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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Brilliant! Fighting Inflation in Zimbabwe

The question of how to control runaway inflation has to be haunting Robert Mugabe’s dreams. The official rate of inflation--which is far lower than the real rate--is set at 3,700%. Which is, you know, pretty bad. Especially considering the last few years of quadruple digit inflation in the country--the Zimbabwean dollar is nearly worthless in its own country and only has value as a novelty outside those borders.

What’s a tyrant to do?

The easy answer, of course, is to order stores to slash prices on all consumer goods so that regardless of the real purchasing power of the Zim dollar, consumers will be able to afford the basics. Isn’t that a simple solution?

Of course, that ignores the costs that the sellers have to pay to stock their shelves--and their prices, especially on any goods that come from outside the country, aren’t going down. Their prices are going up. The government dictate is essentially an order to sell goods at below their real costs--which, even a ten year old running a lemonade knows isn’t good business practice.

The results are predictable.

On Tuesday, shops in central Harare seemed to be defying the new directive. Instead of cutting prices, some supermarkets simply emptied their shelves of goods such as sugar, salt, flour cooking oil, beef and fuel that would be subject to the order.

“We have been instructed by management to remove some of the products from the shelves for now,” an assistant at a leading chain store said as shoppers scrambled to buy bathing soap.

At another store there were long queues as people stocked up, saying they feared basic goods would now be in even shorter supply. But for several companies it was business as usual.

“We have not reduced our prices because that has not been communicated to us by the owners ... In actual fact, some of the prices will go up tomorrow,” said Sam Makaza, a manager at a supermarket in downtown Harare.

It will also likely have the perverse effect of pushing even more people into the underground economy where barter and the trade of real currencies bypass the idiotic plans of a regime that very obviously has no legitimate plan for rescuing the economy. Which is lucky: the more people that step out of Zimbabwe’s official, fantasy economy and into the underground, reality-based (and, yes, the term has real meaning here) economy, the more the country is propped up. In fact, some people credit that black market economy with being the only thing that is holding off complete economic collapse in the nation.

How far can that collapse really be, though? I’ve been amazed at the resilience and patience of the people combined with a relatively low level of violence, but the situation cannot be expected to last forever.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Hallelujah, They’re Doing Something

Zimbabwe’s problems are at an end. The crippling hunger, the collapsed infrastructure, the barely breathing economy, and the oppression of citizens is at an end. Hallelujah!

How can this be? How can decades of neglect, misguided policy, and ruined farmland be so easily negated? Luckily, Thabo Mbeki has turned his eyes toward the wrecked beauty of Zimbabwe and gathered up the courage to Do Something. What that “something” is remains a bit mysterious, hidden behind the years’ old title of “Quiet Diplomacy.”

Quiet Diplomacy mostly consists of never directly critiquing Mugabe (Zimbabwe’s Director of Famines and President for as Long as He Can Get Away With It), never directly acknowledging just how desperate the situation is growing, and never, ever taking direct action against the old socialist’s ruthless government. Which strategy should work like a charm, I’m sure.

From the Beeb:

Mr Mbeki refuses to criticise Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe in public, preferring “quiet diplomacy”.

But he admitted after talks with Mr Blair that the country had “political problems”.

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change often accuses the police of harassing its members and in March its leader was badly beaten.

As well as organising political talks in Zimbabwe, Mr Mbeki said work was also taking place to find ways of improving Zimbabwe’s economy.

“It’s that two-pronged approach which seeks a solution to these two political matters. Indeed I did brief the prime minister about this and that’s the way we are going,” he said.

Somehow, Mbeki’s “something” seems mighty close to “nothing.”

Until Mbeki in specific and the African Union in general can admit that Zimbabwe’s economic and political problems are embodied in Mugabe’s government, there is little chance for meaningful reform. It is inconceivable that Mugabe’s government could bring the needed reforms that would revive the country’s economy, resolve the terrifying health care crisis, or attract the repatriation of those millions who have fled the country. There is nothing to suggest that Mugabe could lead the kind of political reform that would enliven a constitutional democracy that he has so carefully dismembered--or that he has the credibility to convince others that he would sincerely pursue such a liberal transformation.

Simply put, just as there will never be freedom in Cuba while Castro is the head of the government, there will never be freedom in Zimbabwe while Robert Mugabe is the president--and a hand-picked successor is unlikely to be an improvement.

What is even more confounding is any thought that a “quiet diplomacy” that doesn’t urge the dissolution of Mugabe’s government followed by a rollback of the constitutional and procedural changes that were made to fairly ensure a one party domination of the government.

Zimbabwe is hardly Mbeki’s (or Africa’s) sole responsibility, but the problem is certainly a more direct threat to the economies and stability of surrounding nations. The millions of refugees that have found their way into South Africa are just a shadow of what will happen if Zimbabwe falls into civil war. The violence will spill across borders and the number of refugees will increase dramatically. To be brutally honest, I find myself wondering whether it isn’t already too late to prevent the civil war. If that war does come, the best we can do is to pressure Mugabe to step down quickly and be ready to help the citizens of the failed nation to quickly establish a new government.

Still, isn’t it great that Mbeki is doing something to help? It’s just a pity that his something isn’t a little more close to, you know, something useful.

Read the story.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Speaking of South Africa (Because I Wanted To, Damnit)

This article linked by Drudge sort of grabbed my attention this morning.

THE icy weather of snow, hail and heavy rain that has swept across South Africa over the past few days has set 54 weather records.

