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January 31, 2005
Another Fiendish American Plot
Americans have been discovered trying to feed the hungry--an obvious ploy by the arrogant superpower to destabilize a local government by keeping its citizens alive.
Or something like that.
Bad, America! Bad! Bad!
July 13, 2004
Firstly, my apologies for leaving this site alone for the last month or so. It's been tremendously busy in my personal and professional life. I intend to get back to a two to three updates per week on the site--and more if I have any help in the form of either submissions or suggestions.
For today, though, it's oddly uncomfortable to realize that some things in the world just don't seem to change much no longer how long you spend away from them. Zimbabwe's slow slide into self-destruction, for example.
Most of a Beeb article on the introduction of state-sponsored ox-drawn ambulances in the more rural regions of the country is just sort of funny. The note at the end of the article on infant mortality somehow ruins the mood.
Zimbabwe may not quickly be returning to the "stone age," as some opposition leaders suggest, but it is certainly grinding its remaining vestiges of a developing nation down to near-nothing.
May 27, 2004
Brian, at Black Star Journal, has much more to say about the man. Anyone who been watching the car wreck that is Mugabe's recent politcal and diplomatic moves will find themselves nodding in agreement.
May 24, 2004
Is Mugabe Growing Senile?
I'm not asking that question in a completely rhetorical manner? Mugabe, who started his political career as the embodiment of the international community's hope for a new model of African leader--a man who would help lead his nation away from its racist roots and to a prosperous reconciliation where blacks were an equal and respected part of the political systems. He was the moderate who was polite and kind and willing to listen.
Frankly, I never liked him. He's an unrepentant socialist, and, from the beginning, it was clear that he would end up practicing the nasty forms of racism typical to the region--both tribalism and targeted anti-white discrimination that would cost the nation dearly.
But, for so long, his worst behavior was always tempered by his PR acumen. Over the last few years, his PR skills have been nowhere near enough to compensate for his increasingly heavy hand. I had credited that to his true colors simply seeping out for all to see; not that he was so much getting worse, but that his transgressions had become so common that they were harder to hide.
What he said about Desmond Tutu, though, makes me wonder if Mugabe is slipping a few cogs here and there.
Between insulting one of South Africa's most respected figures and his insistence that his country won't need food aid, I began to wonder just what world Mugabe is living in, because it bears little resemblance to the real world.
He continues to hint, as the article notes, that he will retire after his current term in office. Is he now working hard to do the most possible damage before he leaves the public eye? Is he working to make sure that he leaves behind a legacy of racial hatred, starving families, and a ruined economy?
The man who was once Zimbabwe's hope became her tormentor. Now he seems focused on tearing away the last shreds of Zimbabwe's future.
May 13, 2004
Hunger as a Weapon
Mugabe is looking to refuse international food aid, saying that his country's crops will be more than enough to feed his nation through the coming year. This is one Bishop's response:
Pinching off food distribution is a wonderful way to control the citizens of a hungry nation, and an even better way to strip power from any opposition political powers.
May 07, 2004
Knuckling Under (Updated)
The Zimbabwe school "crisis" ended when the schools were bullied into allowing the government to, essentially, set their fees. I don't blame the schools for knuckling under--what other course of action was open to them after the government started arresting teachers?
It really just plays as another act in the tragicomedy that is Zimbabwe.
Well, there is some bit of equity in this. I mean, if the government can destroy the public schools, why shouldn't they be able to destroy the private ones as well?
Update: I came across the Beeb article that addresses the decline of schooling in Zimbabwe.
Education is one of those things that ripples throughout an entire society. AIDs and HIV rates fall in those countries with better eduction, economic outlook usually improves for countries with higher literacy rates (literacy being a good indicator of a broader look at education). A low school enrollment rate--especially in a country that was, just fifteen years ago, used to a much higher enrolment rate--combined with no plan for rectifying the situation is simply a plan for failure.
May 06, 2004
In a follow up to my last Zim post, the schools are no longer just being closed, but some of the teachers are being arrested.
Predictably, Mugabe's government is blaming the arrests, the closures, and the demands for lowered fees on racism. And, again, instead of solving the problems in the public schools and the economy, Mugabe is simply finding the most convenient scapegoat possible.
It's far easier to continue to work at fragmenting the country than it is to actually fix any of its problems.
May 04, 2004
Robert Mugabe continues to work to consolidate the government's position as the head of all legal activity in Zimbabwe.
It's classist politics designed to divert attention from the real problems: Zimbabwe's schools and economy. Once again, I find a story that would probably be funny if it weren't so tragically typical.
