Africa Sucks!

Well, most of its governments, anyway.

You’ve no doubt heard about the election “results” in Zimbabwe. That the ruling party announced Mugabe “won” came as no surprise given the comical lengths the government went to to ensure victory. What is surprising – and thoroughly depressing – is the reaction of other many other African states. From the NY Times.

I’m just floored by this. God forbid a murderous megalomaniac who’s willing to destroy his country to hang on to power for a few more years should be publicly embarrassed! Even Mbeki’s praising Mugabe’s “re-election.” What should the rest of the world do? I suppose, at the very least, this is going to kill debt relief for HIPCs.

Zimbabwe’s not even the only recent example of this in Africa. Madagascar also has a vote-fraud thing going on with the party in power fudging the election to keep its power.

The main issue is, do the people want it badly enough to take genuine steps that will force the government to its knees? In Poland in the 1980’s they did. Ditto in Yugoslavia last year. Despots are experts at political calculation re: their own power and survival. It takes serious people power to overcome this, and Africans for the time being don’t appear to have that.

The Commonwealth monitors (headed by a Nigerian and widely based across the white and black,old and new commonwealth) have this morning condemned the election.

Zimbabwe may therefore be at risk of sanctions from the commonwealth up to and including suspension. Although this will be financially less onerous than UK/Europe and US sanctions, it will make it difficult for Mugabe to claim that it is all a Western plot.

I’m not so concerned about Zimbabwe. Mugabe, to quote a phrase, will piss on your leg an tell you its raining. Not to invoke Godwin’s law, but this is a breathtaking example of the Big Lie propaganda technique in action. Indeed, it’s almost at the level of a Mony Python skit. “Your arms are cut off! No, they’re not!”

What I’m concerned about is that so many African countries are willing to go along with this. This plays to so many stereotypes it makes me cringe. How is it possible to convince people that African nations should be treated with respect and taken seriously when so many of them take every opportunity to live down to our lowest expectations?

Granted, a few Africans have spoken out about this. However, their honesty – and bravery – only serves to highlight the eye-popping dishonesty of the rest.

I’m particularly distressed about South Africa, the one country with both the influence and, I thought, the principles to push for democracy in Zimbabwe. If they wanted to, South Africa could probably bring Mugabe down just by demanding that Zimbabwe pay its electricity bill. What’s wrong with Mbeki, anyway? First his AIDS lunacy and now this. If things continue like this, Zimbabwe may well be South Africa ten years from now.

Yes, that is a rather odd situation in Madagascar. I can’t quite figure out who’s correct. As I understood it, the opposition says they won outright in the first round but the government says a run-off is required. Apparently, the opposition has set up a parrallel government and the protests have been mostly peaceful. Nonetheless, there was nothing approaching the Marx Brothers style election rigging in Zimbabwe.

Are you really surprised that Nigeria endorsed Mugabe’s re-election? Nigeria has been in the stranglehold of countless corrupt regimes who maintain power only by the barrel of a gun.

Let’s see how much play TransAfrica gives this election.

Did Rhodesia have these problems?

You poorly choose your example, since it’s exactly what’s happening currently in Madagascar. There’s a general strike, protests, etc…and the former president doesn’t seem to be in control of the state anymore. So you proved yourself the falsehood of your generalization about Africa.

It had other problems, like massive disenfranchisement and institutionalized discrimination against the black majority.

The key word to remember here is stabilization, of which most of Africa, particularly the region concerned here, is often in short supply. If you don’t want the long version, skip to the final paragraphs of this post.

Mugabe used to be a respected leader in his youth, in spite of being a violent lunatic and xenophobe (he only got worse with age). He was a guerrilla freedom fighter, ordering the ZANU against the white government throuhout the 1970s. I would argue that the British were not the evil foreign presence they were made out to be at the time or since then (disenfranchisement and discrimination were indeed problems–and still are-- but certainly not deserving of the rhetoric and hatred espoused by Mugabe, who “liberated” Zimbabwe and drove it into the ground under all possible aspects).

Rhodesia actually “rebelled” against Britain in 1965 under the government of Ian Smith (a white Rhodesian-born man), when he issued the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Britain refused to use force at the time, just as the EU has refused to use force this time round. Negotiations went on for years but no agreement was reached, either internally in Rhodesia or externally with Great Britain (the UN applied sanctions for a while but mineral exports to Europe and the US were too important). Meanwhile Smith’s government was put under pressure from several points, many of them involving violence and Robert Mugabe (sound familiar?),. The latter enjoyed popular support from neighbouring countries and was seen as something of a hero. Smith gave up his independence attempts in 1979, and a referendum and paramentary elections were held. A party lacking crucial support, UANC headed by Muzorewa, failed to take power credibly after they won the vote. Even neighbouring majority-ruled countries were reluctant to assign credibility to Zimbabwe owing to its ethnic violence and political stalemates. The fighting went on.

