Friday, June 6, 2008

The Zimbabwe Tinderbox

One of the victims of post-election violence in Zimbabwe photo courtesy of

In December 2003, Samantha Power (yes, that Samantha Power) wrote How to Kill a Country or turning a breadbasket into a basket case in ten easy steps—the Robert Mugabe way:

1. Destroy the engine of productivity

2. Bury the truth

3. Crush dissent

4. Legislate the impossible

5. Teach hate

6. Scare off foreigners

7. Invade a neighbor

8. Ignore a deadly enemy

9. Commit genocide

10. Blame the imperialists

Four years later and still counting, Robert Mugabe, at 84 is still at it, and holding on to every scrap of tricks he could think of.

In April when the first confirmation of electoral victory by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the Mugabe Government deployed thousands of supporters to “discipline” people, mostly in rural areas, for having “voted the wrong way.”

In mid-May, United States ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee and several other western diplomats were held for over an hour at a police roadblock in Mashonaland Central while visiting victims of Zimbabwe's post-election violence.

Last week, three South African men arrested on a Zimbabwean highway and found in possession of “illegal” television equipment bearing logo of Britain’s Sky television were jailed for six months each.

Recent State Department Travel Alert cautions that "Americans should be particularly cautious when using still, video or telephone cameras in any urban setting, or in the vicinity of any political activity, as this could be construed by Zimbabwean authorities as practicing journalism without accreditation, a crime punishable by arrest, incarceration and/or deportation." It looks like in just a week, you now get jail time simply for possession of communication tools. Yesterday, the Zimbabwe government said it had indefinitely suspended all work by aid groups and non-governmental organisations, accusing a number of breaching their terms of registration. In a memorandum sent to aid groups, Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Nicholas Goche, said he had learned that aid groups were violating the terms of their agreement with the government. He did not elaborate in the brief statement.

Speaking at a world summit on food security, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome on Tuesday, President Robert Mugabe accused NGOs of working to topple his government. "Funds are being channelled through non-governmental organizations to ... opposition political parties which are a creation of the West," he said, "Further, these western-funded NGOs also use food as a political weapon with which to campaign against (the) government especially in the rural areas."

Quick translation: They're feeding the hungry, and the hungry may not vote for the ruling ZANU-FP in the run-off election. Think this through people - the run-off is not until the end of the month, with two more weeks to go, a hungry voter could easily become a dead voter, what good would that do? Unless. Yes, of course, the dead voter could not vote for the other guy, right! Darn, these guys are smart!

In the meantime, some 20 hours ago while Old Bob was in Rome, the Zimbabwean currency finally crashed. Reuters is reporting that Zimbabwe's currency plunged to a new record low on Thursday, trading at an average 1 billion to the U.S. dollar on a recently introduced interbank market and triggering massive price increases. A loaf of bread, which cost about Z$15 million before the polls, now costs about Z$600 million.

Also yesterday, there was a high-speed car chase through the Zimbabwean countryside with police in hot pursuit of U.S. diplomats. A phalanx of armed riot police blocking the Americans' car. And threats by supporters of President Robert Mugabe to drag the diplomats from their vehicle at a roadblock, burn the car and kill them. Although the group was later released, a U.S. Embassy driver was beaten and sustained injuries in the incident. U.S. Ambassador James McGee, declared that Zimbabwe "has become a lawless country."

Sounds like a thriller except that this is real life. In an ABC News report, Ambassador McGee acknowledges that as dangerous as the situation was, it could have turned out much worse and said, "I had some very, very cool people out there in the field."

As Zimbabwe continues to spiral out of control, I remember reading a piece written by Z. Pallo Jordan, a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of South Africa's ruling African National Congress. Below is an excerpt:

"Like peace and stability, democracy and good governance are developmental issues. Africa waged a century-long struggle against colonialism and apartheid precisely to establish the principle that governments should derive legitimacy through the consent of the governed. Democratic institutions are therefore not privileges that may be extended or withheld at the discretion of those who wield power. They are an entitlement; a right that the people of this continent waged struggle to attain and won at great cost!"

[…]"We have also warned against the temptations of recklessness that could easily precipitate armed conflict. We have consistently appealed to the values and norms that the national liberation movement in Zimbabwe waged struggle to attain - the values of democracy; accountable government; the rule of law; an independent judiciary; non-racialism; political tolerance and freedom of the media. Not a single one of these values was observed under British colonial rule, let alone under the UDI regime of Ian Smith and his cronies. We consider it a scandal that they are now being undermined by the movement that struggled to achieve them."

[…] "The questions we should be asking are: What has gone so radically wrong that the movement and the leaders who brought democracy to Zimbabwe today appear to be its ferocious violators. What has gone so wrong that they appear to be most fearful of it?"

What has gone radically wrong? Somebody just did not know when to exit the stage. In that short stretch of when, a man walks the thin line between greatness and damnation. Mugabe became leader of Zimbabwe in March of 1980. The thin line had been crossed a long time ago.

If he is now a tad paranoid, who could blame him? There's a reason for holding on to every scrap of tricks, both imaginable and unimaginable. The alternative is far too dark to contemplate, check here and here. Dictators, if they're lucky have a way of getting spirited out of their troubled countries and rotting to death in a foreign country, with the horror of their memories for company. If they're unlucky, they tend to leave their heads elsewhere, unmarked, unadorned and forgotten by the people they professed to loved. Heck, who wants that?

1 comment:

Jill said...

I have an expat friend who I met while posted in Oman from Zimbabwe (or Zim as she calls it). She's so scared to go back that after their tour was over (they were in oil), they went to South Africa instead. She fears for her family's freedom and is ashamed of her country...