The South African Weather Service said 34 new records were set on Monday and another 20 yesterday. Almost all records were for the lowest maximum and minimum daily temperatures in towns across the country.

Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma both recorded their highest daily rainfall, at 68mm and 71.2mm respectively, on Monday. Plettenberg Bay recorded its lowest minimum temperature, 5.6°C, yesterday. Tsitsikamma had its lowest maximum temperature on Monday, 12.1°C, and its lowest minimum yesterday, 6.3°C.

The lowest minimum temperature recorded was -6°C in Welkom, while the lowest maximum temperature was a mere 1.7°C in Barkly East. Both were recorded on Monday night.

“Why did it grab my attention?” you ask. Because I spent a little quality time on the phone with a gentleman from Joburg yesterday and he was telling me that they were expecting incredibly low temperatures last night--something on the order of -4°, although I’m not sure if he was speaking in Celsius or Fahrenheit. Either way, much of southern Africa isn’t really big on central heating in their homes.

Not that winter (June to August) temperatures don’t drop--South Africa isn’t as warm as many people might imagine. Still, the weather is typically moderate compared to, say, winters in Ohio. Not a huge story, really, but I find myself feeling a little tiny bit of sympathy for my friends in the area.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Message for Zimbabwe

I normally wouldn’t reproduce an entire post, but I’m making an exception. I want to be sure that this is read as widely as possible and that Zimbabwe’s citizens who are devoted to the idea of democratic change are given every opportunity to succeed.

For the rest of us, when these political reformers do succeed in toppling Mugabe’s regime, the nation of Zimbabwe will need our help in picking up the pieces. Feeding the poor, rebuilding a ruined economy, providing emergency health care for the nation with the shortest life expectancy on the planet--these are just some of the help that they will be needing. Given an opportunity, I have no doubt that the wonderful people of Zimbabwe can rebuild what was formerly the second largest economy and best educated populace in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is reproduced from a post by my friends at Sokwanele.

Declare your Independence!
Sokwanele Article: 18 April 2007

Send an e-card from our website!What is Independence? It is the period that comes after oppression. It is the time when you turn away from fighting for basic liberties to finally living your life in full. It is a time when you get to move across town, send your children to better schools, work with dignity and enjoy being a citizen of your country regardless of your economic status.

Have you got Independence? Have you moved across town? Do your children have qualified teachers who are concentrating on the job of preparing your children for a life style that is better than the one you had? Are you working with dignity? Can you even make it to work? Above all, are you enjoying being a Zimbabwean?

Four million of our people have left this country in the last six years because the fruits of independence have been stolen from them by a ruthless and uncaring regime whose aim all along has been to acquire power.

That regime is led by a man who has tricked Zimbabweans and the rest of Africa for ages.

We began to see his true colours in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1985, but we were too preoccupied with gazing at the fruit of independence as it lay just beyond our reach. We saw another flash of true colours just after the referendum, and still we remained blind to the fact that the kind of fruit he offered was poisoned; now that it is clear that it is anyone who opposes him who is an enemy of the state, we have responded with fleeing the country or silent embarrassment.

It is time to reclaim our independence from this monster of a regime. We have been used, abused for far too long by people who think us too docile to respond. Their arrogance stares us right in the face every day in the newspapers, on the evening news, at rallies and as they swagger around town in their jeeps, mercs and heaven knows what else. We have to defy them now.

From April 19 we need to individually and collectively do the following:

  • Stop buying the Herald and Chronicle. We must make sure their propaganda machine grinds to a halt. You have the individual power to do that.
  • Serve notice on those companies who advertise in these papers that you will boycott them if they do not stop financing government propaganda. Write hundreds of thousands of anonymous letters to the companies and give them the deadline of 1 May, Africa freedom day, to stop advertising or face a boycott.
  • Stop buying from companies who advertise in the Herald. The South African defeated a more powerful system by translating individual pressure in to collective pressure through the rent boycotts for example.
  • Do not go to work on the 2nd and 3rd of May. Call in sick. Every one has a tummy ache from time to time.
  • Real lives were lost in the war for independence and their sacrifice must not be in vain and was certainly not to put a few fat cats in power so that you watch them in awe as they threw a few scraps from the fruit table to you. We must reclaim our independence now, and we must prepare for both the worst and best case scenarios.
  • Prepare for elections and make sure you and your 18 year olds are registered to vote. The regime will do everything it can to make sure they do not vote. Work on your relatives and appeal to them to prepare to come back home to vote when the time comes. You have to start working on them now so they can save up and come home in less than a year’s time.
  • Talk to the police, gently, and persuade them within the secrecy of your homes that they are being used by a rogue regime and that you do not want them to face the day of reckoning when it arrives. Tell them you understand what pressure they are under but also remind them that the people know who gleefully and enthusiastically beats people. Make them understand that while they beat up people in an area far away from their homes, some other policemen are beating up their relatives back home.
  • Use graffiti and let the youth militia know that you know who they are and advise them to flee the militia or risk facing the justice of the people one day.
  • Support those families whose members have been beaten up, tortured or killed.

There is no better opportunity and moment for us to regain our dignity than now.

The day of reckoning will surely come. Kamuzu Banda, Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko; all those evil men were defeated eventually.

We shall overcome! We shall overcome!

We in the West watch with hope.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

BREAKING NEWS!

Some people think that they* hate us because of our freedoms.

