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.

Halloween is Early

Halloween is Early

Halloween is EarlyFew commented on Swaziland’s serious law banning flying witches in May, but this week a Zimbabwean newspaper took up the issue as an editorial.

Don’t laugh.

Swazis believe in witches, and the misaligned hill of a country, surrounded by South Africa and still ruled by a monarch, has been neglected by the world and this is the result. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has had almost as much global attention as climate change, so what’s going on?

First, the facts. Swaziland has one airport, Manzini, at its capital, and until the end of apartheid it was something like an Indian reservation is in the U.S. With unregulated casinos and call-girls, the morally strapped South African used Swazi as an erotic escape.

With the collapse of apartheid in the mid 1990s together with many of its morally constrictive laws, Swazi’s popularity descended rapidly. One could argue it started to reverse itself altogether and revert to the precolonial period.

Recently, South Africa bailed out Swaziland the same way the U.S. bailed out Chase. The country is riddled with scandal and corruption and ruled by a highfalutin king who may, in fact, never be on earth any more than the witches that apparently beset his sovereign land.

The May law goes much further than just banning witches from flying higher than 150 meters above the ground. It also bans toy helicopters and kites. This because a wicked activist protesting the king’s behavior, Hunter Shongwe, was caught with a toy helicopter that had a video camera on it. Drone.

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has so many awful problems of its own, why would it descend into the unprovable abstract? Exactly. An “editorial” in Zimbabwe is capable of getting its writer hanged or tortured, and there’s just so many things you can say pleasantly about one of Africa’s most ruthless dictators of all time.

So Zimbabwe Standard editorial writer, Leo Igwe, produced this earth shattering opinion that “we should disabuse ourselves of belief in flying witches” and castigated neighbor Swaziland for ”embarrassing” itself.

“Embracing superstitions should call into question a people’s mental state and cause others to question their claim to rationality. Making superstitious claims should reinforce the idea that some human beings are backward, trapped in the pre-modern age and still down the ladder of human civilization, in an unenlightened state.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Forgive me, but this got me thinking. You can’t prove there aren’t witches. Well, actually, you sort of can. By aeons of no proof of a flying witch, it’s reasonable to deduce that there aren’t any.

Similarly, by repeated attempts from the American Right to suggest the economy grows by trickle-down economics and then it doesn’t, you can also surmise it won’t work if tried, again.

But Swazis clinging to their superstitions because they haven’t been definitively disproved, and Republicans believing they will create jobs by strangling the government, are ideas grasped by poorly educated folks with an imagination as big as a pea.

And yet it continues. So much so that the Zimbabwes in the world, like the Peter Kings in the Republican Party, decry such foolery to deflect attention from their own short comings.

Witches won’t crash. Economies crash.

A Real Gem of a Guy

A Real Gem of a Guy

GemofaguyAfter several decades of trying to reel in Zimbabwe, the European Union just gave up. Sanctions beginning with mining and diamonds will soon be lifted. Who’s running the show up there in Brussels?

Most Europeans consider Zimbabwe one of their greatest diplomatic failures. The country remains a rogue state ruled by a ruthless dictator who has managed to all but destroy an economy that had one of the greatest potentials in Africa.

Robert Mugabe is 90 years old and has been in power since 1980. He was a freedom fighter much admired in the west when he led a major faction against Ian Smith, the white man who lead “UDI” – Unilateral Declaration of Independence – from Britain in 1962.

Rhodesia, as it was then called, was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes, who in the last half of the 19th century made the country with brute force. Rhodes was probably the richest man in the world at the time who believed to insanity that Britain should rule Africa from bottom to top.

Britain wasn’t all that adverse to the idea, despite public protestations, so they let the rogue Rhodes into the wilds to massacre tribes, build railways and demarcate his own country.

Rhodesia became one of the most productive, beautiful, peaceful countries in Africa. Its economy blossomed with modern agriculture, mining for a variety of ores including diamonds, and tourism. Although pointedly, all this production was run by whites, British settlers who also believed like Rhodes that Westminster was Olympus.

But when it was time for Independence in the early 1960s, there was only 1 white for every 16 blacks. Ian Smith and his white Rhodesians didn’t need to hire Nate Silver to predict an outcome.

So they took over the country from Britain in 1962. Yes, that’s correct. British settlers took over a British colony. Remind you of anything? Ian Smith more than once called himself the George Washington of Africa.

