Doubling Down

Doubling Down

money to mugabeI’d love to get a hold of Donald Trump’s Christmas Card list. You can probably name some of the addresses: Philippines, Venezuela and for Africa, Zimbabwe of course. There are more but what’s interesting is that with the exception of North Korea, the leaders of these craziest states all like Trump.

And Donald Trump likes them.

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Africa’s Volcano

Africa’s Volcano

zimerruptsNot a good idea to be a tourist in Zimbabwe, today. In a still developing situation tourists are stranded and one Australian has been arrested.

Several reports confirm the Australian was waving placards in an anti-government demonstration. Tourists at Victoria Falls are also threatened by an absence of transport and electricity. (Both daily scheduled flights from the falls to Joburg, however, departed mid-day with only minimum delays.)

Serious protests have been growing in Zimbabwe for months and came to a head several days ago when civil servants didn’t receive their scheduled paychecks. It was the third time this year.

They organized a “stay-at-home” day for yesterday. The police reaction was so severe that protests continued into today.

WhatsApp is the principal social media platform in southern Africa, but the Zimbabwe government managed to shut it down late yesterday. Protestors immediately switched to Twitter using the hashtags #ThisFlag, #ShutDownZim, and #ShutDownZimbabwe2016. Twitter now tops its feed with instructions on how to keep using the service as government agents shut down different hashtags.

In typical reticent Zim fashion, even the protestors are being careful if coy. The five main demands being circulated are (1)-Fire corrupt cabinet ministers, (2)-Remove police road blocks, (3)-Pay civil servants on time, (4)-Abandon the bond notes and (5)-Lift the import ban.

The spark was (3)-, the lack of pay for civil servants. In this ruined country where unemployment may be approaching 80% civil servants are the last actively employed group. Until recently their loyalty to the incredibly corrupt government went unchallenged.

Demand (4)- is a complicated issue created by the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank when it announced that by October it would issue “export bond notes” in lieu of a domestic currency. Zimbabwe abandoned its domestic currency seven years ago when inflation exploded and most Zimbabweans use the U.S. dollar.

Many Zimbabweans believe the fancy named currency with its hard-to-imagine restrictions that limit it to purchasing foreign goods is simply an additional way for corrupt officials to reintroduce a local currency. As with the last domestic currency officials manipulated the notes to enrich themselves at the expense of the local population.

Last week the country tightened its ban on imports, ostensibly to spur domestic production although it’s failed miserably. The country until now has survived on goods brought in principally from South Africa, and those are now being stopped at border points.

The interesting thing, of course, is that the population as a whole will likely join the growing protests precisely because of (4)- and (5)-, which if civil servants succeed in getting paid (3)- might likely immediately be reversed.

In effect government concessions on those last three points could quash the protests.

It’s absolutely amazing how much misery Zimbabweans have accepted over the years. It’s now nearly two full generations who have lived under the oppression of Robert Mugabe. The 90+ year-old leader is reported very frail and rarely seen in public. So unfortunately his legacy has held and a body of the politic is readying to replace him.

It’s unclear this protest will do much more than previous ones, particularly if the government scrapes up the cash to pay civil servants. But it’s extremely clear that holidays in Zimbabwe are increasingly ill-advised.

The Old Man Won’t Nod

The Old Man Won’t Nod

mugabe consentReading the Inyanga tea leaves, studying the day-old photographs, it appears to me that Robert Mugabe wants to turn control of Zimbabwe over to the Army but just can’t. He just can’t give up the reins of power.

If he did it could avoid more bloodshed but at the same time might even further perpetuate Zimbabwe’s sad oppression. Never in my life has there been a country in Africa so raped of its potential by its self-imposed leaders as Zimbabwe.

The possibility that Zimbabwe’s North Korean-like behaviors and criminal neglect of its educated population, natural beauties and rich natural resources might continue for another generation takes my breath away. It just seems so unfair.

Mugabe is 92 years old and feeble, possibly suffering from dementia. The single greatest indication that the time is nigh is how quickly this week Zimbabwe’s false and always artificial economy started unraveling:

There’s no cash in ATMs. More and more gas stations are closing. Food deliveries are growing scarce.

But Mugabe’s power is so absolute that until a change of power is signaled by him publicly, or until he dies or effectively loses control of reality, those waiting in the background won’t move.

Until recently his wife, a generation younger and allied with the secret police, was arranging a transfer of power from Mugabe to herself. Apparently, though, the old man didn’t approve. She’s fallen from the limelight.

