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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why They Continue to Fail

In a sign of phenomenal regional stupidity, the Southern African Development Community--SADC--is forming ranks around Robert Mugabe and threatening to kill off a summit with the EU scheduled to begin next week.

The SADC threat heightened the pre-summit row over Mr Mugabe’s attendance which has already meant Gordon Brown confirming his own boycott of the summit, a move followed by Mirek Topolanek, the Czech Prime Minister. Tomaz Salomão, executive secretary of the SADC, said that its 14 members including South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania as well as Zimbabwe, would pull out if Zimbabwe was on the agenda.

“SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said.

But while neither Zimbabwe nor any other country is expected to be listed as a separate agenda item, “governance and human rights” is one of five areas for discussion at the two-day gathering. A discussion of human rights is also a precondition for lifting Mr Mugabe’s EU travel ban to allow him to go in the first place.

Sadly, I can’t say that this is unprecedented. The truth is that post-colonial African leaders have a long-standing habit of protecting their neighbors from legitimate criticism, preferring to ignore the corruption and misrule in the region partially, I’ve always believed, as a way of ensuring that they themselves never have to face that criticism. I don’t attack you, you don’t attack me.

Or perhaps it simply stems from some strange belief that they are fortifying southern Africa diplomatically against incursions from a hostile Western world. If that is the case, then it goes far in proving that billions of dollars in financial, food, and material aid don’t go far in buying good will; while the West may hold the markets and the purse strings, many African leaders (and their overdeveloped sense of entitlement) insist on setting an agenda that doesn’t include changes in how they govern and how their economies are structures.

If the EU isn’t even allowed to raise the issue of gross negligence in the governing of countries like Zimbabwe, then no honest dialogue about Southern Africa can possibly take place.

But, again, that’s hardly surprise.

My beliefs on aid--and the importance of those Southern African states to the national security interests of the US--don’t necessarily mesh with most of my conservative and libertarian friends, but I think we could agree on this: without continued and aggressive changes to the governance of those states, our aid money is being wasted. Why continue throwing money down a well when there’s somebody at the bottom digging the hole ever deeper? I applaud the European leaders who are boycotting the summit over the inclusion of Mugabe; I wonder what the remaining leaders will do when faced with this very obvious and very hostile maneuver from the SADC?

Regardless, with the SADC putting up this block to a meaningful summit, an accidental message is being sent to the United States, too. When devising future aid packages, we now know that, regardless of some of the more impressive political changes in countries like Mozambique and South Africa, the urge to provide cover for the most corrupt and self-destructive of their members is strong enough to threaten an important summit with the European Union.

And that is one of the biggest reasons that these countries have continued to fail.

Read the story.

Thanks to Robin Roberts for pointing me toward the story.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Zimbabwe Horrors, Part 1

The continuing crisis in Zimbabwe sometimes loses its human face. The numbers are abstracts, the horrors far removed. But the people suffering have names and the stories of their suffering are terrifying. Adonis Musati was a young man who died because Mugabe has utterly failed the people of Zimbabwe.

A Zimbabwean job-seeker who collapsed and died in Cape Town last week, is said to have succumbed to starvation.

Adonis Musati, 23, was a police officer in Chimanimani in eastern Zimbabwe, but the economic crisis led him to South Africa to try to support his family.

He had spent a month at the Home Affairs Refugee Centre, trying to get a work permit, reportedly with nothing to eat, sleeping in a cardboard box.

His family said they had learned of Adonis’s death on the internet.

There is no food, the money is useless, the jobs almost impossible to come by. There is precious little hope for the failed nation at this point and the exodus of those hoping to find jobs and food in neighboring countries grows. Countries don’t topple without effecting the nations around them; ZImbabwe’s slow motion fall will continue to fill countries like South Africa with needy, poor refugees who aren’t prepared to fend for themselves.

From another story:

Drive through the darkened streets of Harare at night - for there is no electricity - and you see hundreds of people walking purposefully at two and three o’clock in the morning.

They are the few who need to get to work - only one in five of the adult population still has a job.

They take up their positions on street corners waiting for a passing car or pick-up truck.

There is no petrol, and regular bus services are already a distant memory.

“I sometimes wait four or five hours to get to work,” said one office worker.

