by Daniel on March 22, 2007

I have a post up at “Aaronovitch Watch” (incorporating “World of Decency”) imagining the response of the South African government to some of the media commentators who are loudly shaming them for their failure to act (in what way?) on Zimbabwe. A few more thoughts for the slightly less polemic Crooked Timber venue …

There are arguments to be made both ways. Amnesty International certainly thinks that Thabo Mbeki and his government could be more unequivocal in condemning the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe; there is a case that could be made for actual economic sanctions of the “individually targeted” kind – cutting Mugabe off from international travel, luxury goods imports and so on. However I do think that people need to remember that however bad things are in Zimbabwe, a civil war will mean that they get much, much worse, and that it is not surprising that the South African government see this possibility a lot more vividly than anyone else does[1], since not only will they be seeing the worst of the refugee problem, they already have strong indications[2] that a Zimbabwean civil war could spill over into their country.

However, whatever South Africa does is only going to have a marginal effect, and it is really unfair to pretend that they have a magic wand that they could wave to get rid of Mugabe painlessly, and they are only failing to wave it out of misplaced loyalty for Mugabe’s support to the ANC back in the apartheid era. This kind of magical thinking is one of the defining characteristics of the Decent Left – from Iraq to Darfur to Afghanistan, their version of “internationalism” is always predicated on a totally unrealistic view of what it is possible to achieve by foreign intervention, diplomatic or otherwise. (Alex de Waal, in a LRB article linked in the AW comments, sets out exactly how complicated, difficult and prone to failure the whole process really is). I’ve argued before that it just isn’t on to demand that “something must be done” without saying specifically what, and I think a lot of people are doing exactly this in the case of Zimbabwe – either that or they’ve forgotten just how horrific an African civil war can be.

The other priority that South Africa has, which people also need to realise is a big constraint on their actions, is that they need to be very careful to not give any faction within Zimbabwe the impression that they have an implicit guarantee of South African military support. Alan Kuperman‘s work on the moral hazard of humanitarian intervention is tailor-made for an analysis of African revolutionary politics. I think it is mainly a legacy of the Cold War, but there is a real tradition in African opposition movements to spend a lot of time and energy in procuring foreign support; the Angolan civil wars are one of the most obvious examples, but the same dynamic is clearly at work in Darfur, as Alex de Waal’s article shows.

It’s a really unfortunate characteristic of African politics, because it obviously encourages revolutionary movements to overestimate their strength and to overplay their hands, while at the same time divorcing them from their actual economic and political base. It is one of the many admirable characteristics of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change that they have never played this game, even though the temptation to sprout a load of “political advisors” back in Britain must have been quite great. But it also seems that there is a growing tendency in the Zimbabwean opposition (probably in ZANU-PF factions more than anywhere else) towards the view that democratic politics will never get rid of Mugabe and that violent means will have to be carried out. The last thing Zimbabwe needs is for one of the anti-Mugabe factions to get the idea in their heads that there is a brigade of South African tanks ready to roll across the border and join the civil war on their side.

So what should be done? It is really hard to say. If I had a hundred million dollars and a mansion in Saudi Arabia, I would be on the phone to Mugabe’s private banker right now. Zimbabwe is currently a hyperinflationary economy, and therefore the betting would be that some change of government is very likely in the near future. We can only hope that it will be a democratic change rather than a civil war, and I note in passing that the government of South Africa is one of the few organisations in the world that has actually managed a transition from a fascist government to a democratic one without violence, something which perhaps ought to be more respected than it is.

But we ought to note that, while obviously the sympathies of every sane person are with the MDC and not Mugabe, it has to be noted that the MDC itself has always been very careful in the support it solicits from the UK in particular, for the entirely sensible reason that it is utterly counterproductive in terms of Zimbabwean politics for the MDC to be identified too much with the former colonial power or with white farmer interests. The middle initial of the MDC is not ornamental – it has always been a party whose aim was democratic change within the constitutional framework of Zimbabwe. True solidarity with the MDC has to respect this fact, rather than treating it as if it were yet another African expat-led revolutionary movement.[3]

[1] In fairness to the anti-South African case here, it should be noted that the government of Zambia has stepped up the pressure on Zimbabwe in the last week. This is quite significant as Zambia has a history of being the neutral state in the region. Levy “the Cabbage” Mwanawasa is not exactly a statesman of world-historical grandeur and it is possible that his desire to curtail exports to Zimbabwe is more of a domestic austerity measure than anything else, but even so, Zambia has at least as much skin in this game as South Africa does and their decision needs to be taken seriously.
[2] This news report refers to a “tribal” conflict, but it looks quite likely to have been political to me. In general, nearly all African journalism seems to me to be too eager to attribute all sorts of political issues to ethnic conflicts.
[3] You might notice that I haven’t actually provided a solution to the problem here. That’s because I don’t have one. That might be because I’m too stupid, or it might be because there isn’t one, or it might be because there is a solution, but it’s an African solution rather than one that the West can provide. Either way, I thought it better to say so in as many words, rather than to make one up for the purpose of having one, or pretend that there was a really obvious solution without saying what it was.

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Easily Distracted » Blog Archive » The Problem With the Problem of Zimbabwe
03.23.07 at 6:48 pm



Backword Dave 03.22.07 at 10:19 pm

So that’s who Bruschetta Boy is!


Peter 03.22.07 at 10:45 pm

and they are only failing to wave it out of misplaced loyalty for Mugabe’s support to the ANC back in the apartheid era.