I always found that too simplistic and would say that they hate us because our cultures are too dissimilar to handle rubbing sharply pointed elbows in an ever shrinking world--that is, neither culture has an easy way to deal with the cultural eccentricities that make each group culturally dangerous to the other. On one side you have puffed and secular public life (relatively), fried pig skin, boobies, and binge drinking; on the other side you have misogynists, unquestioned rule by Koran, no public boobies to speak of, and tremendous xenophobic leanings. Honestly--and my flip attitude aside-- our differences are very real.

Luckly, though, I’ve found the real problem. It seems to be that some of us eat so darned well that the poor, luckless bastards just can’t help but hate us.

While the world’s elite dine on sumptuous meals courtesy of the White House, the number of hungry people in the world continues to increase. Tell me again why they hate us?

By Adem Carroll, April 9, 2007

On April 7, as the world around us continued to burn, the White House issued an Immediate Release: the Easter Dinner Menu. I am sure you will be glad to know that after a hard day of work the President and First Lady look forward to a Texas Grapefruit, Avocado, and Mozzarella Salad; Fire-Glazed Ham; Green Chili Cheese Grits Soufflé, Roasted Orange Molasses Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus, Brazos Valley Cheeses, Fresh Yeast Rolls, with Coconut Cake and Blue Bell Ice Cream to wash it all down.

We hope the President and First Lady had enough to eat. At the same time, 854 million people across the world are hungry, up from 852 million a year ago. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes-one child every five seconds, according to the World Food Program.

Hell, I’d been thinking this whole situation was about something serious, and now I find out that our problems would be solved if we just send all the hungry people in the world a nice, roasted duck and maybe a decent creme brulee. Because that whole cracking open browned sugar layer is so fun that it will distract them from the urge to blow shit up.

So, people, for the sake of all that’s important to our world, put down your food, wrap it up, and send it to a hungry person. STOP THE HATE! STOP THE WAR! NO BLOOD FOR COOKING OIL!

Don’t think that I dismiss the problems of hunger in the world, but another person’s hunger isn’t caused by my caloric intake. Hunger is largely the result of failed economic and trade policies, intentional strategies to marginalize opposing political and tribal power, and the kind of educational deficit that leaves a country’s infrastructure in a constant state of decline. Whether the leaders of any of the Western nations never eats Lemon Carnaroli Risotto with Asparagus Tips again, the leaders of countries like Zimbabwe will ensure that a giant portion of their citizens stay hungry.

What Adem Carroll is trying to say with this kind of tripe, though, is useless. Global success is not a zero sum game--depriving the President of his Blue Bell ice cream might make Carroll feel better, but it won’t do a damned thing to feed another man, woman, or child in the world. Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made that constant food aid shipments from the West have helped create a permanent reliance on that aid in some third world countries. I’ll need to break out some statistics when I have a bit more time, but if memory serves there are a number of countries where the number one economic driver is foreign aid--that is, international welfare.

While I could use a slimmer me, a few less hamburgers in my stomach this year won’t salvage broken economies or miraculously make an uneducated populace in a third world country capable of caring properly for a small engine to run the pumps that might help them have clean drinking water. What they need is to set up educational systems, reasonable social safety nets, basic health care programs, and plans for reinvigorating collapsed systems of infrastructure (not to mention governments that rely less on corruption and graft and more on addressing public needs) more than some misplaced sense of either guilt or judgement that comes with eating dinner.

The people who hate us enough to bomb us don’t hate us because of our culinary delights; they hate us because our way of life is in direct opposition to theirs in public, political, and private aspects of our lives. Asking people to give to help feed the hungry is understandable; blaming our current conflicts and our cultural differences on the fact that some people eat well is idiotic.

* They, in this case, are extremist Muslims who believe that the world should be ruled by strict--ie, their--interpretation of religious law and that killing is a grand way to achieve the goal. The cat who wrote this article seems to think that pretty much everyone in the world who isn’t eating glazed parsnips and young carrots is in the camp of “they hate us”; I prefer to stay focused on the ones who actively work to blow us up. Apparently the others are just too weak to strap on the bomb vest.

A somewhat related post: Aid to Africa. This post of mine from 2005 touches on some of the same topics.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Zimbabwe (Updated)

Update: Read the Austin Bay report. And then go to Sokwanele to see the result of Mugabe’s brutal regime. The pictures aren’t pretty, but I think they get the message across.

Introduction: I began writing this on Friday, but circumstances conspired against me finishing the thing. I figured I would wait until Monday to finalize the thing. Instead of working on the magazine that I should be laying out, I decided that I wanted to finish this instead. The decision came because i came across a few stories today that fit with the rest of this piece and those new stories come in the extended entry. It’s still unfinished in that I don’t have enough space to say all that I want to say and it hasn’t been edited or polished up at all. Apologies for the rough state of the thing, but that magazine really does need some work--and someone has to pay my bills.



When I close my eyes and see Zimbabwe, she isn’t like the reality we see in the papers. She’s still beautiful, strong, educated, and blessed. The Zimbabwe in the papers is a stranger to me. I can’t remember the last time I saw good news from the country--news untainted by suspicion or word of Mugabe’s latest insanity.

A few examples might do. First, The New Republic has a story entitled “The Other African Genocide.”

The conditions Mugabe rendered in Zimbabwe do not merely stem from idealistic economic and social policies gone awry. He has undertaken a campaign of violence and starvation against political opponents, the fallout of which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, every year. In 2005, there were roughly 4,000 more deaths each week than births, a rate that the famine has surely increased. This is worse than brutality. The United Nations says that “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” constitutes genocide, and that is exactly what Robert Mugabe has wrought.

