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Resuming operations in Zimbabwe

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 17:04 UK time, Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Ten days ago, I made a journey I thought I might never make - to Harare, Zimbabwe.

BBC News logoEight years ago, we had a disagreement with the then Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo; ever since, the BBC has operated undercover in Zimbabwe.

But five months after President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai formed an inclusive government, this week, for the first time since July 2001, BBC News is back in Zimbabwe - openly and legally.

Reporting undercover takes great courage and commitment. It's produced some memorable journalism in recent years from John Simpson and many other colleagues.

However, it is no substitute for being able to operate transparently. Inevitably, part of the story becomes how our teams are trying to avoid being found and arrested, rather than focusing on the people of Zimbabwe.

Operating illegally and clandestinely has to be a last resort. So I'm pleased that we've been assured by the Zimbabwe government that the BBC is not banned, and that we can resume our operations in Zimbabwe.

This week Andrew Harding became the first BBC correspondent to enter the country on an authorised assignment since 2001.

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He's there to report on Zimbabwe's national "healing process".

There's clearly a lot of "healing "to do - not least between the BBC and the Zimbabwe government, as well as between the different factions in Zimbabwe itself.

In time, I hope we may be able to open a bureau in Harare, and we can report from Zimbabwe as we do from most other places around the world.

For now, we're pleased at being able to operate openly in Zimbabwe once again - our presence there this week, is a welcome, constructive, and important first step.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News Editor.


  • Comment number 1.

    Surely there's a bit of a dilema though, if you report everything honestly, for example, the story of what happened to those imprisoned within camps around the time of the election, then the beeb will just get banned again within days.

  • Comment number 2.

    If the BBC sticks to the facts and does not speculate, forecast and comment, then it may be able to continue to report from Zimbabwe.

  • Comment number 3.

    Kudos for the BBC in having the guts to report so accurately that they were banned in the first place!

  • Comment number 4.

    Blah blah! Sanctions against UDI. Democracy at work. Rainbow Nation. Blah blah!
    What's this, trying to rebuild what wasn't broken to start with before the BBC and all the other Left wing clones stuck their self-righteous noses into it? Africa is Africa. I doubt most of the people in the BBC have even been there, let alone know what they're talking about.

  • Comment number 5.

    The tyrant Muagbe knows that if the BBC can legally report in Zimbabwe
    it will be easier to control and manipulate. The truth is when the BBC
    reports "undercover" the news is more accurate and real and reveals
    the truth about the famine and poverty and corruption that is now woven
    into the foundation of the country that is Zimbabwe.
    Mr Mugabe also wants "funding" from the IMF and this is the beginning
    of the illusion of "change" that will help it get money from the US and EU.

  • Comment number 6.

    Jon Williams:
    I am very glad and kudos for the return of BBC in Zimbabwe....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 7.

    Good luck to the BBC. Personally, I don't think Mugabe is a guy anyone can do business with. If, you disagree, try free access to the situation in farms, or prisons, or hospitals as first assignment and see what access will be given.

  • Comment number 8.

    I shouldn't unpack just yet.

  • Comment number 9.

    Is it silly season already?

    I thought journalists worked for a living; stories handed to you on a plate seldom match up to the stories that come from more circuitous routes. Or do the BBC enjoy tea and biscuits with Mugabe?

    Whether the BBC is welcome or not should be completely irrelevant given the history of this particular part of Africa.

  • Comment number 10.

    Dear John Williams,
    You are bringing a good news to Zimbabwe,England,BBC and to us
    Good to start to cover what is actually happeing in Zimbabwe.
    Who had lost a very good media network.
    Because of individual power set up in the name of rule -all had made Zimbabwe to suffer by many ways.
    Now, BBC will do real,free news flowing to us by proper,lively coverages,analysis,interviw with major political parties and with freedom lovers.
    Good ,re-union,restoration of world best media enterance.

  • Comment number 11.

    I would like to see the BBC explore ,
    Is Mugabe an evil man , or has he done his best despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ? Such as the possibly destructive past actions of the IMF , sanctions and drought ? Or is he a scapegoat puppet for a junta in the background ?
    Was it right for white farmers to have swimming pools and air conditioning while their workers lived in mud huts ?
    Did he get a genuine majority in the last election ?
    Was he trying ( and has failed ) to keep his country independent of the Big Powers , such as China and the US ; and will the West now exploit Zimbabwe ?

  • Comment number 12.

