Thursday, March 27, 2008

Zimbabwe's crisis.

The New York Times has an editorial regarding the sad situation of Zimbabwe. With elections coming up in a few days the question is how will Robert Mugabe steal another election?

First, some basics. Zimbabwe was a relatively prosperous country when Mugabe took power. The West, including Maggie Thatcher, praised Mugabe as a wonderful leader. This in spite of Mugabe’s open praise for one-party rule and his advocacy of Marxism. If questioned about this problem Mugabe’s supporters assured us that “he didn’t really mean it.” He meant it alright. And the last 28 years proves it.

For much of that time Mugabe felt safe in power so he left a lot of the economy alone. The areas where he was most “concerned” were also the areas he screwed up the worst. He was quite openly raiding the state treasury for his own personal gain and used to commander Air Zimbabwe jets so he could fly to London and spend his foreign aid at Harrod’s on goodies for himself, his wife, his mistress and other members of family.

Unemployment continued get worse under Mugabe’s rule. And he sent his troops into the Congo to pillage mines there promising proceeds to his generals. In addition Mugabe engaged in some genocide against the Matabeles. It is believed that his troops killed around 10,000 people in that massacre. The result was that the military was firmly committed to Mugabe. They fear that the election of anyone else would subject them to the courts for their executions. In addition the goodies that Mugabe was giving them would dry up.

In 2000 Mugabe put a referendum on the ballot which would change the Constitution in ways he found favorable to himself. He was shocked when he lost that vote. Two things were immediately apparent to him. One was that the voters in the major cities were firmly against him. But he knew that. It was his control over the rural areas that kept him in power. But he also lost a lot of votes in rural areas. And he knew why.

A few hundred thousand rural people lived on farms, most farms owned by white people. These farmers provided housing for their employees and their families -- entire villages sprang up on these farms. The farmers also built schools for the children and provided medical care. And these farmers protected their workers from squads of Mugabe’s thugs who would beat people up for voting the wrong way or supporting the wrong party.

Mad Bob had to get his hands on these rural workers. And to do that he had to get rid of the white farmers. All the talk about redistribution of land was so much window dressing. When property was redistributed it went to ZANU-PF (Mugabe’s party) cronies, relatives of Mad Bob and the generals. In very few cases was the land “redistributed” to poor people. When that was done it was turned into a “collective” and the farmers on these collective farms couldn’t even feed themselves -- they required food aid in order to survive.

The “white farmers” were never Mugabe’s target. It was their workers he was after. And when the farmers were destroyed Mugabe unleashed his thugs on the workers who were beaten, tortured and murdered for their disloyalty to Mad Bob.

Next he turned his attention to the urban residents. His troops went through the cities and the massive squatter camps and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. The people were forced back into the rural areas where it was easier for Mugabe to keep control of them. Next Mugabe turned on the educate blacks, business owners, teachers, etc. These people were staunch opponents of Mugabe and he had to break them as well.

One of the worst things about media coverage on Zimbabwe, at that time, was this continual harping about attacks on white farmers. And they did suffer badly. But they were not the targets. Mugabe’s thugs killed thousands and thousands of blacks and only a handful of whites. The media seemed to see this as a racial war. It was not. Mugabe’s racism was the excuse not the reason. Whites were pushed out of the way so he could kill his real opponents -- black voters who had shunned him. After that campaign Mugabe literally stole the election because, in spite of his rampant intimidation, he still lost the election.

The Times calls on “South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki” to make it clear that Mugabe’s henchmen will be denied visa and have their bank accounts frozen. Wishful thinking. Mbeki will not do much. The African National Congress has actively worked to enable Mugabe and keep him in power.

If there is one clear sign of the ANC’s authoritarian streak it is Mbeki’s support for Mugabe, and the tactics he has used to stay in power. In my opinion Mbeki’s support is there because he knows in his heart that the ANC would use the same sort of tactics if they were threatened with losing power. The top ANC leaders are happy with democratic elections provided they win. Given a scenario where the ANC would lose you see the same tactics trotted out in South Africa post haste.

Mbeki is leading South Africa down the drain. The country already suffers from rolling blackouts as the electric company is unable to provide power for much of the day. Factories and major companies close down with no notice due to power cuts. Yet as South Africa has been plunged into an electricity crisis the government still provides electricity to Mugabe’s regime -- even though he has been unable to pay for it. Calling on the ANC to do something here is a waste of breath.

Where the Times editorial goes most wrong is that it calls for “generous aid” to the hoped for new government. No! A thousand times, NO! Giving aid to governments in Africa is responsible for much of the harm that is inflicted on the poor. Mugabe sustained himself on generous aid from the West for decades. Foreign aid paid for the weapons used to kill his people. Foreign aid financed his secret police.

I remember one incident that is indicative of the foreign aid lunacy. A demonstration in Harare against the government was broken up by the police. One participant who was attacked by the police was the cousin to Queen Elizabeth. Simon Rhodes is Elizabeth’s second cousin and had spent much of life in Zimbabwe. When he marched for freedom in Zimbabwe the police grabbed him, roughed him up, and then threw him in the back of a Landrover used by the police to round up dissidents. The Landrover was provided as foreign aid by the British government.

Foreign aid does not help the poor. It would be far more useful for the West to fly over the poor villages and just dump cash out out of the helicopter windows. Money that goes to African governments goes to the vampire elite who rape their nations. It does not go to the people. This does not mean that the people of Zimbabwe don’t need help. They do. But it must be provided by private groups to people and villages directly. No such aid should go through government.

I would love to see the opposition Movement for Democratic Change take power. But I wouldn’t shower them with aid -- though I am sure that will happen if they win. Instead empower the people themselves not the politicians. Power in Africa is heavily centralized and that is destructive. Add the tribal rivalries and centralization of power inevitably leads to civil war and conflict as each tribe attempts to gain control of the State in order to prevent their enemies from gaining control of them. Africa needs local power not centralize power. Foreign aid just does more to centralize power in the central government. And it makes loyalty to government the one sure way of getting rich.

All of this exacerbates the problems in Africa. Foreign aid is about the worst thing you can do.

Labels: ,