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December 29, 2003

Zimbabwe Crisis Continues to Grow

The cattle of Zimbabwe used to provide food not only for the nation, but for the entire region. Now, with was is, essentially, the complete collapse of the economy and the dire need for food aid, the cattle are dwindling.

Zimbabwe's commercial beef cattle herd, which until three-and-a-half years ago earned more than R14-billion annually from exports, is on the verge of extinction as a result of the country's political upheavals.

The national herd, bred over a period of 110 years for survival in Zimbabwe's harsh conditions, stood at 1,4 million animals in 2000 when President Robert Mugabe launched his farm invasion strategy.
The looming disappearance of one of Zimbabwe's most valuable assets is the most dramatic illustration yet of the meltdown that is occurring in a country with the world's highest inflation rate (620 percent) and the fastest-declining economy.

That estimate of 620% inflation is suspect as it is Zimbabwe's government's internal estimation. The real rate, according to observers, is already likely over 700%. While the economic issues have become frighteningly large over the last few years, the fact is that this is an economic implosion that is the result of decades of poor policy, cronyism, and mismanagement. That the complete collapse of the nation has accelerated over these last few years, though, is terrifying.

It isn't too hard to imagine Mugabe facing armed resistance by the end of next year. His opponents will be both Ndebele activists (who have grown tired of seeing all of Zimbabwe's real power in Shona hands) and those who, regardless of tribal affiliation, have grown weary of sham elections, corruption, and a defiant leader who continues hoard power and the nation's dwindling wealth.

Whatever level of (or lack of) assistance or intervention you believe should be coming from international sources, there should be no surprise when Zimbabwe completely fails in the near future.

Frankly, this could be very similar to watching a car wreck: we see the reasons, we see the direction, and we even have a fairly clear idea of what might result from the crash. We also may have already passed any point where stopping that wreck is even possible. I still believe, as I have explained elsewhere, that the US, the UN, and South Africa should be taking action to avert the coming disaster. I also believe that we are very near that point where no assistance can stop Zimbabwe's collapse; soon, all that will be left to do is watch, try to minimize the damage, and wait for an opportunity to help begin the rebuilding process.

Read about the dwindling Zimbabwe cattle.

Posted by zombyboy at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)

A More Useful Aid

The form that aid takes ranges from food donations and debt reduction to AIDs drugs and industrial equipment. And, of course, cows.

USAID (the United States Agency for International Development) funded the donation of 503 "gift cows" to poor families in Rwanda. The gift program was designed to help give poor families both a source of milk and a source of income.

Two years ago, Celestin Bujyakera was a notorious village drunkard selling banana wine. He never made enough to pay his children's school fees, his wife's medical bills or other family expenses.

Two houses up the hill, widow Christine Mukamuhure was no better off. She made only 8 000 francs (R100) a year selling crops from her field and could manage just two meals a day for herself, her daughter and her parents.

Then US taxpayers gave them and 503 other families each a disease-resistant dairy cow in a programme designed to help Rwandans recover from the 1994 genocide, when more than 500 000 people were killed.

With a cow producing an average of 20 litres of milk a day, the families have seen their incomes from selling milk soar into the hundreds of dollars - a small fortune in this corner of Rwanda where people live on much less than R6 a day.

This kind of program--one that aids families in a more direct manner and provides an ongoing source of assistance--is the kind of thing that should be explored more throughout Africa. African aid needs to be viewed bottom up--that is, treating the source of problems, not the fallout.

A nice story and an intriguing model for direct aid--not incidentally, aid that bypasses government siphons.

Read the story.

USAID's Rwanda page.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2003

Spinning Hard

The government of South Africa is working hard to spin this statement by President Mbeki.

"Our countries have shared common problems. As they shared the common problems of oppression, they share common problems today. President Mugabe can assist us to confront the problems we have in South Africa so that we can assist you to solve the problems that face Zimbabwe."

Mbeki's spokesmen responded to the predictable fallout by saying, essentially, that Mbeki didn't really mean any of what he said, but was simply playing nice in hopes that Mugabe would welcome a closer relationship with South Africa and consider making suggested reforms.

There are two ways to look at it: either Mbeki really didn't mean what he said or Mbeki really does, like some other African leaders, see something noble in Mugabe's continued arrogance. If Mbeki didn't mean the words, then his tactic was foolish and, unsurprisingly, led to attacks from critics. If, on the other hand, he does find something admirable about Zimbabwe's leadership, then the problem is far deeper.

Either way, it's hard to see this as positive.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 11:33 AM | Comments (2)

December 16, 2003

Hiding the Truth

In Rwanda, survivors and witnesses to the attempted genocide of 1994, are being systematically harassed and killed.