    BBC coverage of Zimbabwe and Africa in general follow a strictly colonial agenda, misinformation and in the case of Zimbabwe should not be allowed in until they prove they have rediscovered some integrity in reporting by for eg highlighting the role ZEDRA (2001)and its impact on the Zim economy. The BBC and western media in general have their own wicked agenda when it comes to Africa; they are nothing more than the propaganda arm of their governments foreign policy.

  • Comment number 13.

    I want to know:

    1) While never passing up an opportunity to mention world record hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, and using that as a stick to cause regime change in Zimbabwe, why has the BBC never reported on the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (S.494, of the 107th US Congress), introduced in early 2002? In it, the country of Zimbabwe is put on a credit freeze, specifically through Section 4C, named Multilateral Finance Restriction (available online - google: zimbabwe democracy economic recovery act 2001 govtrack). The fact that the country's credit lines were frozen overnight, while requiring the government to pay off existing debt, would have a serious impact on financial policy, yet somehow the BBC never cared to mention such a crucial fact. In fact since it's introduction in 2002, the BBC has kept completely quiet about this crucial piece of legislation.

    2) The extreme bias in it's reporting on Zimbabwe. Why did the BBC sacrifice it's reputation for professionalism and evenhandedness, to become a mouthpiece for the Foreign Office/MDC effort to overthrow a government whose domestic policy it disagreed with? The last propaganda story that blew up in the BBC's face is the Sekai Holland story, which was immediately retraced by Sekai Holland herself, denounced by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. What got me is that even though the BBC found it fit to print, it never fact checked any of the allegations, let alone examined them for their credibility - nor asked how Sekai Holland would know that there were exactly '39,000' militiamen being paid exactly '$100' per day to 'beat up MDC members during elections'. Didn't rational minds look at this and decide that it sounded just a little like propaganda? Unless of course the BBC sold it's soul to become propagandists for corporate interests, such as the $100 million LonZim fund, created by LonRho to buy up Zimbabwean state assets for cents on the dollar after the MDC 'privatized' them.

    3) Why has the BBC never interviewed a happy New Farmer? Among the literally hundreds of thousands of recipients of land, certainly there must be a lot of people who like being able to farm on something bigger than the 2 to 3 hectares that the average African farmer was assigned to during colonialism and FDI. Why has the BBC never shown a positive story about the recipients of land reform? There must be a lot of people who are glad to have received land.

    4) Why did the BBC never sollicit the Zimbabwean government to give it's side of the story, but printed anything the MDC said without factchecking, as if it were the gospel truth?

  • Comment number 14.

    Well done back inside gives you the legitimacy to report the realities of Zimbabwe with authority all be it of a despot dictator.

    However by careful craft you will be able to expose the reality of life in this region and by stealth bring about some world consciousness on one region in which reform might be achieved.

    Remember with position comes responsability.

    Gently gently catch a monkey has never been as relevant as it is here good luck there are millions of lives dependant on you now.

  • Comment number 15.

    Also, why is President Mugabe referred to as 'a tyrant' and 'a dictator', when the *parliamentary opposition* has been included in the government? What dictator has a parliamentary opposition at all? What dictatorship has an independent judiciary, which regularly finds against the government. Or an opposition press which criticizes the government? Or has never missed an election since independence, 29 years ago? This is blatant propaganda, and the BBC should call it out as such.

    Was President Mugabe every a 'president for life', like the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, or even Houphouet-Boigny of Cote D'Ivoire? The difference of course, is that these true presidents for life never challenged western ownership of African resources, and were willing Quislings, in the exploitation of their people's resources.

    When President Mugabe not only effectively redistributed land (as opposed to the snail's pace Willing Buyer, Willing Seller program, deliberately underfunded by Britain and finally cancelled by Claire Short/Tony Blair), his example became a threat to similar ownership of African land in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and other African countries, where land was stolen from the African people.

    When he supported the legitimate government of Laurent Kabila in the DRC, through SADC, he became a threat to the British and UK funded coltan-grab by Laurent Nkunda in the Eastern DRC, and the massive diamond holdings and logging operations of for instance the likes of Maurice Tempelsman, Dany Gertler, Dany Steinmetz/Oppenheimer (who still own the world's biggest gold fields in South Africa) and the Blattner Family and their multi-billion dollar southern DRC logging operations.

    That is who he offended when he supported the 'renegade' nationalist government of Laurent Kabila in the DRC.

