Mugabe 1, CNN 0. That's the score after the highly anticipated interview of the Zimbabwean President by acclaimed CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour, writes Rashweat Mukundu.

Rashweat Mukundu writes:

Mugabe stuck to his well known script, Amanpour and CNN fumbled all over. Thus after the highly expected interview of Mugabe by senior CNN Journalist, Christiane Amanpour, on Thursday 24 September, it came out, in my view, to a victory for Mugabe, if we take it as a contest. Amanpour failed to rise above the familiar frames of the western media’s analysis of Zimbabwe, dictatorship, hunger, land, and white farmers. These are part of the issues, but more of symptoms of a deeper problem which we hoped CNN would probe.  We expected Amanpour to bring these issues to the interview but in a way that makes it impossible for Mugabe to waive them away so simply. We expected more facts, events and names. And they are many that Mugabe cannot run away from. 

Yes, the Zimbabwe crisis is also about land among many other things, but this is more a symptom of a deficiency in democracy that Mugabe demonstrated very early in his rule. It is this failure to understand history and looking at Zimbabwe in compartments that has been the failure of the western media for so long and indeed the Achilles heel of Amanpour when she met Mugabe. Amanpour stated clearly that her Rhodesian journalists’ friends really enjoyed the first ten years of Mugabe’s rule. In those ten years Mugabe presided over the massacre of thousands of Ndebele’s who happened to support an opposition party and belong to an ethnic group other than his. It is therefore wrong for CNN to say Zimbabwe’s crisis is a year 2000 phenomenon and only so because Mugabe started grabbing farms from white farmers. Amanpour thus sunk into a familiar tune that Mugabe was well prepared for, giving a full lecture of history which Amanpour was, again, unprepared for. Statistics is there all over the internet on how Mugabe’s government abused donor funds and some resettled farmers sank more into poverty. Mugabe’s views were never seriously challenged. 
In any case lets us talk of the crisis in Zimbabwe since 2000. The most affected and those who have suffered the most are the majority of poor Zimbabweans. If there are a people that Mugabe has failed the most and dehumanised the most it is his fellow black Zimbabweans. Any questioning and framing of the Zimbabwe crisis should, as a consequence, start from this stand point. Mugabe should have been asked about the many MDC supporters who were murdered, again their names are there, about Jestina Mukoko and others who were kidnapped in December 2008. Those who did this are still free, and Zimbabwe courts have been clear that this was wrong. Hundreds of cases of MDC supporters who lost their lives are recorded and should have been brought to Mugabe by CNN. Their killers are walking scot free and many are known by name. This should have been brought to Mugabe.  The Daily News was bombed 3 times, 60 000 copies of the Zimbabwean newspapers were burnt  in 2008,  four newspaper were shut by decree and remain closed while Mugabe’s government is launching one daily paper after another, while denying others that space.  These are double standards that should have been brought to Mugabe as undermining the unity government. There were many scenes of violence that were captured by the media in the 2008’s controversial June Presidential by-election that Amanpour should have pinned Mugabe on. 

Mugabe is a dictator yes, but one who has created a very sophisticated dictatorship that is not only about power grabbing but distorts and deploys historical narratives for its benefit. It’s a dictatorship that sinisterly divides society along race, ethnicity and ideology. If the western media intends to report Zimbabwe they should not engage Mugabe in a turf of contested history but talk of the practicalities and realities of life in Zimbabwe, that story Mugabe cannot dismiss that easily.  It is for this reason that the western media has to change its frames of analysing Zimbabwe and Mugabe, and see the majority of victims of Mugabe’s government not only a statistics but the real victims of this crisis. The violence on ordinary Zimbabweans is not a land issue, but has always existed well before 2000. A proper analysis needs to go beyond land reform, to look at what Mugabe has done to his own people, the cases of corruption that should have been brought out, the collapse of Kondozi farm, a classical case of the phoney arguments by Mugabe that land reform is about equality and prosperity, the diamonds fiasco in Manicaland.

A well respected journalist like Amanpour was expected to go deeper, bring out examples, the horror and scenes that Mugabe cannot deny.  She should have avoided narratives of history that are not in dispute but give it to Mugabe in black and white from the perspectives of   the majority of Zimbabweans.  The interview turned to be a successful Public Relations exercise and godsend for Mugabe. This is because we have heard it all before and Mugabe reinforced his message at a world stage. But the real story of Zimbabwe’s majority rarely finds space and it is one that Mugabe cannot deny nor justify by whatever means or explanation. He can easily explain the land reform on the basis of history, but he cannot explain the kidnapping of Mukoko, the bombing of the Daily News among other many things. The international media will become relevant when it sees the Zimbabwe crisis from this holistic perspective. As for Amanpour we hope she can be better prepared next time.

*Rashweat Mukundu is Programmes Manager for the Media Institute of Southern Africa.