Staring in horror isn’t much of a policy suggestion when it comes to suggesting ways to help right Zimbabwe’s sinking economy. For that matter, with Mugabe still planted firmly at the wheel and looking to run, again, for reelection, it’s hard to imagine any policy prescription that could do much to change the situation. Until Mugabe is gone, ZImbabwe is lost.

Read the story.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Celebrating the Smaller Failures

Of course, you may as well celebrate the small failures when the really really big ones have been piling up for years.

Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate slowed in August to 6,592.8% from July’s record of 7,634.8%, according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO).
The slowdown came in the midst of a price-control programme imposed by President Robert Mugabe in June.

Businesses were ordered to cut or freeze prices for items such as bread and milk.

But critics say the measures have just deepened the chronic food shortages suffered by Zimbabweans.

I certainly hope nobody actually takes this as good news, though.

Read the rest.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Naked Incompetence

Moving on from naked Hudgens (see previous) and onto naked incompetence (and the pain that it brings), here’s a brief note about Zimbabwe.

One US dollar now buys 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars on the official market, having previously earned 250 Zimbabwe dollars.

However dealers said that on the illegal market, $1 was buying 250,000 of the Zimbabwean currency

Latest figures put Zimbabwe’s annual inflation at 7,634%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned it could reach 100,000% by the end of the year.

[...]

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has led to an estimated three million people fleeing the country for South Africa.

Unemployment stands at about 80% and there are mass shortages of fuel and foodstuffs.

Businesses were forced to freeze prices in June as President Robert Mugabe’s government tried to stem inflation.

But some producers, fearing making a loss, cut production, meaning the move exacerbated shortages, leaving shop shelves empty.

While it’s hard to understate the massive incompetence of Mugabe’s government or the fragile state of the country, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve been just as impressed by the resilience of both the regime and the citizens. That’s one of the things that I loved about my time there, though: it was obvious that Zimbabwe was people by folks who, though relaxed, never stopped moving forward. That the country hasn’t completely and utterly fallen into chaos is as much a testament to their will to maintain a civilized view of their situation as it is a reflection of the oppressive tactics of Mugabe.

Why do I want to live there? It certainly isn’t the creature comfort, the stability, or the great health care; it’s that I deeply admire the people and love the country.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Correction or Clarification (Update)

Marty Peretz statements about Mbeki (“Mbeki the Nutcase”) are appreciated, but I’m relatively certain that he’s wrong about this bit:

But the UK and the US are also not entirely innocent. Zimbabwe is still a part of the British Commonwealth and Great Britain is represented in Harare by a High Commissioner.

I’m fairly certain that Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth in a bit of a snit a few years back. 2003 maybe? Must check and see…

Anyway, it’s a small point in an otherwise funny little attack on Mbeki.

Update: And right I am.

From Wikipedia:

Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 over concerns with the electoral and land reform policies of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF government, before withdrawing from the organization in 2003. It had previously been suspended from the Commonwealth under the country’s former name of Rhodesia from its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 until its internationally recognised independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.

Which report is seconded by the Beeb.

And, finally, so does the Commonwealth itself:

“It is disappointing that the Government of Zimbabwe has taken this step. All members will be saddened by it. I hope that Zimbabwe will wish to return in due course, as have other members in the past. In line with the CHOGM Statement on Zimbabwe earlier this week, members of the Commonwealth will continue to seek to engage Zimbabwe to promote national reconciliation and facilitate its return to the Commonwealth.

“Meanwhile in the light of Zimbabwe’s withdrawal, Zimbabwe becomes a non-member state and is no longer eligible to receive Commonwealth assistance or to attend Commonwealth meetings. Commonwealth organisations should treat Zimbabwe as a non-member state.”

Note to Editors

One consequence of Zimbabwe’s decision to leave the Commonwealth is that a Commonwealth country’s High Commission in Zimbabwe becomes an Embassy, with its High Commissioner now being designated an Ambassador. Equally, Zimbabwe’s High Commissions become Embassies and their High Commissioners are now designated Ambassadors.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Talk About Irony

Apparently, if you search for “‘Keep Mugabe in Power’ foreign aid”, you come to RSong. Which couldn’t be more in opposition to my way of thinking.

