Monday, June 27, 2005
Send ‘Em to US
I realize that countries have to have a methodology by which they determine whether a person seeking asylum should be granted protection. I realize that.
But when people are leaving a country like Zimbabwe that is teetering on the edge of complete collapse--where the ruling party has stated its intentions to form a one party democracy, where the police have rendered (at the very least) hundreds of thousands homeless, where food is being used as a weapon to influence voters, and where the whispered threat of a new civil war is beginning to sound like more than just idle talk--then it seems that the desire for asylum should be taken seriously. The desire for security and opportunity away from the abuses of a dictator aren’t just understandable, they are the most sympathetic cry for protection that I can imagine.
Until two years ago, the UK had a policy that did not allow Zimbabwean asylum seekers to be deported back to Zimbabwe; despite the Robert Mugabe’s recent abuses, a small group is set to be deported. This strikes me as a wrongheaded policy reversal that, even if it doesn’t result in the direct abuse of these people when they are shipped back to their homes, will result in the loss of human potential.
For citizens of the failed and failing states in Africa that don’t move toward reform, liberalization, and economic reform, there is a cold truth: the best way to help them is to allow them to start over somewhere else. The best, the brightest, and the most driven aren’t leaving Africa because they don’t love their homelands; they leave because they want a future that they can’t possibly envision in their own countries. And our most effective way to help them is to allow them to begin new lives in the West.
If the UK doesn’t want them, send them here. Zimbabwe can only offer them unemployment (with at least 80% unemployment nation wide), food shortages, political repression, ridiculously poor health care, and an early death.
Friday, June 24, 2005
So, Yeah, About Mugabe (Updated)
Over a quarter million people made homeless? At least three children crushed to death?
You know, to tell you the truth, we’ve actually got more important things to attend to.
And, still, the African Union refuses to police its own. Not even a token gesture of political pressure or an unkind word for Mugabe while he grinds Zimbabwe into dust. I say again: debt forgiveness will not change this kind of inaction. Debt forgiveness will enable these governments to do even worse while their neighbors ignore their sins completely.
Mbeki is right on one count: there are myriad other horrors inhabiting sub-Saharan Africa. What isn’t true is that the West has been silent. This is another of those African moments where our attention, however fleetingly, has been turned to the corruption, the killing, and the poverty of places like the Congo, Sudan, and Rwanda. We have been paying attention, even though our own actions have been, at times, pitifully inadequate.
But even if we hadn’t noticed any of what’s going on, there would still be no excuse for Mugabe’s increasingly brutal regime. There is no reason to point to other countries and say, “but it’s worse there,” and use that as an excuse for willful ignorance and inaction.
I wonder how far Mugabe will go in an assault on the cities, though? It will get worse. Especially while people continue to make excuses for him.
Update: The homeless number that I quoted above is, according to other estimates, far too low. According to another source, the Murambatsvina campaign may have left up to 1.5 million people homeless. I am going to guess that this number is too high. Considering that Zimbabwe’s population is less than thirteen million, that would represent more than 10% of the population of the country.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The Questionable Value of Handouts
A few days ago, I wrote an exceptionally long post about debt relief for Africa. Being some 1800 plus words in length it was, of course, soundly ignored by all.
That’s not my point, though. My point is that in it I questioned whether freeing the poor African nations from their debt servicing would actually result in money being directed at health, infrastructure, education, and food. This report from IRIN serves to underline my point rather nicely.
To be sure, the President of Malawi should have a car. But he probably doesn’t really need a car that costs more than half a million dollars. Expect an increase in purchases like this, brand new presidential palaces, and a smattering of self-named football stadiums in the near future.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Speaking of Africa (Because We Were, You Know)
Another attempt is being made to establish a functioning government inside of Somalia.
Don’t expect the transition to be easy (or even successful). The warlords that have controlled Somalia since the government collapsed over a decade ago won’t happily let their power slip away.
Is my cynicism showing today?
