Thursday, June 26, 2008

Zimbabwe: Tales from the front

An unnamed Newsweek reporter recently saw, firsthand, the thuggery now ruling the streets of Harare, and files this chilling report.

It's a mess, obviously, and it's easy to shout, "Ian Smith was right". I have written a few things here which might sound exactly like that. In this case, events have validated some of the old RF fear-mongering. But I think that's more an unhappy coincidence than any kind of psychic ability or inherent rightness of the minority rulers of the past.

Rhodesia was, as has been pointed out here and in many other places, able to feed itself and economically sustain itself (at least in the short term) despite near-complete isolation from the rest of the world. No one, and I mean NO ONE, would touch Rhodesia, with the exception of equally-racist and equally-shunned South Africa. Yet, even with trade and diplomatic sanctions levied by nearly the entire world, Rhodesia was a pretty good place to be if you were white and willing to ignore outrageous injustice around you on a daily basis. The Lake Wobegone-ish hagiography which has grown around the old Rhodesia ("...where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average...") isn't totally made up.

So, nearly forty years after the white rulers were sent packing, Zimbabwe finds itself in serious competition with a host of other failed states for the unenviable role of "Most Screwed Up Country on Earth". Mugabe and ZANU-PF have taken a country blessed with natural resources out the kazoo, a ton of initial international goodwill, and a motivated population, and, through insane land and economic policy followed by retaliatory (and equally racist) treatment of the white landowners, have found themselves facing possible famine, hyper-inflation which makes Weimar Germany look stable, and a full circle back to international condemnation. Quite a record.

But, it's stupid, not to mention flat-out wrong, to generalize and say, "This is what happens when the 'civilized' folks bail and leave the 'savages' to run the shop." There are many, obvious examples of the complete opposite being true. Just in the southern Africa neighborhood, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) is a stable, relatively prosperous nation.

It's somewhat more than bad luck, but not much more, that a psycho like Mugabe winds up with his hands on the levers of power. The destabilization of the Rhodesian Bush War made it nearly inevitable that a violent nut-case would emerge as the strongest guy on the block.

For those "Rhodies" around the world who point to Zimbabwe as proof of the failure of majority rule, I would say Zimbabwe is reaping what Rhodesia had sowed.

That doesn't make it any less tragic, though.

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