But Mugabe, and his party ZANU-PF, did not much support the ANC during the apartheid era. ZANU-PF was aligned with the Pan Africanist Congress (the PAC), the ANC’s main rival. Both ZANU-PF and the PAC were funded and armed by the Chinese Government, and were avowedly Maoist organizations. The ANC, along with Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU (ZANU-PF’s main rival) were funded by and aligned with the USSR.

Indeed, Zimbabwe refused to permit the USSR to open an embassy in Harare for a couple of years after Independence in 1980, so great was the level of distrust between ZANU-PF and the Soviets. While the ANC was permitted to open a representative office in Harare after Independence, they were kept on a very tight leash by the Zimbabwean Government, and their local personnel were monitored by the Zimbabwean domestic intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO).

Whatever motivates the current South African Government’s softly-softly policy towards Zimbabwe, it is certainly not any sentiment from the apartheid-era past.


Neil Morrison 03.22.07 at 11:11 pm

So it’s good that Zambia applies more pressure on Mugabe but wrong for anyone to suggest South Africa might do the same. To paraphrase, Zimbabwe is actually a real place not a stone for grinding axes.

Please give some indication of who exactly thinks South Africa can provide a “magical solution”. All people are saying is that South Africa could do more and even if that is “marginal” it’s better than nothing. If South Africa can exert influence to have Mugabe step down, which is actually what the expectation is, then that is probably the best way of avoiding a civil war.


Daniel 03.23.07 at 12:12 am

So it’s good that Zambia applies more pressure on Mugabe but wrong for anyone to suggest South Africa might do the same

I don’t know if it’s good or not; I’m just saying that I respect Levy Mwanawasa’s opinion on the subject in a way in which I don’t really respect David Aaronovitch’s.

All people are saying is that South Africa could do more and even if that is “marginal” it’s better than nothing

The entire point of the post is that the likely opinion of the South Africans is that it is very, very possible for an intervention by them to have effects which are much, much worse than nothing.

In general, the idea that intervention could make things worse seems to be completely absent from Decent thought (rather surprisingly post Iraq). This idea always seems to be that it’s “nothing” as the baseline and then action can only make things better. I don’t know where it comes from.


Keith M Ellis 03.23.07 at 12:20 am

“This kind of magical thinking is one of the defining characteristics of the Decent Left – from Iraq to Darfur to Afghanistan, their version of ‘internationalism’ is always predicated on a totally unrealistic view of what it is possible to achieve by foreign intervention, diplomatic or otherwise.”

I don’t doubt that this is true of a great many, perhaps the majority, of left-of-center people who advocate interventionism.

However, I also don’t doubt that this criticism is frequently used, as I think it is here, as a strawman to reflexively discredit any variety of left-of-center interventionism by those who have a sensibility that opposes interventionism essentially (not practically). Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I feel that I’m familiar enough with Daniel Davies’s history here and elsewhere to assert that he will always say “it’s too complicated and there will likely be undesirable consequences”.

I don’t intend that to be as strong a condemnation as it appears to be. Because, frankly, acknowledged or not, one’s gut instincts about interventionism factor very heavily in how one evaluates the practicalities. For whatever reasons (but not the sinister reasons that some people often assume) I’m not at all averse to interventionism. I’m a do-gooder. I prefer action to inaction on a moral basis. My deep instinct is that more harm comes from people not acting when they see a wrong being committed than when they do act. (I think the majority of the wrong committed when acting occurs when the rationale is pretext, though often self-delusional. Thus, in my view, the responsibility isn’t to avoid action, but to act with rigorous self-awareness.) Anyway, my point is that even with rigorous self-awareness, I’m still more likely to evaluate practical matters favorably while someone like Mr. Davies is more likely to evaluate them unfavorably. This isn’t nefarious until one starts claiming that those with opposing sensibilities have them in bad-faith. Note that I think that Mr. Davies’s accusation of “total unrealism” is made in bad-faith while, in contrast, I am not claiming that his pessismism about inteventionism is in bad-faith. I think it’s in good-faith and he has good reasons to hold that view.


Neil Morrison 03.23.07 at 12:29 am

‘..the likely opinion of the South Africans is that it is very, very possible for an intervention’

not the opninon of Desmond Tutu though.

Well yes, the South African govt saying to Mugabe that he should step down may make things worse. But holy mother of god, if even that is too much liberal intervention we may as well just ignore the rest of the world.

You seem to have taken quite extrordainay offence at Aaronovitch for merely expressing disappoinment that people who fought Apartheid are now unwilling to give any forthright indication to Mugabe that what he is doing is wrong.

And why the certianty that would make things worse?


P O'Neill 03.23.07 at 12:31 am

Very interesting, though I began reading the AW post hoping that it really was a response from Aziz that you’d found somewhere. Nevertheless I wonder if you’re ascribing a little too much foresight or sensible precautionary motives to South Africa. This is the government that can’t get its act together on HIV/AIDS. This is the government that has prompted the joke that Botha and Thabo contain the same letters. I agree that there’s no presumption that any action is better than none, but since Mugabe still lives somewhat from the legacy of the liberation struggles, outright condemnation from SA might make a point that other condemnations can’t.

But mostly I’m pessimistic. Zimbabwe got true independence 20 years later than the rest of its sub-Saharan cohort. So it’s in that stage of trying to transition from the 1st leader, for which the precedents are not good.


OHenry 03.23.07 at 6:31 am

What Keith Ellis said. Especially the “it’s too complicated…” part. Daniel appears to have taken some sort of perverse post-Hippocratic oath–with Darfur a notable exception–in which doing no harm often seems limited to the preclusion of doing any good.


