Promises Promises

Promises Promises

promisedmethecountrySummer is coming with a vengeance to Zimbabwe. The sky builds with rain.

Only ten days after the fall of Mugabe Zimbabwe trembles. The new regime born mostly of the old vies with long-suppressed and long-stoked groups each ready to kill one another.

First indications are that the new president, the former vice president and close double-crossed Mugabe confidante, is having a very hard time.

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Beware the Knife

Beware the Knife

beware the guillotineGermany’s Nazi party was one of the craftiest, most patient political apparatuses ever created. Unable to win a federal election outright it concentrated locally, slowly and assuredly consolidating national power until it was in complete control of Germany by 1933.

Nazis masterfully used democracy to end it. What’s happening today in America, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and many other places is a version of this with one critically important difference. The consequences of not recognizing this are as dire as they come.

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Stick it to ’em!

Stick it to ’em!

elephant tusk ban rescindedHere’s the thing: we should all be upset with USFW’s reversing a ban on importing elephant tusks, but it’s not quite the story you think. As described below I could see a Hillary administration doing the same thing.

What Ryan Zinke did (please let’s stop pinning everything on the moron Donald Trump who doesn’t even know the difference between African and Indian elephants) will definitely set back wildlife conservation in Africa, but in the panoply of so many other anti-conservation actions in the last few years, it’s minor. It’s the panoply which is major, which makes every minor move that much worse.

You need to focus on the facts. Stick with me.

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Zimbabwe Changes

Zimbabwe Changes

zimchangesEvents are moving quickly in Zimbabwe as the regime changes.

The Army is control. A credible news source, ZimNews, confirms that the President’s wife, Grace Mugabe, despised by the Army and the focal point of the coup, has fled to Namibia.

Emerson Mnangagwa, the vice president “deposed” by Grace several weeks ago, has slipped back into the country and will likely assume power. The 93-year old dictator, Robert Mugabe, is expected to address the country later tonight or tomorrow.

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Death by Elephant

Death by Elephant

elechargeAnother two tourists were killed by elephant Saturday.

There are conflicting accounts of the deaths. The official Zambian police report claims that the 57-year old Belgian woman walked “too close” to take photos. But family members of the two killed told the Lusaka Times “the duo were looking at the giant mammals from a distance” and were charged unexpectedly.

In the big scheme of things, here’s why the details matter less than you might think.

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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 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.