April 30, 2004
The Paranoid Dictator
Dictators tend toward the paranoid (which is both understandable and a bit of an understatement), and Robert Mugabe is no exception. His growing fear of opposition media within Zimbabwe and his long-standing animosity toward media outside the country are well documented.
Because, you know, cricket is a highly guarded state secret.
Robert Mugabe: Keeping third world dictatorships fun for the whole family.
April 18, 2004
Finding Blame for Mugabe
A while back, there was a comment left here that had kind words for Robert Mugabe and his land redistribution efforts. The truth about Robert Mugabe, though, is that he is a typical tyrant who uses land redistribution for political gain and hunger as a tool of oppression.
Even for a person who agrees completely with the land redistribution efforts has to admit to the complete and utter corruption and mismanagement in Mugabe's government. The effect that his policies have had on the nation are to totally ruin an economy and create a nation of starving paupers.
March 31, 2004
How Low Can it Go?
I saw the headline--"Zimbabe's economy hits new lows"--and wondered just how much lower its economy could possibly go.
And we all know that it hasn't truly reached rock bottom yet.
Spreading the Disease
I've been asked why I believe that Zimbabwe's problems are also the problems of her neighbors--or, specifically, why should the neighbors try to help solve the problems when they already have problems of their own.
I think this answers that question.
The problem will only grow as the government in Zimbabwe edges closer to economic and political collapse. The flood of people looking for food, work, and shelter will be overwhelming to the countries around Zimbabwe. If the situation does grow into an open civil war (not, by any means, an impossibility), then the fighting will accelerate the exodus, and the war will likely spill over borders.
Zimbabwe's collapse won't happen in isolation. It will have an effect on all of Southern Africa.
March 08, 2004
Seized American Plane
The unfolding news story of Zimbabwe's seizure of an American cargo plane is sweeping through all the news feeds. Unfortunately, details are severely lacking.
I'll update when more facts are available.
Update: The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the US State Department is denying any knowledge of the plane and cannot answer whether any Americans are being held. The Pentagon is similarly denying any knowledge or connection.
The company that the plane is registered to, Dodson Aviation, claims that the plane was sold "about a week ago to an African company called Logo Ltd."
If the plane did actually contain mercenaries and military equipment, then the question as to who was backing them is still completely open. The likelihood that the US government would back 64 mercenaries in overthrowing Mugabe is tremendously slim, though.
President Bush has spent a lot of time building a rapport with South African President Thabo Mbeki, and in supporting Mbeki's "soft diplomacy" strategy for dealing with Mugabe. As wrong-headed as I think this approach is, it would be unlikely for Bush to make a move like this that would damage his relations with Mbeki.
Another consideration is that it was Rhodesian nationals looking to capitalize on all of the current problems in Zimbabwe and regain political control. I doubt this is the case, but it makes far more sense than a US backed attempt.
February 27, 2004
It Passes as Humor
On the same day that I read this:
I also read this:
Of course, Chavez's statement that Mugabe "always will be a true warrior of freedom" was interpreted incorrectly. What he really said was that Mugabe "always will be a hero of despots and tyrants everywhere, a beacon to those who would hold onto their power through ruthless exploitation of their people, their lands, and the continuation of racist tribal policies designed to shatter unity in the nation for the betterment of the dictator."
Of course, I'm not a very good interpreter. Your milage may vary.
February 23, 2004
All Things Zimbabwe
I was just sent a link to a site that carries Zimbabwe-related stories. I'll be adding it to the blog roll, but I wanted to point it out to everyone.
(Thanks to Babak Fakhamzadeh.)
January 20, 2004
Drop in Inflation?
Zimbabwe's Central Statistical Office is reporting a 21% drop in the annual rate of inflation.
Of course, this likely proves that one of the accountants from Enron has found new employment.
January 05, 2004
As Zimbabwe's financial problems grow, those entrusted with its financial institutions have turned to using deposited funds for their own needs.
And this, while a good portion of the country isn't able to feed itself.
January 04, 2004
A Closer View of Zimbabwe
I just discovered Mukiwa's site (as he left a comment here yesterday) and will be reading it regularly. In reference to my comment about the rate of inflation in Zimbabwe, he noted that the real rate is something more like 1100%--and on his site, he writes this:
The rest of the post is just as informative, and, in many ways, just as bleak.
Definitely worth a visit and a place on the blogroll.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Updated: Mostly Africa has a nice roundup of thoughts on the subject well worth reading.
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.
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.
November 13, 2003
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.
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.
November 05, 2003
Do You Enjoy Your Freedom?
During a small protest in Pretoria, the question a protester asked of South African President Mbeki was quite simple, according to the independent news outlet, IOL.