MFB 03.23.07 at 7:38 am

Yes. Broadly speaking, this is all true, but there is another side as well.

If South Africa supports active opposition to ZANU-PF, we will then be responsible for anything which happens during and after their overthrow. You can stand on another continent and call for the overthrow of the Zimbabwean government and there’s no comeback to you if it happens and things get worse. But we happen to be just next door and we can’t hide from it.

Zimbabwe is in a very, very bad space. It’s horribly socially divided but the infrastructure is also crumbling and nobody has the slightest idea how to fix its economic problems. It’s not a pleasant concept to have to take responsibility for, and understandably the South African government’s response is “Run away! Run away!”.

Oh; one other point. If South Africa does anything to further muck up Zimbabwe, then half of SADC and a big chunk of the AU will be happy to dump on us. Which would not be at all good for our diplomacy. Attacking Zimbabwe might play well in Whitehall, but wouldn’t look so good in Lagos or even Tehran.


astrongmaybe 03.23.07 at 7:45 am

Keith @5 – OK, so we all understand your world-view better now. So now tell us what’s supposed to happen with Zimbabwe, what the practical actions are which will make things better and why you would, specifically, “prefer” THIS “action to inaction on a moral basis.”


Hidari 03.23.07 at 8:46 am

To Keith Ellis and Neil Morrison et al.

I don’t think Daniel is putting forward the ridiculous position that no one should do anything, ever, unless it can be proved 100% that no ‘harm’ (to anyone, presumably), should ensue.

But plans to do things should be serious plans, not pious wish fulfillment (along the lines of the Underpants Gnomes suggested by a previous poster…so the plans for Iraq were 1: we invade, 2: ????, 3: Democracy!!!).

I think a serious (as opposed to grandstanding, frivolous) plans for action should deal with the following points (at least).

1: Why is this situation so serious that it has cost the world’s attention, and why is the West suddenly so interested? More to the point, why is it that the West, and only the West, can act?

2: The plans must be clear, serious, and explicit (none of this ‘mumble mumble mumble and then you know, we will be treated as liberators’).

3: It is a clear understanding of all civilised human beings that military force should be ABSOLUTELY THE LAST OPTION TO BE USED ONLY WHEN ALL OTHER OPTIONS HAVE FAILED. Any ‘plan’ that violates this rule is automatically invalid.

4: Cost: how is the plan to be funded? How much will it cost? How will this be paid for? Who will lose out in this plan, financially? (Someone is bound to).

5: Does this plan have the authority of the UN (any plan that does not is automatically invalid)?

6: And perhaps most importantly of all….what happens if it goes wrong? What’s plan B? And what happens when plan B goes wrong? And then what about plan C? And how much will plan B and C cost?

7: It’s a pre-requisite of all serious plans for action that a genuine democratic discussion takes place in which both ‘yes sayers’ and ‘nay sayers’ are brought on board, worst case scenarios are considered, and a serious discussion of the morality of all these actions is considered.

I mention these seven points not just to show that (obviously) in the case of Iraq not one of these criteria was met, but also to point out that anyone who vaguely waves their hands about and says ‘something must be done!’ without saying explicitly what and how, is simply not serious, and is striking poses.


ejh 03.23.07 at 9:48 am

It’s also possible that there is a very strong aversion in South Africa to the idea of being hectored about their responsibilities by wealthy white Europeans whose idea of said responsibilities has been to launch a disastrous and illegal war in Iraq. This aversion is not likely to be decreased by the fact that the risks that members of the South African government have taken in the past have been somewhat greater than those taken by David Aaronovitch – and the additional fact, perhaps the most important in practice, that any risks involved in the present and future will be incurred not by David but by themselves.

What exactly should they do? Say in public that Mr Mugabe is a bad man? Well yes, no doubt they should. Come to that, Tony and George should say in public that the King of Saudi Arabia is a bad man (and perhaps say the same of some of their other allies in the Middle East). Why don’t they? Well, they perhaps can offer one plausible reason – that it would encourage instability in the region. Which is a point of view surely available in Pretoria too.


abb1 03.23.07 at 10:31 am

I think the majority of the wrong committed when acting occurs when the rationale is pretext, though often self-delusional. Thus, in my view, the responsibility isn’t to avoid action, but to act with rigorous self-awareness.

…and this effectively excludes any possible action carried out by any national government.

Consequently, you either need to create a powerful enough supranational entity free of any national biases and interests, or you need to fly to Zimbabwe yourself, personally, – armed with a rifle and your rigorous self-awareness – and take care of the business directly. Sorta like what people did during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.


soru 03.23.07 at 10:32 am

‘writing a plan’ is something that could be done. In fact, that’s a thing beyond the capability of any individual to do, so by the nature of the democratic process, people have to call for it to be done before it will be.

The same for ‘gaining UN approval’ – if you can’t write a column (or blog post) without gaining the unanimous permission of the UNSC 5, not many such columns will be written, and so the council will never discuss that topic.

It’s not like anyone can claim moral disengagement with respect to any part of the globalised capitalist economy – if Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of 1200%, one of the chain of events that led to that is that certain people sitting in offices in London or New York have pressed certain buttons on their computer screens.


ejh 03.23.07 at 10:42 am

or you need to fly to Zimbabwe yourself, personally, – armed with a rifle and your rigorous self-awareness – and take care of the business directly. Sorta like what people did during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You might need to explain that with specific examples, abb1.


ajay 03.23.07 at 11:08 am

Another thought:
Thabo Mbeki, what with being president, is one of the best-informed people in the world on the subject of what the SADF practically can and cannot do.

