Of UNGA75 and permanent interests

8 mins read
Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks in a pre-recorded video message during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (UNTV via AP)

The United Nations 75th General Assembly (UNGA75) has come to an end.  Held in what is an historical first virtual/online setup, it didn’t have the glamour, glitz or chutzpah of old. As a direct result of the Covid 19 global pandemic.

 No heads of delegations could walk out on each other speeches, though the discomfort of the Chinese ambassador to the UN when the USA president, Donald Trump, spoke was apparent for all to virtually see.  

But despite that slight drama, it was clear that a majority of the members of the UNGA75 support a multilateral approach to resolving global problems going forward. Inclusive of ensuring that whatever vaccines and new approaches are found for dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic should be within the reach of all human beings and not just those that are developed countries or the very real 1%.

From a Zimbabwean perspective there was a key political moment in our current placement in the world. This despite the fact that despite a previous accusation by a US government National Security Advisor that our country was part of a group of “foreign adversaries” over and about the Black Lives Matter protests that escalated in June 2020, our country was not mentioned in Trump’s UNGA75 address.  This meant that in this particular instance we were not viewed in the same interventionist manner as Venezuela or Bolivia.  Or alternatively, we would at least at the presidential level escape any direct or immediate wrath of American foreign policy aggression. 

Of course this does not mean that we are in any way better off than the two aforementioned South American countries.  Instead, and this is a key point, we sort of temporarily escaped, being designated further pariah status. For now.

So the happiest minister in Zimbabwe’s cabinet is obviously Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe’s current minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I have deliberately mentioned the full ministerial title due to the fact that Mnangagwa’s government is a neoliberal one that panders to the dictates of global private capital in it’s foreign relations. 

And it’s all a little bit contradictory.  While the Trump government is calling us out on human rights violations, it is simultaneously and as reported in the mainstream media asking our national army to help with stabilizing Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.  Even though SADC appears to be fully appraised of the matter given the recent resolutions of the SADC summit held virtually via Mozambique in August 2020. Or while the Chinese are involved in massive infrastructural developments (coal mining, the airport and the national Parliament building.) Or the Russians investing in an already unprecedented singular  investment in platinum mining.

What all of this potentially indicates is a Machiavellian understanding of international relations by Mnangagwa’s team.  Almost akin to the adage given to international relations studies students about how there are ‘no permanent friends but just permanent interests.’

Understanding the evident hostilities of the American government to the current one in Zimbabwe with the latter government touting a neoliberal and even populist Pan Africanism is not an easy task.  All this while Mnangagwa is at the same time managing what are evidently frosty relations with economic regional hegemon South Africa, via its ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is as academically interesting as it would be curious.

This also means that if one were to crosscheck with any counter-hegemonic intentions on Zimbabwe, there would be a key question as to the meaning and import of the recent UNGA75 meeting. What we know for a fact is that at least four presidents called for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe, including the current chairperson of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa of  South Africa and the president of another regional hegemon, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. I may have missed it but Cuba, Venezueala, China and Russia did not mention us, an important point that points back to ‘permanent interests’. 

But all of this with a common denominator being the fact that Zimbabwe needs to return to the global neoliberal economic mode which had been disrupted by former president, Robert Mugabe.

While Mnangagwa’s official speech to the UNGA75 was in no way motivational about any new world order, it was designed to show some sort of ‘strongman’ leadership in that neoliberal ideological direction. On behalf of global private capital and in his preferred words/ways, the ‘ease of doing business.’

This also means, if we read between the lines, that there is an emerging pro-global capital consensus on Zimbabwe.  Which is that if it ticks a number of boxes, despite a vociferous mainstream but     splintered political opposition, it can be tolerated in the global political-economy scheme of things.  Or as far as the country’s ruling establishment is concerned, it can be directly assisted. Ditto John Deere tractors being presented as part of a newer agricultural revolution despite United States economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.

So for Zimbabwe and those with an interest in it, there is no rule of thumb ‘carrot or stick’ method to what happens next in terms of our international relations. And this is regrettably true for assumptions of how the international community will react to issues of human rights abuses in the contemporary.   And our ruling establishment knows this.  They are probably trading off permanent interests and not looking for permanent friendships.  Even if it potentially means creating new private capital oligarchies.  So long they have the approval of those powers that have the same said permanent interests in the country.