June 30, 2000
10:28 PM   Subscribe

the economist presents a very clear review of why and how the zimbabwe elections went horribly wrong and what this means for the future of zimbabwe & africa. [this article is neither long nor hard but it's strong. read it] "After 20 years of ZANU government, the average Zimbabwean is a third poorer and can expect to die more than 15 years younger. . . The responsibility for reviving the sick economy still rests with Mr Mugabe and ZANU. Half of the workforce is jobless. Inflation is eating Zimbabweans’ savings at a rate of almost 70% a year. An unrealistic exchange rate has led to shortages of fuel and other imports. Mr Mugabe’s plans to seize white-owned farms without compensation, and his contradictory statements about whether he will do the same to mines and factories, have scared off both foreign and domestic investors. Despite having some of the most fertile land in Africa, Zimbabwe could need food aid this year."
posted by palegirl (17 comments total)
Well crap. Seeing something like this just makes me feel worthless. And I'm sure a large number of non-Americans, some possibly reading these words, would agree with me. I'm just an American. Despite our attempts over the last two centuries to be the ones wearing the white hats, we're generally just not liked. Why? Cuz we're stupid.

All human beings are stupid. So long as a single human on this planet thinks their own life is more important than their fellow man, so long as we continue to fight amongst one another instead of working together, the shit will continue to hit the fan.

We Americans had a Revolutionary war over 220 years ago, then a Civil War about 150 years ago. Sounds like the Zimbabweans are having both a Civil and Revolutionary war simultaneously. We dumb Americans had it easy.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:08 AM on July 1, 2000

Zimbabwe has dominated news reports in Britain for mixed reasons: the right-wing press has played the race card, noting Mugabe's tacit support for the occupation of white-owned farms, and his demands that Britain should provide compensation for the compulsorary handover of land. At the same time, the left-wing press has concentrated on Mugabe's civil rights abuses, and his virulent homophobia: he's accused the Labour government here of being run by a "gay mafia".

There's no easy answer. Mugabe's just one of the many charismatic demagogues who led black Africa to independence in the post-war era, with little to separate his politics from that of the colonial masters. He's a relic of an obsolete politic. With hope, the example of South Africa is enough to show that a peaceful settlement can ultimately emerge: that a second generation of leaders can shrug off the polarities of colonialism. But at what cost? That of a Rwanda, or an Angola? Massacres and minefields?

It's at times like this I want to throw my hands in the air and say, "well, you wanted independence. Deal with it." Just as Tito's Yugoslavian federation held together the ethnic tensions of the region, the British Empire provided a common enemy for divided peoples. But that didn't make it right.
posted by holgate at 7:09 AM on July 1, 2000

I read the article, but I did not see anything mentioning America being involved with the problem. What is America's involvement? I am inclined to agree with Holgate's position of allowing the country to work things out themselves. America inserting itself where it does not belong is one of the major reasons we are generally not liked.
You cannot change the nature of man, and I do not think we are stupid. I do think my life is more important than my fellow man's, but I do not think my rights exceed theirs. I too think things will be better when we all work together, but it must be out of self interest, or it will not attract anyone.
Fertile land where the people starve. Fascism in control, Socialism in action. And as always, people dead.
posted by thirteen at 9:03 AM on July 1, 2000

Knowledge is the best involvement, thirteen. It means you can assess your government's actions on the world stage, and appreciate that "the Africa problem" can't be resolved to the heds of "famine", "tribes" and "imperialism" that so often dominate the media.

(this is why I read the Economist, anyway.)

It's so that you don't end up looking like George W. Bush.
posted by holgate at 12:43 PM on July 1, 2000

I agree, and do try to keep track of what is being done in my name. I often do not agree with the things my government does. My question was how is my government involved in this particular situation. It seems to be an internal Zimbabwe thing, and a former British thing. Did the US prop somebody up? Mugabe?
I have not found the US connection.
Hati, Iran, and a bunch of other places, yes. But with that, what should America do about Zimbabwe? Throw money at it? Send troops? We should let them rule themselves, and deal with them when they are ready to join peaceful nations. We cannot and should not enforce peace. It is not our job, and we have no authority.
posted by thirteen at 1:05 PM on July 1, 2000

Jefferson said that ultimately a people get the government they deserve.

It's not clear to me that the US should do anything at all; it's not our business and we don't have the ability to actually affect it anyway. Ultimately, if the people of those nations want better government, it must come from within. It cannot be imposed from outside.

That's been tried, and invariably it has failed.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2000

No, the US had nothing to do with it. The 1AM timestamp may go a good way toward explaining the source of the confusion.