Read the rest. It is terrifying to read James Kirchik’s account of the systematic destruction Mugabe’s government has brought to what was once one of the more promising African states. It’s been easy to ignore for most people because the killing isn’t often done with outright violence. As Kirchik notes, this isn’t machete wielding masses cutting down hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens; this is a slow, methodical starving of a population where food is used as a weapon and as a way to bring the population to what the government considers a manageable level.

As early as 2002, the BBC was reporting that people in Matabeleland, the southern region of the country where the minority Ndebele tribe lives, were starving. That same year, on the eve of a massive drought, the Minister of Zimbabwean State Security said, “We would be better off with only six million people--with our own who support the liberation struggle. We don’t want all these extra people.”

Zimbabwe’s tragedy isn’t as explosive as, say, Somalia. It isn’t as bloody as, say, Rwanda. And it certainly isn’t as noticed as the Sudan.

What Zimbabwe is, though, is devastated and desperately in need of help. Where is the UN? Where is the African Union? Mostly doing what large, international organizations do in times of crisis: precisely nothing. It is so much easier to say “never again” once the bodies have been buried than it is to take action.

American Spectator has a look at Mugabe’s maneuvering to remain in power and the economic damage that he has caused to his nation.

Cleverly, as Mugabe usually acts when he isn’t simply brutal, the self-ordained “father of Zimbabwe” has had floated the idea of rescheduling to 2010 the presidential election due at the end of his term in 2008 in coordination with the parliamentary elections. This device would prolong his stay in office while giving him time to sort out the current bitter infighting within his own ruling party, Zanu-PF.

Meanwhile his country’s economic state is disastrous. What once was a balanced economy before he assumed power in 1980 now borders on bankruptcy. The national inheritance of a modern agriculture and growing mining and manufacturing sectors has been squandered. Inflation neared 1600 percent in January of this year and international banking circles predict it to reach a possible 5,000 per cent by the end of the year.

Barring intervention or a civilian uprising, Zim will continue to die slowly--bleeding the people who can manage to leave, starving those left behind, and nearly drained of opportunity with an infrastructure so neglected that almost nothing remains of the country I knew. Its population as depleted as its farms, its industry ruined.

And on the same day that I am reading these stories, the gentlemen from Sokwanele sent me this link.

Mugabe apparently attacked the IMF as “nonsense” among many other tired familiar rants. I’d have to say though that I can’t think of many things as utterly nonsensical as paying £36 for 2 litres of milk!

The cost of Mugabe’s mismanagement of Zimbabwe is concrete. The effects of his misguided policies are, bluntly, killing the nation’s citizens--millions of people who will die before they should, who will never achieve their potential, who are being destroyed by their own government.

Read the Rest...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Scary Tampons

Hathor sent me an email that shows how frighteningly paranoid the leadership in Zimbabwe must be and how willing they are to punish people for petty political reasons.

Read this quote from a ZTCU press release, as reported by the Sowkanele blog.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has just received news that state security agencies last week seized a consignment of sanitary pads meant for distribution to farmworkers in Zimbabwe’s farming areas of Concession and Mvurwi.

The pads were allegedly seized by police and later the dreaded Central Intelligence Organization was drawn into the matter. The ZCTU had given the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) its allocation of the pads sourced with the help of international partners.

On seizure, the farmworkers were told that the pads had been poisoned by former white commercial farmers, which is a blatant lie as the ZCTU, with the help of international partners and friends sourced for the sanitary ware.

However, the ZCTU is disturbed by this development because the sanitary pads were meant for women who cannot afford them. We deplore the actions of government, done through its security arms.

Robert Mugabe has, in the past, been notoriously hostile to aid coming from Western nations, casting the offers of food aid, for instance, as unnecessary. I can’t help but wonder if his strangely quarrelsome displays of rebelliousness--there can be no reasonable dispute that his country has needed the food aid that he hated to accept--are a display of misplaced pride. Perhaps the idea of accepting aid from the West is a little too much like admitting that his policies have failed in the most extreme sense of the word.

Whatever the reason for his decisions, this seizure is purely wrong and cruel. Many of the women in Zimbabwe can’t afford to purchase their own sanitary pads and the ZCTU worked to alleviate the problem. In many ways, it seems such a small thing, but it is symbolic of a callous government that has failed its people to the point where even this small thing is truly meaningful.

Follow the link to Sokwanele to find out how you can help (that is, if the government of Zimbabwe allows the generosity of outsiders to filter through to her people).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sudan and the Concept of Sovereignty

Although the small African Union force tasked with peacekeeping in Darfur has utterly failed in its mission, the Sudanese government is opposed to UN sending troops to assist.

US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said the letter was “a direct challenge” to the Security Council.

A 7,000-strong African force has failed to end Darfur’s three-year conflict.

More than 2m people have fled their homes and an estimated 200,000 people have died.

Sudan does not want the UN to take control of the peacekeeping force from the AU, saying that would be an attack on its sovereignty.

Sovereignty is not just the right of a government to keep its own house, nor it is an absolute injunction against international interference, though. Sovereignty also implies obligations and responsibilities that the Sudanese government is utterly failing to meet. Few people would argue that the UN should respect a nation’s sovereignty if a government is standing by and allowing an ethnic minority to be slaughtered in the streets.

The Sudanese government has stood powerless to stop the killing and the destruction in Darfur. While refugees flee to other countries, militias rule, ineffectual local peacekeepers dither, and the government blunders on, the only potential to stop the killing is to send in international troops. The UN has obligations on this front that it has so far failed to meet.

