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African Generational Divide Uncovered by Zimbabwe Issue

New America Media, News Report , Edwin Okong'o Posted: Jul 10, 2008

Editor's Note: On one side are the younger Africans who blame Mugabe for the crisis in Zimbabwe and on the contrary is an older faction that lived through the struggle for African independence who support Mugabe. Edwin Okong'o publishes M'Shale Newspaper.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Phillip Machingura went to a library in Oakland on a recent Wednesday evening, his goal was to get people to talk about the plight of his countrymen in Zimbabwe. And to convince people to send money to the victims of what he called Mugabes war on his people. He then appealed to the audience to go to www.africaaction.org and make donations.

What Machingura, 32, found at the gathering was a rift that exists between generations on the issue of Zimbabwe.

On one side is a youthful group of Africans that dwell less on the colonial period and believes that a younger leader is what the country needs. On the contrary is an older faction that lived thorough the struggle for African independence. Members of this group almost unconditionally support Mugabe, who they see as a symbol of Africas quest to be independent of the west.

There are approximately 1.3 million African-born immigrants in the United States, according to the American Community Surveys 2006 data. The first African-born immigrants arrived in the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s as either diplomats of newly independent countries or university students. Between 1990 and 2000, the African immigrant population grew by 124 percent, an increase attributed to refugees fleeing civil wars. Although they have settled in the United States, most Africans still have close relatives in their home continent, making issues like Zimbabwes of great interest to the Diaspora.

It is sad to see what our country, which used to be the breadbasket of Africa, has become, Machingura said to the audience. It is so hard for those of us watching from here, so you can imagine what people on the ground are going through. There are a lot of people being persecuted by Mugabe and ZANU-PF and they need money to pay for human rights lawyers.

But while most of the nearly 30 people who showed up at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library agreed that Zimbabwe was in crisis, not everyone believed that Mugabe was to blame.

You have spoken very well, but you should be careful not to use buzzwords like democracy and breadbasket, Mussa Al-Bulushi, a Tanzanian immigrant who followed Zimbabwes struggle for independence, said after Machinguras speech.

Al-Bulushi said Britain, Zimbabwes former colonizer, and the United States played a significant role in the collapse of the southern African countrys economy.

When we talk about what is happening in Zimbabwe it is very important to understand its history, Al-Bulushi said. A soon as the white settlers learned that independence was going to come and that it would come to the majority, they seized power in 1965. For 15 years the Organization of African Unity and eastern countries pleaded through the United Nations for elections to be held in Zimbabwe. For 15 years, the Untied States and Great Britain vetoed whatever resolutions were proposed by the United Nations.

At least two other men echoed Al-Bulushis sentiments.

Al-Bulushi and others blame the media for demonizing Mugabe and rarely mentioning a disputed land reform promise the United Kingdom made to Mugabe in the 1979 Lancaster House agreement that ended colonial control and put Mugabe in power.

According to Mugabe, the British promised to fund a willing buyer, willing seller program that was designed to buy back land from white settlers upon independence to avoid their forceful removal. The land was to be distributed to Zimbabweans who had been displaced from the best farmlands. By 1997, Britain had given Zimbabwe 44 million ($87 million) to fund the program. But in the same year Tony Blairs government cut the funding, alleging that Mugabe had used the money to buy land for his cronies. Mugabe saw Blairs act as a scapegoat to get Britain out of its obligation, which led to the 2000 invasion of white-owned farms by landless Zimbabweans. Many like Al-Bulushi believe that this history of the colonial period is just as important in explaining Zimbabwes problems.

Al-Bulushi asked the younger generation to scrutinize opposition parties, which he said were puppets meant to destabilize countries that disagreed with the west.

It is very important to understand where the opposition gets its support from and where the forces that undermine the government come from, Al-Bulushi said.

While putting events in historical context is necessary, some activists say passionate arguments about who is right or wrong often get in the way of efforts to help people who are in immediate danger.

Nunu Kidane, the director of Priority Africa Network, a coalition of Bay Area African community organizations, who arranged Machinguras talk, said that although she acknowledged the impact of western powers in Zimbabwe, it was clear that Zimbabweans did not want Mugabe.

It seems that there is some central force of the imperialist sitting in some room in Washington, DC, pulling these strings in Zimbabwe, Kidane said. But what we are seeing in Zimbabwe is the peoples voice that is saying no to Mugabe.

Kidane said that wanting Mubage out did not necessarily mean Zimbabweans were embracing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Machingura added that the issues of his country were too complicated to be answered by clich press questions like, Are you pro-Mugabe or anti-Mugabe?

It is more complex than that, Machingura said. Its neither here nor there. Am I supportive of Mugabes regime and how it is waging war on its people? No. But that doesnt mean that we dont recognize the role that was played by Mugabe and Zanu-PF in ushering in independence.

Machingura said that despite what many people in the west believed, Zimbabweans were capable of knowing when a leader is bad for them. He said that Zimbabweans suspected that the MDC was funded by outside powers but still the party was their best tool for getting rid of Mugabe.

If your house is on fire and George Bush is standing outside with a fire extinguisher, do you say no to him?

Related Articles:

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African Coalition Thwarts Zimbabwe Arms Shipment

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