So in stereotypical Cold War, despotic fashion, the sidelines are drawn: the secret police vs. the army. Each desperately wants the old man’s nod, so that they can obliterate the other. They have begun the inevitable posturing.

Waiting for the old man’s nod.

The fictitious political “opposition” which over the last several decades has done little but provide another reality TV show drama is powerless. Citizens of Zimbabwe are so beholden to the system which oppress them that like the citizens of North Korea it’s arguable they have little sense of the outside world.

Which is amazing because unlike North Korea Zimbabwe simply doesn’t have the resources to block the internet, for example. But when the time comes, there is no political opposition organized enough to do anything but present their scarred bodies to more police brutality.

If the old man doesn’t nod and simply fades further away, the secret police will ultimately battle the army and it will be bloody.

For how long? A day? A month? An hour?

No one knows and no one knows who will emerge as the new despot. The shorter the conflict, the more powerful the despot who follows.

The longer the conflict, the more lives lost and resources plundered, the greater the chance the world and especially Zimbabwe’s South African neighbor and benefactor might sit up and do something proper. But I don’t see that happening. I think it will be short and deadly.

And the second generation of a Lost Zimbabwe will begin.

Zimbabwe Downdate

Zimbabwe Downdate

mugabefallsRobert Mugabe is like the feral cat that keeps showing up at the bird feeder.

It goes away for long periods of time and then appears daily, for long periods of time. It looks arthritic as it raises itself out of a pool of sunshine on one day, then pounces on a vole a meter away like a young bunny rabbit.

Whenever it acts the back yard trembles. It always catches something, and you can hear the bones crush as it eats the poor thing whole.

Robert Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s leader for 35 years. For at least 25 of those he’s been an abject dictator. His main prey: white people, but that’s hardly all that fills his larder.

He’s eaten up virtually every living thing that has opposed him. In this power obsession he’s neglected one of the most beautiful and potentially rich countries on the continent.

Last week for the first time I can determine Zimbabwe media universally criticized his “State of the Union” address. He mumbled, fumbled, fell on the way to the podium, then misread his prepared remarks.

Mugabe’s leading mouthpiece media newspaper, for instance, the “New Zimbabwe,” dared to publish recently:

“While his handlers have insisted the Zanu PF leader is as fit as a fiddle, Mugabe’s body posture show a man very much being dragged to events with his body in evident protest as he struggles to walk.

“The veteran leader’s speeches are now slurred and he uncharacteristically says very little outside the prepared texts.”

Many of us have predicted his demise for years using events like this, or times that he’s shown up at the only modern hospital in the world that will take him (Singapore). A few weeks later he’s smiling at another opponent being cut down.

So summer is ending and another year passes with Robert Mugabe as leader of this beleaguered place. Another round of feisty politicians, hopeful politicians, progressive politicians have been swept out of power leaving little to hope for.

(Where do all these volunteer victims come from?)

The result is a politic totally unknown, a power vacuum or free-for-all looming in the wings.

One day this despicable old man will die. The political landscape he has fashioned is scorched, devoid of possibility. The land he has pillaged for four decades is tired and bleached of its nutrients.

I have been saying for years that little will change when the old man goes. It will take years to reignite the spirit of Zimbabwe in the people who remain there.

If any spirit at all is left.

Cecil & Swales

Cecil & Swales

bloodyface.lion.dena.435.skew.apr07The killing of Cecil the lion has now been followed by the killing of Swales the guide. Both tragedies are pathetic examples of horrifically poor safari management typical of Zimbabwe. Neither would have happened in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa.

I haven’t written about Cecil until now, although canned hunting, which was the cause of Cecil’s murder, is a subject I’ve often blogged about.

The 2013 canned hunting scandal with cable start sportsperson Melissa Bachman rattled her employer, National Geographic, so much that they fired her.

Bachman had proudly displayed a lion she had shot on a canned hunt … just like the dentist did with Cecil.

But Bachman was a celebrity. The dentist wasn’t until now, and there are literally hundreds of Americans each year who book canned hunts in southern Africa… and, by the way, in Texas.

A lion almost as famous and certainly as monitored as Cecil, named Nxaha, was responsible last week for killing the Zimbabwean safari guide, Quinn Swales.

The American media jumped on the incident as a way of recounting the interest in Cecil, but the fact is that the two incidents are quite different.

Cecil was a sanctioned, canned hunt. The bluster currently being shown by the Zimbabwean government, going so far as to “demand” the extradition of the dentist back to Zimbabwe to face trial, is absurd.

