Thursday, June 26, 2008

Catalogue of disaster

I've been almost too depressed about Zimbabwe to write much about it. I spent a fair amount of time there a decade ago, and love the place and its people. There were reports that the Green Bombers are using the squash courts at the Mutare Sports Club as impromptu torture chambers - I used to play squash in those courts: it starts to feel a bit personal. In 1997 Zimbabwe was about as civilised a place as you could find in Africa. Things worked, everything was available and nothing was too expensive. They were still using the one and two dollar coins - a beer was Z$3.
The collapse from that point was quick and absolute. This wasn't the result of sanctions; this wasn't the result of Western interference and imperialism; this wasn't the result of commercial farmers sabotaging the economy. This was economic suicide committed by the Zimbabwean government. I've described the course of events before, but it's probably worth running through them quickly again - to prevent assorted idiots and apologists for blaming anybody other than Mugabe and ZANU PF for the destruction of Zimbabwe.
The first nail in the coffin was the unbudgeted handouts to war veterans in 1998 - itself necessary because of the systematic looting of the official fund over the decade and a half since independence. Various delightful people like 'Hitler' Hunzvi, thankfully long since departed to the eternal darkness used this scandal to rise to prominence, and in the 'war veterans' Mugabe discovered the perfect weapon, shielded with just enough deniability.
The descent into chaos had two features - economic and political. The economic debacle was essentially due to the abuse of the money supply. To pay both for the handouts to war vets, and for the ruinous and pointless war in the Congo, which personally enriched the Zimbabwean commanders but bankrupted the exchequer, Zimbabwe printed ever larger amounts of money. The value of the dollar slid - as currency always always will once the money supply is debased. Rampant inflation was entrenched into the system. And it was at this point that the 2000 referendum was held on a proposed new constitution that extend still further the powers and scope of the presidency - effectively entrenching Mugabe in State House for life.
It was the surprise defeat of this referendum that changed the political course in Zimbabwe. Prior to this point, politics had been repressive and violent without being openly murderous. There was no organised opposition, and what little there was posed no threat - Edgar Tekere and Margaret Dongo were brave but never in a position seriously to threaten Mugabe. The rise of the MDC was directly related to the No vote on the constitution. In the elections that followed, ZANU PF were saved only by gerrymandering and ballot rigging on a titanic scale. Mugabe faced a genuine threat to his position, and he reacted in the only way he knows how.
The political violence unleashed in 2000 has, effectively, continued unabated to this day, rising and falling in severity. It is sometimes said that Mugabe has bankrupted his country to preserve his hold on power. I'm not sure this is quite right - Mugabe's bankrupting of Zimbabwe has been entirely incidental - he has simply taken disastrous decision after disastrous decision. What he has done is ignore every scruple in his determination to crush all opposition. But his unleashing of paramilitary, unpoliceable forces has ruined the economy - every profitable business has been blackmailed to death. Almost every farm has been occupied and destroyed.
It would be easy to pin the blame for this exclusively on Robert Mugabe - and in truth he is the one man most to blame. But this is not a story of one man ruling a country. ZANU PF has thoroughly debased the entire country to the point where a thorough de-Nazification will be required in the increasingly unlikely event of them ever losing control over the country. The likely successor, Mnangagwa, is as big a bastard as Mugabe ever was. Perence Shiri, Constantine Chiwenga, Didymus Mutasa, Dumiso Dabengwa - and literally hundreds of others are thieves, murderers, rapists and liars - either personally or by their orders. There is no question of allowing Mugabe to retire quietly and appoint a successor. And there is no question of ZANU PF coming quietly. For there to be a change in Zimbabwe there needs to be a change of regime. No compromise is possible, and if the MDC were to accept a joint Government, or a fusion of the parties, it would be its final act.
That is the problem, laid out fairly simply. The Government is a murderous, incompetent and thoroughly evil one. It has destroyed its own country through a mixture of greed, stupidity and malevolence, and it will not give up power of its own volition. But what on earth is anybody to do about it?

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