Reserved.