In allowing the AU troops to try to solve the problem, the UN actually did make the correct choice. Africa, as a whole, will never be truly successful until it has the capacity to police its own problems on the continent. But when it became apparent that the AU troops were going to fail, the UN was bound by its own charter to act to stop genocide. Of course, the UN has failed to act and will probably continue to fail to act and will probably make excuses for its failure to act even as people continue to die. And then, some day in the future when “normalcy” has returned to the region we will hear stories of atrocities, watch movies about the brutality, and raiser our voices and say, “NEVER AGAIN!”

Until the next time it happens because, let’s be serious, it will happen again and the UN will fail its mission.

Read the story.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hey! Who Broke the Internet

At my last job, any time there was a significant network outage we would wander around asking, “Who broke the Internet?” In Zimbabwe, apparently, the answer would be TelOne--not because of an equipment malfunction but because there wasn’t enough hard currency in the company to pay the bill.

Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank bailed out telephone operator TelOne, which owed the sum to Intelsat.

The disconnection earlier this month cut surfing and e-mail activities by 90%, Zimbabwe’s ISP association said.

But TelOne is warning that they remain saddled with other debts and face severe shortages of foreign currency so problems could reoccur.

The firm wants diplomatic missions and internet service providers to pay their monthly subscriptions in foreign currency.

Of course, an even better answer might be that Robert Mugabe indirectly broke the Internet (for Zimbabwe’s citizens) by ruining an economy to the point where Internet services and Coca Cola both run dry in a matter of months. From a distance, it’s occasionally funny to laugh at the quadruple digit inflation, the fiscal mistakes, and the anti-Western conspiracy mongering that helps keep Mugabe in power. The closer view isn’t quite so humorous.

Not so long ago, Zimbabwe enjoyed a stable, emerging economy with one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s best educated populations, a booming farming sector, and a decent infrastructure. Now, its currency is so devalued that even the syrup to make Coca Cola is hard to come by; that may sound frivolous, but the truth is that the syrup is cheap and Coke is a standard throughout most third world countries. Your economy has to be in miserable shape before Coke becomes a rare commodity.

Just sayin’.

Read the rest.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Good News in Africa

There is good news in Africa today as a report shows good economic growth through the countries making up Sub-Saharan Africa.

Growth in the 48-country region hit 4.8% in 2004, exceeding the global growth rate of 4.1% that year, the last year covered in the institution’s latest “World Development Indicators” report.

The trend is expected to continue this year as many African countries pursue sound economic policies, develop a good investment climate, battle corruption and use aid more effectively, according to the bank.

Economic growth often brings educational and health benefits. If there is an attendant shift toward stable, freer governments, then we could be entering a period where Africans begin to capitalize on abundant national resources. Of course, that’s a big “if”, given the tumultuous nature of politics and corruption in Africa. It also fails to note just how far down the economic ladder most of Africa exists; there is much ground to make up before they can be considered in the same breath as the developing nations of Central and South America, for example.

And while it does stand as good news, the mitigating factor is not only that successes seem so fleeting through much of the continent, but also that the successes exist alongside the monumental failures like Zimbabwe. Stability is sometimes hard to maintain when you live next door to nations that bleed refugees and invite civil war and economic unrest. As Zimbabwe continues to decline, what will the effect ultimately be on Mozambique and South Africa, for instance?

Still, good news is good news and these steps toward progress must be applauded. What I continue to hope for is that we see a sort of post-post-colonial period sweep through Africa. A period where the nations that threw off Europe’s rule finally grow weary of making excuses for their homegrown tyrants.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Happy Independence Day?

Today is Zimbabwe’s independence day, marking 26 years of misrule, decline, and oppression. This address from Arthur Mutambara, an opposition leader associated with the Movement for Democratic Change, sums up my feelings beautifully.

Twenty six years after independence, the people of Zimbabwe are not enjoying the fruits of liberation. Instead, starvation, unemployment, deplorable working conditions, unmitigated suffering, and unprecedented hopelessness have become endemic. There is a litany of challenges: We live in an undeclared state of emergency where our basic freedoms and liberties of assembly, speech, movement, and association are heavily curtailed by repressive legislation. Zimbabweans live in a state of collective fear of violence, hunger, diseases and arrest. Basic and essential commodities are either unavailable or unaffordable. School fees, property rates, rentals and agricultural inputs are beyond reach. The crippling fuel crisis, erratic power supply, destruction of commercial agriculture, food shortages, and lack of housing are devastating the population. Inflation has soared to record levels of 913%, unemployment is above 85%, while poverty levels are above 90%. There is rampant corruption in both the private and public sectors, accentuated by poor public sector and corporate governance.
[...]
Civil society and civic organizations must be non-partisan, internally democratic, and respectful of their own laws. Term limits should be strictly adhered to in civic, party and national constitutions. There is need to restore political freedoms, rule of law, personal security, and political legitimacy in Zimbabwe. It should be understood that the Zimbabwean political culture has been defined by Zanu PF for the past 26 years. We are all cut from that same cloth, hence the tendency to replicate Zanu PF undemocratic practices in all our organizations. We need to acknowledge this and consciously create and live a new democratic value system.
[...]
Today, the 18th of April 2006, our sacred Independence Day, it is our humble submission that the Zanu PF government under the leadership of Robert Mugabe has violated all the principles of the liberation struggle leading to this unprecedented economic collapse. They have totally failed to organize and manage the affairs of our nation. They neither understand the causes of the economic crisis, nor do they have a clear vision for the country. More importantly, Zanu PF has neither the will, strategy nor capacity to deliver our country from economic collapse to prosperity. We demand our human rights and dignity today. We demand an end to the national economic crisis today. We demand the immediate resignation of the entire Zanu PF government today. The people of Zimbabwe must rule themselves again. Today, the hour has come for us to reclaim our national birth right.

