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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.

And here’s the headline of the day:

Police shoot one dead at foiled prayer meeting in Zimbabwe.

The prayer meeting, which one of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) organizers insisted wasn’t politically oriented, was broken up because the government currently bans political rallies in some parts of Harare.

Police shot dead one person and arrested leaders of the opposition and civic groups in a foiled prayer meeting in Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare on Sunday.

According to the official New Ziana, the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its allies wanted to hold the meeting in Harare in defiance of a ban.

Both leaders of the two factions of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, were arrested, as were National Constitutional Assembly (NAC) Chairman Lovemore Madhuku, top MDC officials Tendai Biti, Job Sikhala, Elias Mudzuri and Grace Kwinjeh.

The news agency said MDC and its allies had planned to hold the prayer meeting in Highfield in defiance of a three-month police ban on rallies in some areas of the capital in the aftermath of riots by the party’s supporters last month.

How much longer until the civil unrest becomes an uprising? When that comes the cost will be in the blood of the citizens who have already been most hurt by the government’s policies which is why if a peaceful path to government change can be found, that non-violent path is immensely more desirable than another African civil war. But with an African Union intent on providing cover for Mugabe and the United Nations mostly ignoring the growing unrest, finding that non-violent path seems more and more unlikely. Gift Tandare died protesting a tyrant; the name, though, is just one of the tens of thousands of deaths that Mugabe can claim.

Sokwanele, grassroots political activists devoted to non-violent political change, have this to say:

His bemusement is because Zimbabwe’s inflation is heading fast towards 1800% (it surged to 1,729.9 percent in February from 1,593.6 percent the previous month); life expectancy for women is 34 and for men 37 (average); HIV/AIDS statistics in our country are among the worst in the world and we’re facing massive food shortages and wide spread hunger; etc, etc, etc

Seriously…. What does the ZANU PF government expect us to do? Keep our mouths shut and passively starve to death?

I hope that Sokwanele’s principled devotion to change without resorting to armed resistance truly brings the changes that it envisions. A civil war would be one more disaster that a beautiful country and its citizens just don’t deserve. Robert Mugabe may not be part of the “Axis of Evil"--their international influence is too marginal to make such a lofty list--but his actions truly are evil: he has knowingly starved his citizens an wrecked an economy leading to untold dead and thousands chased from their homes. He brought calamity when he promised reconciliation and peace. And through the ruin, he continues his quest to be president for life.

For those Americans who can somehow look at our government and see tyranny or burgeoning dictatorship would do to take a long look at Zimbabwe, where those accusations aren’t misplaced.

Read more about the story here.

And read this for an excellent look at what Zimbabwe’s future might hold.

Comments & Trackbacks
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Maybe not a civil war, but one shot might solve part of the problem.

on Mar 12 2007 @ 08:46 AM

Part of me agrees. Part of me thinks that, no matter what, the man deserves that bullet. Part of me thinks it might make things worse.

I seem to be a little conflicted…

on Mar 12 2007 @ 09:02 AM

david, thanks for this thoughtful post. I admire non-violence movements for their rational attempt to incite change, and wish our government would do more to support them. There are too many examples in history and current geopolitics of military coups to overthrow despotism that end up in more bloodshed, more unrest and more human suffering. A different way exists, but it appears to be rarely used. Happy Tuesday!

on Mar 13 2007 @ 05:42 AM

For non-violent movements to work, the response to violence done to the participants has to impact on the senses of some party that will actually give a damn. There is enough suffering in Zimbabwe that should already have been noticed. The movement certainly cannot point out unjust laws, when there is no rule of law.
Breaking the law is the capricious decision of the ruling body.

on Mar 13 2007 @ 06:55 AM

And, of course, I find myself somewhere in the middle.

I’ve been called a bloodthirsty Republican shill before (and worse, but we won’t go there), so it should be no surprise that there are times where I think that force and violence are the only or best solutions to otherwise unacceptable situations. Typically, it is when diplomacy fails, when the cause is just, and when I think that there is a good chance that the outcome will be better than the original cause of the violence.

In this case, outside diplomacy has failed for a number of decades and Mugabe has been remarkably adept at changing the political system and bullying Zimbabwe’s citizens into keeping him in power. Leaders in neighboring countries have been largely silent throughout, and while the economy hasn’t been resilient enough to absorb the damage, Mugabe has been stubborn enough to maintain his course through all of the failures.

But then…

If Mugabe were to die or be killed, what will follow in his wake? Will it be a full civil war started by groups of Mugabe’s underlings that will devastate the populace but bring no promise of a better political system or future? Will it mean an even stronger figure at the top that is more directly brutal in consolidating power?

Whatever my feelings, though, I think that the situation is growing beyond Mugabe’s power to control. You can’t starve a country forever.

If the people of Zimbabwe move against their government, the question suddenly stops being “what can we do to pressure Mugabe into political reforms” and becomes “what can we do to encourage Mugabe to seek asylum elsewhere?” And we need to be sure that we are prepared to offer what assistance is needed in building the country back to what it once was--not just for humanitarian reasons (although that is compelling enough), but for practical, strategic reasons as well.

A collapsed Zimbabwe will export troubles to the surrounding governments if there isn’t someone there to help pull the pieces back together. But what a huge task: rebuilding infrastructure, rescuing the educational systems, encouraging skilled workers to both stay and to come home, building a heal care system, and jump starting the industries that once fueled the economy.

Mugabe is the cause of most of Zimbabwe’s problems, but his removal will hardly fix the damage done.

on Mar 13 2007 @ 09:12 AM

Hi David,

Thanks for writing such a comprehensive post and helping to make people aware of what’s happening in Zimbabwe. Although the people leaving comments here seem fairly aware, no doubt down to you and your personal interest in our ‘problems’ (what an understatement that word is!)

I’ve just uploaded images showing that Morgan Tsvangirai and Madhuku were clearly tortured. As aware as I am of how brutal this regime is, it amazes even me that they can so casually escort someone into court when that person clearly shows he has been battered to hell. It makes me wonder whether there isn’t a purpose to that - a/ to frighten Zimbabweans into deeper submission and b/to fling two fingers up to the world.

Many thanks
Hope - blogging for Sokwanele

on Mar 13 2007 @ 10:00 AM

Hope, Mugabe definitely parades his beaten opponents to fling those “two fingers up to the world.” He’s proving that he doesn’t have to listen to any of the outside (or, for that matter, his own citizens’ ) voices criticizing his regime. Arrogant bastard.

On another note, I am putting together a trip to Mozambique for next year and I’m hoping to find a way to spend a week or so in Harare. If that does end up happening, I hope to meet some of people who write for Sokwanele.

on Mar 13 2007 @ 11:15 AM

Amazing, this post is exactly how I feel about Venezuela, but without all the killing...yet.  It’s amazing how people can devastate a country so quickly. 

It makes me very sad.

on Mar 19 2007 @ 08:56 PM
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