Saturday, October 16, 2010
Mugabe Ending Unity Deal?
Anyone who knows Mugabe’s political history won’t be surprised by this at all. He has a history of making political alliances for convenience and discarding allies at whim.
No, There should be no surprise at all.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
That’s Not Right
I was going to lead this story with something like this: “I found myself wondering if they had been inspired by So You Think You Can Dance.” Then I realized that it doesn’t really fit my mood right now; not that there isn’t room for humor, but that it isn’t how I want to see this story today. So, instead, this:
I continue to insist that I not only can judge other cultures, but I must judge them so that we maintain a clear-eyed understanding of what distinguishes us from them. We’re told we aren’t supposed to judge and we aren’t supposed to think in terms of us and them--I know this because, like the rest of you, it has been hammered into me from the time I was a child.
It just isn’t done. The problem is that what we were taught is wrong. It is vital for us to be honest and open about other cultures in the world--not in deifying or demonizing those cultures, but in being earnestly critical in the same way that I hope we consider our own culture and politics. With that said, imagine what I think about the culture that gives us a news story like this:
We need to judge because we need to constantly remind ourselves of what it is that we value as a society and what it took to create something as grand and diverse as the United States of America.
Friday, May 28, 2010
That’s the Way to Handle a Heckler
Kudos to Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, for his handling of a surprising heckler during his remarks at an Africa Day celebration. The surprising source? The Zimbabwean ambassador, Machivenyika Mapuranga. What could have been embarrassing, though, wasn’t quite a “tear down this wall” moment, but it is admirably frank and utterly right.
Monday, March 22, 2010
The Headline Reads: “Malawi gay couple face full trial”
The story is bad enough: two gay men are facing a trial in Malawi for the simple act of engaging in homosexual acts. “Homosexual acts carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.”
What bugged me most wasn’t the story, though. I suppose I’ve become somewhat numb to the plight of gays in some parts of the world; not that I accept it or think that it’s in any way right, but that I know how the story goes and I’m no longer shocked.
What bugged me most was the picture. There are jeering, mocking faces surrounding the two gay men and I realize that I can’t imagine ever doing anything that would expose me to so much public ridicule or shame--and they are experiencing it for nothing more than living openly as gay men.
Monday, March 01, 2010
A Bad Plan
Robert Mugabe continues to find creative new avenues to lead Zimbabwe down a path of self-destruction. He’s talented that way.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead
In May of 1904, a sometime American citizen by the name of Ion Perdicaris was kidnapped by one Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli while living in Tangier. Since a US citizen was believed to be in danger, President Theodore Roosevelt sent a fleet of seven ships and a small marine* detachment to demand that the Moroccan government obtain his release. (This Wikipedia article had a decent description of the facts at 11:30 am today.) At the Republican convention in 1904, the Secretary of State famously said, “This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.”
Today, we have a civilian from a US-flagged ship being held hostage by Somali pirates. With any luck, the situation will be resolved without the loss of innocent lives, but since this situation might recur or deteriorate, I think it would be well to consider a longer-term policy. I submit that Roosevelt’s solution is the correct one.
The Wikipedia article previously mentioned goes on at some length (in rather sniffy tones) about how the US was just pressuring the Moroccans to accede to the kidnapper’s demands. What that article fails to consider, however, is the value of forcibly changing the ownership of this sort of problem—what I’ll call “Big Jake diplomacy"**.
In 1904, the US didn’t particularly care about Moroccan politics or the justice of the claims of a “rebel”. The US cared about the safety of its citizens and about future credibility in the eyes of the world. To that end, one of three results was acceptable: Perdicaris released, Raisuli killed, or Morocco punished (in pretty much that order of preference). The policy was simple: the safety of people in Morocco was the responsibility of Morocco, and if Morocco did not see to the safety of US citizens, it would pay. How the safety was secured was the responsibility of Morocco.