And, of course, there is far more in what I didn’t quote. As much as some of the specifics may be overly optimistic or even a tiny bit naive, the direction is right and only a radical change will save Zimbabwe from complete collapse.

What is most maddening is that this talk of rebellion comes to mark the “independence” of what should have been one of the wealthiest and most stable nations in Sub-Saharan Africa; it was a nation with a decent industrial base, a healthy agricultural sector, a reasonable infrastructure, educational opportunities actually improved for some time after independence, and the kind of optomistic, international support that could have helped Mugabe build an example for other nations in the region.

Instead, Zimbabwe became a very typical African story of corruption, tribal politics, violence, and corruption.

Happy independence day, Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe Independence

More Reading:
Tuesday, April 18, 2006 – Independence Day (Ha ha the joke’s on us)
Sokwanele home.
More Zimbabwe news from New Zimbabwe.

Original photo of Harare from CricketUmp.com.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Robert Mugabe’s Deception

President Robert Mugabe has begun to reverse his “insane” land grab and offer some white farmers the chance to lease back their holdings in Zimbabwe.

With the fastest shrinking economy in the world, Mr Mugabe has had to backtrack on six years of chaos and his own determination to rid the country of all white farmers.

It might be a good idea if we could possibly imagine that it was a sincere gesture of understanding. That is, understanding that the land grab policies, the redistribution of seized land to political allies, and a failed attempt at addressing the racial problems of the past have ruined Zimbabwe. That is, a sincere reach for a solution that could help the nation crawl from the ruins.

It might be funny if it weren’t too little and too late to salvage a collapsed economy or save the lives of the people who will go hungry or stave off the terrifying inflation that has left Zimbabwe’s own money almost completely worthless.

When leases were offered before--when land was purchased after the revolution with legal guarantees of ownership--those leases were disregarded as soon as it was in Mugabe’s best interest to dive into a land redistribution program. Sadly, there might be more than a few farmers who return from abroad when the promise of legal protection is extended to them. They will rebuild, they will turn fallow fields into fruitful fields, and they will invest themselves in the rich land once again.

Sooner or later, Mugabe, or his successor, will rip that land away, leaving the farmers with no protection when the squatters come to drive them off the land.

Of course, I could be wrong, but would it be wise to trust a leader of a country who happily manipulates the courts, the votes, and the constitution to maintain his power? A man who has lied so often before and shown a willingness to put his own political needs above the needs of Zimbabwe’s citizens?

This is a desperate move from a man who has watched his dying. It must be doubly disturbing to realize that his policies dug the grave (if, indeed, he does reach that realization--the power of a dictator to rationalize his own actions and find blame in others is never to be underestimated).

At the end of the story, one gentleman seems to embody my own cynical view of this policy change.

“The government vastly underestimates the damage of its insane policies,” said one of Zimbabwe’s former top cereal producers. “They probably believe that allowing some of us to return will turn the economy around in a single season. We won’t be able to do anything without international finance, and we won’t get that until there is political reform,” he said.

“It’s bloody miserable out there. All our friends have gone, our equipment has been broken, irrigation has been vandalised, our homes have been wrecked, the roads are a mess, our workers have gone so why should we return? I am sure there will be some clots who are so damn miserable in other countries or living in towns that they will go back.

“We should be campaigning for compensation, not going back to help people who wrecked our country.”

Sure, it would be hilarious if it weren’t another act in an ongoing tragedy.

Read the story.

For further reading:

This bearer cheque will buy you a single bottle of beer in Zimbabwe. But read the post to find out how many of them it would take to fill your car with gas.
This is a view of Zimbabwe right now. And as well as it is written, I would (sadly, angrily, bitterly) have to say one thing: Zimbabwe is already a failed state. It’s just that all the broken pieces haven’t quite fallen yet. Until the government collapses--as the economy, the infrastructure, and the industry have utterly fallen--the problem is that no one can start putting all those pieces back together. I struggle with this because I have no suggestion for the best tactic to help raise up a new government that will respect individual liberty, the constitution, and Zimbabwe’s potential place in southern Africa.

Yet, inaction would lead to the slow starvation of a country, the potential for armed violence as the political situation grows less stable, and the exodus of even more of Zimbabwe’s able workers. The ideal solution would come from the citizens of Zimbabwe with help from her neighbors, but that isn’t a likely scenario.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Couple Football Thoughts

