Thursday, December 01, 2005

The trouble with Zimbabwe (and - now - Uganda)

*This op-ed piece first appeard in late 2003 at, an old website of mine. I re-publish it here this day in light of recent developments in one of Kenya's neighbours: good old Uganda. Jesse Masai.

Once, he must have seemed too good to be true to the leftist inteligentsia. A black nationalist fighting the minority white government in the then nation of Rhodesia. An academic jailed many times on behalf of his people. A committed socialist, ready and willing to throw off the white oppressors, and remake Africa into a land free of imperialism and injustice. Yet, 23 years after Robert Mugabe first rose to power in Zimbabwe, it seems that some things which seem too good to be true are naught but a pack of lies. The nation which is now called Zimbabwe unilaterally declared independence from Britain some time ago. However, it was only in 1980 that the first glimmerings of government of, for and by the people emerged. It came in the person of Robert Gabriel Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African Nationalist Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). A new constitution was drafted, and prospects looked bright. It is ironic that the vision of promise then has become dust and ashes in the mouths of the people now. For Mugabe is no visionary, pure-hearted anticolonialist, but a megalomaniacal thug, whose main concern is the promotion of the interests of Robert Mugabe. In analyzing Zimbabwe's current crop of troubles, it is logical to begin with Mugabe's land reform project. The land reform project was nothing if not ambitious. Mugabe sought to redistribute land held under dubious claims by a minority of white farmers to landless black Zimbabweans. Most observers were agreed that something needed to be done, but Mugabe's Marxist redistribution scheme went the way of most. The best of the confiscated property went to ZANU-PF party loyalists, who often had little or no farming experience. Naturally, this led to a famine, as very few crops were grown. Some estimates say that 6,000,000 Zimbabweans are currently starving. Mugabe has rejected importing food which has been genetically altered in any way, as he sees this as a "western invasion". Much of the rest of the economy has also stagnated. The Zimbabwe dollar is currently trading at 600 to 1 with the U.S. dollar, and 900 to 1 with the British pound, a far cry from its near equivalence with the pound when Mugabe first came to power. Thus Zimbabwe, once considered the hope of Africa, has become an economic shipwreck, sinking fast under inexpert navigation. The economic catastrophe would be bad enough on its own, but it is coupled with repression of political and civil rights so serious as to lead one observer to label him "our (Africa's) Stalin". Mugabe tends to denounce any opposition to him as "western colonialism", a theme that justifies much of his behavior. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has faced intimidation, violence and even political assassination at the hands of Mugabe's supporters. The MDC claims the support of the trade unions and business, as well as many churches, women's groups and other civic organizations. MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai was defeated by Mugabe in a 2002 election widely viewed as fraudulent by international observers (a fact which Mugabe naturally denies). On the subject of civil liberties, President Mugabe has made a concerted effort to stamp out any vestige of a free press. Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper was recently closed by order of Mugabe, for which the churches have roundly criticized him. Homosexuals have also been a target of persecution under the present government. Amnesty reports horrific prison conditions, including leaving death row inmates to lie shackled and naked in their cells. Like many dictators (Hitler and Saddam Hussein among them), Mugabe is even working to brainwash a core of youth into thugs and killers in support of his regime, a fact which has outraged the MDC. Yet, with recent legislation allowing the ZANU-PF to select one fifth of the seats in Zimbabwe's parliament, it seems there will be little the MDC can do to stop Mugabe in the near future. Time and time again, we are told by history professors, leftist politicians and those who claim to speak for the "world community", that all the problems of the world may be laid at the feet of the west. Yet, in the case of Robert Mugabe, we see an anti-western leader, an avowed African nationalist, brutally oppressing blacks and whites alike in the name of fighting "colonialism" and "white racism". The lesson of Mugabe should be taken to heart. When we approach those highly charged grievances which involve racial divisions and long-standing past conflicts, we must not seek for vengeance and restitution, but forgiveness and reconciliation. For today's victim may be tomorrow's oppressor, and power is corrupting, no matter who holds it. To quote the title of a book written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, there is "no future without forgiveness". Robert Mugabe and those who follow him have taken the human concept of restitution as a pretext to take power and dole out oppression. Sadly, people like this are the rule, not the exception. The story of Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a sad and sobering commentary on the fallibility of human visions and utopian ideologies, and should serve as a sharp warning to anyone who places faith in them. In the end, it is impossible to explain away human cruelty, a state of affairs which spans all races, creeds, ideologies and social groups. Sources include: 1. "Churches Attack 'Beast Mugabe', as found at 2. Freedom in the World 2003, released by Freedom House. 3. 3. The Zimbabwe Information Center.


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