A quick precis: a lot of people have the impression that South Africa is a sort of regional military power. There are various reasons why you might think this.
For a start, in the 70s and 80s it was; despite the sanctions, the SADF was a large, well-equipped and highly efficient army, as witness its performance in the various bush wars in southern Africa.

Second, there are a lot of South Africans in the British Army or fighting as mercenaries, normally very well.

Third, because South Africa is much richer than other southern African countries, and also much whiter, people like Daniel assume that it is a sort of African Israel – a highly-militarised, technically sophisticated society, with an army far stronger than that of any of its neighbours.

But these are all misleading. The SADF has undergone an almost total collapse since 1994, due to, in no particular order, the early retirement, resignation or emigration of many of its white officers and senior NCOs; severe cuts in military spending; the amalgamation with the anti-apartheid militias; and HIV.
From its peak in the 80s, when it boasted it could march “Cape to Cairo in thirty days”, the SADF is now a broken reed. It’s pretty uncertain whether it could invade Zimbabwe, even if ordered to. As for having a brigade of tanks poised on the Zimbabwean border – in 2005, the SADF had a total of four tanks in running order. Troop levels have been cut to 75,000 (soon 65,000); of these, a fifth are infected with HIV, and a large share of the rest are ageing and unfit veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle. It can barely deploy three infantry battalions on UN peacekeeping duty at a time.

An invasion of Zimbabwe against anything more than token resistance would, in all probability, be a fiasco for the SADF. Mbeki knows this; and, given that I, a random internet bloke, know this, it’s safe to say that Mugabe knows it too.


ajay 03.23.07 at 11:17 am

Correction: the proper name is now SANDF (changed in 1994); sorry about that. Also, troop strength is now 55,000 – even lower than I thought.


ejh 03.23.07 at 11:21 am

From its peak in the 80s, when it boasted it could march “Cape to Cairo in thirty days”

It’s a shame they didn’t try it, I think we’d all have appreciated seeing how far they didn’t get.


ajay 03.23.07 at 11:30 am

Quite. PJ O’Rourke made a similar comment in a 1980s piece on South Africa, pointing out that “it would at least put the South African army thirty days’ march away from where they are causing trouble right now.”

But I think their point was “it would take us no more than a month to defeat every other army in Africa, one at a time or all at once” – which was doubtless correct.


ejh 03.23.07 at 11:55 am

“it would take us no more than a month to defeat every other army in Africa, one at a time or all at once”

For some reason this brings to mind the famous Eric Cantona incident at Selhurst Park, when Paul Ince is supposed have raced up to the main stand in support of his teammate and cried “come on then, we’ll take you all on”.

which was doubtless correct.

Not sure about “doubtless”.


ed 03.23.07 at 11:59 am

The point about the South African army is a good point, and is actually the first plausible explanation I’ve heard why Mbeki doesn’t do more. This also provides a role for the UK/ US, to provide logistical and maintenance support for the SANDF if it has to be used.

One point that commentators missed is that Mugabe is bringing in 2,500 Angolans, apparently because he can no longer rely on the Zimbabwe military to commit human rights abuses on the scale needed for him to cling to power. This means its no longer an internal conflict. If the report is true, the South African government should view another country sending troops into a neighbor differently.

I’m not sure if I get the point of the original post either. Its obvious to me that Mugabe has become crazy. All the above arguments could be applied to the Tanzanian intervention against Idi Amin, or the Vietamese intervention against Pol Pot. These were by no means perfect -they both just installed another, less bloodthirsty dictator- but they did improve things.

I think there is a tendency to view all of this through the prism of the Iraqi invasion, and people should stop doing that. Saddam Hussein just wasn’t in the Pol Pot -Idi Amin -Mugabe -Kim Il Sung class of insanity. Also, we still don’t know why Iraq has been invaded, given that all the justifications keep turning out to being lies. Intervention (not necessarily invasion) in Zimbabwe would pretty clearly be to prevent an worsening humanitarian disaster, complicated by the apparent Angolan intervention in support of said disaster.


ejh 03.23.07 at 12:04 pm

Saddam Hussein just wasn’t in the Pol Pot – Idi Amin…. Kim Il Sung class of insanity

Neither is Mugabe, is he?


abb1 03.23.07 at 12:33 pm


Barry 03.23.07 at 12:52 pm

Well, that’s another lie for the next war – Dictator X is *worse than Saddam*!

Ed, we don’t know the detailed reasons and weights thereof for the invasion of Iraq. We do have a good idea:

Oil. Domestic political gain. Money for cronies.


dearieme 03.23.07 at 1:00 pm

Cut to the chase: is it time to boycott South Afrcian wine again?


Chris Williams 03.23.07 at 1:06 pm

Ajay, I’m not sure that Daniel is assuming that the SANDF is up to much: rather, he’s hoping that the MDC won’t make that assumption.

One thing that us Brits can do to help Zim in the short term: get your arses down to your local refugee support group, or get in touch with the NCADC, and help stop HM gov deporting Zimbawbean refugees back there. Disregarding the issue of equity, not only do deportations mean more mouths to feed in Zim, but they mean less hard-currency remmittances getting there from the UK.


Lopakhin 03.23.07 at 2:04 pm

I have heard it said that S Africa could bring down Mugabe pretty easily without a war, by cutting off the electricity – apparently the SA state electricity company provides 40% of Zim’s electricity. Maybe that’s what Mr Aaronovitch is thinking of? Or have I got that wrong (which is quite possible)?

