ZIMBABWE has officially become a tyranny — fraught with all the legislative tools to be justifiably labelled a pariah State.
By the country’s National Assembly passing the much-loathed so-called “Patriot Bill”, Zimbabwe has effectively joined the unenviable international “Hall of Shame”.
It has joined other nations such as North Korea and Iran, ruled by draconian ruthless leaders, with scant regard for their citizens’ rights.
What I find most distasteful, though, is the disingenuous attempt by the authorities in Zimbabwe (and, their usual sycophants) in portraying such shameful measures, of legislating patriotism, as a common trend in democratic nations.
Such laughable shameful claims have gone as far as citing the “USA PATRIOT Act” — promulgated in the United States in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — as a notable example.
Nothing can be more ridiculous that this.
Well, for starters, there is a very good reason the name of this law is written in capital letters.
This is because it is an acronym!
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The long name of this Act is actually the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” — which in short reads, USA PATRIOT.
In other words, the law has absolutely nothing to do with enforcing some version of patriotism on Americans — but, purely intended to tighten national security, particularly against foreign terrorism.
This is achieved by putting in place measures for “snooping” or surveillance on communications, strengthening counterterrorism efforts, and tightening terrorism penalties.
Of course, it is undeniable that this law is problematic, as in far as protection of personal privacy is concerned.
Nonetheless, no where in that piece of legislation is there any attempts at defining what constitutes “patriotism” for Americans, and what would be regarded as “unpatriotic”.
Thus, endeavours by the Harare administration to justify its own enactment of a “Patriot Act”, which criminalises what the regime characterises as acts intended to “damage the country’s national interests”, under the pretext of following the American example — is the height of insincerity and deceit.
However, there are those who possibly having noticed the error of their misunderstanding of the “USA PATRIOT Act” — have gone for another US law ... the “Logan Act”.
Surely, for any 21st century government, expecting to be taken seriously as a modern-day democracy — resorting to the copying of an 18th century archaic law, is a serious cause of concern — as the Logan Act was enacted in 1799.
This law — which seeks to criminalise negotiation by unauthorised American citizens with foreign governments having a dispute with the US (intended to undermine the government’s position) — has understandably not gone unchallenged.
This was witnessed in 1964 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, in the case of Waldron v British Petroleum Co — which asserted that the Act was likely unconstitutional due to its vagueness.
Is there, then, any wonder that only two people have ever been indicted on charges of violating the Logan Act — one in 1802 (Francis Flournoy) and the other in 1852 (Jonas Phillips Levy) — with neither being convicted?
As recent as March 2015, a petition was signed by over 320 200 Americans seeking President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party administration to prosecute, under the Logan Act, 47 Republican senators who had penned an open letter to the Iranian government regarding his (Obama’s) attempts to broker a nuclear arms agreement between Iran and the six major global powers (P5+1).
In this open letter, the legislators warned the Iranians not to agree to any deal with Obama — which had not been endorsed by the American Senate — since a new US president could easily renege on such an agreement.
In fact, that is exactly what transpired — as on May 8, 2018, after months of threats (having been inaugurated in January), new President Donald John Trump (Republican) officially pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Having seen this decision coming, in April 2018, former US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Iranian Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urging the Middle Eastern country to “keep its commitments under the (nuclear) deal” — a move some believed was in violation of the Logan Act, as Kerry was no longer a government official.
Of course, none of these people were ever charged under the Logan Act.
The question is then: “Why did various US district attorneys refuse to prosecute these individuals”?
Actually, the main reason no one has ever been found guilty of violating this law — as well as the seeming reluctance in instituting legal action against certain individuals — is premised on the Logan Act’s broadness and vagueness.
This makes the law impractical and unworkable.
Furthermore, the US Constitution is very particular on freedoms and rights, such as those of speech and communication — thus, making it virtually impossible to prosecute an American citizen for communicating with anyone — including a “foreign government”.
Why, then, would a government in 2023 be so keen on replicating questionable legislation — as much as it may desire to protect its national interests, and preserving sovereignty?
This is where Zimbabwe’s own so-called “Patriot Bill” is found wanting.
First of all, there is no clarity on exactly what constitutes “national interests”.
How am I, for example, to know what these “national interests” are, if they are not clearly spelled out in the law?
In fact, I seriously doubt if even the staunchest Zanu PF supporters can meticulously articulate what constitutes Zimbabwe’s national interests.
I am quite certain when asked what exactly entails “damaging Zimbabwe’s national interests”, most will give the usual drivel — something utterly bizarre and laughable as, “criticising your own country”, or “calling for sanctions”.
Which brings up another issue.
What exactly does “criticising one’s country” mean?
Are we to genuinely believe that Zimbabweans are incapable of differentiating between government (or ruling establishment) and the country?