Sunday, June 12, 2005
The Interpreter: Ten Point Review
Friday, June 10, 2005
Aid to Africa
Of course, my obsession with Africa was going to inform my focus, but the points made by Mr. Henke match my thoughts well. What was it that set me off? This article from Salon (Salon infomercial alert) that started out with this little tidbit of information (which could also be referred to as a lie):
Given that the Bush administration revealed that it planned to increase aid by nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars, the “Bush declines to increase US aid for Africa” bit is simply untrue. It is true that Bush balked at the seven billion dollar increase that Blair was asking for, but that isn’t without good reason.
Direct foreign aid from the United States alone last year, as the largest donor in the world, ended up being 3.2 billion dollars--according to the Christian Science Monitor, this was about triple the amount given in 2000. The Bush proposed increase would take that number to nearly 4 billion dollars--not precisely small numbers and a good deal more than any other nation on the planet. Further, that doesn’t count the aid from private organizations and individuals.
Africa isn’t steeped in poverty because there isn’t foreign money to help, because people don’t care (although, like all things, the focus of the caring follows trends), or because the continent is resource poor. Africa is poor because nearly all of the governments are unstable, the markets are centrally controlled, and most of the nations never properly industrialized or developed their agricultural potential following independence.
Let’s deal with a few concepts on the subject that shape my opinion on expanding aid to African nations.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Zimbabwe’s Continuing Fall
Instapundit is linking to a story that has to serve as a reminder that armed rebelion can come even a country that has remained relatively peaceful and patient under an abusive dictator for decades. If civil war comes, it will be a danger and a burden to all of the surrounding nations, it will be a bloody tragedy, and it will be something that we’ve been watching come like that proverbial train wreck in slow motion.
The question that faces us is this: what can be done to help the citizens of Zimbabwe find their way to freedom and a renewed economy without watching the blood flow? Or, maybe, can anything still be done to achieve that goal? I’m afraid that armed resistance may be all that’s left, but that the end result won’t be any better for Zimbabwe.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
As for me, well, it is a beautiful day outside, I have slept well, and this last week, I was lucky enough to meet a friend who was in town for the weekend. The rains have made the state green (and I’m sure there will be hell to pay for people with mold allergies, but I’m not one of them), and we aren’t hearing too much about drought anymore.
The economy may not be booming, but it isn’t bad. I have a job, I have friends, I have a lovely woman who loves me. The sun is shining, the air is clear, and I actually slept a bit last night.
Monday, May 09, 2005
The Selfish Case for Direct Involvement
I’m not particularly fond of Senator Corzine, and there aren’t too many areas where you would find me in agreement with the gentleman from New Jersey. For that matter, I can’t imagine that I’ll be a regular reader of The Huffington Post. But when someone makes a good point, I figure it’s worth noting.
There are strong moral reasons to want to see the situation in Sudan, but even strong moral reasons aren’t always enough to warrant the kind of energy and political capital that it takes to resolve a difficult, violent situation like the one we are seeing in Darfur. Making the practical case--the argument that non-involvement will be far more expensive in the long run--is far more persuasive to me.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
The New Benefactor
Robert Mugabe can’t manage to feed his people, can’t manage to run an economy, can’t manage free and open elections without first threatening the citizens, and has completely lost whatever moral compass he once carried. But he can buy some spankin’ new aircraft from China.
China is forging ties with Africa for good reason: if the post-colonial era hardships can transform into a new era of relative stability, the economic growth could be tremendous. The opportunities for helping African nations modernize and begin to exploit their own resources (the untapped wealth of Africa in mineral, farming, and human resources is mind boggling) could be a huge boon to friendly nations. China is looking to new development contracts, new markets, investment opportunities, and political leverage gains where America isn’t able to be as accommodating.
Of course, there is also risk in issuing credit or creating close ties to unpopular leaders like Mugabe. If the country fails and if opposition parties latch onto the idea that China was enabling Mugabe while the West was quietly trying to help bring reform, then the investment turns into a liability. The biggest danger for China then is that any potential for a post-revolution period Zimbabwe, where the post-colonial self-destruction turns to sustained growth and modernization, probably revolves around the fall of the current regime and the marginalization of the revolution’s political leadership.