They did nothing illegal. In fact, hundreds of Americans every year sanction this kind of thing by purchasing it. It was the dentist’s poor experience as a hunter that led to the lengthy tracking of the wounded animal.

In the more recent case it was abject incompetence if not complete stupidity.

Swales was taking a small party on a walking safari, and he is clearly not the one to do so. He recognized the tracks of lion, including cubs. Multiple reports, including from his employer and Zimbabwe parks, confirm that he recognized cub tracks.

You don’t walk towards lion cubs.

But he did, and they saw him.

“We can confirm that Quinn did everything he could to successfully protect his guests and ensure their safety, and that no guests were injured in the incident,” the owners of the camp Swales was associated with said in a statement.

Well, that’s wonderful.

But the event should never have happened in the first place.

Walking safaris are increasingly risky in Africa as human populations engulf wilderness areas and the habitat for big game decreases. I no longer allow my clients to walk in East Africa under any circumstances.

Southern Africa is different, although I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do anything in Zimbabwe, frankly. The country is a mess, conservation is in ruins and its national parks are badly managed.

But in all cases, you do not walk towards lion cubs.

None of the reports indicated how old the cubs were, and that could make a difference. If they were 9 or 10 months or older, then the protective instincts of the parents would have waned. I’m presuming this was not the case. For one thing a 9-month old male cub is about the same size as his mother.

I’m glad none of the tourists were hurt. But their very presence in Zimbabwe is an indication of further incompetence.

Incompetence in the wild is unforgivable. Second chances are very rare.

ZimZam OldNew BlackWhite

ZimZam OldNew BlackWhite

ZambiaTurbulenceThis morning two countries just above South Africa are suddenly and surprisingly tense. There is potential for serious violence in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Other than that both countries begin with the letter “Z” there’s little else at first glance that seems similar about them beyond sharing the Zambezi river as a common border. But I think the sudden climate in each reflects a connection between them we didn’t realize before.

In a nutshell the problem in Zambia is the sudden death of its unusually popular president and the ensuing power struggle that includes the completely unexpected if remote possibility that a white man will come out on top.

In Zimbabwe nothing can be explained without Robert Mugabe, and the old and clearly sick dictator is being besieged from all sides: his party, an ever resurgent opposition and … even his wife.

Both situations have resulted in near lock-downs of their capitols. Clearly, violence is developing.

“Violence will never be the answer,” was the lead editorial in Zim’s ruling party newspaper Friday. Which, of course, means it will be.

In fact, the ruling party stoked the flames a few paragraphs later by stating, “…violence in crisis areas is not pushed by ideological pundits, but criminals hiding under a political or religious umbrella.”

Convoluted as usual by a lack of proper diction and reason in equal measure, it’s still quite clear that Zim’s ruling elite is getting a call to arms.

“Lusaka is in lockdown mode as most roads are closed today and tomorrow” ostensibly for the funeral of the recently dead president.

‘Who Cares?’ the first comment following that report today in one of Zambia’s main newspaper goes on to ask, pointing out that what really matters is “what is happening at the parliament gates,” i.e., the succession fight.

The sudden death of a popular and powerful leader in Zambia, and the apparent final demise of a decrepit and very sick old dictator right next door, are happening in tandem. Is this just all coincidence?

Well, probably, but I’ll tell you my imagination might not be completely to blame here. The current Acting President of Zambia is Guy Scott, a white man. Click here to read my first blog about his coming to power.

Like similar situations in democracies throughout the modern era, Scott as Vice President was a know-nothing, powerless figurehead who accompanied international missions mostly for needed amusement. George Bush refused to believe he was an official when a Zambian delegation visited the White House.

As Acting President he normally has no more power than an Acting Anything, which as we all well know in politics or business is a stand-in for the real thing expected sometime soon.

And so it seemed with Scott. Until last week. Here’s how that changed:

“… suddenly there was an announcement on national television that, Acting President, Guy Scott had dismissed PF Secretary General, Edgar Lungu from his position…[and]… replaced Lungu with Chipili Member of Parliament, Davies Mwila.

“The announcement was greeted with spontaneous riots and protests … and a thick nationwide atmosphere of disaffection.

“Diplomats quickly revised Zambia’s security rating from ‘peaceful transition to crisis.’”

The chess game that is always African politics is seen as some simply as Scott’s attempt to keep his opponents out of contention, the most important of which is the late president’s son.

