In the last few months, I have devoted several columns to the situation in Zimbabwe and the complexities of advocating for the most vulnerable. Right now the country teeters on a precipice because of the entrenched inequality that reversed the initial gains made in Zimbabwe and the current state-sponsored violence against its own people.
I have received numerous critiques, both positive and negative, of my organization's positions on Zimbabwe's political situation.
Many critics think TransAfrica is not tough enough on Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. He is a "monster," they say, without humanity or a conscience.
Cynthia Tucker, of the Atlanta Journal Constitution in an Op-Ed a few weeks ago, inferred that TransAfrica is an apologist for Mugabe because we point out the historical role that the US and UK have played in Zimbabwe's demise. Tucker goes on to call Mugabe a "demon."
On the other hand, there is a pervasive sense among some that TransAfrica must stand up for the Mugabe government because of Mugabe's historical significance and legacy, stating that it is only fitting that we stand behind him. They state that TransAfrica's allegiance lies with the duly-elected government of Zimbabwe and that those who oppose the standing government are at best apologists for the white Rhodesian colonizers and at worst puppets of imperialism.
For me, these polar positions have lulled many into inaction. Mainstream media has fed us the problems of Zimbabwe with no roots in history, saying, "forget about the past and focus on the last sound byte we fed you."
Never mind those nagging facts, just believe: The United States and UK are against Mugabe. So if Mugabe is bad and the US is against Mugabe, then the US policy must be good. Right? WRONG.
Those who choose to "demonize" Mugabe are really missing the point of standing up for the people in Zimbabwe.
The revolution didn't begin or end with Mugabe as the fight for freedom in the United States has not ended with any particular popular or political figure. The core of this debate is not about the state of Mugabe's eternal soul. It is about a sustainable solution that serves the needs of Zimbabweans.
With this history in mind, we must not dismiss the present. While some post colonial policies distributed political and economic power from the white minority to the black majority, many of these same policies are used to target legitimate political dissenters within Zimbabwe.
When Mugabe ordered the forced displacement of 300,000 impoverished residents of Harare, rich Rhodesian farmers were not affected. When the legislature passed arcane laws to curb speech and assembly, street vendors and trade unionists were jailed. Today, the list of disappeared and dead from the Zimbabwean military strategic assault between April and July is filled with the names of ordinary Zimbabweans. These facts cannot be dismissed for the benefit of the Pan-African movement. Who is this movement supposed to serve if not the most vulnerable among us?
The bottom line is this: The people of Zimbabwe have been betrayed, not just by Robert Mugabe, but also by a government that claims to represent them, and by Western governments that promised to support the people's aspirations.
While governments continue to discuss and debate, we need to stand up for the people of Zimbabwe. We need to let them know they are not alone. The world, and the African Diaspora, has not forgotten them.
We are calling for a day of solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe—Monday, July 21st. We are calling for the violence to cease, for a transitional authority that will oversee free and fair elections, and people-driven social and economic investment. We are planning a mobilization in Washington, D.C. Wherever you live, take a stand for Zimbabwe in your community. For more information, visit our website at www.transafricaforum.org. I hope to see you on the frontlines for Zimbabwe.
Nicole C. Lee is the Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum.