U.S. in Zimbabwe: Wikileaks shows range of influence gambits at play

Sep 5, 2011

The latest batch of Wikileaked cables again have a heavy Zimbabwe component, and are even more likely to shake up politics than the first revelations a few months ago. The strangely deep interest of the U.S.government in Zimbabwe's politics is again fully on display.

The number and wide variety of U.S. influencing-peddling measures is on display. These include awards of various kinds, such as The Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage. One innocuous-sounding cable lists the nominees and the work for which they are being nominated. They include a labor leader, and prominent and once police-abducted and tortured civil society leader Jestina Mukoko.

There is the flattery of being nominated by the U.S., and the inducement of a trip to the winner to the U.S. to receive the award. There will be photo opportunities with government officials and others, media exposure and a raised profile, useful for one's future job and fund-raising prospects. There are awards, scholarships, trips and so on targeted towards people in the media, youth groups and many others.

The nominees may indeed be people distinguished in their various fields of endeavor, but the awards have the additional, or perhaps even primary role of bringing those nominees firmly into the orbit of U.S. influence. It is not hard to see how people flattered in this way would be friendly to U.S. overtures of one kind or another. This is particularly useful if and when these people assume positions of influence in their governments, for example, as well as in a broad range of other sectors.

It is also one of many ways of publicly relaying various U.S. messages. At the bottom of a cable nominating labor leader Gertrude Hambira for the Women in Courage award: "GAPWUZ and Gertrude Hambira have stood up to the brutal Mugabe regime and defended the labor, security, and human rights of Zimbabwean farm workers and their families. We firmly believe that the selection of Gertrude will send a strong message to the Government of Zimbabwe that the world is still watching."

Clear proof that the awards are part recognition of personal achievement by the individuals concerned, but also very much also an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. In this case at least, that influencing-peddling is in in a relatively benign manner.

This type of influence-peddling is hardly the sole preserve of the US government, but they have a highly developed version of it, helped greatly by much deeper pockets than others, and by the whole soft power cachet the world's sole superpower enjoys. The buying of influence in this way is very cost-effective diplomacy, and assures that the US government has at least information sources in many areas of a 'target' country's institutions and body politic in general.

This is shown by the number and type of people in high places who the cables reveal were eager to meet with U.S.embassy officials and divulge at least impressions, if not more, that in some cases one could argue no Zimbabwean should have done with officials of a foreign government.

There will probably be renewed calls for treason charges against some of the people named as talking to the U.S. officials, although most of these are likely to die down as previous ones have done. But the judgments  of some of the people who were quite loose and free in their discussions will be called into serious question, and the political prospects of some will be negatively affected.

The Zimbabwe Review


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