But I think he’s setting himself up as a compromise candidate. He’s stoking the flames to become the hero who puts out the fire.

How does this parallel with Zimbabwe?

A once little known fact that has received wide attention recently is that Scott is actually a friend and vital supporter of the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe, who among all of his most vicious detractors was hated most by the white farmer he displaced.

Mugabe is clearly on the descent, certainly physically but I think at last politically. When your wife challenges you in public, beware.

But if Scott prevails, then so might Mugabe’s dreams for succession?

Would you ever have thought the survival of the black demon Mugabe depended upon a once little known white man next door?

British Aplomb

British Aplomb

whitezimsMugabe of Zimbabwe told the remaining whites this weekend that they better leave soon.

Although it isn’t the first time he’s made such a statement about the estimated remaining 40,000 whites in the country, this time seemed more serious.

He made the announcement in a convocation of regional chiefs. In Zimbabwe where government doesn’t exist except as Mugabe decrees, local governance is in the hands of regional chiefs that his administration appoints.

In farming communities that were almost exclusively white 20 years ago, many savvy black Zimbabweans took the white land Mugabe allowed them to conviscate, but they continued to contract the previous white owners as managers.

It’s the only reason the country hasn’t totally and completely collapsed.

But this weekend after his proclamation at the chief’s convocation, Mugabe warned that he would “remove those” chiefs who still undertook this arrangement.

“Don’t enter into contract farming with whites. It’s a dangerous, dangerous arrangement that we don’t want,” Mugabe warned.

Britain, however – which is the homeland that most whites could return to – isn’t so accommodating, anymore.

British law allows anyone who was born there or born of British parents to claim citizenship. That includes most of the remaining Zimbabwean whites who were forced to renounce their British citizenship to remain in Zimbabwe.

That alone piques the British aplomb.

But more fairly, the British have been accommodating returning white Zimbabweans for more than two decades. There is a feeling back in London that the ones who have remained had so many opportunities to return before, that there’s no reason to be nice, now.

So the British embassy in Harare which processes returns is charging outlandish fees to do so. By deciding to use the blackmarket rate for the Zimbabwean currency, rather than the official one used for all normal business, potential returnees are being charged 15 times as much.

London’s Daily Mail said the government “defended the move, saying [it] was obliged to recover all its costs worldwide.”

What needs to be pointed out is that many of the whites who remain really have nowhere in Britain to return to. They are multi-generational Zimbabweans, whose fathers and grandfathers and great-grand fathers all retained British citizenship but who never lived there, so were technically born of British parents. Maybe Ancestry.com could find them a connection, but nothing realistic remains.

I see the problem as much with British policy as with the notion these are people who tried to play both ends of the table.

Moreover, a large number of white Zimbabweans are falling into terribly poverty. The costs of processing return citizenship, much less the costs of airline tickets and other resettlement costs, are likely beyond a large portion of them.

This means it’s unlikely many of the remaining whites will heed the old man’s call.

And that’s kind of scary, if old man Mugabe really wants to have his way.

Something To Hide?

Something To Hide?

fergusonmarikanaLike few other American news stories the Ferguson unrest is widely reported in the African media. Analysts and reporters alike are essentially claiming that America is “like the pot calling the kettle black.”

It’s hard to dispute. But the killing of Michael Brown will ultimately be judged excessive use of police force, and in my opinion, the policeman will go to jail.

That’s where much of the African perspective fails. Jumping on this event before it plays out allows African analysts to presume we won’t reach the justice in this catastrophe that I think we will.

As is much more often the case in Africa than America.

Nevertheless, the Africans have a valid pinger right now.

The loudest criticism comes from the dictators:

“The changes of story are a maddening example of police obfuscation, racial bias in policing and how television news in particular often undercuts the stories with images that exacerbate racial stereotypes,” writes an American resident Zimbabwean for its mouth-piece newspaper, The Herald.

The day the incident occurred in Ferguson, The Herald and many other newspapers in Africa quickly reported the UN’s interdiction of the police force there:

“The US Government that hypocritically accuses Zimbabwe of alleged human rights abuses has come under fire from the United Nations over the wanton shooting of an 18-year old black man in Missouri that prompted widespread demonstrations.”

This, of course, is hypocrisy on hypocrisy as Zimbabwe is right now about the cruelest society with regards to free speech that exists. But that’s the incredible destruction of hypocrisy: it can be used so easily to support both its ends.

The other great suppressor of democracy, Egypt, was almost as vocal.