Peter Tatchell (sorry, I know, another ‘Decent’) puts it quite sharply:


‘South Africa supplies electricity to Zimbabwe and some of this electricity is being used to torture opponents of the Mugabe regime. Electric shock torture is used by the Zimbabwean police, army and intelligence services.’


ejh 03.23.07 at 2:11 pm

Also by ordinary Zimbabweans, when they’re lucky enough to have it, in order to keep alive.

What a really, really stupid point. Does he imagine the security services have more need of electricity than the ordinary citizens?


Daniel 03.23.07 at 2:47 pm

I have heard it said that S Africa could bring down Mugabe pretty easily without a war, by cutting off the electricity

counterpoint: if you cut off electricity to Zimbabwe, there would quite likely be a war.


Stuart 03.23.07 at 2:50 pm

Why stop at cutting off the electricity supply to hamper the security forces – they also need to eat if they are going to be torturing people, so if you cut off all food aid/imports to Zimbabwe soon they wouldn’t be torturing anyone. Problem solved!


Chris Williams 03.23.07 at 3:26 pm

We did comprehensive sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s. If I thought that the UK was going to try something as murderous (yet strangely ineffective) as that again, _I’d_ take to the woods (such as they are) with a rifle.


Steve LaBonne 03.23.07 at 3:49 pm

I think there is a tendency to view all of this through the prism of the Iraqi invasion

Is it not the case that such a fiasco should stimulate reappraisal of the usual liberal-interventionist pieties? A view through the Iraq prism is a very necessary, sobering corrective to the underpants-gnome “planning” that too often goes into calls for intervention. Maybe your preferred intervention will produce better results than the Iraq war did, but after Iraq you’d better damn well be prepared to make a strong, realistic, detailed case for a favorable outcome rather than just blithely assuming it.


Alex 03.23.07 at 5:17 pm

God, Tatchell is an epic fuckwit, isn’t he? OF COURSE, if the South Africans turned off the lights they’d be unable to torture anyone. Naturally, the CIO doesn’t have its own generator, or a hand-cranked charger, and couldn’t work out how to torture without using electricity..*headdesk*

BTW, the old SADF got its arse a-kickedo at dear old Cuito Canavale in 1987 or thereabouts by the Angolans and Cubans, and only got out of there thanks to Gerald Bull’s long-range guns.


Daniel 03.23.07 at 5:30 pm

yes indeed, I was thinking of suggesting that the slogan ought to be “capable of marching from the Cape to the Cubans”.

I’ve just seen that Angola has got involved in the Mugabe cause – this is bad news and the Angolans really should be condemned for it. But it clearly doesn’t mean that Zimbabwe has already become DR Congo and everyone else should just pile in.

btw, in answer to Keith at #5, I would note that my actual historical record includes having been in favour of Iraq as a war carried out by the Democrats, and I’ve written a couple of posts specifically making the point that humanitarian intervention shouldn’t be confused with whatever we were doing in Iraq. But causing a civil war in a country which doesn’t currently have one is clearly way over the line into “bad idea” country.


ejh 03.23.07 at 5:40 pm

after Iraq you’d better damn well be prepared to make a strong, realistic, detailed case for a favorable outcome rather than just blithely assuming it

I imagine the case they’re actually likely to make will go along the lines of “well, at least we tried and you didn’t – this is because we care and you don’t”. And so on ad infinitum.


franck 03.23.07 at 5:55 pm

I’m unclear on specifically what proposal Daniel would support. There are something like three choices: intervention, containment, and nothing. Daniel seems to be strongly against intervention, but what about containment? Zambia and the UK seems to be embarking on (2), while Angola embarks on (1). South Africa seems to be largely doing (3), though of course we don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.

So what about containment?


Sebastian Holsclaw 03.23.07 at 6:09 pm

“Saddam Hussein just wasn’t in the Pol Pot – Idi Amin…. Kim Il Sung class of insanity”

Considering how strongly the world worked against those three, this seems like an argument in the “never do anything” section.


Daniel 03.23.07 at 6:18 pm

There are something like three choices: intervention, containment, and nothing

decency in a nutshell. Diplomacy is “doing nothing”.


franck 03.23.07 at 6:31 pm

Diplomacy is part of containment, at least as I understand it. After all, it’s not like the US didn’t engage in diplomacy with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.


Doctor Slack 03.23.07 at 7:01 pm

The rant on AW is absolutely brilliant.


Barry 03.23.07 at 7:12 pm

Another: “Saddam Hussein just wasn’t in the Pol Pot – Idi Amin…. Kim Il Sung class of insanity”

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw: “Considering how strongly the world worked against those three, this seems like an argument in the “never do anything” section.”

Gawd, I’m confused. Let’s see, now: Saddam is worse than Hitler, those three are worse than Saddam. Are they also worse than Hitler? Or is there a large category of ‘not quite as bad as Hitler’?

As for your insults, Sebastian, the right in the USA supported Saddam and Pol Pot. Probably Idi Amin, as well, but I don’t know that.


Shelby 03.23.07 at 7:23 pm

Waht exactly would “containment” constitute in Zimbabwe’s case? I can’t see that Zambia’s limited actions seem to “contain” any more than whatever it is SA’s doing.

If containment means preventing violence from spreading out to Zimbabwe’s neighbors, then minimizing violence in Zimbabwe seems to be the best approach (however one would do that).


franck 03.23.07 at 7:38 pm

Well, maybe containment isn’t the right word. Say we reparametrize it as solving the problem, mitigating the problem, and ignoring the problem. Daniel thinks we can’t solve the problem in the short term (or at least that there isn’t a high probability of that) and that trying to solve the problem (through intervention, cutoff of electricity, etc.) is much more likely to make the problem worse.