The same calculus should apply in “Somalia”. The Somalis would like the world to consider the lands they claim and the waters off their coast as their territory. If that’s the case, anything that goes wrong there, anything at all, is their responsibility. They can stop the pirates (possibly with the assistance of other nations), abjure responsibility for the territory entirely (and thus allow others to police it), or be punished. There should be no fourth option.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
At Last, Some Fiscal Sanity
Unfortunately, the fiscal sanity isn’t happening here.
It’s an awful shame when the finance minister from Zimbabwe--one of the most blighted, backward, and failing countries in the world--shows the kind of sense that our own leaders here in America can’t quite fathom. Live within your means. Try to honestly project your revenues. Cut spending instead of printing another trillion dollars.
This is the most positive change I’ve seen in Zimbabwe in a long time. Not because it represents a big step forward (given the actual value of the Zim dollar, I still wonder how they’ll manage to dig out of the hole Mugabe dug for the nation), but because it represents some real power sharing. This is the first meaningful thing that’s been done by a member of an opposition party in a long time.
I wouldn’t and don’t trust Mugabe to keep his word, to share power peacefully, or to allow the kinds of changes that might ultimately save Zimbabwe from the final collapse that would destroy the government and fairly force a civil war, but it’s nice to latch on to a little hope (and change!) now and again. Especially when it is embodied in good ideas.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Currency? We Don’ Need No Stinkin’ Currency.
Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed a long time ago and all that’s left is people sifting through the rubble. With every rational person understanding that the Zim dollar is worthless (and worth less by the day), the government has lifted the ban on using foreign currency.
Mugabe soldiers on as elected dictator for life, playing games with the MDC, and I can’t help but wonder: even if the MDC “wins’ and Mugabe were to retire to his squirreled away bank accounts overseas, what would they have won? Is there anything left to rebuild? Or is the ruin so complete that the entire nation, its infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and social structures will all need to be completely rebuilt?
My gut, sick and sad and angry, says that’s exactly what will need to happen. Mugabe, whenever he is finally gone, will leave only wreckage behind him and the Herculean task of rebuilding a nation from nearly nothing.
Monday, January 26, 2009
For Zimbabwe: Something Better Than a Hunger Strike
I don’t mean to cruelly diminish Desmond Tutu’s hunger strike, but Zimbabwe’s problems are hardly going to be muted by his dietary choices. Admittedly, Jenny Des-Fountain’s food drive won’t make a dent in the Zimbabwe’s problems, but it might actually save a few lives.
Zimbabwe needs more than a few truckloads of food--and even boatloads of food won’t solve the political and economic problems, either. But though she can’t save the nation nor all of its citizens, though she can’t remove Mugabe nor force recognition of the democratically elected government, she can help some people make it a few more days.
And while South Africa’s government has made a habit of giving Mugabe cover when criticism grows too loud, it’s good to see that some of South Africa’s citizens can still muster a little neighborly care for the citizens across the border.
On a completely different subject, can the Beeb’s web site ever run with normal-length sentences? Nearly every sentence on most of these stories is treated as a new paragraph and it drives me absolutely mad. I realize that typical journalist sentences aren’t measured in the same way as your typical essayist sentence, but it bugs me to see the way the Beeb site handles their copy.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
All I can say is, “Man up, ladies.”
I suppose a hunger strike is nice, but I’m not sure what good it’s going to do for the poor people who are hungry by political design instead of ridiculous choice.
It’s an entirely ‘nother culture, so I’m probably not allowed to comment on it; that would just be too judgmental.
Speaking of something else entirely, if I traded all my money for Zim dollars, I would totally be a billionaire.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
No, that’s not the amount of my own, personal bailout check from Uncle Sugar (pity); it’s the newly revised Zimbabwean inflation rate.
I’ve been so involved in watching our own nation’s political scrum that I’ve neglected to write about the situation in Zimbabwe. I’ll try to rectify that in the near future with a piece that I’ve had in my head for a number of weeks about why we can’t expect Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal to work--and why if it does work, we should worry for the MDC.
There ain’t no justice for Zimbabwe, is there?
For now, though, read the story.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
It Probably Wouldn’t be a Good Idea…
It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to test this on the Russian armor waddling through Georgia. But one can dream…
On the other hand, it seems a quiet test on the “battlewagons" here wouldn’t be out of bounds either ethically or politically.