Britain helped out by accepting temporary colonial rule of Zimbabwe and enforcing a ceasefire. More elections were held and in 1980 Mugabe, heading the ZANU, became Zimbabwe’s supreme leader based in part on his “freedom fighting” efforts and a lot of noble promises. Almost immediately (1982) came civil war: Mugabe alleged that Nkomo, his former rival and head of the opposition ZAPU, was plotting a coup (again, sound familiar?). Mugabe forced Nkomo out of office and arrested the members of the opposition (see, this is an old dog with no new tricks). Opposition supporters lashed out and the war started, lasting until 1987, when Mugabe accepted Nkomo as a figurehead (powerless) vice president and the opposition ZAPU ceased to be, transferring to ZANU-PF.

Since then Mugabe has been a shining example of a bad leader. The thorny issue of land reform during the 1980-90s, for example, consisted of promising the peasantry land and justice while not affording police protection to the white farmers. Result: the famous Zimbabwean white farm “squatter” culture, where farms were invaded and either seized or destroyed by blacks, and the farmers (white or black) killed or driven off. It’s worthy to note that public support was actually with the farmers and against Mugabe’s autocratic tendencies, and the squatters were not necessarily representative of the average Zimbabwean.

If that’s called a “liberation” these days I don’t know what to make of it–additionally, given such a definition, I would be hard-pressed to define “descent into political barbarism”. From the earliest days, Mugabe has been a despicable and thoroughly self-serving man (he dragged Zimbabwe into the Congonese civil war to protect his personal economic interests), yet he was re-elected every single time, including the last time a few days ago. I really don’t think this is the first time that he used underhanded methods to retain power.

Zimbabwe’s neighbours, most African nations in fact, are used to this. I very much doubt that anyone in the region takes this election seriously, but on the other hand there are the following considerations:

  1. Monitoring efforts cannot be comprehensive. With several thousand polling stations, how can election observers cover all sites? It’s impossible and Mugabe took full advantage of that, no doubt putting on a good election show for some of his observers while conducting his disenfranchisement elsehwere. You now have outside observer data that contains mixed messages, and many African leaders are unwilling to engage in an argument over the legitimacy of the leader who may end up being in power for quite a lot longer. For example, Mbeki’s reaction was classic, he once again equivocated, bumbled around, and generally played for time (truth seekermentioned Mbeki’s position on HIV, same thing).

  2. This is exactly the same shit that has been going on in Zimbabwe for at least 22 years, it’s not new and the attitude is that people, including neighbours, have to learn how to live with it since the situation shows no sign of improving.

  3. Racism–Mugabe has been marketing himself as a black hero fighting the oppression of white colonial rule. I was particularly amused when he displayed his heroism by calling top-level members of the British government “fags” because they criticized his autocratic methods. Mugabe has support for this point of view (especially from mentally arrested “war eveterans”), although it should be noted that the country was in a better state decades earlier under expert colonial rule rather than petty autocracy. regardless, any African leader who denounces Mugabe faces the risk of being branded a colonial sympathizer, a traitor to his cause, etc. (somewhat similar problem to the Taleban and Muslims in general situation).

And so on. As I said stability in the region is important. Even were the examples above insignificant, there’s the ages-old truth that interests (especially economic) are more important than fairness. Most African nations have incredible problems within their own borders and it is not in their interests to antagonize someone as obviously lunatic as Mugabe. It will be interesting to see how such nations react when stronger European, Commonwealth, and American condemnation takes place-- people are often pushed into positions they do not wish to take and this is a very possible scenario if the “whites” are seen to be descending on Africa (public perception, even if incorrect, often defines policy).

To close on the humorous side, a couple days ago I was very amused to see George Dubya Bush on television delivering his verdict on the highly suspect elections in Zimbabwe. He was not happy and denounced them. He appeared to be rather nervous, almost sweating, as if he knew that not so long ago he was in the same position as Mugabe is now. His rhetoric on the topic was rather flat and hurried, unsurprising since quite a few objections against Mugabe could easily be applied to Bush, and I could swear he was thinking “please God, let this be over now.”

An unfortunate title for the thread. It does a disservice to all those dedicated Zimbaweans who had to endure 2 years of violence and intimidation and waited for 20 hours in line to vote. In some cases only to be dispersed with tear gas. They are true democrats. I wonder if we would do the same?