China’s gifts and ties make good photo ops for Mugabe, but they do nothing to repair the crumbling infrastructure, pick up the garbage that piles up in the streets, feed the hungry, resurrect the annihilated farm system, or stem the triple digit inflation that has wrecked the economy. A real gift would to urge and help usher in political and economic reform that might still save Zimbabwe; for China, though, that would also usher in competition from the many Western donor nations, private charities, and companies that would love to do their part to help and benefit from a revival in Zimbabwe.
Monday, May 02, 2005
Weep for Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe’s power-hungry arrogance will cost thousands of lives, and that is simple truth.
Over the last year, Mugabe has continued to insist that the situation in Zimbabwe isn’t as bad as it’s been painted. He claimed, in fact, that there would be a surplus of food for his people, although any fool could see that his farm redistribution efforts left the country without any reliable, internal food supply. Faced with high inflation, shortages of food and goods, a steady flow of bodies leaving for neighboring countries, and enormous health care problems, Mugabe has stood by watching while his country failed; instead of recognizing the disastrous choices, he compounds the mistakes and refuses foreign aid.
Food isn’t the only thing that the poor citizens are missing. With a crumbling infrastructure, where the trash isn’t picked up, where there is no petrol to be had, where the farms have failed, and where few can afford the cost of foreign goods, Zimbabwe is like a patient who has slowly bled dry. There is little, or nothing, left to salvage of a country that deserved far better.
For the boy in my head, who still remembers the cities, the people, the farms, and the amazing beauty of Zimbabwe, there is little left to do but mourn.
Update: Bryan notes, correctly from my point of view, that some people are a little confused on precisely what constitutes a dark time in a nation’s history.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Civil War in Togo?
The last few days have brought reports of scattered violence and unrest in Togo, and today the situation worsened.
Today is a good day to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a country where this kind of post-election violence is a thing of the past. That doesn’t help the people of Togo, though, who are faced with the very real possibility of a violent coup or a civil war. Unfortunately, neither side seems bent on compromise and the regional watchers gave the vote their approval.
That there were significant irregularities is not in dispute, but whether those were enough to render the vote invalid is questionable. Togo, a tiny sliver of a country in Western Africa, had been under the rule of the same head of state--complete with sham multi-party elections--since 1967. Gnassingbe Eyadema maintained his power in the same way that Robert Mugabe has remained the head of his state: a ruthless and loyal military, massive corruption, and compromised elections.
Togo may well be a peek at Zimbabwe’s future. Mugabe has managed to hold power to this point, and done everything in his power to ensure that the country will remain a one-party state beyond his death (with almost joking allowances for an opposition party that is defanged by the changes that Mugabe’s government continues to make to the constitution). But his death will leave a void in the power structure that won’t easily be filled by one of his followers.
Togo, with help from the international community, may well find a peaceful way for a democratic government to take shape. If so, the lessons learned here could prove useful in other nations throughout Africa. If a peaceful resolution isn’t found, then it will prove a warning about those nations with aging dictators and a history of political unrest.
Monday, April 25, 2005
The Wrong Focus (Updated)
Developing nations want what we’ve got, and that often isn’t what would help them the most. High tech, for example, is sometimes seen as the miracle cure that could solve education and economic problems for these nations by opening their small industries up to larger markets. Nice thought, but it doesn’t work that way.
The problem with viewing technology as the solution isn’t just that the cost of deployment is expensive (although it is when it means not just the cost of running wire but of updating the entire (potentially nonexistent) computer and communication infrastructure of the major population centers of an entire nation. The real problem is the nature of technology in countries that can’t support the technology with home-grown maintenance. Like the roads throughout much of Africa, computers and communication technology will fall into disrepair.
More interestingly, without an intelligent plan for implementing technology solutions in a business plan, technology on its own doesn’t actually solve problems. It just sits around being flashy and impressive, costing tons, while not, you know, helping.
A better series of solutions could be suggested that would bring technology advancements.
First, focus on building and maintaining reasonably liberal and stable governments. Foreign investment is a tough sell when the home government has a violent coup ever decade or so, and it doesn’t help when foreign investors are worried that their investment could be “nationalized” on any given day.