Times had changed, and the war which followed wasn’t with Britain. It was with blacks like Robert Mugabe, and after 18 years and a lot of European sanctions on white Rhodesia, Britain and the U.S. brokered a peace agreement.

The agreement fixated a constitution for ten years that didn’t give the whites any more power than blacks, but institutionalized the power that they negotiated in the agreement in a way that couldn’t be changed.

For that ten years Robert Mugabe was a very good president … at least we all thought so, and frankly, so did many of the whites. It was a time of tourism explosion in Zimbabwe – since it was now peaceful after so many years.

I was deeply involved with two companies run by two white Senators. They loved Mugabe.

But after that ten years and the constitution could be changed by majority vote, Mugabe did. And his vindictiveness started to show.

He began redistributing land, mostly from white farmers. OK. To be expected, right? But with time it became more and more gruesome and the distribution was hardly fair. The land was given not to people of need but to his supporters. Then his cronies. Then his ministers.

Today the next richest and most powerful man in the country is the head of the army, Minister of Defense, Emmerson Mnangagwa. He is the richest because the land which was given to him by Mugabe includes Zimbabwe’s diamond mines.

Mnangagwa is rich despite European sanctions, and that’s the point of those who argue the sanctions became useless. But the EU itself has estimated that Zimbabwe revenues will increase by Euro 400 million annually as the diamond sanctions are lifted.

Others claim that a major motivation is that Belgium wants the business of cutting the diamonds.

“Too late,” says Zimbabwean spokesman, Rugare Gumbo.

Whatever the reason, Zimbabwe is poised to get much richer. And as time goes on, Zimbabwe is little more than a smaller and smaller and closer and closer group of thugs.

The Demons of Democracy

The Demons of Democracy

democracyfailesmorsiwinsTwo African elections this week clearly show how democracy fails in societies with powerful chief executives.

Like the U.S. But more about that after discussing Africa.

This week’s elections in Zimbabwe and Mali have failed both their societies, for different reasons, and the result is arguably worse than had there not been elections at all.

In Zimbabwe the rigged election process reaffirmed the country’s despot, Robert Mugabe, and ensures the country will continue to slide into poverty and greater dependency upon its neighbors desperate that it doesn’t totally fail.

It’s interesting that Mugabe and thugs mastered the democratic process so well that despite this week’s travesty of popular expression, observers from as divergent organizations as the African Union and reporters for Reuters gave the process a pass.

It absolutely wasn’t fair. Imagine an election – officially stated – with 99.97% of the rural population voting, and only 68.2% of the urban population voting.

Get it?

What Robert Mugabe has become is an evil despot. This is pretty easily defined as an individual who concentrates power around himself and his thugs, and distributes whatever wealth can be extracted from the country into this small core of individuals.

At the expense of everyone else in the population, even those who supposedly voted for him.

He absolutely does have solid support from Zimbabwe’s poor and rural populations, who are thrown pieces of bread (the land of white farms) just like Marie Antoinette did to stave the French revolution.

And essentially uneducated and untrained, a piece of land is a gold mine, but what it means for the tens of thousands of rural Zimbabweans who have benefitted from this policy, is that they will never have tractors, will never have schools, will never have hospitals or roads or a better life beyond their tiny plot of land.

Yet their ecstacy at this gift from Daddy is profound. And their xenophobia and racism is ripe for plucking. And even so, even with 99.97% of them “voting,” they wouldn’t have been the majority if the more educated urban populations were given their voice.

And, of course, 99.97% of them didn’t vote. Many of them can’t read and there weren’t enough polling stations in the country to handle that number of actual voters. The irregularities in this “election” were profound.

Yet it was “democratic.” Zimbabwe’s urban population rolls were restricted by techniques strikingly similar to dozens of new American voter registration laws. If it’s democracy in Texas, it’s democracy in Zimbabwe.

In Mali – often championed as a model for democracy by westerners – another near perfect election process has resulted in an effective tie. This is something democracy can’t handle. It screwed it up in Bush v. Gore, and it screwed it up in Kenya’s recent election, and now Mali’s future becomes terribly problematic.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK), a former prime minister in better times, seems to have received 50.+% of the vote, which would effectively make him the chief executive without a second run-off election.

This, by the way, is the identical situation that occurred in Kenya in March, where the victors were ultimately declared the winners with 50.07% of the vote.