The protest was aimed at applying pressure to the South African government to do more to help oust Robert Mugabe from power in neighboring Zimbabwe. Despite Mbeki's assurances to President Bush, the soft diplomatic approach championed by South Africa hasn't resulted in anything resembling reforms or real talks about reform in Zimbabwe.
Instead, the situation grows steadily towards a government collapse and possible civil war as more than 2 million people will need to be fed by international aid this year.
Yes, Mr. Mbeki, what will you do to help the people of Zimbabwe find freedom from Robert Mugabe?
October 23, 2003
There's more evidence that Robert Mugabe is using food as a weapon in Zimbabwe. Where as earlier articles discussed food for political support (see this post), this article points to the more frightening potential of forced starvation for dissidents, opponents, and those for whom food aid would be seen as politically dangerous:
There's nothing particularly novel about a dictator using food as a weapon, and this development was predictable. The fact that we could see it coming, though, does nothing to make coming deaths any more palatable.
October 18, 2003
Amazingly, it Gets Worse
Just when you thought Zimbabwe couldn't sink further without the outbreak of a bloody civil war, things get a little bit worse. Zimbabwe's state-controlled oil company doesn't have fuel to distribute to critical service providers (police, military, health care) much less to distribute to individuals.
With currency worth near nothing, inflation wildly out of control, almost no remaining industry, a farm system that has left Zimbabwe as a perpetual welfare state, and political dissent being quashed more on an almost daily basis, this should have come as no surprise. It should also come as no surprise when the open rebelion comes, led by regional leaders who may be able to provide some level of social structure to replace the structures that will surely collapse in the coming months.
Of course, we in America have taken a rather apathetic stand on the subject; the papers barely discuss the nation, we aren't discussing Zimbabwe publicly, and the administration has deferred to South African leadership on the subject. Unfortunately, South Africa's soft-touch diplomacy is completely inadequate.
Count on the worst, and weep for what was once the most beautiful nation in southern Africa.
October 13, 2003
Another Blow for Dissent in Zimbabwe
Offered without commentary:
Read the story.
October 08, 2003
The Continuing Fall of Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe continues to move aggressively against his opponents, trying to consolidate his position while the country falls further into economic and social disorder. The worrisome thought is that, if the opposition grows more bold, Zimbabwe could find itself quickly in the middle of another civil war. The more Mugabe pushes, the more likely it is that we will see a bloody war within the next few years.
To say that the country is going through an economic crisis is more than a bit of an understatement. It is going through the kind of economic crash that usually presages the downfall of a government--it has no way to dig itself out and has become a nation living, essentially, on international welfare.
Zimbabwe is ready to explode--and international aid that is funneled to Mugabe's cronies or used to control opposition ethnic parties is only making the potential fall more deadly in potential. The UN, in a complete opposition to its normal do-nothing attitude, needs to seriously consider stepping in.
The sovereignty of a nation is in question when it is ruled by a dictator who holds sham elections, especially when that nation threatens to destabilize its neighbors with conflict. Dictatorships are not legitimate governments, do not represent their citizenry, and are part of the cycle that continues to destroy the nations of Africa.
Typically, the UN acts only after a war has broken out, or a tragedy has unfolded. For the good of the people of Zimbabwe, for the good of the region, and in order to keep the country from becoming embroiled in a civil war, the UN needs to act now.
September 18, 2003
Good News, But...
The Daily News, which is critical of President Robert Mugabe, was closed by the government last week for breaking a new, stringent press law.
The Zimbabwe High Court's ruling that backs the newspaper that had been closed will be seen as a good thing, but temper that warm feeling and wait to see what happens. Mugabe has ignored the court before (in specific when dealing with the farm re-distribution) and may do so again.
There is more political pressure right now on Mugabe than ever before; between his flailing economy, failed farms, a new Western attention, and a continuing food crisis, many are predicting that the current government will not survive. Mugabe's closing of the opposition newspaper was a typical move to consolidate power in a third world country.
Until the paper starts publishing again and does so consistently for months without harassment, the ruling is nothing but further ammunition against a corrupt regime. In itself, meaningless, but in a larger sense, it gives legitimacy to those who oppose Mugabe and the continued slide of Zimbabwe into chaos.
September 15, 2003
Update on the Zimbabwe Newspaper Closure
The Daily News is filing to register and reopen.
Next time you hear someone who cries "censorship" whenever Wal Mart refuses to carry a CD or when a radio station decides to stop playing the Dixie Chicks, refer them to this as a true example (and a frightening example) of censorship.
One of the best tools in the arsenal of liberalization is to ensure that news gets through to the citizens of developing nations. News from Western sources can act as a powerful antidote to the news gathered from state run organizations.