  1. For Broncos fans, it had to be good to see the team running game living up to expectations this week. After three weeks of declining rushing stats, the Broncos again controlled the tempo of the last half of the game with a consistent rushing attack that ground out first downs. There are two reasons for this: first, Buffalo’s absolutely dreadful running defense, and, second, Shanahan abandoned the three back rotation (Anderson, Bell, and Dayne) for the two back rotation (Anderson and Bell). Running backs need carries--especially grinders like Anderson.
  2. For KC fans: ouch. Just ouch. I didn’t see that coming. A loss to a good team wasn’t out of the question, but the defensive letdowns that allowed Tiki Barber to rush for over 200 yards was both out of character and dismal given how important this game was for the team. Ouch. On the plus side, Chiefs’ RB Larry Johnson is going to do some serious damage to opposing teams next season—sadly, his great season is probably going to go to waste as the Chiefs now need a lot of help to make the playoffs.
  3. On the other hand, I wasn’t too surprised to see San Diego spoil Indy’s perfect season (stopped, like the Broncos in ‘98, at 13-1). Again, two reasons: first, San Diego’s defense played the Colts beautifully, and, second, the Colts were not playing their best game. I wouldn’t suggest that they didn’t want to win, but they didn’t have the kind of intensity that they’ve shown through the rest of the season--and, having already wrapped up their division and home field throughout, who could blame them? I’m not taking anything away from a San Diego team that played a fine game; I’m just saying that if the Chargers face the Colts in the playoffs, it will be a very different game.
  4. I don’t think it’s Favre’s last year. I just can’t believe that he would retire after a season like this. Admittedly, he hasn’t performed as consistently or as well as people expect--but he’s still a damn site better than a good number of QBs in this league and he had no help from his team. If he believes that the Packers will be healthy again next year, how could he not come back for at least one more year?
  5. The Broncos may not be a great team, but they are one of the best-balanced teams in the league and they put together a season that put my early predictions to shame. I was wrong about the Cleveland players, I was wrong about Plummer, I was wrong about the secondary, and I was wrong about the coaching. Good for me!
  6. League MVP? Either Shaun Alexander or Tiki Barber. You could make a case for Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, or LaDainian Tomlinson, but I’m not sure that any of them are as important to their team as either Barber or Alexander.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Observation: A Nation of Millionaires

First this:

It was a short, simple story - one which would have had absolutely no relevance in a normal society. But then Zim is rapidly precipitating from normality. The cause for her shock? She had phoned her stationery supplier! Now that is hardly any likely cause for shock, is it? All she had wanted was a ream of thin white A4-size card. “No problem”, said the supplier, “That will be Z$295,000 per sheet”. PER SHEET???

My observation: people often joke about money not being worth the paper that it’s printed on. Here is an honest situation where the paper that the money is printed on being far more valuable than the “currency” it represents.

The unofficial exchange rate is one dollar US is worth a little over 74,147 Zimbabwe dollars. So, assuming you could find a place that actually had the paper that you wanted to buy (I’m guessing that’s not as easy as it may seem--just a guess, though), it would cost you just under US $4 per sheet at the official exchange rate to buy a sheet of paper.

The cost of that sheet of paper is merely ridiculous to us (where the median household income is around US $50,000 or well over Zim $3.7 billion dollars per year), but what is its meaning in a country where unemployment is estimated at 70%?

Let’s look at this a bit closer - Zim’s highest denomination banknote is a Z$20,000 “Bearer Cheque”. You would need a wad of 7375 x Z$20,000 Bearer Cheques to buy one ream! Some more simple maths - Bearer Cheques are usually packed in bundles of 100, which are about 15mm thick. That is then a pile of notes about 1.1 metres tall!

According to old (and, what could only be described in comparison to the current economy in Zimbabwe, overly optimistic) data, the gross national per capita income was only US $506 (which at the US Treasury quoted exchange rate of Zim $24150 per US dollar would mean a gross national per capita income of $12,219,900--but we’ll stick with the unofficial rate because this more official rate would only buy about a third of the sheets of paper) annually or about 127 sheets of paper.

Which actually brings me to a point or three:

  1. I have no idea what the official figures actually mean. What does it mean to scrape by in a country with so little money, so little food, and so little in the way of job opportunities? The figures are meaningless and quite possibly completely out of touch with the reality of living in Zimbabwe.
  2. But it is just as obviously true that the Zimbabwe dollar is worthless. It barely functions as currency for its citizens, is unwanted on money markets, and is really becoming less a benchmark of purchasing power than a benchmark of misery.
  3. The actual value of money has never simply been in having barrels of the stuff. A million dollars is meaningless if it isn’t sufficient to buy food and shelter (or if there isn’t anything left in the stores and gas stations to buy).

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Rot in Zimbabwe

elephants

We moved to Zimbabwe when I was just a boy. When we arrived, and before my father had to begin his work, we saw Hwange National Park. My family stayed in rustic huts and drove during the day seeing the wildlife--hyen, lion, elephant, giraffe, and so much more--in the vast grassland and forest. Those sites, along with the majestic Victoria Falls, still count as some of the most beautiful things that I’ve been lucky enough to see.

If you were willing to travel to Arkansas and sit through the little family slide show, I’m sure that my parents could drag out hundreds of pictures of the wildlife. You’d have to sit through my dad’s favorite story about Zimbabwe, too--a dramatic story involving an underpowered Isuzu, an angry elephant, and a quick escape down a bumpy road.

It’s a pretty good story, but it’s his and I’ve never been able to do it justice.

Inside my head, I keep all of these memories of a Zimbabwe that has died--of the people that I met, of the parks that we lazed in on Sunday afternoons, of the jacaranda trees in bloom, and of a nation that I always thought I would meet again. Many of the people that my family knew have died or left, the cities and the parks are falling into disrepair, and though the jacaranda still bloom, Zimbabwe will never again be what it was.

Sadly, even the wildlife is paying the cost of the destitute country’s slide into corruption and apathy.

The stench of decay rises from the bush just outside of Main Camp, the dilapidated, near-deserted head-quarters at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Only a few months ago, the acacia groves, savanna grass and mopane scrub ran thick with wildlife. But now a visitor can drive for miles without seeing anything alive. There’s plenty of death, though. A few miles beyond headquarters, the corpses of two male elephants rot in the heat, not far from a watering hole that dried up in October.