Second, focus on building infrastructure around the population centers. Technology needs reliable energy, manufacturing needs reliable fuel delivery and useable streets, and a stable workforce requires both basic education and sanitation. If a company like Nike (God bless their capitalist little souls) chooses to bestow a manufacturing facility on a country, they will bring money, economic stability, and a boom in other industries (housing, food, and transportation, for instance). But they won’t come if they can’t be provided with a steady work force and the infrastructure needed to ship the manufactured goods and receive the raw materials.
We can turn our noses up at sweat shop labor, but our context is skewed for understanding the change that one of Nike’s plants can bring to a region. What may not sound like much to us is often a huge wage in a developing nation.
What would a country like Zimbabwe, with it 70% unemployment rate do to land a few plants to employ a few thousand of its citizens? The benefit is hardly confined to the newly employed; tax revenues would increase, employment in other sectors of the economy would rise, and economic stability would be one step closer to being a reality. Of course, as much as Zimbabwe might like to be host to a manufacturing concern of that nature, the reality is that the political situation and infrastructure won’t support that kind of an investment from a Western company. The opportunity for failure would be too high to take the risk.
Third, in the absence of direct foreign investment, create regional trading zones to bolster economies (which Luisa Diogo also suggested). Regional trade can often be less expensive and more efficient than focusing trade goals on far-off economic powers. It can also help create stability by ensuring closer ties between neighbors. Instead of working to undermine each other, the nations find that cooperation becomes beneficial to national interest.
Regional trade can be especially effective in agriculture, one of the places that a third world nation can occasionally compete with the big economic powers. Note to the anti-GM forces: helping third world nations find ways to implement GM crops could make them even more competitive since most of those crops are designed to be resistant to bugs and blights. Better crops mean more competitive power and if technology is key to finding solutions, then this is the area where technology could play the largest role.
Computers and the Internet won’t solve the problems. Stability, political reform, stable infrastructure, education, and health care are where the solutions can be found. The goal of having what the US and other Western nations have is a worthy one, but not a realistic one if the expectation is that it will happen within the next two years. The goal of progress and stability, though, is within reach for many of the nations that haven’t yet completely failed. It’s also a goal that is in the United States’ interest to support both in the hopes of continuing to have a constructive hand in guiding the development of third world nations and in the hopes of avoiding another Afghanistan--that is, a completely failed nation that plays easy host to terrorists.
Update: John Hays kindly references this post. Thank you very much.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Never an Easy Path
With the growing concern about childhood HIV infection, a clear understanding of how children are infected is becoming more important. Obviously, with infection rates so high in the adult population, more children are being born infected. But for those that aren’t infected at birth, there is another danger according to a South African study: shared breastfeeding.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Sunday, March 27, 2005
A Peaceful Uprising? (Updated)
It would be shocking if the elections in Zimbabwe were an open and honest affair. In fact, even if the elections are fair, the intimidation and quashing of dissenting views that led up to the elections would probably still put the results in question.
The idea of a “peaceful uprising” in the face of the election results seems to be the new (and welcome) wave in political action these days, and, hopefully, Archbishop Pius Ncube’s call for demonstrations leads to the same sort of visibility and potential for change that we saw in Lebanon.
Of course, Robert Mugabe has shown himself to be the most stubborn of dictators, pushing ahead with his destructive and self-serving plans even in the face of harsh criticism from neighboring African nations. The more he is pushed, the more he seems to expand his power and influence. Zimbabwe under his guidance isn’t failing; it’s failed and, even given new leadership, there is little chance for a speedy turn around.
I want to see the people stand up and force the issue, but I fear the potential bloodshed that could follow. Zimbabwe remains a country on the verge of complete collapse and these elections could, in effect, lead the nation over that cliff. Constitutionally backed elections should be a time of national pride--but only if they lead to the peaceful transfer of power in accordance with the will of the people. In Zimbabwe, elections are a time of fear, food shortages, and repression.
President Bush has made lofty promises to support people who stand up for their own liberty. I find myself wondering what the United States would be willing to do in support of a popular, non-violent uprising in Zimbabwe?
Update: Via Instapundit, Publius Pundit has more information and thoughts on the subject.
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