Ibuka [an organization representing survivors] said one or two genocide survivors are killed every month but it says three potential witnesses were killed recently in the south west province Gikongoro.

Ibuka says in the most recent case a man was killed and dismembered in front of his family as a warning to other potential witnesses.

"The ultimate reasons behind the killings is to block and scare away genocide survivors from testifying in gacaca courts," Ibuka said.

In a country where 800,000 died in racial purges, finding a way to mete out justice is not just in Rwanda's best interest, but in the UN's interest as well. The UN was founded partially as a need to avert just this kind of racial violence and should be taking a direct interest in facilitating the regional "gacaca" courts to, hopefully, ensure fair trials and protection for survivors.

While it took only 100 days to kill those 800,000, it's ending up taking years to try the suspects in the killings. According to the article, around 100,000 are still awaiting trial. That it's taking so long to try the suspects is not necessarily a bad thing--it may indicate a serious attitude towards trials. That it's allowing time for survivors and witnesses to be bullied and killed is, however, unacceptable.

The UN role in setting up international tribunals for those who had the most responsibility in the purges is fine. Unfortunately, hampered by the Rwanda's reluctance to assist, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) doesn't even foresee a completion of its own trials (of some 82 mostly government and military officials) for charges of genocide until 2008. The report from the International Crisis Group is grim.

The cold reality is that the ICTR needs to be a good deal more efficient in handling trials. Among other things, it should maintain its priority of judging the main suspects from the army and 1994 government, whose trials have been set to begin in the last three months of 2003. It will only be possible to wrap up the initial proceedings within four to five years if the court vigorously reforms how its judges conduct the trials and if it refuses to start any new genocide investigations. The new president judge, Erik Mose, who presented a final four-year trial calendar to the UN General Assembly for the first time, shows a welcome sense of responsibility. The judges and the court must prove their total commitment to this process. Reform of the registryís management of defence costs has also become vital.

There is one further issue. A year ago, the Rwandan government provoked a serious crisis in its difficult relationship with the court when it prevented the travel of witnesses whose presence was required for cases to proceed because it objected to the prosecutorís inquiries into war crimes presumed to have been committed by the RPA in 1994. The formal suspension of Carla del Ponteís investigations in September 2002 and the establishment of a U.S.-sponsored deal between the prosecutorís office and the Rwandan authorities seemed to have improved the situation. At a tripartite meeting in Washington in May 2003 an agreement was reached in principle whereby Kigali would take responsibility for the trials, and the ICTR would only intervene if Rwanda was unable to carry them out satisfactorily. However, the ejection of Carla del Ponte from the prosecutorís seat following the Security Council decision to separate the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) means that there will probably never be a trial of the RPA in Arusha. This triumph of pragmatism, however, does not absolve the prosecutorís office of its responsibilities.

Rwanda is proving to be unreliable and, most certainly, "unable to carry [the trials] out satisfactorily." The UN needs, at this point, to take a much stronger line with the government and step in where necessary. It is best for Rwanda if the situation is handled by their government; what is not acceptable, though, is the thought that those guilty may escape justice by committing further acts of violence.

While the ICTR is overburdened, the UN cannot escape the responsibilities that it has as the international organization overseeing the events in Rwanda.

Read the BBC story.
Read the International Crisis Group report.
Thanks to Andy of World Wide Rant for the tip.

Posted by zombyboy at 03:21 PM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2003

Liberia's New Big Problem

Something about this makes me smile.

The United Nations has ordered a pause in the Liberian disarmament process after more fighters wanted to hand in their weapons than was anticipated.

More than 9,000 former fighters turned up at the Schieffelin military barracks, 25km east of the capital.

The camp, which was designed to hold 1,000, has been overwhelmed and the UN says it will stop taking in the former combatants until 20 January.

A UN spokeswoman said they could then return to finish off demobilising.

Hopefully, the disarmament continues to go well. This is certainly a positive response from people who would probably like to get back to the business of living.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 12:06 PM | Comments (2)

December 12, 2003

Hopeful News

It seems so rare to run into anything that might resemble good news in most of Africa, that it's nice to see a good sign in an area that was, until recently, embroiled in civil war.

Burundian rebels lurking in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are turning in their weapons and heading home as peace slowly spreads across the central African region, officials said on Thursday.

The vast DRC and tiny neighbouring Burundi have both incorporated rebels into their respective governments in recent months, raising hopes that years of conflict may be winding down in the heart of the continent.

As I said, good newsl. Hopefully this can be nurtured into something lasting.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2003

Housekeeping Note

I've spent some time updating the blogroll today, I've finished the CIA Factbook links, and now I have a few other little details to flesh out (like a final statement of purpose and submissions guidelines).