    What I want to know is - what exactly was the BBC's role in this villification of President Mugabe and the country of Zimbabwe, especially behind the scenes. I remember rhodesian types on the World Service swearing high and low that there was no ZDERA credit freeze, just 'targeted sanctions'. I remember yobbo sounding individuals telling us what to think ("what you've got to remember is that there is world record hyperinlfation in Zimbabwe").

    The BBC has a reputation to maintain, a reputation that is based on objectivity and evenhandedness. This reputation was thrown to the wolves over the coverage of Zimbabwe. I want to know why, who was behind this policy and what is going to happen in the future, so the BBC can move on from this sorry episode.

  • Comment number 16.

    I so long for goodness to blossom.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have to add my voice to the ones above - the jury is still out on this for me. It was just a few short months ago that there was a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe. I wonder what your friendly neighbourhood Mr Zanu-PF man was doing to help in that situation.

    It is great to see some smiles on people's faces and some food on the shelves [dig the sexy 'Wizard of Oz' cut from monochrome to colour..] but I would be interested to know what is happening in the countryside.

    Don't start trading impartiality for access, however tempting it may seen.

  • Comment number 18.

    Does nobody even care about the fact that when Mugabe came to power he had his Zanu PF thugs slaughter hundreds, if not thousands of white farmers and the black zimbabweans who supported them. If the BBC is so against Mugabe why don't they mention how he came to power all the time? Mugabe doesn't care about his people, as long as he's in power he doesn't care what happens to the rest of Zimbabwe, Britain invaded Iraq for less so the least we can do is have the BBC show us the full horror of Mugabe's regime

  • Comment number 19.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am surprised there has been no comment on BBC on the title of AFCR to the diamonds in Marenge, currently subject to clarification in the High Court. A partnership between the government and AFCR would enable the diamonds to be properly handled and give a powerful signal to investors of the world that Zim was safe again.

  • Comment number 21.

    Wake up and Live

    -Bob Marley 1979

  • Comment number 22.

  • Comment number 23.

    Has anyone ever noticed that the 'MDC', the alleged embodyment of the will of the Zimbabwean people, are flaming neoliberals? That they want to privatise, deregulate, and open the Zimbabwean economy to foreign corporate capital, with no restrictions on capital flight, foreign ownership of the Zimbabwean economy, and no guarantee even for a minimum wage for Zimbabwean employees? (*) The people of Zimbabwe hated ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment) back in 1991-1996, which did away with the gains made by ZANU-PF in healthcare and life expectancy, and did away with a universal access to public education? (**) ESAP is not the will of the Zimbabwean people, so why is it MDC policy? Why is the MDC's only policy, to institute the policies of the Bretton Woods institutions? Because they are quislings with zero selfrespect, and any African knows it. When people vote for the MDC, they vote for an end to US and British sanctions, not their actual policies.

    How come the BBC is defending the neoliberal, neocolonisation of another African nation? Why did it participate in the villification of Zimbabwe for the last 8 years?

    * A new Zimbabwe? Eddie Cross and the MDC, by Patrick Bond
    Google: eddie cross privatisation patrick bond

    Quote: " We are going to fast track privatisation. All fifty government parastatals will be privatised within a two-year time frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatise many of the functions of government. We are going to privatise the Central Statistical Office. We are going to privatise virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years. "

    ** The Tragic Tale of the IMF in Zimbabwe. by Antonia Juhasz
    Google: antonia juhasz zimbabwe imf

  • Comment number 24.

    And you tell me of a paradise in the sky
    But that is a lie
    Love Created I
    Look how many prophets tried
    To open up our eyes
    You can't fool me

  • Comment number 25.

    With the grace of god go I
    Yeah now Human Rights
    It's when a man has the freedom
    To speak for what is right
    Human rights
    Is when the earthly powers that be
    Regard it as crime
    Human rights is when they hold the same man captive
    For many years of his life
    The man called Nelson Mandela
    won the key to his homeland for life
    Lessons to be learned
    You can't afford to get your rights wrong

  • Comment number 26.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    It comes as no surprise to me that BBC operated illegally in Zimbabwe, only that it admits it. In fact it brags about it. Had BBC been caught, its reporters might have wound up in prison as we saw in recent cases of notoriety in Iran and North Korea. BBC seems to feel it does not need to obey the laws of any country it operates in, it seems at times to act as a law unto itself. That is why its political editor can insult the President of the United States in public with impunity when he is an invited guest at a White House press conference and get away with it. BBC has worn out its welcome in more than one place. BBC had better watch it. There are places where unwelcome people including international reporters face harsh consequences for being abusive of the local laws and customs. Russia is one, China is another....and Gaza yet another.

