Zimbabwe: Years of Hope and Despair

philip_barclayPhilip Barclays book about the important three years (2006-2009) he spent in Zimbabwe working as a diplomat at the British Embassy in Harare and as an officially approved off-message blogger and now and again correspondent for the Sunday Times comes with a health warning. (Pictured: Philip Barclay)

Responsibility for the contents of this book, he says with telling honesty in line one of the Preface, is entirely mine. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foreign Office. I like this newcomer. He tells us where he comes from and is remarkably un-pompous saying, in so many words, that here is a book that any intelligent man or woman with an ear to the African ground could have written.

I read it twice from the (perhaps) vantage point of having lived and worked in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa from 1966-1996. Im grateful for being told by an author/writer with both insight and honesty about what happened in a land I love, where I was married, where one of my sons went to school a and where I enjoyed some of the happiest days of my life, but which I left four years before Mugabe, the one time Marxist pin-up of the Western World, went politically and economically insane.


(Pictured: Cover of the book)

The heart of this refreshingly short book deals with the 2008 election in which, against the odds, Morgan Tsvangirais Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won at both the parliamentary and presidential levels but which resulted in a coalition between the MDC and the aging villains who make up Mugabes Zanu (PF).

Had the four million Zimbabweans who comprise the diaspora in South Africa, Botswana, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and several European Union countries been given the vote that year Robert Mugabe would today be in Lenins dustbin of history. Sadly, I think, this is a book far too short on history but long on the tragic tale of how ruthless Mugabe is in his old age.

Barclay writes well and sometimes chillingly about the mass murder, torture and beatings inflicted on his opponents during the time when Africas Great Dictator felt most insecure, lashing out (as he did so often) against former friends, notably Britain, Tony Blair and his gay gangsters over the land reform issue. And who will ever forget the face of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with his eyes closed and his skull split wide open after hours of beatings and torture by the police in March 2007?

Yet what happened to the MDCs most militant members between 2006-2009 pales into insignificance compared to what was done to hundreds of thousands of Ndebeles in Zimbabwes Western Province (Matabeleland) and the Midlands between 1982-1987 when the dictators North Korean trained Fifth Brigade of the National Army were let off the leash.

The result was one of the Commonwealths great under publicised acts of ethnic cleansing the slaughter of at least 20,000 men, women and children. To her eternal disgrace, British diplomats looked the other way and continued smiling at the madman in State House, Harare. Hopefully, if this worthwhile book becomes a paperback next year the publishers will make a correction to the name of the British High Commissioner in Zimbabwe during those days. It was Sir Martin Ewans and not Evans.

Barclays own encounter with two members of Mugabes Stasi-trained Central Intelligence Office (CIO) goons sent shivers up and down my back. What vile monsters they were/they are and any of the journalists who left Harare to cover stories where the tarmac ends knows what Barclay is talking about.

This author is refreshingly honest. Cynics might say naive.Diplomats and politicians who write about Africa are usually an unbearably stuffy lot whose main specialty is not telling anyone the full story. They appear to have been tutored by the late Bernard Shaw, who said: You dont have to lie to mislead the public. All you have to do is leave out the truth.

Philip Barclay makes no attempt to present himself as an academic. On the contrary – I had joined the Diplomatic Service as a humble third secretary in 1999. I had previously spent 10 enjoyable years working for London transport, as a temp in Sydney and as a market researcher in Bangkok; but when I turned 30 I felt it was time to get a proper job. Using a series of sharp-elbowed and duplicitous manoeuvres I was able to become a first secretary by 2001. I worked at that level in London and then from 2002 for three years in Poland.

At the end of this the latest piece that will make-up the far from completed Zimbabwean jig-saw puzzle, I wondered if Philip Barclay represents the communicator about Africa of the future a person with access to official documents and who, at an embassy or high commission, blogs and writes for newspapers with the permission of the Foreign Office. Over the decades we’ve had more than enough spin/lies from British embassies, British high commissions and the British Foreign Office about their dealings with Africa and Africans – so I hope I’m wrong for Barclays sake as a writer and for my own, as a reader.

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