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Book Launch -- Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe

December 06, 2007 // 9:00am10:30am
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On December 6, 2007, the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a book launch for Judith Todd's book entitled "Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe." The moderator for this event was Ambassador Robert V. Keeley, who served as ambassador to Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1984.

At the onset of her talk, Todd provided poignant advice: rather than focusing on criticizing the Mugabe regime, the people of Zimbabwe as well as the international community should focus on a vision for the country and the manner in which to achieve this vision. She noted that each of her previous publications (An Act of Treason: Rhodesia 1965; A Guide to the Thoughts of Ian Smith & His Friends, and The Right to Say No), all of which were banned by the government in Rhodesia at the time, had been in response to a particular crisis in her country at the time. Her current book also falls into this pattern in that it is an attempt to describe "the further hijacking of Zimbabwe by Mugabe's regime." The message of the book, she stated, is essentially that the ruling ZANU-PF party (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) and its leader, Robert Mugabe will not relinquish power until they are stopped.

Todd went on to provide a succinct timeline of Zimbabwe's history and highlighted significant factors leading to Mugabe's consolidation of power. She emphasized Mugabe's Fifth Brigade, which was created after a meeting with Kim Il Song (North Korean leader from 1972-1994) in 1981, and became Mugabe's most important instrument of repression in the 1980s: in 1983, he unleashed it to disrupt the base of the opposition Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) in Matabeleland. As a result of the violence unleashed towards the people in Matabeleland, Mugabe's ZANU party and ZAPU merged to form a united political party in 1987, which was named ZANU-PF. In 1999, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), another opposition party, spearheaded a drive for a new constitution, which led to increasing violence towards the new opposition. Mugabe also began attacking rich white commercial farmers because he believed that they supported the opposition. This attack was characterized by the forced expulsion of white farmers and violence against both farmers and their black farm employees. Since 1999 however, violence in Zimbabwe has been sporadic, escalating during election periods. Todd ended her presentation of Zimbabwe's history by noting that the crisis in Zimbabwe is not contained within Zimbabwe itself, but rather, has increasingly been affecting the entire region.

During the question and answer session, one of the questions asked was where the impetus to rise up against the Mugabe regime would come from. Todd said that the people of Zimbabwe have been so beaten into the ground, that one could not expect change from within the population. Her hope is that change would come from the region and she noted that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa could present an opportunity for international pressure to promote this change. Since the crisis in Zimbabwe has spilled over into South Africa because of their shared border, particularly with refugee flows and increased crime, the hope is that the government of South Africa would want to address this situation before hosting the 2010 World Cup. She also noted that Zimbabwe needs help from bodies such as the Commonwealth and the African Union (A.U) to resolve the crisis.

Another question asked was whether Judith Todd would support the breaking off of talks with the ZANU-PF. Todd responded that talks at whatever level, with whatever groups, are important and should continue until a solution is found.

A member of the audience inquired as to the United States' policy in regards to Zimbabwe. Todd responded that, unfortunately, Zimbabwe does seem to be of much strategic importance to the U.S. as opposed to countries like Somalia, Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Furthermore, the mediations initiated by the U.S. and the international community have only served to prolong the political life of ZANU-PF and Mugabe at the expense of the physical welfare of the people of Zimbabwe. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Todd Moss, who was in attendance, noted that the previous Monday, an expansion of the sanctions regime on Zimbabwe had been adopted by the U.S. This sanctions regime includes economic sanctions as well as travel bans aimed at specified ZANU-PF linked individuals. Furthermore, the U.S. has sought to make it clear that calls to relieve sanctions will not take place until there are improvements on the ground. Finally, Moss emphasized the fact that the U.S. is extremely active behind the scenes attempting to forge a plan that would allow it to quickly assist the people of Zimbabwe once the transition from Mugabe to a democratically elected leader takes place.

Another question was on the role of the rest of the African leaders in the region. Todd fielded this one, saying that, as the organs of the African Union (AU) become better able to deal with such crises, we can expect a greater role form the African countries in the region through the AU. Asked further whether the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has the power to oust Mugabe, Todd stated that while SADC does not have the ability or the will to oust Mugabe, if it had bodies like the Commonwealth and the European Union (E.U) behind it providing support if it chose to challenge Mugabe.

Drafted by Aliya Jalloh, Intern and Roseline Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program

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