That leaves ignoring the problem or mitigating the problem. What are the right approaches to mitigating the problem? Diplomacy seems like the right thing to do, along with some form of containment so that there isn’t a huge refugee crisis in Zimbabwe’s neighbors or a spreading civil war. Is South Africa actually doing these things?


aretino 03.23.07 at 7:57 pm

But I think their point was “it would take us no more than a month to defeat every other army in Africa, one at a time or all at once” – which was doubtless correct.

It was likely correct under the assumption that every other army in Africa would do them the favor of marching right up to the South African border, where they would be easily accessible to the SADF’s relative might.

Given the underdeveloped state of the continent’s infrastructure (even in the 1980s; now things are probably worse), the idea of the SADF even operating further north than Tanzania was absurd


Doctor Slack 03.23.07 at 8:37 pm

Aziz Pahad responds to the critics. Maybe Daniel wasn’t kidding about that telepathy thing.

Franck, what do you envisage “some form of containment” involving in the South African case, exactly?


Timothy Burke 03.23.07 at 8:53 pm

Pahad’s response actually underscores something I’ve just written about Daniel’s post at my own blog: that the primary driver here for the South African government is an unwillingness to look like it’s doing the bidding of Western governments.

Thinking more about that here, beyond what I wrote: isn’t that one of the things that was wrong with Bush’s version of unilateralism? An insistence that the United States couldn’t take an action if it seemed to be following the lead of another nation, or subordinate to the will of multilateral organizations or agencies? Why is it good for South Africa, then? Isn’t it right to do the things which are right to do, regardless of whether there’s an asshole like Howard or Bush telling you that you need to do them?


John D 03.23.07 at 9:14 pm

I think that Alex (Comment 33) should stick to writing code and ranting in the British press because he has no idea what he is talking about about the SADF or what happened at Cuito Carnavale.

It is easy to read (an believe) propoganda, and a lot more difficult to research and understand the complexities of history.

Others here that talk about the capabilities of the SANDF are just as clearly misinformed. The SANDF has undergone a transition and there were problems (huge ones I admit) but the Army of 2007 has NO resemblance to that of even just a few years back. The old (average age of 40) troops are gone. The average age is now a more realistic 23. The “bloat” that came about because of the integration process is gone. The SANDF is a much younger, leaner army than the general (misinformed) impression would suggest.

Implying that because a lot of the old white officers and ncos have left that the army is now crippled is nonsense (and racist) and ignores the fact that the (infantry) war is fought at the junior leader level, and that there are EXCELLENT junior leaders in the army now, and while they are not quite as battle hardened as would be appropriate, that takes five minutes under fire…

Another aspect most often ignored is the power and role of the Reserve Force. (in which I am an officer). The reserves have struggled for many years but significant skills remain and the soldiers are well trained and highly disciplined. This can be seen in the reports from deployments to the DRC, Burundi etc where they(we) have performed exceptionally well and by the fact that the reserves are picking up more and more of the operational responsibility (as is the tradition in South Africa).

People also look at the “in use” vehicles etc and jump to (false) conclusions. There are a lot of vehicles that are kept in “reserve” that could be hauled out at pretty short notice.

I do NOT advocate a military intervention in Zimbabwe, but I think it is naive to dismiss the capabilities of the SANDF based on some wooly thinking and incorrect facts gleaned from an ignorant media.



Shelby 03.23.07 at 9:15 pm


Well, but then the piece concludes with this: “It’s useless for the Australian prime minister to call on us to do more without telling us what they want us to do.”

That sounds, at least on the surface, like he’s open to having an asshole like Howard “telling us what they want us to do.”

I’m sure that, whatever else is going on, SA’s nervous about Zimbabwe dropping fully into the shitter and leaving them holding the bag. So to speak. In any event, Pahad seems to be requesting Western countries not to but out, rather to be involved in a more constructive fashion than carping from the sidelines, or simply noting how disastrous things are under Mugabe.

What that “more constructive fashion” is, damned if I know. Query, though: is Mugabe the sole strongman holding his gov’t together? If he were removed from office, is there someone to take over or would there be a free-for-all?


Doctor Slack 03.23.07 at 9:29 pm

Thinking more about that here, beyond what I wrote: isn’t that one of the things that was wrong with Bush’s version of unilateralism?

Bush’s version of unilateralism demanded that regional powers disregard any and all pragmatic considerations in order to serve whatever version of “moral clarity” the presumptive leaders of the free world had come up with. This would seem to be precisely what’s being asked/demanded of South Africa. I think Daniel’s point that it’s arguably unhelpful in the post-colonial Third World for leaders to jump at the bidding of former colonial powers is perfectly sound and defensible, and that there’s no particular reason to suppose in any case that South Africa is adopting the approach it has merely for appearances’ sake rather than because they believe it’s actually the best way to proceed.

It would be interesting to see some quantification of what people think South Africa is bringing to the table in terms of an underrated ability to influence Zimbabwe. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, hard to judge. My instinct is that Pahad is quite right about not indulging the pleasures of piquant rhetoric for their own sake, and that the comparison with Reagan is maybe a bit bizarre, not least in over-interpreting the phrase “constructive engagement” (wasn’t that term also used in the West viz. the Soviet Union at one point? was doing so amoral? was “Evil Empire” preferable?) and in rather inflating the clout of South Africa as compared with Reagan’s US.


Doctor Slack 03.23.07 at 9:31 pm

the comparison with Reagan over on Timothy’s blog, that is.