Seriously, though: read through that first link and consider deeply. If that system works as advertised, as reliably as hoped, as accurately as predicted, and as quickly as that theoretical “strike” would indicate, the PASDEW is a game changer. From the moment the United States establishes air superiority in any region, regular flights could largely negate the effectiveness of enemy armor and even naval forces, completely disrupt supply lines, demoralize the enemy, and provide unprecedented support to advancing allied forces.
Of course, the energy use must be phenomenal and it’s far too early to judge anything like real world reliability. As a first step toward practical frickin’ laser beams, though, this looks like a hell of a thing.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
All Your Zeroes Are Belong to Us
What do you do when hyper-inflation makes your currency worth less than the paper that it is printed on? Lop a few zeroes off here and there and everything will be right as rain.
To the MDC negotiators: just say no to powersharing. Anything that leaves Mugabe with official standing or official government seat is purely a lie. Over these past two decades he has destroyed an economy, watched as infrastructure crumbled, ruined the country’s largest industry (farming, led an violent and oppressive regime, starved political opponents, stolen elections, and still, somehow, maintained some claim to legitimacy. That lie can’t be tolerated any longer.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Check in the Guinness Book of World Records Under Holy Damn, Can That Be Right?
This is an amazing story--amazing in that the country of Zimbabwe still exists as a mostly cohesive entity. That the economy hasn’t collapsed to the point that the government can no longer function just beggars belief.
Zim dollars are worthless--worth less, probably literally, than the paper the stuff is printed on. Which brings up the next story about Zim’s failed leadership:
Intriguingly, if Fidelity continues to refuse to supply the special paper, it will become even more likely that Mugabe’s government will crumble. Without the truckloads of cash to pay off the cronies, military, and police, Mugabe’s true base of support may well crumble. With every passing year, Mugabe’s leverage on the people of the country erodes a touch more; unfortunately, it also leaves more dead, displaced, and unfed citizens suffering under his failing government, too.
It would be funny (although, ultimately, quite damaging) to see the government fail because it could no longer print money. What the democratic process has thus far failed to do may be accomplished by such a small thing as special paper.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Still Providing Cover for Tyrants
Leaders in Africa continue to provide cover for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to continue his illegitimate rule of the country. By resisting calls for sanction and continuing to suggest that the road forward is through a unity government, these leaders are doing their best to provide legitimacy to the tyrant: while no one can seemingly deny that he bullied, murdered, brutalized, and intimidated his way into office, they still imagine that no legitimate representative government can be established without Mugabe and his party.
What they seem to fail to understand is that no legitimate representative government can be recognized untilMugabe and his party no longer stand at the helm of the government. Until power has passed peacefully from Mugabe and to a democratically elected head of state, the government of Zimbabwe is a lie that was forced on its citizens at the barrel of a gun. Specifically, any government that preserves Mugabe’s presidency is a lie and an affront to Zimbabweans.
The continued assertion--even if only by implication--of Mugabe’s legitimacy is disgusting and shameful. Once again, Africa’s leaders are failing Africa’s citizens.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
On the Latest “Victory” for Robert Mugabe
I’ve been stuck on what I want to say about Zimbabwe for a few days now. When Robin left a comment noting that “the thugs won” I realized that at that moment there wasn’t much more for me to say. The thugs--Robert Mugabe and his goons--won through a program consisting of violence and terrorism. They did it with not precisely the complicity of other regional leaders, but certainly with folks like Thabo Mkebi making excuses and providing some cover and legitimacy.
Of course, even those African leaders are finding it harder to excuse the behavior of their old comrade. Sadly, any turn to overt criticism and something other than “quiet diplomacy” will be coming too late to support the change that the people of Zimbabwe deserve. Politics as usual in post-colonial Africa has betrayed the trust between the government and the governed. Democracy has not failed them; this turn of events has proven conclusively that there simply is no democracy in Zimbabwe.
