Undiplomatic dispatches from Zimbabwe

The Foreign Secretary has one. British ambassadors have one. But it is the bloggers of the British embassy in Harare who have set the blogosphere alight. Here are their tales from a year at the diplomatic front line...
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The Independent Online

Posted 12:45, 25 March 2008

by Philip Barclay

Dinner with a (Zanu-PF) MP standing for re-election. While I’m catching up on my calorie deficit, he’s in philosophical mood. “Our time may be up. I don’t think I can hold on to my seat. We have to admit that people are tired and hungry and some of them are angry. Of course, our problems date back to what the IMF did to us in the 1980s and that nasty letter your Clare Short wrote to our President in 1997. It might be time to move to the UK and join my family...”

We carry on into the evening. We don’t agree about the causes of Zimbabwe’s problems, but he’s an honest man and he knows that his party is facing the lash of a furious electorate.

Posted 11:13, 18 April 2008

by Philip Barclay

There’s a right way and a wrong way to approach a cordon of Zimbabwean riot police. I usually try and carry it off with a self-confident swagger, as if a line of big cops in crash helmets and heavy boots carrying nasty sticks is an everyday hurdle. I try to look like a man who has proper business in Zimbabwe’s High Court, rather than what the state media portrays me as: a colonialist who is sabotaging Zimbabwe’s economy because he wants to restore white supremacism. As I reach the thick blue line I manage a cheerful “Good morning! How are you sirs?”, in the Zimbabwean style. This usually elicits some tentatively cheery responses and a gap in the cordon big enough to walk through. And the technique works today.

I note that there are no officers in the line, which is good as it means there’s nobody to order the cops to start hitting me. But then again if they do start hitting me there’s no one to tell them to stop.

Posted 11:46, 11 April 2008

by Grace Mutandwa

The counting of the presidential votes seems to have hit a major snag. It seems the figures are not adding up or where they do, they are not what they are supposed to be. We the voters of course have no right to know what has happened to our votes. All we are being told is to be patient and remain peaceful.

Zimbabweans are an amazing people. They ought to be in the Guinness Book of Records for their patience and great sense of humour even in times of hardships and adversity.

Posted 10:32, 10 June 2008

by Philip Barclay

I am making yet another election monitoring trip in Masvingo this week, along with our human rights officer. We get a call saying there has been a bomb attack on the MDC in Zaka and that people are dead. By the time we reach the MDC office, two policemen are standing some distance from it, instructing us to leave the area. I must admit I lose my temper a little. I ask the more senior policeman why he is obstructing international observers going about their proper business. I ask him if he had arrested anyone for murder. I ask him if he, in fact, knows exactly who has done this. The policeman says he had orders to obey. I ask him if he’s heard of the international tribunals where war criminals are put on trial, and the Nuremberg defence.

We hear that a man injured in the attack has been taken to a hospital in Masvingo. We zoom over there and find the man – bandaged hands and feet and burnt hair. His story of what happened is horrible. Six MDC officials, sleeping in their office, were woken by an armed gang at 4am. The armed men forced the officials to lie down and shot three people immediately. (I pray to any available God that they were killed outright). Petrol was poured over them all and they were set alight. The man I am talking to managed to tear off his clothes, beat out the flames burning his body and escape.

If you are one of the few people in this world who believe there is not a ghastly crisis in Zimbabwe; if you believe the brazen official lies that the MDC is responsible for the violence; or if you believe that a fair election is possible when opposition party workers are being burnt alive, I urge you to reflect on what you have just read, and think again.

Posted at 10:22, 27 October 2008

by Philip Barclay

Cleanliness is an aptly-named cleaner at the embassy. I bump into her on my way out of the building, dressed in a very smart, black outfit. She tells me that her sister Godliness has just passed. Zimbabweans like euphemisms: people don’t die, they pass, they became late or they go to be with God. Cleanliness is composed. I say she must be upset. “Ah, it’s all right.” She’s not unfeeling, death is just so much more everyday here and her sister’s was expected.

Godliness had HIV, I suppose? “Sure. But we don’t mention about that. It’s our African taboo. Nobody says that anyone has HIV.”

Posted 08:59, 24 December 2008

by Grace Mutandwa

At 23:38hrs on the last Saturday before Christmas I finally walked out of the Spar supermarket in my neighbourhood. The shop had looked like a bombsite. Trolleys laden with people’s wishlists (goods that never made it to the checkout) littered the shop. Bags of sugar, packets of salt, exotic ciders, cans of imported beer, defrosting chickens and a turkey or two, all left because money had run out. I am trudging along buying this or that, ticking the boxes to ensure that those few relatives I can help will at least have one decent meal on the day Jesus Christ was born. I am not sure I am still a believer. Too much pain has passed through the country this year.

Posted 16:17, 19 January 2009

by Philip Barclay

Monday morning. It’s been a weekend of doughnuts and I’m drinking too much again. A can of Namibian beer seems easier and tastier than water flavoured with the sulphuric tang of purification tablets. In Zimbabwe, alcoholism is a prophylactic for cholera. For some reason Harare’s powers that be cut off the British embassy’s water supply in December. It’s not clear if this was another sign of Zim’s water system failure or a protest at our policy of saying that Mr Mugabe’s government is not altogether the best thing since sliced bread.

Posted at 13:27, 16 February 2009

by Grace Mutandwa

Tsvangirai’s inauguration speech was a far cry from the man who took the first steps towards change in September 1999. He was confident and spoke eloquently about the challenges ahead. As prime minister, he promised to help restore the rule of law, respect of human rights. In the heat of the moment apart from promising an independent media, the new prime minister promised foreign currency-denominated salaries. Unless he has his own foreign currency printing press, I do not know where he will get the money.

My sincere hope is that he will deliver for his own sake and more importantly for the sake of all Zimbabweans who stood by the MDC through thick and thin. Political |prisoners still locked behind bars |will also hold him to his promise. Wherever this new road takes him, may the force be with him.

Who are the bloggers?

Philip Barclay has worked for the Foreign Office since 1999, when he made a career change that took him from London Transport to international diplomacy. Before working in Zimbabwe where he is Second Secretary, he held posts in London and Poland.

Grace Mutandwa is a Zimbabwean former journalist who joined the British Foreign Office as a press officer in 2002.