Cairo’s newspaper, Aswat Masriya, said that the Ferguson police response has “led to questioning whether the incident reflects a larger trend of local police excesses” in America.

Egypt’s crackdown on dissidents since the end of the Arab Spring has been incredibly tough. “Police excesses” hardly begin to truly report the brutality.

(By the way, the U.S. State Department in its unending attempt to befriend Egypt again, immediately said it “respected” Egypt’s criticism. That, too, was reported in Egypt.)

But dispense with all this hyperbole, however momentarily nonhyperbolic it may be, and there are some very thoughtful and I think valid criticisms coming out of Africa.

“When the overwhelmingly white police department in Ferguson … some of whom are Israeli trained, responded … they brought in equipment first used in the Iraq war,” writes one of my heroes of analysis in Africa, Richard Pithouse, a professor at Rhodes University in South Africa.

Pithouse is echoing many of us Americans who believe local police departments have been militarized, an almost inevitable aftermath of winding down imperial wars abroad.

Pithouse quickly picked up on valid analogies between Ferguson and Gaza, for example:

“Unsurprisingly people in Gaza started sending advice to people in Ferguson via twitter about how to deal with stun grenades, tear gas and all the rest.”

“Just as the same water cannons are used in Gaza, Port-au-Prince and Ferguson, as well as the shack lands of Brazil and South Africa, so too are the same ideological operations repeated,” Pithouse concludes.

His astute analysis repeats what many contemporary historians believe, that immoral colonialism when abandoned abroad will circle around and eventually be applied at home. In other words, the ideology once adopted is impossible to discard.

So when the colony is set free, the colonial power will sic on itself.

I agree with Pithouse, and I think Ferguson is an excellent example. But I’m more optimistic than him. I believe we can learn from, rather than be imprisoned by these historical paradigms.

South Africa recently released an official report on police brutality at the Marikana mine two years ago that was considerably more horrific than Ferguson, today.

Pithouse acknowledges this and bemoans the response of his own government to its own admissions. I think America in this case might do better.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

Zimbabwe: The End is Nigh

Zimbabwe: The End is Nigh

chappatteZimbabwe is on the brink of a new and violent crisis. Stay clear of the Zimbabwean side of Victoria Falls.

The ailing dictator, Robert Mugabe, is in Singapore for medical treatment. Yesterday he issued an unexpected and terrifying statement that all the remaining white farmers “had to go” by August.

There is an element of unusual desperation in the statement which I believe could lead to a series of very violent events.

These may not just involve white farmers. It could indeed be that Mugabe is very sick and is trying to hasten his mad policies before the end.

When he dies, or because it’s known he’s dying, a fight among the ruling elite to succeed him could be violent.

There are somewhere between 4-5000 white farmers who have survived Mugabe’s wrath for the last 14 years since the original 50,000 white farmers were told to leave. They have compromised their land ownership and production capabilities time and again and have lived terrified lives.

Almost weekly there is a brutal killing of white farmers.

It may seem amazing that any white farmers remain at all but it’s important to understand that many of these “hangers-on” as Zimbabwe politicians are apt to call them, were either extremely wealthy to begin with, capable of buying off ministers and police; or had absolutely no connections left anywhere else in the world to go to.

Now, every single one of them must leave.

“There are white farmers who are still on the land and have the protection of some cabinet ministers and politicians as well as traditional leaders,” Mugabe said in his statement from Singapore.

“That should never happen and we will deal with ministers but as for our chiefs we do not want to harass you.

“Chief Charumbira (Fortune and president of chief’s council), you need to help us on this one because we respect you and your members. We do not want trouble.”

To Mugabe the fiscal implication of his dictum – which will finally and totally destroy the tidbits that remain of the agricultural sector – doesn’t matter a hoot. His bankrupt nation survives on aid from South Africa and China. His agriculture minister, Joseph Made, is currently in Iran seeking more assistance.

Poverty, disease and life expectancy are only some of the metrics together with the economy that have exceeded crisis levels in the last decade.

During and just before the Arab Spring there were movements of reform and activism that were surprisingly successful. Large demonstrations which suffered countless killings and injuries forced the government into a new constitution which created the first ever opposition party.

But that party has been cajoled and coopted and is today totally powerless.

Historically Zimbabwe’s wealth was based on tobacco farming and mining, both controlled almost exclusively by the descendants of white settlers and colonists, the first of whom arrived in the 1890s.

The enmity between whites and blacks and among ruling tribes has been profound throughout all of Zimbabwe and Rhodesia’s existence.

