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November 13, 2003

Why Zimbabwe?

I've been saying for a while that armed rebellion is just around the corner for Zimbabwe--and it could be as bloody a civil war as the region has seen. It seems that the ruling Zanu-PF party is starting to hear the grumbling, too. The harder Mugabe pushes the people, the more likely is rebellion; the more South Africa and the West ignore the problem, the more likely is rebellion.

"If Mugabe refuses to go, the ZFM [Zimbabwe Freedom Movement] will remove him and his cronies by force," reads a statement signed by national commander Charles Black Mamba and deputy national commanders Ntuthuko Fezela and Daniel Ingwe.

Mr Tatchell said the ZFM was being formed because "all opportunities and possibilities for peaceful democratic change have been closed down".

There is likely still a window of opportunity for Mugabe to enact reforms, and there is certainly a window for South African leadership and the UN to pressure Mugabe to do so. A civil war will most certainly lay waste to a nation that has already been devastated by disastrous economic policy, drought, and its own suicidal farm policies.

Of course, a civil war might also lead to freedom from the regime that brought on all those bad policies and rules through increasingly illegitimate means.

There is a reasonable question to be asked about focusing on Zimbabwe while other countries are so desperately in need. My answer to that is that, given attention and effort now, Zimbabwe may not need to turn into another Congo. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" may simply be a cliche, but there is quite a bit of truth to the words.

The cost of allowing Zimbabwe to slip into a civil war are the money that will be spent by humanitarian aid groups who will shoulder the majority of the cost of feeding and caring for the citizens of the nation. The cost will be in lives and blood. The cost could be the creation of another haven for international terrorism in a destitute country.

These are high costs on both pragmatic and moral levels.

Read the rest of the story.

Posted by zombyboy at November 13, 2003 11:44 AM

What do you suggest South Africa or the UN do?

Posted by: Richard at November 14, 2003 06:58 AM

I suggest both economic inducements and direct intervention if necessary. Carrots and sticks work well at times--and Mugabe isn't a fool. Offer monetary assistance in exchange for social reforms.

If that doesn't work, then the UN could authorize an intervention. Treat it somewhat similar to Liberia--with area nations taking the major roles and non-African nations offering support and assistance.

Here's part of the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations:

- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

- to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

- to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

So the UN exists to avert wars, to promote social justice, and to prevent humanitarian disasters (reading rather broadly). Unfortunately, the UN rarely works to avert, occasionally works to curtail, and generally doesn't work at all.

To avert is to take preemptive action when necessary. In this instance, there is the chance to avert a civil war, curtail further humanitarian violations from Mugabe's government (the use of food as a political weapon, for instance) that could result in thousands more dead, and "promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."

The steps to get to that point, though, might be of a dramatic nature that the UN is unlikely to approve. This makes it all the more necessary, in my mind, to point out what they should be doing.

South Africa has asserted a leadership role in the region, and needs to live up to that leadership role in assisting dissidents in Zimbabwe. Mbeki's tactic of quiet negotiation and inaction is not working--funding opposition newspapers, lending assistance to opposition political parties, loudly asking the UN to take measures, requesting US assistance, and organizing other nations in the region to take concerted economic efforts to help urge Mugabe into stepping down or making radical social changes.

None of these are guaranteed to work, of course. But inaction carries with it more of a foreseeable risk.

Posted by: zombyboy at November 14, 2003 09:49 AM

Firstly on the carrot. Great Brittian has already promised that should Mugabe step down they would fund the land redistribution program (as agreed in the 1980 peace accord), as well as help Zimbabwe get back on its feet economically.
The almost imediate economic benefit of Mugabe resigning is also a carrot not to be forgotton. The carrot has been there for years.

Secondly on UN intervention. Zimbabwe is bad. It is not in the same realm of bad as Iraq was, and a large number of more important countries still are. (Iran, North Korea, China, Syria, Libya, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Burma too name a few.) Too suggest that the UN intervene militarily in Zimbabwe because they have a corrupt political system is naive, sorry. (Even if you think it 'should', in which case the French will probally call for UN intervention at the next US election.)