And regarding the issue itself, I wouldn't necessarily say that the elections went "horribly" wrong -- it's true that there was some very nasty 'coercion' (beatings, a few murders, even raping of MDC supporters ignored by police) and the MDC didn't win the majority, but they still have more than a third of the seats, even considering the 30 Mugabe-appointed shoo-ins, and can therefore block any major decisions that require a supermajority. Also, most of the MDC's positions were won in the cities, where the people are more likely to be educated and familiar with our 'Western' ideas of democracy-- whereas the ZANU-PF did best in rural areas, because Mugabe has been taking by force much of the white-owned land in order to give it to black farmers.
posted by EngineBeak at 2:52 PM on July 1, 2000

Sadly, I'm not convinced that a Zimbabwean Jefferson would have as much success as his American predecessor: the logistics of revolution have changed, given the distribution of military and economic power.

The important thing to remember is that there are "ways of doing something" which don't necessarily involve mobilising the troops or installing a "democratic" government. There are a few external mechanisms to encourage internal reform, but they're heavy-handed at best: adding conditions to IMF loans, or to the US/EU land reform compensation package has simply fuelled the anti-white "war veteran" forces in Zimbabwe.

But the collapse of the Warsaw Pact is instructive: undoubtedly influenced by Western actions, but motivated internally. And for every Czech Republic, a Bosnia; for every Hungary, a Romania. And so with Africa.

The BBC's Africa Media Watch is well worth a look for the opinions of neighbouring states on what comes next.
posted by holgate at 3:08 PM on July 1, 2000

For thirty years the world imposed extremely strong economic sanctions (in point of fact, a full economic boycott) on South Africa and Rhodesia (remember Rhodesia?) to try to influence them to switch to majority rule -- and nothing happened. There's no reason to believe that the boycott had any effect; they could just as easily have tolerated another fifty years of the same thing.

It wasn't until enough people inside those countries decided to make the change that it finally happened. It took simultaneously a Mandela and a Botha working together to make it happen in South Africa.

No, if better government is to appear in Africa, it must be home-grown. And that requires a large and competent professional class -- which is precisely the group which is being killed off fastest by AIDS. This is really big trouble. In many African nations, there are already too few educated people to maintain the economies, and the prognosis is a full-scale economic collapse within the next few years, followed by famine as the farming and transportation systems fall apart. The result will be refugee camps and a retreat to the land.

What we're going to see is a population collapse in sub-saharan Africa (from famine due to the devestation of the economic system by AIDS) down to perhaps a quarter of current levels, along with a return to traditional sustainable low-tech farming capable of producing food at those levels -- and a hell of a lot of wars and revolutions in the mean time. (We'll also see most of those countries repudiate their foreign debt.) It's not going to be pretty and I don't see anything which can prevent it. (I'm a cheerful guy, ain't I?)

Charitable importation of food from outside is ultimately self-defeating; it cannot be sustained at sufficient levels and worse, it cannot be sustained indefinitely. However, while it is going on, it encourages the formation of refugee camps, which simultaneously encourages the complete breakdown of all other social structures in those same countries and a general depopulation of the land. It's not obvious how you boot-strap their cultures again afterwards.

But even with charitable food distribution you're still going to see a population collapse, because in some African countries the HIV infection rate is now about one third -- and still growing -- and concentrated among the young adults, where the infection rate is far higher.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:34 PM on July 1, 2000

re: EugeneBeak's comment about the elections going horribly wrong
And regarding the issue itself, I wouldn't necessarily say that the elections went "horribly" wrong -- it's true that there was some very nasty 'coercion' (beatings, a few murders, even raping of MDC supporters ignored by police)

okay, first of all, i would consider coercive measures like beatings, murders, and rape as signs of an election going horribly wrong.

further: War vets 'will kill' those who voted MDC: "Roaming bands of war veterans are telling white farmers around the northern town of Mvurwi that they will be killed because they supported the opposition party in last weekend's parliamentary elections, farmers said on Friday. Four farmers and two businessmen say they have received death threats from war veterans who support the ruling Zanu-PF party. 'We need to kill a white just to make an example' one farmer quoted a war veteran as saying."

further: Mugabe: Land-grab to press on 'urgently': "'We are saying that farms will be acquired, and acquired with a sense of urgency. And as we acquire farms, war veterans will be resettled' Mugabe said in an interview broadcast on CNN television on Saturday. His comments come as the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) reports that at least 25 farms have been occupied since last weekend's parliamentary elections, ahead of a deadline for appeals against a compulsory land acquisition programme. A CFU official said that at least five farms had been occupied per day since the elections."
posted by palegirl at 11:24 PM on July 1, 2000

In the morning I may compose a more detailed reply, but for now there's this news of the positive report soon to come from the EU, and if you look at the roster of news stories you'll see that the more disinterested (i.e., non-UK) sources generally see the results as positive.

Bottom lines: we could have reasonably expected the violence to be much worse, considering the total control Mugabe and his party had; the support of the ZANU-PF is more due to promises of free land than violence against MDC supporters; the ZANU-PF is severely weakened and Mugabe will undoubtedly be out of power in a few years. The improvement of nations always is born of time and suffering. The presence of observers minimized the suffering and the courage of the MDC candidates helps to minimize the time. Buim bim boam.