By the mid 20th Century whites controlled virtually every aspect of the nation’s economy and wealth, yet they represented less than 6% of the overall population.

Never before or since in Africa has such a small percentage of a society’s ethnic population ruled so exclusively.

Britain hastened independence on its African colonies in the 1960s and tried to engineer a fair political plan that was scheduled to take effect in 1962. Any notion of fairness, of course, would have completely marginalized white control.

So a group of white politicians led by Ian Smith staged a coup and declared independence, and for 18 years whites continued to rule the country.

The civil war which developed was tedious and long, because the whites were so powerful. Finally in 1980 the U.K. and the U.S. brokered an end to the war that resulted in Mugabe coming to power.

He’s never left, and he’s never forgotten. He’s hell bent on retribution that stretches back to precolonial times when the maverick Cecil Rhodes tricked tribal leaders into giving them their territories in 1888.

But Mugabe has proved impotent in replacing the white-dominated economy with anything but aid. Strong sanctions from the west limit Zimbabwe’s growth to be sure, but numbers show that any investment is squandered.

The next chapter in Zimbabwe’s history is very near. And I’m afraid is likely to be very bloody.

Israeli Fauxpolitik

Israeli Fauxpolitik

NotABowIsrael’s steamy response to Obama’s acceptance of the new Palestinian government reveals a massive hypocrisy in Israel’s dealings with Africa.

Yesterday Palestine sort of came together, as Fatah (that recognizes Israel) formed a coalition with Hamas (that doesn’t).

The attempted amalgam was further complicated by the fact that Fatah is considered a wholesome government by the U.S. and much of the western world, and Hamas is considered a terrorist organization.

Complications hardly end there: mixtures of oil and water neither lubricate engines or quench thirst. It’s not clear to me the new coalition will be able to do anything but split up, again.

Be that as it may, Israel exploded diplomatically.

Israel spent 24×7 explaining to the media how hypocritical the U.S. was. On today’s Morning Edition, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. fumed.

I applaud Obama’s action because governments rarely mean what they say, only what they do, and it made me think of Israel’s long and “hypocritical” relationship with Africa.

Apartheid was prolonged, the war in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was prolonged, the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe is currently prolonged, the development of Ethiopia was inhibited and horrible men from today’s Kagame in Rwanda and Amin in Uganda were sustained … because of Israeli diplomacy, often secret, often not.

Israel’s justification in these and other similar African initiatives was basically two-fold: enhance their national security and protect and recover African Jews. And the dedication to these two missions was uncompromisable, even if it created a conflict with other established credos.

When I was guiding in a once peaceful eastern Congo (now the DRC) in the mid 1980s, I flew my clients south from Beni to Goma on DC3s that came from Israel carrying weapons to the then Rhodesia. I’ve never been clear which side they were destined for, but wherever they were headed it was illegal… and that didn’t matter to the Israelis.

The current dictatorship of the weirdo despot Robert Mugabe is legitimized by an Israeli firm, Nikuv, which “manages” the farce called national elections which keeps Mugabe in power. Many Israelis are themselves furious, calling Nikuv Mugabe’s “fixers.”

The arms shipments to Rhodesia in the 1980s were likely more political than commercial, but it seems Nikuv might be more commercial than political.

In the runup to his mass slaughters, Idi Amin was supported heavily by Israel when the rest of the world had abandoned him. Shortly after staging his coup, Amin visited Israel, since no one else would have him.

Today in neighboring Rwanda, another despot is supported heavily by Israel, president Paul Kagame. Apparently there are some in Israel who believe that Tutsis are ancient Jews.

That seems like a stretch, but it’s no stretch that many Ethiopians were ancient Jews. I’ve seen myself primitive huts 3 or 4 decades ago with Torahs in Hebrew the only book around, and totems of ancient Israeli personalities like the Queen of Sheebah. I’ve seen entire villages that speak only a local dialect and Hebrew.

The belief that these “Falasha” were the Lost Tribe of Dan resulted in 30 years of Israeli involvement in Ethiopia so that it could repatriate 40,000 of the Falasha. The mammoth undertaking ended last year.

In order to facilitate this undertaking, the government of Israel was the only government except the Soviet Union that supported the barbarism of ruthless Ethiopian leaders in the 1980s.

My point has nothing to do with whether these Israeli efforts were right or wrong, but that they were practical to an extreme.

Obama’s search for peace in The Mideast is not practical to an extreme, it’s just practical. Israel’s condemnation? The pot calling the kettle black.