In Mali, the election process was truly fair in my opinion. If there was any fault to the process, it was that the serious opposition from the desert peoples and those involved in the recent insurgency was not voiced. In part, because the insurgency continues and the insurgents didn’t want to participate.

But of the society held together by the French Foreign Legion, a sort of muscular gerrymandering, the elections were remarkably free and transparent.

But now what? Within the margin of error of any scientific study, no one really won, but democracy mandates that someone win. If this were in Europe or Israel, it wouldn’t matter so much, because the chief executive for whom the election was held is not so powerful.

But in executive democracies, where the chief executive like President Obama holds so much power, one of the sides wins and one of the sides loses. Definitively.

And down the road that leads to polarization, friction and radicalization of power blocks that might otherwise be able to compromise.

Had America had a parliamentary democracy rather than an executive presidency, I believe that we would never have gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The challenge of modern democracy is to create workable amalgams of power in societies with large and nearly equally opposing views. That’s not possible in societies with a powerful chief executive.

This is the case as well in Kenya, where ethnicity and corruption is now on the rise after decades of decline, and where Mali is likely now doomed to become a war zone for generations.

Neither Kenya or Mali will be able to traumatize the world as much as America did after Bush v. Gore. But all three examples show how ineffective, perhaps counterproductive, democracy is when the society has a powerful chief executive.

The analysis seems much simpler with Mugabe. When evil masters the process, in this case democracy, the ends justify the means and essentially emasculates the idealists who proclaim the process. Yet on closer reflection it’s clear had Zimbabwe not had a powerful chief executive style government, Mugabe may not have lasted.

The lesson seems starkly obvious to me. Democracy is a bad idea for societies with a powerful chief executive. Parliamentary democracies may be good; presidential democracies are not.

Hail To The Victor Valiant!

Hail To The Victor Valiant!

Robert Mugabe and Morgan TsvangiraiAfrica’s longest-serving dictator and one of the most evil men in the world, Robert Mugabe, will be validated by democracy as Zimbabwe’s leader again on July 31.

It will be his third “democratic” election and without doubt, his third victory. It will be the third time that his single opponent is the dumbly masochist, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has endured torture, humiliation and the murder of his wife, to spot Mugabe over the last 15 years as the opponent who gives Mugabe credibility.

Through democracy.

I am intrigued by the time and resources that Mugabe has committed to this facade of being a democratically elected and warmly loved leader. Tsvangirai holds the questionable title of “Prime Minister,” and may indeed, hold it again after Mugabe is elected, again.

So he gets a nice house and a stipend for good clothing, but alas, he’s rarely allowed to leave the country and his meetings and rallies are monitored by Mugabe’s thugs who then routinely beat up anyone in the public who seemed engaged.

Most of the time Tsvangirai speaks to himself, and pity to the few earnest supporters putting their lives on the line for such dastardly acts as waving a poster.

Mugabe has expended notable effort this time to get outside observers. Of course, the most respected outside observers of elections – the organization that actually founded the idea – the Carter Center, has been banned.

So instead he will have observers from Russia and Serbia. (There are others, including the more respectable African Union, but that organization does hate to upset its dictators.)

And despite truly heroic efforts by many good Zimbabweans to do such things as register voters, it’s essentially impossible to register unless you prove your loyalty to Mugabe, first.

The private and somewhat secret website in Zimbabwe to help fledgling democrats register is called “MyZimVote.” Illustrative of its primary function is a giant map with red circles counting the number of gross violations around the country where persons attempting to register were denied … or beaten up.

This and a bunch of other laws and regulations that actually does manage to out-shame Texas means Mugabe’s victory is assured.

All in the name of democracy. And while it would be hard for the most poorly trained political scientist to call this “good” democracy, it does go through the motions. It does a little better than Stalin’s 99% wins. And above all it proves that most everyone – even the grossest of leaders – ascribes to the theory that the people should decide who rules them.

And that leads to the marvelous question of whether these pretenders, from Mugabe to Bush, really believe they have been elected by the people, or if they realize it’s a sham from the getgo.

Bush believed. Mugabe knows it’s a sham. I guess that’s the difference between poorly educated and a thug.

Game Viewing in Zimbabwe

Game Viewing in Zimbabwe

After a relatively long period during which Zimbabwe’s national parks seemed to be recovering in spite of Robert Mugabe, tourists reported gunfire in the country’s main national park this week.