Kevin Rooney 03.23.07 at 10:23 pm

How did Zimbabwe come to this? I can not think of any country reaching such dire straights without an obvious and massive social trauma (for example carpet bombing of civilian targets in Cambodia before Pol Pot took over) or some long-standing social conflict (Sunni vs. Shia)
To put it another way, as Zimbabwe has deteriorated over the years, the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans saw their conditions going downhill. But some substantial minority must have still supported Mugabe. Even a lunatic dictator would require some kind of social base (for example, Sadaam had the Sunnis and some general support among secular, pro-modernization, and pan-Arab nationalist Iraqis). What has been Mugabe’s base and why have they stuck with him?
I am also fascinated by the very fact that I have not seen this obvious question discussed in the MSM or even the blogs I read.


Shelby 03.23.07 at 11:43 pm


I am relatively ignorant of recent history in Zimbabwe, and what I do ‘know’ is from reading primarily mainstream US press, but FWIW:

Mugabe has, starting 7-10 years ago, become more populist in his economic rhetoric, and more hostile to the relatively prosperous white minority. The latter owned most of the large farms that had a significant economic impact (beyond the level of feeding one family). Mugabe began encouraging “militants” to attack these farmers, driving increasing numbers out of the country; unfortunately they had much of the expertise needed to operate the more sophisticated parts of the Zimbabwean economy.

Another factor, which made the above possible, has been the development of a “class” of youngish men with few prospects; I have the impression they gained combat experience outside the country in other regional conflicts but that may be wrong.

In any event, Mugabe’s rallied the poorer classes around the idea that others (primarily the white Zimbabwean farmers) are exploiting them, and he will help them take what’s rightfully theirs. I don’t know whether the entitlement or the rhetoric came first, but they’ve plainly fed on one another.

Anyway, others please comment on where this is on or off base, or how it is or isn’t relevant to the developing crisis.


Hidari 03.23.07 at 11:46 pm

Hey decents! Hey! Guys! Over here! Here’s another crisis in the world for you to intervene in!

‘At least 12 people were killed and 27 wounded in the Democratic Republic of Congo as government troops clashed with supporters of a former rebel leader.’

You know? You could call for a Western intervention in a country like the Congo where (unlike the Sudan) there were no oil interests (or an opportunity to bash Arabs), so people might not questions your motives!

Or call for an intervention in Myanmar (Burma) where there are no white farmers being menaced, so again, nobody would question your motives!

Wait! Come back! I haven’t started to talk about Equatorial Guinea yet! Or Fiji….or Thailand….. come back………please……


Kevin Rooney 03.24.07 at 12:16 am

Thank you. The question of land ownership, with its racial and colonial entanglements, is clearly a big part of where Mugabe’s support has come from. What I don’t understand is why even the folks who benefitted from redistribution (or hoped to) did not peel away when the situation become so bad. I think it is not so unusual for say 20% of a country to back a government that is running the country into the ground if those 20% are making out well (Bush), but in Zimbabwe, where a former grain exporting country has run short on food for a few years now, even those who feel relatively better off than those around them must be worse off than they themselves were not so long ago.
Isn’t backing Mugabe now a bit like someone in the US in 1932 voting for Hoover because he has only been unemployed and starving for a month but everyone else has been unemployed for a year?


john c. halasz 03.24.07 at 12:23 am

Just to respond to Timothy Burke’s post a bit, since I’m not registered there, the South Africans are clearly aware, as already has been mentioned here, that the decisive defeated of the aparteheid SADF by the Cubans in Angola in 1988 was largely responsible for the former U. of S.A. government giving up and starting negotiations with the ANC, and that it was not just a matter of “moral clarity”. It’s likely that they don’t want to resume anything like such a strategy of “forward interventionism” again, aside from the fact that their armed forces are clearly no longer up to snuff for it, (to which I say good for them for not wasting their financial resources). And they clearly remember that that Reagan era policy of “constructive engagement” actually meant support for the aparteheid SADF intervention in Angola against “Soviet adventurism”, and they make a clear distinction between support for the right of resistance of a people/country and imperialist miltary intervention to impose a “solution”. And simply shouting from the roof tops about one’s “moral clarity” is, er, not the way that responsible governments behave. The South African government must know that Zimbabwe is a basket-case and likely to collapse/implode with repercussions directly upon them, so taking a cautious approach and examining the possible scenarios/outcomes and options to be able to optimalize their “bets” would seem the politically prudent, if not the morally “correct” thing to do, (since, er, the two are not and, indeed, never really the same, and overmoralizing politics tends to produce morally deficient and less-than-optimal political results). Compare the situation, e.g., to the attitude of the South Koreans toward North Korea, mutatis mutandis.


Shelby 03.24.07 at 12:24 am


That’s my viewpoint too. (Though I dont think Bush is a very useful point of comparison.) Zimbabwe’s crashed fast and hard; even the 10% of the country who were worst off 10 years ago can’t feel things are much better now. I’m sure the (Mugabe-driven) crackdown on outside sources of news plays some role — people may not realize that other countries are largely doing fine — but I don’t know how big a factor that is.


Kevin Rooney 03.24.07 at 12:36 am

I meant that Bush is still within the realm of what I understand. If Bush had led the US into 1000% inflation and economic collapse and he was still in office, that would be hard for me to understand. Why wasn’t there even a “palace coup” to replace Mugabe with another, more competent Mugabe?
I am asking because I think there may be something about human nature to learn from all this.


Timothy Burke 03.24.07 at 12:45 am

John, I think the role of Cuito Cuanavale in the fall of apartheid is pretty seriously overstated in your analysis.