Lets look at the options South Africa has according to you;

1. funding opposition newspapers, lending assistance to opposition political parties

In other words actively fermenting revolt in a sovereign country with which we have a political, economic and military alliance? More then this we are in this alliance with all the other Southern African countries. If Spain start fermenting revolt in Portugal, how long will NATO or the EU last? We are the strongest country in the SADC by far. The SADC was originally formed to counter our power. If we move against Zimbabwe then this alliance would cease to exist. 'Try' to fix Zimbabwe and 'definitely' alienate the rest of Africa?

2. loudly asking the UN to take measures
??? like what? Have Zim go stand in the corner at general assembly?

3. requesting US assistance
Yes, thats it! Ask the US too please come to the other end of the world, where they have no strategic interests whatsoever, to help us with the bad man next door. I think the US goverment has already done everything it can however.

4.organizing other nations in the region to take concerted economic efforts to help urge Mugabe into stepping down or making radical social changes.

You mean Sanctions? Sanctions only works if the goverment of a country actually care what happens to its people. Mugabe has already shown that he could not care less for the welfare of his people. Sanction workied against apartheid South Africa because the goverment was responsible to its electorate. (Targeted sanctions has been a joke. Mugabe goes to Bangkok to shop now, instead of Paris.)

So, our options are: Military (clandestine or not), Economic, or Diplomatic.

Any Military solution would destroy the SADC, as well as be prohibitively expensive (Aids drugs, bullets, Aids drugs, bullets...tough choice.)
Zim already needs food aid for half the people to survive, think the Red Cross is going to be happy when we close the borders? (ditto the SADC, whom also rely on us for most of their goods)
Diplomatic, i.e. we stay neutral and try to find a peacefull solution, hoping for the best.

If you were the president of South Africa, what would you choose?

The only people who can fix Zimbabwe are the people of Zimbabwe. You want to help? Dont hammer the SA goverment, they cant do it for you. They have 5 million people living with AIDS, 15 million living in squatter camps and no jail with less then 350% occupancy.

If you want too help, as many private South African do, then send some money to the people who want to change things.

Posted by: Richard at November 15, 2003 03:26 AM

Re: “Carrots”
The target does not have to simply be Mugabe stepping down, though, does it? Promised returns for power sharing or for land reforms or promised farm equipment and funding tied to opening up the opportunity for free press or similar. I don’t think that it has to be an all or nothing approach.

Re: UN intervention
Again, do you think somehow that I don’t realize how bad the other situations are? The idea is to stop Zimbabwe from becoming another one of those countries that you mention. And it isn’t simply a typical corrupt government, is it? The use of food as a political weapon may be somewhat widespread, but it isn’t your run-of-the-mill Chicago machine corruption, is it? Nor is jailing reasonable opposition.

Re: “Fermenting revolt”
I never said that, did I? I said that they should fund opposition newspapers and lend assistance to opposition parties. Most of the people in those opposition parties are still in a non-violent mode, aren’t they? Funding opposition parties is not the same as funding terrorists or freedom fighters, but helping them with legal bills, donations, and places to publish. Already, South Africa is home to the online version of the newspaper that was shut down recently in Zimbabwe—helping organizations like that find methods to continue talking to the citizens of the country can be immensely useful.

If more direct action is necessary, again it can take the form that it took in Liberia. Did the willingness of other countries to pressure the leadership into changing really alienate the rest of Africa? No, in fact it lent more legitimacy to those governments that helped. Likewise, is there no time that a country can move against another if there is a reasonable regional threat? It hasn’t come to that, but political pressure, economic pressure, and the offer of inducements might not work. Preparation and consideration are in order; the “do nothing” approach has worked pretty poorly in other African nations, hasn’t it?

Re: What UN measures
How about demanding more control over distribution of food aid? How about passing a resolution condemning the fake elections, the squashing of dissent, and the jailing of opposition? How about simply making an issue of Mugabe’s actions instead of, in effect, ignoring them?

Re: US assistance
What has the US done? What actions have we taken? Sure, we send food aid by the ton, but we have most certainly not taken an active role in any kinds of diplomatic solutions. Little nations like Zimbabwe are where terrorism takes root. They destabilize the region and they have the potential to strike out at us through intermediaries. No, Zimbabwe is not that place now, but it is not that hard to see it becoming that place when the economy and the government collapse.

