Sunday, June 08, 2008

Life in Zimbabwe

It might be a result of living in such mediated times: this need to make our thoughts clear on issues that we can do nothing about. Hopefully, you'll oblige me in taking some space to do that.

When I say that the the world is currently becoming more peaceful, I do not mean that we're entering an age of enlightened utopia and eternal peace. Human beings being as they are, I don't imagine that will ever be the case. I certainly believe it's worth aiming for. But there are always pyschopaths. So you do your best. You try to buttress society as best you can with the knowledge that there will still be the occasional Leopold and Loebs sprouting up like poisonous weeds.

Robert Mugabe is a poisonous weed. When Zimbabwe was freed from British colonial rule in 1980, he seemed to many like an ideal prime minister, and in fact, when the office of prime minister was abolished and Mugabe made executive president in 1987, many still thought that he was a fairly enlightened ruler in a part of the world that has had less of them than it deserves in the last century. However, at some point, Mugabe went off the rails. Some attribute it to the years of anti-colonial struggle and an inability to see the world any other way. Many have noted a shift in his personality after his wife died in 1992. Christopher Hitchens attributes it to jealousy of Nelson Mandela. And, of course, his paranoia is a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point.

It's common, and apt, to point out that Jews have often been the canaries in the coal mine of tyranny. There aren't many Jews in Zimbabwe, but homosexuals have also played the canary role, and Mugabe's obsessive hatred of gays manifesed itself early, and has become obsessive. Homosexuality was outlawed in Zimbabwe in 1996, and Mugabe has since compared gays to "pigs and dogs". But it was the decision to divest all white farmers in Zimbabwe of their land in 2000, quite often violently, that began the cycle of economic decline. Foreign capital fled, printed money flooded the economy, interest rates rose, and the economy slowed. The last I read, the rate of inflation in Zimbabe was 355,000%. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is now 37.

Mugabe's response to the problems has been to apply the jackboot to any dissenters and to kill any political rivals that he can get his hands on. It is a miracle that enough voters showed up to force a run-off election. Mugabe has since responded in true despot style. Members of the opposition have turned up dead. At a time of starvation aid groups are being treated as political subversives. The High Court has decided that the MDC can hold rallies- Mugabe wanted them banned. At this point, it's a mystery if enough people will show up to elect a regime that won't have them jailed for voting against it. If not, which is likely, Zimbabwe's decline will continue.

There's no real ethical question about Mugabe himself- he's a monster. The question is how to deal with him. Assassination would be the easiest route... unless his military henchmen don't really feel like going home after he's gone, which is most likely. Occupation would actually be quite easy as well. Zimbabwe is not particularly strong and its military could be easily toppled. But, who would do it, if not the US? And who would support the US in doing it at this point? And who can afford it? It's actually most likely that anyone but the US would be successful in occupying Zimbabwe at this point. I wouldn't mind seeing the UN do it. Alas...

I've often said that the real crime the US made in invading Iraq wasn't that they toppled Saddam or used unilateral force; but that they just didn't take what they were doing seriously. To be frank, I'm not really opposed to the idea of "taking out" dictators; the problem is being so arrogant about your own power that you forget that war is not a way of creating "law and order", but the failure of law and order. It is not a game, or a joke, or a photo op. You don't start a war expecting a "slam dunk"- it's a last resort. And, grim though it might be, often the alternative is more sufferable.

For all their talk about the rightness of their cause, the supporters of the war in Iraq have never said at what point avoiding its losses would outweigh its gains. How many people would have to die before it would have been better to leave Saddam Hussein in power? Watching some of the "neocons" in interviews, I've noticed that they talk often about "absolute values"- "absolute goods" and "absolute evils". And perhaps the quotation marks aren't necessary: I too believe that these things exist. But war too is an absolute evil, and the only reason to ever risk unleashing it is in the hopes of stopping a greater evil; and even then it should never be taken lightly. It should always be seen as a tragedy, especially by those who are waging it.

And so, I think we've learned to think twice before opening that particular box. And Zimbabwe will continue its decline, most likely. But, I assume it would be very wrong to think that the US or its allies will never open it again.


narrator said...

One of the worst things about Iraq is that it gave intervention a terrible name. Intervention makes sense when it can make things better (Bosnia, Kosovo, Vietnam crushing the Khmer Rouge). But Iraq proved how, if you start by mistaking Colonialism for intervention (the neocons really do love the old British Empire) and follow through with arrogance instead of competence, the result is disastrous.

Mugabe is that last evil hangover of colonialism itself. The corrupted freedom fighter converted by experience to monster. Ian Smith and the Brits created him as much as the US made Fidel a dictator as much as the US will create a Mugabe in Iraq.

Too bad we're not living in Greek dramas. In Greek drama Petraeus and Bush would wander the earth for decades on their way home from Iraq, and the rest of us, with them gone, could start to figure out ways to heal the world.

Rufus said...

Well, even the British Empire didn't start out intending to be an empire- it's the old accidental empire idea, right? You go in with no intention of staying, and end up staying. With Iraq, you get the feeling that it's like India or the French in Algeria: they go in to settle some issue or another and get deeper and deeper in it. Now they're talking about building permanent military bases in Iraq- but still not calling it imperialism, or even an occupation.

To be honest though, there's a part of me that wishes the UN or even the EU would get together and intervene in Zimbabwe. They seem to have very little desire to do it, and that's really what makes me think they'd do a better job of it. When American leaders think of intervention, the first thing to go through their heads is the next election at home, and the last thing seems to be 'what the fuck are we doing exactly?'