--further: war vets will not kill "those who voted MDC": they want to kill the white farmers that they have been going after for quite a while; not a trivial distinction, leaving the elucidation of this as an exercise to the reader,;. Christ's sake, I know how nasty all this stuff is, but perspective is necessary. And Sierra Leone is much much worse but perversely absent from the Yahoo Africa Newspage. And what about the sharia in northern Nigeria? And we have Sudan continuing with its civil war which has been ongoing with little relief since '56. At least Zimbabwe is 'pointed the right way.' Look at Uganda, opting for stagnation. Their time will come too, though. Sleepy me, sitting here. I'm no activist, neither. I look at the slow burns.
posted by EngineBeak at 2:35 AM on July 2, 2000

okay. i mostly disagree with you. point-by-point:

1. that article you linked is VERY negative about the conditions of the election but is somewhat positive about the outcome. i'm not sure how you intend that article to support your point.
On Monday, Schori condemned the pre-election violence, saying it had badly tainted the vote.

i disagree with your point about 'disinterested news sources -- i don't think anyone is denying the gross efforts at coersion, which i contend render the election gone horribly wrong

2. almost any problem could be worse, so that doesn't convince me that it isn't bad in the first place.

3. you can not say that "war vets will not kill 'those who voted MDC'" -- the article linked above quotes them saying exactly that. and i dont understand your trivializing of the fact that they're terrorizing white farmers.

4. i appreciate that there are other, worse problems in the world. i appreciate that MeFi threads often go off-subject -- that said, the conflicts you mentioned really have no bearing on the zimbabwe elections.

5. i dont believe that uganda is "opting for stagnation." but that's neither here nor there.
posted by palegirl at 3:36 AM on July 2, 2000

Okay, this seems to be semantic bullshit on my part : I see the phrase "gone horribly wrong" to imply very very strongly an unexpected overwhelming disaster, which the elections were not. This is all I objected to, and probably I'm being as assheaded as some of the recent prodigiously productive newcomers to MeFi. But it's really easy to stick to one's guns, especially when one is Right. And I'm glad you're bringing stories of real significance to this forum. Capsule responses:

re 3 : alright, the headline says that, but the article itself does not, and it's a very important distinction because 'killing MDC voters' would be large-scale slaughter, whereas the threatened farmers will probably get out of the country with their hides intact. also, this story relates to Mugabe's giving away of 'free land' -- the major incentive that led to his party's victory in rural areas. Again, the MDC won like 90% of votes in cities, which to me doesn't show that threats of violence had that great an effect -- I believe that despite threats people will vote for who they want to win, and if the rural people have got less scruples than the cityfolk -- you see what happened. Throw me a bone here.

the severity of a situation does not give license to be imprecise so that it seems worse than it is, unless this could bring help. I assume people want to have a subtle understanding of what happened and why, rather than see it as something wholly good or wholly evil on the basis of only parts of the great complex event and without relation to prior expectations.
posted by EngineBeak at 12:09 PM on July 2, 2000

I would definitely agree with palegirl's use of the term "horribly". It's hard to find anything worth defending in Mugabe, or by extension the ZANU(PF) -- not only in the weeks leading up to the elections but for at least the last decade. However, the present situation is depressing precisely because there are (a) so many victims (clearly there are legitimate issues underlying the "compulsory land acquisition programme"; it's the brutal way in which they are being addressed which is wrong and unnecessary, not the issues themselves) and (b) so few heroes (the MDC, which purports to be the "Worker's Party", has recently begun to align itself with the IMF etc -- although this is could change). The Economist article (although mostly accurate about the facts) proposes the usual neoliberal diagnosis: an alleged failure to follow through on promises "to liberalise the economy in order to secure loans from the IMF". In practice, though, "liberalization" is associated with crony capitalism, income inequality and environmental degradation -- problems Zimbabwe should be trying to solve not cultivate. Anyway, I agree the situation is complicated. For a more nuanced view see e.g. Patrick Bond's article on Znet (access to the sustainers program should be free for the time being).
posted by johnb at 12:34 AM on July 3, 2000

posted by EngineBeak at 11:23 AM on July 4, 2000

This WSWS article gives a mostly balanced explanation (imho) of what is happening. Viz., regarding the MDC, see the passage beginning:

"The MDC's economic programme...echoes the demands of Western governments and the IMF. It calls for sweeping fast-track privatisations, opening up of the economy to international investors, drastic cuts in the public sector and the repayment of all outstanding debts..."

And re: ZANU(PF), see the passage beginning:

"Mugabe's pretensions to advance an anti-imperialist program and articulate the strivings of the rural poor for land and social justice are entirely bogus..."


"Neither of the two main contenders in the elections offers any means of resolving the fundamental social and political problems of the Zimbabwean people..."

posted by johnb at 1:09 PM on July 4, 2000

White Farmer Killed in Zimbabwe
posted by EngineBeak at 1:51 PM on July 25, 2000

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