Re: Sanctions
No, sanctions don’t always work. Witness Iraq. But this is why the UN needs to be involved: pass resolutions with sanctions that only allow humanitarian aid and trade within the country. Medical supplies, health care, food, and the like. Will this make the difference? Possibly not, but I consider it to be a necessary step, along with demanding a greater role in the distribution and accounting of that aid.

Re: Military, Economic, or Diplomatic
Why “or”? The long-term goal is the definite, and more aggressive use of economic and diplomatic inducements (including building a coalition of local nations that condemn Mugabe and show willingness to assist efforts to force reform—not alienating, but unifying). Then, if all of that fails, there may need to be a military solution or, at least, the willingness to use that option.

None of this closes the borders to the Red Cross. In fact, their aid and assistance is vital, I agree.

The soft diplomatic solution you describe isn’t working. The situation is growing worse and even you have to admit that civil war is probably not that far away.

When the Bush was in the region and Mbeki asked the United States to take a patient approach and allow South Africa’s diplomatic efforts time to work, that was the South African government stepping up to the plate and asserting leadership on the issue. Bush deferred to Mbeki’s judgment, but there seems to be no South African movement on the issue.

Does it really seem to you that I’m hammering only South Africa? Hell, no. I’m hammering all of us, and especially the UN, for sitting back and allowing yet another African nation to drift into a civil war. We continue to do nothing, and then we’ll shake our heads five years down the road as the blood continues to flow. Do you think that it won’t affect the region?

We can all sit back and do nothing as civil war approaches—and if we sit back and simply talk, then that is far more likely than is a peaceful solution that magically presents itself—or we can try to head off another African civil war. Yes, certainly, send money privately, and thank you for the link. I don’t guaranty that any of the solutions would work, but to take no action is bound to fail.

Posted by: zombyboy at November 15, 2003 12:33 PM

Doesn't really fit here but I came across this and thought you might be interested:

Regards R

Posted by: Robert Worrill at November 17, 2003 12:24 AM

Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing you can do. My point is that that is the perspective of the SA goverment. It is not mine, if I was in charge I'd close the borders, and if things hadn't sorted itself out in a week I'd send in the Army. Its probally a good thing Im not in charge. :-)

Unfortunately that is the level of responce that I believe will be required. Mugabe is in this for power. His political elite is in this for power. They will not relinquish it easily, and the UN, sanctions, protest marches in London, and bad words will not help. It has gone beyond that stage.

Zimbabwe is not Liberia however. It will take more then a few marines landing to shake things up. On the other hand the situation is deteriorating rapidly, as you say, and will lead to civil collapse if it continues. (War would require some form of economy be left over.)

The question that South Africa must ask itself is: "When has Zim gone down enough, so that the cost of stepping in is low enough?". The question activists ask is "How can we increase the reward to SA for stepping in?"

One obvious way is too make it an embarresment for the SA government. This they have done succesfully, to South Africas detriment (Both economic and political).

This has shifted the focus away from Zimbabwe and the people who 'can' fix things now, to South Africa that can only fix things after.

I agree with your original post that Zimbabwe is headed for a cliff, and that it can still be saved. I only disagree with you in the source of the salvation. It will not be the UN or South Africa, but the people of Zimbabwe. The UN and South Africe can only pick up the pieces.

Posted by: Richard at November 17, 2003 08:54 AM

Richard, when I started up this blog, this is exactly the kind of conversation that I wanted to have. Thanks very much for disagreeing with me in a way that challenged me and forced me to consider more fully my position--and for agreeing with me in some other fundamental ways.

This is why I blog; this conversation is the kind of thing that makes it worth my time.

Robert, thanks for that link. That looks like a pretty good way to cut down on the problem if you ask me.

Posted by: zombyboy at November 17, 2003 10:47 AM

This is a crap web site idiots

Posted by: Toby Quirk-meeks at December 8, 2003 07:52 PM

This is a crap web site idiots

Posted by: Toby Quirk-meeks at December 8, 2003 07:52 PM

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right.

Posted by: Finstrom Lisa at January 21, 2004 06:57 PM

Wow,this is a very tekkie subject i'am doing an essay on the topic and i have realised just how broad this topic is,its not something people can decide on over night if only we could ask God to do the judging and punishing things would be a whole lot easier but since this is not the case i suggest complete scruteny before the making of any major decision.
Mark a.k.a The Arnachist

Posted by: Mark at April 28, 2004 05:27 AM
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