This would be a great time to comment if you:

  1. Have an idea for a feature that you'd like to see implemented.
  2. Have suggestions for topics that you would like to see covered.
  3. Have blogrolled AfricaBlog and I haven't linked back to you. Between Technorati, the Ecosystem, and my own referrer logs, you'd think that I'd be able to spot all the people who linked. You'd be wrong. So, if I haven't linked you, it isn't personal, it's simply that I had yet to notice traffic in the logs. Don't be afraid to speak up.
  4. Would like to write for AfricaBlog. I'm looking to add new blood to the writers of this blog, and I'd like to see more diversity of political ideology.

One of the nice things about the Wizbang blog awards has been the increase in traffic. A good portion of that traffic is simply stopping here to look at the layout, but some of you have stuck around to read the articles. Thanks very much for that.

Posted by zombyboy at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2003

Zimbabwe Quits Commonwealth (Updated)

Mugabe seems to be moving Zimbabwe further toward isolation from the international community. While the IMF is moving to expel Zimbabwe from the organization, Mugabe has refused to take steps to fix the economic issues that are quickly pulling the country to a complete collapse. Likewise, with the Commonwealth extending a suspension on Zimbabwe, as a Reuters report notes, "on grounds that President Robert Mugabe rigged his re-election and persecuted his opponents," Mugabe is refusing to take steps to liberalize and legitimize his rule. Instead, he's claiming racism within the Commonwealth and withdrawing Zimbabwe from the ranks of the organization.

Amid sharp divisions at a four-day Commonwealth summit, the organisation decided to extend Zimbabwe's suspension but opened the way for a possible return if Harare engaged in reconciliation with the political opposition.

This continued move from Mugabe to isolate Zimbabwe not only damages his reputation, but means a loss of aid that might have saved lives and helped rebuild the country's economy. Instead, Mugabe seems to be taking steps that almost guaranty a complete economic collapse and make a civil war even more likely.

From my childhood, I remember Rhodesia as a shining, beautiful country. I remember how beautiful and ideal it seemed. Of course, that memory is filtered by the years and by a child's understanding; even then there was political turmoil and racial inequity that I wasn't equipped to understand. Still, after independence, Zimbabwe could have been something special.

It was always my dream to be able to go back one day and find a place in that country. Watching the nation slipping into a self-destruction that likely cannot be healed within my lifetime is like watching a dream die.


Read about Zimbabwe's exit from the Commonwealth.
Read about Zimbabwe's potential expulsion from the IMF.

Updated: Mostly Africa has a nice roundup of thoughts on the subject well worth reading.

Posted by zombyboy at 09:56 AM | Comments (2)

December 07, 2003

Reference Links

This entry will grow with links to the CIA Factbooks on African nations and other links as I find them. Please be patient as I work to get all of these links in place. If you find that any of the links are not working, please feel free to email me to let me know.

Once it has been completed, it will be linked permanently on the side bar as a reference tool for interested parties.

CIA Factbook Links
Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of the
Congo, Republic of the
Cote d'Ivoire
The Gambia
Glorioso Islands
Sierra Leone
South Africa
Western Sahara

Posted by zombyboy at 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2003

Poverty in Angola

Walter in Denver has some quick thoughts on poverty in Angola that are worth the time to read and consider.

Which reminds me, again, that poverty and wealth in any given country have little relationship to the natural resources present. As one might suspect, Angola has a national oil company, Sonangol. That government officials and oil company executives are both living well, then, is no coincidence.

This is why building up African nations is no simple task of throwing money at the governments to distribute. Nope, the problems are larger than that: education, health care, industry, infrastructure, tribalism, and political structures are all poorly developed. Of course, there's also a good portion of the entire continent starving, agriculture as a lost science in many nations, and industries that used to thrive fallen since the technical know-how to maintain them left with the imperial powers.

Read the rest of what Walter has to say. Then follow the links to more interesting commentary.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:42 AM | Comments (2)

December 04, 2003

Words Come Hard...

Queen Elizabeth's trip to Nigeria included an interesting little stop:

As leaders of her former colonies converge for a Commonwealth summit, Queen Elizabeth II was to visit a mock-up Nigerian village populated by actors playing villagers, coming as close to ordinary people of this country as she is likely to because of security concerns.

The 72-year-old British monarch's virtual-Africa tour Thursday falls on the eve of the opening of the 52-nation summit, with organizers struggling to keep sanctions against Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe from dominating the agenda and dividing Commonwealth leaders.

I understand the security concerns, I truly do, but still...