August 25, 2003
Food as a Weapon
According to the Mail & Guardian Online, Robert Mugabe may be beginning a campaign to use international food aid as a political tool.
This isn't exactly a surprise, but it is an unfortunate development after Mugabe had been making very public overtures to opposition parties concerning power sharing and the future of his own presidency. What it shows is that Mugabe was not serious about those changes; that he was playing a PR game for the benefit of the West.
It has flatly denied using food aid as a political weapon, but the first-hand accounts of manipulation and intimidation are so numerous that no international agency, or the Zimbabwean public, believes that the government’s distribution is even-handed.
If the UN and other Western sources allow this change in distribution (after such obvious manipulation last year when the government wasn't in charge of the food), then they will be complicit in the deaths that occur.
Food issues aside, what this further underscores is that the UN and the US need to be urging African leaders to take a more aggressive approach in forcing Mugabe into resignation or reform. The US in particular has taken a very soft approach in relation to Zimbabwe, allowing the South African President Thabo Mbeki's slow, diplomatic approach. The eyes of the world have turned to Zimbabwe, and the sense of success in Liberia creates an opportunity to adopt a much more interventionist philosophy if that intervention can garner material support from neighboring nations.
Now is not the time to be timid. Now is the time for a bold act of reconstruction that could serve as a template for other African intervention.
August 01, 2003
Zimbabwe: Signs of Desperation
President Robert Mugabe is making more moves that might be designed to do one of two things: win over international support in an attempt to jump-start foreign aid without making real changes to the system, or reach out to opposition parties in a real attempt to start changes that could salvage the country.
For the economy or for the nation's well-being, one of the worst things that Mugabe did was to destroy what had been a tremendously fruitful farm system. Between the seizure of most of the white owned farms and granting them to cronies who had no understanding of farming, and the long drought that made active farms far less efficient, Zimbabwe was pushed into a lasting famine in which its citizens are fed only by international charity.
Now that the economic system is on the edge of implosion, Mugabe is ordering political allies who grabbed up more than one farm during the seizures to rid themselves of all but one of their holdings. He's also promising to compensate white land owners whose farms were seized.
These are intriguing maneuvers, but deciphering the purpose behind the moves is difficult. Whether it is a real attempt to make changes or a cynical attempt to again put off international criticism of his poor policies is tough to say--and whether he'll actually follow through with his promises is an even more difficult question.
July 30, 2003
A New Opportunity in Zimbabwe?
Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe attended President Mugabe's address to parliament yesterday, and the reaction couldn't be more mixed. Predictably, many are saying that the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) essentially gave in to Mugabe by ending their boycotts of the addresses--giving Mugabe another dose of legitimacy when they could be applying more pressure to what could be a crumbling regime. Others insist that the move is designed to bring the MDC closer to real talks with Mugabe concerning the economic climate of the country.
Count me among the latter.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis. Not only has this year's inflation rate of 364% (predicted by some to go as high as 700% by the beginning of next year) destroyed bank savings and investment, but the continuation of disastrous farm policies continues to make feeding the citizens of the country a matter of international charitable donations.
Growing dissent has led to even more strong-arm tactics from Mugabe's government led the Lawyers Committed for Human Rights to release a statement that contained this little nugget:
Looking at the situation, what's most amazing is that Mugabe has survived these decades without being overthrown. But keep in mind that Liberia lasted for some 133 years under the same essential governmental system before their first coup--and from there the situation deteriorated to what we see today.
As much as everyone would like to see Mugabe gone, a revolution right now that toppled the government would lead to another unstable government in Africa. It would lead to a government incapable of meeting its people's needs and ripe for the same sort of thugocracy that Mugabe already has in place. In other words, it could quite possibly lead to a Zimbabwe that saw coup after coup replacing one bad government with another, one "President for Life" with another, and further impoverishing the citizens.
What is far more desirable is a move towards liberalization of the government that leads to real elections (not the kind overseen by dictator-apologist Jimmy Carter) and a stronger rule of law. If South Africa and Western countries tie food and economic aid to certain governmental behaviors, both short term and long term, it may still be possible to save not only the political structure, but the country's economy.
It's a slender hope, but the MDC's move might signal that Mugabe has opened up to reforms. He's not fool--and for a time, he was the hope for post-colonial Africa. He appeared, at first, to be a moderate who would work to unite the country regardless of racial or tribal make-up. He may realize that his only opportunity to save both himself and his country is in compromise and reform.
As I said, it's a slender hope, and he's mislead his opponents before, but the alternative right now is to see Zimbabwe dissolve into the kind of mess that we see in Liberia.