Down with Mugabe! Hooray democracy!

For more meaningful commentary on the plight of Zimbabwe (going back some four years or so), you can read here and here (the old, lamented AfricaBlog). You can also search the old posts in ResurrectionSong’s old MT-driven site, although many of those posts will be duplicates of the AfricaBlog stuff.

For current news, be sure to stop by Sokwanele’s blog. Not only is the writing illuminating, but the writers are good people who want only the best for their country. As much as Mugabe’s apologists want to make opposition sound as if it comes from imperialist lackeys, the truth is quite different.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

“The economy is down on its knees.”

The title is a sentence from one of the emails from Zimbabwe that the Beeb is running. These notes give a view into the growing disaster of Zimbabwe’s economy.

For another view, Sokwanele has been tracking changes in business for some time now.

Factories continue to shut down and warehouses are being depleted and the last stocks of manufactured goods have all but disappeared from the shelves.

Of course, the country’s own propagandists (and for those of you who think that American media are lapdogs of the administration, I submit that you don’t have the proper respect for our free press), see the situation differently. The support for Mugabe is unwavering, as is the call for price controls.

President Mugabe, in his stewardship role of the nation, has never failed Zimbabweans in their hour of need. We now have our land through his principled leadership.

The Indiginisation Act beckons for the majority to destroy the remaining vestiges of economic deprivation.

But the enemy is on the prowl, seeking to devour us, aided by the weak and corrupt amongst us. This explains why provisions of the Control of Goods Act are being invoked with full vigour to protect consumers harassed, nay haunted by a profiteering business community and marauding illegal regime change activists masquerading as business persons.


Which, while it’s awfully nice that the noble Mugabe is protecting Zimbabweans from the prowling enemy that is harassing, nay, haunting them, the idea that price controls will somehow stop hyperinflation is idiotic. Moneyweb has a clear view:

Mugabe’s government has reacted to the sapping effects of hyperinflation in the same way that many others have reacted: it has sought to implement price controls, fixing the prices of goods at so-called reasonable levels. This seems to make sense. Prices are rising very fast, so decreeing that they stop should solve the problem. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way.

Prices, in a market economy, reflect the value that people assign to a good. Consider the oil market. When demand for a limited supply of oil rises, the price rises. This encourages oil companies to invest more to produce more oil. It enables more expensive oil resources, like Canada’s tar sands, to be exploited.

By fixing the price of goods, the Mugabe’s government will effectively short out this relationship between supply and demand. The effects of this are depressingly familiar. Shops rapidly sell out of goods, and have no incentive to restock. People who produce goods no longer have any incentive to continue producing. Massive shortages result. This has happened again and again. In Zimbabwe, shops are emptying rapidly, and will not be easily restocked as long as price controls remain in place.

Price controls have been tried many times, and have always failed. Consider the Roman emperor Diocletian. When he ascended to the throne in around 200 BCE, the empire was a mess. Civil war, politically motivated land confiscation and looting had sapped the economy. Inflation was rampant. Virtually all the tax money collected went straight to the army, leaving nothing for government to spend on other projects. The government reacted by “printing money”, which pushed inflation ever higher. Diocletian tried to solve the problems by fixing prices, issuing the “Maximum Price Edict” which was supposed to end inflation. Instead, goods were driven to the black market, and large parts of the Roman empire reverted to a barter economy.

No period of hyperinflation has ever been ended by price controls.

All that Mugabe will do, with his strict price controls, is make the underground economy more important and, in my view, raise the likelihood of violence in Zimbabwe. When the official economy is so broken that it doesn’t match the realities of the citizens, then one of the threads that binds a government and the governed is severed. When faith that the government represents the people reasonably and fairly fails, then another of those threads is gone. When people stop believing that peaceful methods--voting, non-violent protest, open and frank discussion of grievances--can cause change, they will ultimately turn to violence.

In Zimbabwe, faith in government is mostly gone and the official economy is near irrelevance. The stories of violence, protest, repression, and corruption are growing; Zimbabwe is near collapse.  The only questions remaining in my mind are just how bad that collapse will be, how much bled will end up shed, and what will replace the government when it finally fails?

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, 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, 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).

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.

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.

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, 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.

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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