I still love the idea of Zimbabwe and the country that it could have become. But every year, the memories and the land grow more distant. I still hope, but hope is such a small thing.

Jacaranda

The picture of the elephants in Hwange National Park was taken from this site.
The picture of the jacaranda trees in bloom was taken from this site.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Cool (And Marginally Useless)

The BBC maintains a portion of its daily news in Swahili. How cool is that?

Admittedly, for me it’s still a bit useless since I don’t know enough to catch more than a few words here and there in the articles, but hopefully that changes over the coming months.

A sample?

Waziri mmoja wa Urusi, Alexander Chekalin amesema mtu atakaye kataa kushirikiana na wanajeshi hao, na awe amebeba silaha, atauwawa.

Yeah, this is going to take some time…

Check it out.

Monday, July 25, 2005

For Sale: Southern African Fixer Upper

Some minor damage from post-colonial gov’t mishandling, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a little TLC. You provide the cash, oil, and food, and we’ll provide the home-grown corruption, movement toward a one party “democracy,” and a tantalizing glimpse at our untapped natural resources.

Limited time offer. Prop up this government before the nation fails completely!

Western nations need not apply.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Official Zomby Drinks of the Hottest Damned Part of the Summer

  1. Fanta Orange Soda
    In spite of the ads.
  2. Mike’s Hard Lemonade
    In spite of the wuss factor.
  3. Bombay Sapphire and Tonic
    In spite of the colonial image.
  4. Water
    In spite of the mediocrity of the stuff.
  5. Boddington’s Pub Ale
    In spite of nothing. This is great beer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Operation Murambatsvina: Clinton’s Wise Words

Operation Muarambatsvina
Yeah, you read that right: Clinton’s wise words.

Former President Bill Clinton is taking a trip through Africa, and the words he had yesterday were spot on. The message, although it centered around Robert Mugabe’s Operation Murambatsvina, was meant for neighboring nations who have been slow to criticize Mugabe’s rule. The operation to “clean up the trash” has left, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans homeless.

“If you want credibility you have to fight for basic freedoms. You can’t have credibility if no-one speaks out against ploughing up neighbourhoods,” Clinton told guests at the function, which was not attended by Mandela who spent his birthday in south-eastern South Africa with his family.

“Democracy is more than just majority rule. It is also about minority rights and minority participation. I entertained Robert Mugabe at the White House and tried my best to impress this on him,” said Clinton.

“If you want to build a modern and credible continent you have to speak out against the sort of thing Mugabe is doing,” he added.

What is most disturbing is the parallel that might be drawn between Pol Pot’s forced ruralization of Cambodia and Mugabe’s attempt to “clean up trash.” While Pol Pot emptied the cities en masse--sending citizens to lives as slave labor on farm collectives cum prison camps--Mugabe is moving in smaller, slower ways. But the goal is the same: complete control of the economy, food production, food distribution, and the political process.

While it would be hard to imagine Mugabe mimicking the purges and wanton destruction of Pol Pot’s murder of millions, the self-destructive nature of the oppression will have dire results. There will be famine, there will be rampant disease, there will be a nation whose slow collapse finally reaches the bottom--and, frankly, I doubt that the Chinese government will prove to be the salvation that Mugabe is looking for.

If Zimbabwe’s neighbors can’t muster up a bit of public outrage and pressure in this instance, then they are a long way from responsible, adult governments. As Clinton noted, the first step toward credibility for leaders like Thabo Mbeki is stepping up to injustice in their own neighborhoods.

Read the story.

Picture from ZWNews.com.
For more information about Operation Murambatsvina.
For general news about Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The President’s Speech (And Other Interesting News)

It wasn’t a great speech. He stumbled a bit here and there, it didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know, and it wasn’t a thing of Churchill-esque beauty. What it was, though, was a necessary thing to remind the country of why we went to Iraq, what we hope to do there, and why we are neither leaving now nor invading with all the manpower that America can muster. It was also a good reminder for us to say thank you to all of the professional, talented men and women who make up our military.

That is to say, the speech was the success it needed to be.

I have to admit that it was also gratifying to see the speech held on a military base, and an absolute pleasure to hear a speech that wasn’t interrupted by 50 applause points.

In other news, the United States and the United Kingdom have been waging a secret war against Zimbabwe.

A state-run newspaper in Zimbabwe has suggested the UK and US are to blame for droughts in southern Africa.

The Herald said climate change has been artificially induced “in a bid to arm-twist the region to capitulate to the whims of the world’s superpowers”.

It said weather was being manipulated for political gain using unspecified “unconventional” chemical weapons.

For shame, us.

Of course, it might also be that the state (and, by extension, the state controlled media) finds itself in the embarrassing situation of having to explain why Mugabe predicted that Zim’s moribund farm industry was going to produce so much maize this year that they would be exporting the stuff. Every NGO that tracks such things, of course, knew that Mugabe’s disastrous farm policies were going to leave Zimbabwe in a desperate situation and began an early begathon for food aid to the ruined nation.

Nah. That’s ridiculous. It has to be weather control and conspiracy.

(Thanks to Nathan for feeding me this wonderful story.)

Update: Here’s a good round-up of reactions to the speech. Like the right-wing shill that he is, though, he ignores the evidence of the Anglosphere’s secret war against Robert Mugabe’s brave revolution.

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