The election was a sham. “Quiet diplomacy” is a lie. The people of Zimbabwe are paying. They are paying sometimes with their lives, with their health, and with a future that seems now to be irretrievably broken. The Mugabe apologists are speaking for one of the most brutal regimes in the world today and for a leader who has proven himself adept only at bullying his way to power. They should be ashamed.
In a country where the media is truly controlled by the government, where the demand for fair elections is met with murder, where the leader threatens a new civil war if the opposition party wins in fair elections, there can be no democracy. This isn’t just whiny progressives childishly complaining when they don’t get their way; this is a brutal government grinding its citizens into the dust.
The US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has been an unwavering voice of support for the citizens of Zimbabwe. We back home should be proud of him and the job he is doing.
Consider this: Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who won the original election (although apparently not be enough) and recently dropped out of the new round of voting, has been harassed and arrested throughout the campaigning process. That stands as some of the more tender oppression in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Amazingly, this doesn’t even touch on the mismanagement of the government that has left Zimbabwe’s schools, health care, infrastructure, and economy in ruins. Failed governments don’t often fail more dramatically than this one.
What remains for us to decide after reading through this recounting of vile governance is to find a way to effectively support the people of Zimbabwe in their hope for a good government. And, I believe, that means supporting Tsvangirai’s call for an African solution.
For the sake of legitimacy throughout the governments of the region and for the sake of the legitimacy of any government that would be placed after any removal of Mugabe, this eloquent call for basic freedoms, good government, and the restoration of democracy seems right on. I wonder, though, how quickly surrounding nations will be to not only criticize Mugabe, but to use their own diplomatic levers as an effective lever to force Mugabe to negotiate the transfer of power? So far, none of the nations that make up the SADC or the AU has shown that kind of initiative or will in relation to Zimbabwe’s ongoing problems. And the UN is as toothless as an old lion--all roar, no bite.
There is no practical way for Western nations to take a direct part unless we are asked by the MDC--and even then it would be a risk. Mugabe plays the race card with brilliance and any belief that a new government is just a stooge for Western powers (specifically either the UK or the US) could lead to a weak new government. The best role we could play would simply be to extend our offers of knowledge, help, and friendship to the MDC and the citizens of Zimbabwe along with a promise to help them limp out of their economic crisis once a new and truly representative government is in place.
The people of Zimbabwe deserve better than Robert Mugabe; the SADC and AU have the opportunity to help make that “better” happen. To that end, I think Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times has a series of good suggestions that could do a good deal to help salvage Zimbabwe. As he says, though, the need to act is urgent. I urge you to read his piece--it’s an honest (and, in terms of Thabo Mbeki, blistering) look at the situation. It doesn’t read particularly hopeful, but it is unflinching about the prospects.
A last “must read” in this opening salvo is Counterterrorism Blog’s “Africa’s Shame and Zimbabwe’s Greater Threat. It answers the question of why we should care about the future of a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It leads to a longer post on another site.
More links follow in the extended entry.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Who You Gonna Call?
No, not Ghostbusters. Get your head out of the eighties, pal.
You’re gonna call Blackwater--that is, you will if you have a very specific set of needs that generally don’t include finding the Keymaster or defending the world from the minions of Zuul. If you need a paramilitary outfit with global reach and capabilities to take on some dangerous, tough jobs, though, keep Blackwater on your speed dial. This even goes for left-leaning activists, apparently.
I recognize the concern many people have about subcontracting military functions to a group like Blackwater. In fact, I share those concerns. I find this approach from a charitable, non-government organization intriguing, though. Could Blackwater play a part of peacekeeper in Darfur? If so, would they be acting on a charitable level or a more mercenary level? Would they even be able to provide a good solution to the problem?
Without a willingness and the authority to take action--violent, decisive action--I’m not sure that any peacekeeper presence is going to make a significant difference. And that kind of action could precipitate a much larger confrontation. Does anyone have the will to stick through that kind of a military action right now?