A perfect example is when opposition Citizens Coalition for Change spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere travelled to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, two weeks ago.
After perfectly articulating the egregious State-sponsored human rights abuses and poverty in the country, the Zimbabwe regime immediately attacked her for “criticising her country and unpatriotism”.
Honestly, at what point did she condemn Zimbabwe?
What is wrong with crying out to one’s neighbours or community when being wantonly abused and violated in one’s own home?
As a matter of fact, is that not precisely what our nationalist leaders did?
Did the likes of Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo, Edson Mudadirwa Zvobgo, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo and others not travel around the world speaking on the heinous racial segregation and subjugation faced by the ordinary citizenry?
Did they not even call for punitive measures to be implemented against the country so as to pile pressure for the acceptance of majority rule?
Are we to accuse them of condemning their own country and unpatriotism?
Just as with the Logan Act, Zimbabweans have every right to speak and communicate with whomsoever they wish, including complaining about the unbearable pain and suffering they are enduring each day at the hands of those in power.
Attempts at preventing the exercising of this right may actually be a violation of our Constitution.
That is why on June 17, 2020 Philonise Floyd freely addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva over the tragic killing of his brother, George Floyd, at the hands of the American police.
The US never accused him of denigrating his country, or of unpatriotism, nor did the authorities try to charge him under the Logan Act.
It was well within his rights to express his grievances against US authorities in front of a global audience.
He was not attacking his country, but the US system and those in authority who were brutalising ordinary citizens.
This is what most of us here in Zimbabwe, who are being relentlessly accused of being unpatriotic, are actually doing?
We are simply condemning the heinous system of oppression and marginalisation and those behind it, which has resulted in the unimaginable suffering and impoverishment of millions of Zimbabweans.
Let us not forget that Zimbabweans, by their very nature, love their country and only want what is best for the majority of its citizens.
At least, that is what motivates and drives people as myself.
If there are those who have committed any crimes against the country, then why have they not been brought to book under current laws?
Let me remind you reader that well before the “Patriot Act” was mooted, Zimbabwe already has laws that criminalise such deeds as treason, subverting a constitutional government, and economic sabotage (which can include sanctions) under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Does the conspicuous absence of any convictions not tell a clear story; that there is no one the government of Zimbabwe can genuinely prove of having committed “unpatriotic acts” against the country?
In spite of the over two decades of relentless accusations, mainly targeted at the main opposition — (firstly, MDC, and now CCC) — of not only “inviting sanctions against Zimbabwe”, but also plotting “illegal regime change”, not a single person has ever been charged and convicted of these grave offences.
So, why the “Patriot Act”?
Is this not simply another attempt at intimidating and stifling any voices of dissent, even if no one will actually be found guilty of the crimes stated in the law?
Indeed, numerous opposition and human rights activists will be arrested — and, possibly, like Job Sikhala, made to languish in prison for months or years — without being tried, and repeatedly denied bail.
Yet all we want as supposed “anti-government activists” is merely a better Zimbabwe, where all its citizens enjoy the fruits of our hard-won independence.
Admittedly, we may differ on which is the most effective way or policies for the achievement of a “better Zimbabwe”, but that can never be considered “unpatriotic”.
Of course, all genuinely patriotic Zimbabweans will always be viciously opposed to any acts of looting of our national resources, mismanagement of the economy, as well as the brutal barbaric repression of the citizenry.
We may even cry out loud to the international community for help should we sincerely believe that our leaders are not listening to our calls for justice and the equitable distribution of our resources.
Nonetheless, that is only natural when a people feel trapped and under siege from those who are supposed to lead and protect them.
As such, painting this as “unpatriotism” is most unfortunate and misguided.
Crying out for fair treatment by those in authority, and a desire for dignified and decent livelihoods can surely not be regarded as being “unpatriotic”.
Legislating against our natural inclination torwards justice and a better life can only be described as cold-hearted and evil.
In actual fact, those presiding over the demise of our once prosperous country — who have plundered nearly everything, leaving millions wallowing in destitution — are the ones who have proven, beyond doubt, their unpatriotism.
Those are the people who should be brought to book for their villainous crimes against the people of Zimbabwe.
Love for one’s country runs deep in ordinary Zimbabweans’ veins and does not need to be legislated or imposed on us.
We actually understand what “patriotism” means far more than those who have authored our poverty and suffering by running our beautiful country to the ground.
Instead of expending so much time, resources and energy in crafting laws that criminalise citizens for crying out in pain and hunger, would it not have made more sense for those in power to work hard and ensure that Zimbabweans are happy?
- Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700/+263782283975, or email: [email protected] , or visit website: www.mbofanatendairuben.news.blog He writes here in his personal capacity.