  • Comment number 29.

    If the BBC sticks to the facts and does not speculate, forecast and comment, then it may be able to continue to report from Zimbabwe.

  • Comment number 30.

    Mr Kabanga, you must have had more than enough time to write all that which unfortunately I can only wish I had. You seem to take sides with Mugabe and Zanu and try to criticize the BBC and the west; correct me if I am wrong. On doing that you try to expose the good Mugabe and Zanu have done but I wonder if you could balance the facts and expose also the evils these “two” bodies did and are doing during their time in office. If you are honest to yourself and the world at large, you will notice and admit that the evil outweigh the good in this case, hence Mugabe has fallen prey to such criticism and, what you call “propaganda”. If he had behaved like a normal person, this would not have happened to him and he would be a respected man worldwide rather than being criticized.

    He is referred to as ‘a tyrant and dictator’ because he is one. He has dictated that country into ruins since independence. Zimbabwe is what it is today because of him. Tell me about “Gukurahundi” massacres, corruption he cultivated, divide and rule he fomented, the countless number of people disappearing/murdered since independence, mysterious deaths that still happen today perpetrated by his CIO and its agents, the intimidation and brutality he sponsors perpetrated by his militia during and towards elections, Matebeleland funds and budgets he diverted to develop Harare and Mashonaland at the expense of Matebeleland and Bulawayo, the reasons for the collapse of the Zambezi water project, the lack of development in Matebeleland, the millions who now live in exile, the collapse of “the rule of law” etc, etc.

    I quote you: Also, why is President Mugabe referred to as 'a tyrant' and 'a dictator', when the *parliamentary opposition* has been included in the government? Get the facts right. How did he come to include the opposition in the government?????

    You ask why BBC has never interviewed a “new Happy Farm”. Do you honestly think there is one happy new farmer there? Is there any Farmer in the first place? If they are there, where are their produces and why is there still shortage of BASIC food supply? And if they are farmers, why are they building their houses on the land where they should be cultivating? This is a complete and disgusting lack of organization and lack of common sense. The fact is, when he introduced the land redistribution program, he did not have a plan or a clue on what he was doing except, of course to bribe voter to win votes. This was Joshua Nkomo’s well-planned idea by the way, Mugabe suppressed it as it contradicted with his speech at he Lancaster House when, when asked what he would do with the land said all he wanted was the office and Nkomo said ‘land” and land to the people.

    You also mentioned the privatization of parastatals. I support this to some extent and reserve the rest. These parastatals are currently being run not to benefit the people but to benefit Zanu as these are one of its sources of revenue which it ends up misusing due to it’s corrupt leaders. The only beneficiaries now is Zanu, its officials and Him, hence I support this privatization.

    Zanu may have made gains before ESAP as you claim but it ended up preying on those gains because of its incompetence. Moreover, voters vote for MDC not only to end US and British sanctions, as you claim but also for “change” and change in many, many ways. Get me right, I am not saying MDC will solve all the problems Zimbabwe have but it’s their desire to exert this ambition.

  • Comment number 31.


    Not only doesn't BBC ever stick to facts, its opinions are so intertwined with its reporting of facts that it's often hard to parse out just where facts end and its opinions begin. This is because it does not trust its audience to hear the facts, all the facts, unbiased, in context, with background and make up its own mind but instead wants to tell its audience what to think. That is because ultimately, today, BBC has been reduced by its current managers to a propaganda machine, not a journalist that carefully and explicitly separates its reports from its editorials. At BBC, honest journalism as we once knew it is dead.

  • Comment number 32.

  • Comment number 33.

  • Comment number 34.

    Is the BBC still happy about the way it slated the Rhodesians and Ian Smith? Ian was the most honest of politicians who was set-aside by the British government to the detriment of all Rhodesians Black and white. The BBC and its agents falsified reporting to make stories. I hope you are all very happy.

  • Comment number 35.

    I hope the BBC will this time be honest. When Rhodesia the BBC was able to operate freely, even to photographing sleeping Africans during their lunch break and calling it a massacre. To throwing coins into a crowd and calling this a riot. While I'm about it why does the Front Page news items not load properly, I have Broadband and clock 6m. Not happy with the BBC you helped to bring down a good Government and to put in a bad one. That man Sommes??? Ian was I man, he was honest and loved by Africans and Whites.


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