The Sunday Mail
Munyaradzi Huni in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania—
Former Tanzanian President Dr Benjamin Mkapa has come out in full support of the stance taken by Zimbabwe not to attend the just-ended EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, Belgium, saying it was “very silly of Europe to choose for us who should attend” such meetings. He castigated some African countries that he said had developed a “sickness” of depending too much on foreign aid, adding that when Europe calls for any meeting, the leaders of these African countries have no choice but to rush there mainly for the “photo sessions”.
“. . . We have arguments now about economic partnerships between Africa and Europe. I know they have been having this summit up there, the EU-Africa Summit. I am glad your President didn’t go because I think as Vernon Mwaanga, a former colleague of mine, said, it is very silly to choose for us who should attend those meetings . . . ohh, yes, I support the stance that was taken by your President . . .
“You ask me why this is still happening, well (African countries still going for such meetings) I think one, it is almost like a sickness now. Aid dependency is still holding us hostage and is still very much above our thinking. Aid, aid, aid.
“The European people will tell you we will give you this much by way of aid and for that reason we say this is an opening that we can’t close. Secondly, and really, I am not running down the leadership, but some people like the ceremonies and photographs which come out of there. No, truly; a whole leader of a country being happy to have those photo sessions smiling at the camera. It’s because we have not initiated the rethinking of relations between Europe and Africa. I am very conscious of this now that I am out of office and I see things differently because I go to these international meetings as chairman of the South Centre.
“South Centre is supposed to encourage Africa to rethink not only relations between themselves but relations between us and the developed world, particularly the industrialised world. For instance, do you know that there is more trade between African countries than there is between Africa and Europe? The growth is greater between African countries than it can be with Europe.
“So, when they come to me and tell me on the basis of reciprocity, you open up your market, we will open up our market, I say to them: ‘Wait a minute, what would I make to be able to sell in your market; competitively with your market? But if you brought your goods into my country you will kill the local industries because our people psychologically think your goods are superior; better than ours.’
“This really does tell you there is a certain aid dependency, not only materially, but also psychologically. You know, it’s so pathetic.” Dr Mkapa said some leaders in Africa lacked the conviction and courage to fight the economic struggle.
He was, however, glad that Zimbabwe, under President Mugabe, has taken the lead in the economic struggle through the land reform programme.
He said those who doubt President Mugabe’s vision today will understand him later because most Founding Fathers like Dr Nyerere in his country, are way ahead of time in their thinking.
Dr Mkapa said if Dr Nyerere were alive today, he would be “aghast” with the way Africa is conducting itself with the rest of the world.
“If there are any skeptics in your country about President Mugabe’s vision, they will come to understand better in future.
“Even here, we had our skeptics; we still have (them). When we changed to the multi-party system here, the opposition said we are coming with vigour and our party is finished. But all they wanted was to get into power. Press them about what they will change: nothing.
“So, it’s just power for power’s sake — nothing. And pretty soon, the population will begin to realise that these are just big talkers and nothing else.
“You will find them losing by-elections, losing elections and so on. Of course, they will tell you it’s the government oppressing them.”
Regarding Zimbabwe’s lead in the economic struggle, he said, “It will not be pushed around. It has charted its own development path and it has taken back its land, now its resources and it has defined its destiny.
“That’s the best way. In terms of co-operation with your neighbours, you are ready, but the other neighbours may be somewhat slow because of influences I don’t want to talk about. So, what further evidence of true independence would one want? Setting the economic independence wheels in motion.”
Asked if Africa is still on the path of the vision that was set by its Founding Fathers, he said, “Well, in terms of proclamations, it is, but in terms of real movement (laughs) very, very slowly. I contrast, for instance, the pace with which the Frontline States were helping the freedom movement in Southern Africa. They would meet, not for photographs, you know. Not for those photo opportunities you see these days. No.
“They would meet there and appraise each other. Where are you? What is happening in your country? How can we solve this and this? After this they would assign tasks. Zambia, you do this.
“Mozambique you do this. We will do this. We will do this. That’s how we were able to combine energies and fight the struggle.
“Then we have said we are going to try and integrate the economies. I find we are not moving as fast and earnestly as we did during the political struggle.
“So, you may have your summits, photographs taken, but actually moves on economic co-operation in investment, in trade and so on, just too slow.”
The former Tanzania leader threw his weight behind the call by President Mugabe for Africa to honour his country’s Founding Father, Dr Julius Nyerere, for the role he played in liberating African countries from colonial oppression.
Dr Mkapa also explained for the first time why he could not take up the mediation role in the stand-off between Zimbabwe and Britain, saying he is too partisan on the issue due to the historical ties between Zimbabwe and his country.
“Because I am partisan. I am giving you an honest answer. I am partisan on those matters, really. What can you mediate? No, no in this instance I was partisan. I don’t want to bloat my partisanship on this issue, but, no, I couldn’t mediate. Mediate what?
“We played a part in the liberation of Zimbabwe and look I am partisan when it comes to that independence. You know one of the memorable moments in my life I vividly remember was being at Rufaro Stadium, the flag going up and the British flag going down.
“I represented Tanzania during those independence celebrations. I almost cried. I couldn’t believe it. Absolutely. I was Foreign Minister and Dr Nyerere sent me.
“After all that we had gone through and you people had sacrificed so much to get the Brits to lower their thing.
“Now you want me to mediate? Mediate what? Everything is clear. I couldn’t take up the mediation. I am too partisan when it comes to Zimbabwe. No. No. No.
“Zimbabwe is too dear to me.”