And — unfortunately — it was not the gun fire of a revolution. The shots came from hunting rifles.

Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s most precious big game wilderness. Located in the northwest of the country, it was one of Africa’s primary game reserves throughout the last century.

You need to be cautious when researching it, though, as is true of everything today in Zimbabwe. The link above to Wikipedia is quite dated, with Hwange’s biomass considerably smaller than the library reference suggests, and its ecology far more fragile.

“…the number of animals being snared for food by local people living on the boundary of the Park has increased dramatically,” reports one of Hwange’s most dedicated tourism operators. This because of severe food shortages throughout the country.

That’s only one of three major problems facing Hwange, today.

The second serious problem with Hwange is its very design. Wildlife filmmaker, Aaron Gekoski, documented this recently in his March production, “Grey Matters“.

When Hwange was created in 1928 it was understood there was not enough water for a real wildlife park. So the government built boreholes, water wells, throughout the park and has been pumping water for the wildlife ever since.

This isn’t unique. The same is done in Namibia’s main national park, Etosha, and in a variety of national and private reserves throughout southern Africa.

It works if maintained. But the last Zimbabwe resource that the current dictator cares about is its wildlife, and the boreholes have not been maintained. Fewer than half of the original ones are operating, and as a result, the animals are dying.

But Hwange’s greatest problem, reflected this week as tourists trying to find an elephant in Hwange instead heard it being shot, is the wholesale looting of its biomass, and not just by corrupt government officials, but by private hunting companies.

Soldiers regularly harvest ruminates indiscriminately, sometimes assisting villagers for their bushmeat. While subsistence hunting elicits some understanding from me, Zimbabwe soldiers are well paid.

And without any study or regards to biology or ecology, the government of Zimbabwe is trading animals for political favors.

Last year foreign wildlife investigators confirmed that the government of Zimbabwe had exported at least four small elephants to China. The act was little more than stupid cruelty by the seller and receiver. Four young elephant removed from their families have little chance of surviving, anywhere, much less in a Chinese zoo.

There was such worldwide outrage at this act last year, that the global treaty which governs the trade in international species of which China is a signatory, CITES, banned any further such transactions between Zimbabwe and China.

China is legendary at publicly accepting such restrictions while finding ways to work around them, or to simple illegally ignore them in practice. But the attention this focused on Zim’s dwindling elephant population provoked a real local vigilance that seems ready to expose any subsequent violation.

But while internationally Zimbabwe may be restrained, internally it’s gone bonkers.

One of Zimbabwe’s most important wildlife reserves is the Save Conservancy (pronounced Sav-hey), in the far southeast of the country that was once scheduled to become a part of a trans-national wilderness withn Mozambique and South Africa wildernesses.

Land grabbing has grown from sport to routine in Zimbabwe, and Save is being eaten away as the Mugabe regime parcels it out to its cronies.

And add to this devil’s den of looters professional hunting.

In the old, good days, Zimbabwe was a preferred destination of hunters, and its wilderness was one of the best managed in the world, with hunters and non-hunters in grand alliances that did much to preserve Africa’s game.

That’s changed. This week tourists in Hwange reported hearing gunfire, and not the kind which would excite us all that the regime was under assault. These were the shots from hunting rifles.

We don’t know if the elephants shot were by hunters from the regime, or hunters from abroad.

But the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZATF), a proactive and somewhat subterranean wildlife NGO, insists that Zimbabwe professional hunters are now regularly harvesting animals technically illegally from national parks and private reserves, with the tacit approval of the Mugabe government:

Arnold Payne, Ken & Tikki Drummond, all of Impala African Safaris, have been named as the principal thieves.

Worse, ZATF says, “It is suspected that some of the hunters … are US citizens.”

The old adage, three strikes and you’re out, is dangerously close to being true in Zimbabwe’s big game wildernesses: subsistence hunting forced by food shortages, an ecological design of national parks that can’t withstand neglect, and now wholesale looting of the biomass.

Hwange and its other sister wildernesses in Zimbabwe which for so many years were the treasures of Africa now teeter on the brink of annihilation.

The Evil King is [almost] Dead!

The Evil King is [almost] Dead!

Zimbabwe tyrant Robert Mugabe is near death in Singapore; but what will follow?

Mugabe has been “near death” before, but the reports today are substantial despite an official Zimbabwean government statement castigating foreign journalists for writing “hogwash.”