Sunglasses for The Darkness

Sunglasses for The Darkness

MugabeEver heard of a coup d’etat that’s announced in advance? Ever been to Zimbabwe?

The Great Dictator, Robert Mugabe, was once again caught on video visiting a cancer hospital in Singapore several days ago.

His visit to Singapore is not entirely secret: spokesmen for the government conceded he’s in Singapore when he didn’t show up for several important functions in Harare.

But the government denied he’s visiting the Gleneagles Cancer Treatment Hospital to treat cancer. He’s there, they say, for an eye checkup.

It’s long been rumored that the 90+ year-old president has been battling prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, a political rally was held announcing a coup could take place at any time:

“By the time he comes back from his so-called medical check-up in Singapore, we would have taken power,” a widely respected opposition activist told cheering crowds at a large rally Sunday in a poor neighborhood of Harare.

Well, it’s Thursday and they haven’t taken power and if Mugabe’s still alive he’ll be back, soon.

That, you see, is what’s wrong with Zimbabwe. The opposition is so feeble that it must resort to explaining what it could do, rather than what it does.

The populace cheers what it could do, but dares not support what it does, because the one statistic as large as the fraudulent election results used by Mugabe for his current validation as president, is the number of missing activists.

Those like Job Sikhala, the labor leader turned politician who spoke above, travel about in a ring of armed guards. The government turns the occasional blind eye so long as Sikhala uses only the future perfect tense.

Responding to the widely reported rally, a Zimbabwe government official dismissed Sikhala’s remarks as “coming from a political party that is seeking relevancy.”

Touche.

Relevancy. Every time I think of Zimbabwe and Mugabe I just can’t understand how the people there have facilitated his dictatorship for so long.

Thirty years ago when Mugabe was just consolidating his power, the average Zimbabwean was far better educated, independent, entrepreneurial than the vast majority of their counterparts throughout black Africa to their north.

What happened? Why did they cave so completely?

We know some of the answers: many fled. While there was a white brain drain going on in South Africa the last ten years of apartheid, there was a black brain drain growing in Zimbabwe as the 1990s approached.

This was because the constitution forced on Mugabe by Britain and the U.S. guaranteed a white veto of any government action during the first ten years of Mugabe’s reign, from 1980 to 1990, even though whites were less than sixteenth of the population.

That was a mistake and the better off, better educated black Zimbabweans knew this. They had ten years to make their plans to depart, and tens of thousands did.

The second reason is that from the getgo South Africa has buffered Zimbabwe from international pressures to reform. This is because in the 1990s South Africa began to experience a huge flood of refugees from Zimbabwe, and they continue to do everything to stem the tide.

But even so the man who wears dark sunglasses even in the movie theater and his regime is so repressive if not retrogressive I remain highly perplexed.

So perplexed I couldn’t even be surprised if the preannounced coup happened.

Soldiers At Bay

Soldiers At Bay

Commie or DespotRevolutionaries make lousy politicians, and that’s why South Sudan is so unstable.

Five theoretically democratic countries in sub-Saharan Africa were born of revolution: Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, South Africa and South Sudan.

(Modern Rwanda, which rose from the pyre of the 1994 genocide, never pretended to be democratic. Kenya’s election violence was too short-lived and geographically contained to be considered revolution. And The Congo and Somalia aren’t finished, yet.)

Of the five, South Africa is doing just fine if awkwardly so. Ethiopia is a far, far distant second, and Uganda and Zimbabwe are now lost causes. South Sudan, the newest, is still figuring out its peace land legs and right now, doesn’t look too good.

These five countries provide an excellent study of modern day transition from revolution and suggest what South Sudan must do to succeed.

All five countries sustained a revolution against their previous regime for a generation or more:

South Africa’s ANC was the revolutionary, fighting arm against the Nationalist government that blew up the factories and staged a couple fire bombs while figuring out ways from time to time to close the mines. The ANC is now in control of South Africa’s politics and has been since Independence twenty years ago.

The Ethiopian regime is composed of a segments of rebel groups pursued by the Terror Triumvirate, which assassinated Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

The current Ugandan and Zimbabwean regimes consolidated power after violent ousters of repressive regimes (Idi Amin in Uganda and Ian Smith’s UDI in Rhodesia).

The South Sudan is the newest, created from a 2005 peace deal with (north) The Sudan that led to independence in 2011.

All five countries pretend to be democratic and are founded on constitutions based on democracy. Only South Africa is.