Read the rest of the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 07:52 PM | Comments (2)

December 03, 2003

Infecting Her Neighbors

African nations ignore the plight of their neighbors at their own peril. This is precisely why the health of Zimbabwe matters not only to her own citizens.

Botswana's police chief has broken ranks with the government by blaming hordes of illegal border-crossers from Zimbabwe for a sharp increase in crime, a daily reported today.

"The influx of illegal immigrants into Botswana, most especially the Zimbabweans, is a serious problem impacting negatively on the crime scene and undermines crime prevention efforts," police commissioner Norman Moleboge told the Botswana Gazette.

"Zimbabweans have now become a formidable burden to the police service," he said.

If a civil war breaks out, neighboring nations can count on two things: more citizens fleeing Zimbabwe and rebel forces launching attacks from camps beyond Zimbabwe's borders.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

They Should Count Themselves Lucky

For promoting racial violence, for encouraging mad crowds to kill, for listing the names and locations of those that they wanted dead, three people were sentenced to jail terms in Rwanda. My opposition to the death penalty simply doesn't extend to this kind of crime; there is no punishment that could possibly be enough to heal the wounds that they caused.

Three Rwandan media executives have been found guilty of inciting violence during the genocide of 1994.

Two worked for a radio station which broadcast lists of people to be killed and revealed where they could be found. The three were given long jail terms.

"Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians," said the international court judge.

About 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in just 100 days.

Ferdinand Nahimana, who was sentenced to life in prison, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who got 35 years, helped set up a private radio station - Radio Television Libres des Mille Collines (RTLM) - which urged Hutus to "exterminate the cockroaches".

"Nahimana chose a path of genocide and betrayed the trust placed in him as an intellectual and a leader," said Judge Navanathem Pillay.

Hassan Ngeze, who was sentenced to life, was the editor of an extremist magazine called Kangura.

Judge Pillay told him he had "poisoned the minds of your readers" against Tutsis.

Yes, they should count themselves lucky that they continue to breathe. That is far more than they deserve.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2003

World AIDS Day

Here in the US, we continue to make noise about the horror of AIDS and continue to search for a cure to the disease. Most of us, though, live sheltered from the true horror of AIDS running wildly through a society with few checks and almost no chance of even the medicated survival that we have here.

In the US, HIV infection is something that can be lived with and controlled over a long period of time. The effects can still be devastating, but those infected are leading longer and healthier lives. Throughout Africa, that isn't the case.

I'm not one who thinks that the entirety of our GDP should be leveraged to find a cure or to fund poor countries. I think that the money being spent and the money that has been promised are appropriate. Throwing more money at a problem doesn't always solve it--time and the hard work of relief workers and doctors, hopefully, will.

Still, I think it's important to look at the cost--and the faces of the afflicted--to understand why it's so important to keep up the fight and the search for a cure.

The Scotsman Magazine has an article today that fills that purpose.

Aids in Africa is a catastrophe without end. It has killed 18.8 million people worldwide since the early 1980s, but the majority of deaths - 16 million - have been in Africa. Drugs now exist to treat people with HIV, but in Africa they are not readily available.

The United Nations estimates there are now 34.3 million living with the virus - 24.5 million of those live in sub-Saharan Africa. Millions more, possibly hundreds of millions more, will become infected. In Malawi, one of the poorest African countries, the official HIV prevalence rate is 16 per cent among the 15 to 49 age group. It is higher elsewhere: Botswana (35 per cent), Zimbabwe (25 per cent), Lesotho (23 per cent) and Zambia (20 per cent). In South Africa, half of all teenagers are estimated to be HIV-positive.

By contrast, Britain has a 0.11 per cent prevalence rate.

I remember when AIDS was first being understood here in the states. The fear over methods of transmission and the incredible lethality of the disease were overwhelming. We believed that AIDS was on a path to utterly ravage our population. It didn't quite happen that way.

While AIDS has taken its toll here in the states, it hasn't been the plague that we thought it was going to be. Aggressive education for prevention and treatment helped contain the spread and to make infection less deadly. Sub-Saharan Africa, though, has seen almost precisely what the rest of us feared we would face. That doesn't make it a uniquely African problem, though.

The effect that AIDS has on African nations--in the decreased economic output, the overstressed (and already minimal) health facilities, and the contribution to political instability--effects us here in the West, as well. As we try to help African nations overcome poverty, political churn, and a sore lack of education, our work is undermined by the continued attack of AIDS.

There is certainly a cap on the amount that can be spend on one problem in hopes of solving a puzzle--especially when the world still faces other medical crises. But the money we see spent to combat and prevent AIDS is not wasted; it is going to a good fight that will hopefully see a cure to this most horrible disease.

Read the story.

Posted by zombyboy at 10:20 AM | Comments (4)
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