For the record, Farrow represents Dream for Darfur, although I am unsure whether her approach to Blackwater was an official approach or not. When I called Dream for Darfur, I was given the number of their media representative. He didn’t answer his phone and has yet to return my call; if he does get back to me, I’ll update this post if necessary.
Update: I just spoke with Jonathan Freedman, the media contact for Dream for Darfur, who actually confirmed most of the story. Mia Farrow has been in contact with Erik Prince (although she has never personally met with him). She and the organization are reiterating their stance that they are willing to talk to anyone who can help provide security--and although the word “peacekeeping” was used, I have a feeling that they might be speaking more about a security roll, especially after consideration of what Robin wrote in the comments.
Freedman was very clear that there is no partnership with Blackwater at this time, but neither are they really backing away from the story. I was considering writing something a bit bigger on the subject, but, honestly, there’s not much story in this so I think I’ll leave it where it sits. While I don’t always agree with either methodology, tone, or some of the chosen targets of the Darfur activists, I admire their cause. I also admire the streak of pragmatism that allows them to approach a group like Blackwater that has been demonized in the media over the last few years.
And here’s a link for folks in Denver who want to join a Dreams for Darfur protest in hopes of forcing some large corporations into pressuring China to use their leverage to help end the genocide in Darfur.
Monday, June 09, 2008
When the citizens of Zimbabwe voted for change--a peaceful, democratic vote for change in the way their interests were represented by their government--I was hopeful that there would be a reasonably calm change in the government. I, very obviously, misplaced my faith in a big way. Here’s a report from the Beeb:
I’ve been watching the news every day and it’s only getting worse.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Resources for Africa Obsessives (Like Me)
In just about a month, the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) will begin with the aim of focusing on “high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners.” This might not sound particularly sexy, but coordinating aid efforts on concrete goals and principles, finding ways to encourage African “ownership” of development and solutions, and encouraging international donors to become real partners in development is a set of goals near to my heart.
That the TICAD conferences are organized by the UN (admittedly, not my favorite nor my most trusted institution) doesn’t lessen my hope that it continues to bring us closer to a prosperous set of stable, liberal, independent nations that contribute heartily to the world community.
The UN University has a site devoted to tracking interesting stories related to African development on a page within their site. Set up in a blog format, it’s a great resource for those of use who believe that Africa really can be, as TICAD believes, the “Continent of Hope and Opportunity.”
Check out the site and, if you feel so inspired, leave your critique on their site here. I’ve promised one of the organizers that I would both publicize it and offer up my critique and suggestions. I would like to be able to offer more than my own small suggestions, though--and since I’m pretty sure that the smartest people in the world read my site (I mean, they would, wouldn’t they?), I would ask for their insight.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Is it True? Zimbabwe Could be Taking Steps Toward Freedom
Given the reports of irregularities and the pressure placed on voters, I imagined that ZImbabwe’s election would have the same dismal results as the last few elections. But the determination of the opposition--and, indeed, the faith peaceful, democratic change--looks to have overwhelmed even Mugabe’s ability to bully, buy, and cheat his way to victory.
That is a truly amazing thing. To his credit, and if these early reports are correct, he is doing what he needs to do to negotiate a peaceful exchange of power.
Amazing. There is reason for hope for Zimbabwe today--and if this all comes to pass, I will be celebrating soon.
If power does change hands--and if the new leadership proves to be devoted to liberalizing, responsible monetary policy, and finding ways to solve the current crisis, then it will be important for Western powers to be ready with offers of assistance in the transition. Rebuilding the economy, infrastructure, schools, and health care system will be a monumental task both in the sense of the effort involved and the potential to revive what was once the most promising nation in the region.
For the citizens of Zimbabwe, this is looking like a time for joy and celebration--but soon the hard work of rebuilding will bring its own pains. I’m hoping that the United States can find a way to be a productive partner in the rebuilding process, nurturing a relationship that will help bring peace and stability to a country that has lost far too many years to Mugabe.
If the moment of meaningful change has come, it will be because of people like the folks at Sokwanele who have worked so hard for so long to see the potential for something better. God willing, I will be able to meet some of them in the coming years in a nation of free men and women.
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