An important cabinet meeting in Harare last week was surprisingly cut off, his private jet flew to Singapore with literally all his family accompanying him. Sources in Iran, one of his lone allies, yesterday claimed he had turned over power to his equally iniquitous defense minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

And yesterday London’s Daily Mail reported from a variety of sources that he was “close to death.”

The web of immorality and culpability for the most torturous human rights abuses, and the bankrupting of a once outstanding African society is a complex and messy one in Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s death will not necessarily mean anything at all changes.

At least not at once. As many as a thousand officials live as millionaires under his protection and that of his close advisers. They are not likely to give this up for power in a country despised by most of the world. Mnangagwa is the likely spider to replace Mugabe over this matrix. And to the extent he can keep the money flowing down the right threads, Zimbabwe will remain an awful place.

As many as a dozen of the thousands of Zimbabwean officials on the take are also likely to be indicted by The World Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity, including of special note his anointed successor, Mnangagwa, who for years controlled the country’s intelligence services.

This inner circle of evil men will likely concede their internal bickering for a government that will be strong and lasting enough to protect them all. A sort of rally round the torture chamber, boys.

So don’t buy your tickets to VicFalls just yet. But all that being said, the “Evil Queen is Dead” syndrome can’t be discounted. This week in a bold move not seen for several years, protestors in Harare dared to stage a demonstration, and spokesmen for opposition movements began to appear on the world media.

Note: the opposition spokesman who appears in the above video carries a similar name to the anointed successor but is not the same person.

Ultimately the day will come when the old man’s regime falls completely. I do wonder what will fill the vacuum. Morgan Tsvangirai, a once fiery and charismatic opposition leader who escaped being crushed to death by agreeing to a fake position of “Prime Minister” in the current government has been totally coopted.

Possibly he could regain some of the old spirit and shepherd the country into a new era, but the few sane Zimbabweans left capable of rectifying this miserable country will no longer accept him as a long-term leader.

Opposition – little as it is right now – is coalescing around the idea of a new constitution, as nascent rebellions are wont to do. But even that seems wimpy, given that Mugabe’s constitution isn’t really so bad. It’s just that he doesn’t follow it… at will.

So “The Evil King” might be dying. But there’s no white king backstage, and the aftermath does not look as rosy as Oz.

Broken like Most Everything at VicFalls

Broken like Most Everything at VicFalls

A young Australian tourist who miraculously survived her bungi chord snapping over Victoria Falls New Year’s Eve is back in a hospital in South Africa.

Her traveling companion took a video of the failed jump and it’s going viral on YouTube.

Her survival is miraculous. Remember, your feet are bound when taking the plunge, and she recounted at one point that this binding got caught on something at the bottom of the raging river, so that she had to swim under water to untangle herself.

The video ends showing many of her cuts and bruises. She was a day in a local hospital and then resumed her travels but has since been reported in a South African hospital with a possible collapsed lung.

I’m restraining myself from making too many assumptions about this, because it easily fits into a growing dysfunctionality in Zimbabwe and with all tourist interests that are associated with Zimbabwe. The company providing these services actually functions also as a wholly Zambian company, but its roots are distinctly Zimbabwean.

Unlike here, or where bungi jumping began “Down Under” there is no government regulation or oversight of significance at Victoria Falls. No certification of the operators, no examination of the equipment, no good review of rescue plans.

Discard the yellow journalistic claims that she plunged into a crocodile infested river, by the way. There are lots of crocs in the Zambezi. My 42k canoeing trip in 3 days passes upwards of a thousand, but not where she fell. Crocs don’t like raging rivers, and she fell into the river just after it tumbles off the falls.

We are further hampered by no good bungi jumping accident statistics. They’re likely pretty good. The operator’s contention that an accident is more likely “driving to the bridge” where the activity occurs than on the activity itself may be true.

But if my interest were principally bungi jumping, I wouldn’t do it at Victoria Falls, just as I wouldn’t rent a car there or book my canoe trip right now. And if my principal interest was seeing VicFalls and this came as a secondary interest, I’d suppress it. It’s a lot safer to look at than to look back.

Zambia’s not so bad at the moment, but Zimbabwe is a mess. VicFalls is shared by them both, and anything to do with the river in particular is a joint administration, and given the terror of today’s Zimbabwe, essentially no administration, no safety gauges and no safety assurances.

Right now? OK to look at. Terrifying to look back.