As to why many African leaders have supported this election, you must remember that many of them gained power by dubious methods themselves. A fact that they would not want to bring attention to by critisizing Zimbabwe.

This is also a very serious problem for South Africa as it may create huge economic and refugee influx problems. They have to tread carefully here.

I really don’t have anything new to contribute but…

Africa rules I guess it just depends on whose eyes you see it through. However, from here everything: the people, the land, the cultures (too many to be counted), the history; all of it is wonderful.

Don’t worry, sometimes I feel this way too, but I always break out of it sooner or later. It’s just sometimes it gets to you: the war, the poverty, the poor governace, the death, the corrption, the disease, the fighting, etc…

I just stop and think about all the brave people who are fighting Africa’s ills wherever they appear and all of the good points of this huge land. In no time I feel good again.

Africa as a whole, needs some major improving, but it doesn’t suck.

Hey efrem are you going to Africa night at Dalhousie? I had a great time last year and if it wasn’t for this damn cold I’d go again tonight.

Huh? Oh, I am not living in Africa right now. You see, I am a black African who was born in Eritrea (then Ethiopia, for more info see “ask Eritrean guy” thread) and now I live in Canada.

You’ve been to Africa cool, where? I haven’t been much anywhere out side of Eritrea but I would think it would be neat to see Kenya.

Pointless information - My sig means “Hello” in Tigrinya one of the offical languages in Eritrea, it also means “Peace” in Arabic the other offical language in Eritrea.

efrem I saw that you were a student in Halifax so I thought you might have heard that the African student (or is it the International student?) society of Dalhousie University puts on “Africa night” every year. It’s a dinner and mix of entertainment from across the continent. Starts at 8:00 tonite, around $15 and is a great time.

Haven’t seen very much of Africa. My partner does a fair bit of research in Malawi and Zimbabwe and I visited her there a few years ago. She took a bunch of students to Kenya last year.

I am sorry, I was compeltly confused about your original question in my last post (just ignore it).

To answer your question I didn’t know that there is an African night tonight at Dal. I don’t think I will go, because I don’t really know any of the people there, and I wouldn’t feel very comfortable without knowing someone else. Also I don’t have an extra 15 dollars with me, it sounds like fun though.

don’t feel any “Blacks” at Dal since I am a first year student.

The last sentance is extra garbage words that I was supose to delete, please ignore it.

Especially since he arrested or detained over 1000 of them.

No, it’s not. This is “shit” on a whole new order of magnitude. Even before the election, Mugabe had done a host of things to make this election worse than a farce, including passing laws in January making it illegal to “undermine the authority of the president” or “engage in hostility” towards him! Realizing he couldn’t win even under these conditions, he took even more extreme measures, like closing polling stations in urban areas that overwhelmingly supported the opposition. Not too mention the government-sponsored political violence and the vote “counting.”

By whom? Mugabe? I just can’t see a huge wave of anti-colonial protests being set off in the African street because Mbeki or Obasanjo condemns Mugabe’s outrageous – and undisputed – shenanigans and speaks up for African democracy. Certainly most of the population of Zimbabwe won’t be rioting in the streets, they’ll be dancing.

Africa doesn’t need stability, it needs progress. Letting a once-functional country collapse into grinding poverty isn’t going to benefit anyone. In any event, I doubt if Nigeria is all that concerned about a waive of Zimbawean refugees. South Africa ought to be but they’re not going to avoid this problem by appeasing Mugabe, they’re going to get them anyway as the country continues to fall apart. South Africa could, and should, sort this problem out both for it’s own national interest and because it’s the right thing to do. To South Africa’s shame, it refuses to do so.

One of the biggest problems with all this is that invites comments like that of BS. Now governments try to steal elections from time to time in various parts of the world so that, in itself, doesn’t reflect badly on Africa as a whole. What’s sickening here is watching the OAU and various African governments congratulate Mugabe on his success in doing so. “Good job, Bob! You’re an inspiration to us all!”

You’re quite right. Many of the objections to Mugabe’s election could be applied to Bush. Jeb Bush arrested thousand of Florida election monitors. He changed the laws to make it a criminal offense for Gore to campaign. He closed most of the polling places in areas populated by tree-hugging liberals and then rigged the vote count. Oh, and don’t forget his plan to forcibly evict liberal retirees from Miami Beach luxury condos and replace them with panhandle rednecks!

A little Bush-bashing is fine but this is ridiculous. The outcome of the last U.S. presidential election may have been controversial, but comparing Bush to Mugabe is laughable.