Uganda and Zimbabwe are iron-clad dictatorships. Ethiopia is more communist than dictatorship albeit with a pretty wide net of political involvement across various segments of Ethiopian society.

We can predict what might happen to South Sudan based on what happened to the other four.

In all cases, the men (and it’s exclusively men) who shot guns and murdered adversaries of the ancien regime are now the political leaders. As George Washington summed it up when leaving a single term in office, soldiers do not make good democratic leaders.

Foreigners are eager to cast these country’s difficulties as ethnic, and to be sure the internal adversaries are clearly ethnically different. But I think as suggested by Hilary Matfess in an article in Think Africa Press, today, there are other more important reasons.

Once fault lines occur in a society, ethnic groups tend to congeal on one side or the other, and that’s certainly what’s happened in South Sudan. But that doesn’t mean the ethnicity or racism is the actual cause.

Ms. Matfess argues that it’s the constitutional makeup, but I argue that the constitution was made up by soldiers, and that’s the problem.

In a country as diverse, successful and developed as South Africa, soldiering onto the political stage worked well for the ANC, but soldiering into governance is not working so well. Nevertheless in South Africa, autocratic moves by politicians have been checked.

South Africa will do just fine as soon as these old soldiers go, and they are slowly but surely dying or being forced out.

Uganda and Zimbabwe, however, weren’t able to make the transition that I’m sure South Africa has, and both have devolved into despotic regimes.

I see Ethiopia as trying very hard not to slip into a despotic character, and the way it’s trying to do so is by a very restrictive, highly controlled mostly communist system that is forcing the old soldiers to stay at bay. Certainly without this very powerful central authority in Addis, the country would start fighting, again, and one or other of the soldiers would come to power as the despot exactly as Museveni and Mugabe have in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

This is South Sudan’s option, I’m afraid. Lacking the development and diversity that South Africa had historically, South Sudan must figure out “how to keep the old soldiers at bay.”

The only way is by a centrally restrictive “communist” government. All that democracy will do is facilitate war.

This is exactly the opposite of what Ms. Matfess believes, even though I’m using her argument to suggest it. But democracy cannot work until the population is educated enough to engage its mechanisms.

So if The West wants peace in South Sudan, it’s going to have to accept communism.

Now there’s a twist.

Spring is Here

Spring is Here

novioletbulawayoWith my own novel set in Africa now being published, I was incredibly chagrined to meet (through her writings) Noviolet Bulawayo, certainly Africa’s best writer by far.

In my book, Chasm Gorge, I try to paint a story in the troubled areas of northern Kenya and southern Sudan, but I’m necessarily doing it as an outsider.

Ms. Bulawayo is an insider, and for so long I’ve been waiting for an African writer to step forward and tell “it like it is.”

There’s no holes barred in her tales set in very troubled Zimbabwe. She is reticent about linking these tales to politics which irritates me, but I’m sure folks will find my linkages overbearing and irritating in the reverse way.

It’s been a long time coming. Until now, in my opinion, African writers have been harnessed to their colonial past, extremely reluctant to call a spade a spade, a racist gang of African thugs a racist gang of African thugs.

But that’s what Ms. Bulawayo does.

The market for African literature has been dominated by either landscape artists or patient, wise old men. Africa has been considerably more complex than that for several generations. But except for a few hiphop artists now behind bars in Angola, African artists have shied away from the controversial nature of their uniquely personal trials.

Thirty years and a half continent divide myself from Ms. Bulawayo, yet I’ll be so immodest as to suggest we share a couple things, the most important being a love of African languages.

In creating my novel, Chasm Gorge, there were many who criticized what I felt was the relatively sparse use of Swahili without further explanation in the text.

As one of my characters points out in the book, “There’s no poetry in the language” of the west. But Africa is filled with it. You don’t have to study iambic pentameter to be a poet. You just have to say hello and goodbye.

Ms. Bulawayo was criticized when returning to southern Africa from her studies in America for “not having an American accent,” something that is an increasingly stylish component of an African educated abroad.

Fessing up to the personal struggle of leaving her home to become educated in order to better understand her home, Ms. Bulawayo told This Day, “I have to look backward at home with a new set of eyes that have made me embrace my language as a true identity.”

At the ripe age of 33, she has won more awards – in both Africa and the west – than most writers could hope for in a life time.

Her newest book, We Need New Names, is available on Amazon.

It’s hardly over. The promising future of her writing, that is. It is definitely over, the winter of no real African writing.