It was an important part of convincing the late apartheid state of the limits of its own power, but it was getting plenty of convincing from the ungovernability of most townships and the spread of unrest to the Eastern Cape. Equally important was the refusal of international lenders to roll over loans, which had at least something to do with the international divestment movement.

As for the proposition that governments shouldn’t moralize, and that moralizing produces nonoptimal results in general in international relations, let’s just say I’ll believe it from you or anyone else when I find the person so saying scrupulously refraining from any moral framings of international issues.


john c. halasz 03.24.07 at 1:06 am

Timothy Burke:

I’ll grant that you certainly know vastly more about African affairs than I do. But I was just suggesting some of the possible thinking that might constrain the ANC dominated government. And I wasn’t denying btw that sanctions didn’t play a role. It’s just that the role of the Cubans has been largely censored/forgotten is the Western press and in idealized accounts of what happened and how it happened.

As for moralizing, there is a difference between expressions of political opinions, beliefs or positions in the public-political sphere, and the expressions of agents of government. And it is when agents of governments, i.e. powerholders, make strongly moralizing arguments that I get especially suspicious, (and not just because of the “glass houses” riposte). But all to often, arguments for positions in the public-political sphere contain excessively strong moralizing premises, (and lead to “internal” reference group “games” of one-up-man-ship and jockying for moral “superiority” and “higher ground”), and fail to recognize the “nature” of politics as involved in power-relations. Political judgments are a mixed form of judgment, “prudential” judgment, that require taking account not just of normative moral or ethical claims, but real conditions, assessments of extant power-relations, potential consequences, and available means/ends calculations.


Tom T. 03.24.07 at 3:20 am

John, aren’t you channeling Henry Kissinger?


zdenek v 03.24.07 at 8:03 am

john c. halasz writes : “As for moralizing, there is a difference between expressions of political opinions, beliefs or positions in the public-political sphere, and the expressions of agents of government…”

Yes but why try to squeeze them out of public political sphere ? I see that you offer an argument but it is laughably weak : that people who use them open themselves to “glass houses” reply.

This concedes first of all that sometimes moralizing is the right thing to do.

And second “the glass houses ” reply involves a fallacy ( it is a type of ad hominem move )and hence you cannot show in this manner that the moral judgement in question has no weight, should not be invoked.

The other consideration mentioned that politics just doesnt allow moral judgements because they
“are a mixed form of judgment, “prudential” judgment, that require taking account not just of normative moral or ethical claims, but real conditions, assessments of extant power-relations,”
simply begs the question at issue which is why think that moral considerations should play no role in public political discourse.


Lopakhin 03.24.07 at 10:10 am

Hidari: Or call for an intervention in Myanmar (Burma) where there are no white farmers being menaced, so again, nobody would question your motives!

Is Mugabe still menacing white farmers? Last I heard, he was inviting them back, having screwed up the economy so much. I thought he’d largely moved on to beating up black people.


Hidari 03.24.07 at 11:59 am

Yeah he invited them back but they ain’t coming.



C. L. Ball 03.24.07 at 9:46 pm

Aaronovitch criticizes the South African government for failing to condemn Mugabe’s cops beating peaceful opposition, and Daniel defends South Africa’s position? This is madness! Frankly, it amounts to an apology for the GoSA moral evasions.

Who is calling for an invasion of Zimbabwe? A. calls for South Africa to at least condemn the anti-opposition violence in strong terms and to refrain from implying that the opposition has contributed to the violence.


Rink 03.25.07 at 7:02 am

The ANC might not be aligned to ZANU-PF, but the people of South Africa are generally in favour of Mugabe.

The average black South African is racist in ways that would horrify most whites. Not that it’s not perfectly understandable, given Apartheid’s legacy. They are also extremely xenophobic and will beat up Burundians and black Africans from other countries.

As such they like to see whites getting their asses kicked and they enjoy it when Bush and Blair are humiliated.

So they are generally in favour of what Mugabe is doing.

And they couldn’t care less what happens to Zimbabweans.


Timothy Burke 03.25.07 at 3:27 pm

I could quibble with the formulation of “average black South African” here, and a lot of South Africans can be surprisingly indifferent to whites under many circumstances. But there’s something to what Rink says. I would say a large majority of South Africans are indifferent at best to Zimbabweans, and more likely to be hostile. Think some of the stronger xenophobia towards Mexican and other Latino immigrants in parts of the United States and you’re pretty close to the mark. I would also say that at least some people are not in favor of Mugabe’s action in any kind of principled or political manner: it’s more a kind of delight in his bad-boy antics, the way that a decent number of African nationalists used to privately relish some Idi Amin’s more theatrical attempts to humiliate or mock the West.

But it’s fair to expect the government of South Africa to rise above this, I think.


Joe TS 03.25.07 at 3:53 pm

Aggreeing with Shelby at #53:

“In any event, Mugabe’s rallied the poorer classes around the idea that others (primarily the white Zimbabwean farmers) are exploiting them, and he will help them take what’s rightfully theirs. I don’t know whether the entitlement or the rhetoric came first, but they’ve plainly fed on one another.”

It’s clear that Mugabe decided to play the race card, after losing a national referundum to change the constitution to increase his power. But it is important not to believe his words or to imagine for a moment that he believes them. The compulsory acquisition of white-owned farms was never about redressing colonial injustices, or about providing land to landless black Zimbabweans; rather, it was all about the fast transfer of wealth from one rich group (white farmers) and one not-so-poor group (their black farm employees) to another very rich group (the ZANU-PF elite in the military, the police, the courts and the public sector), and one poor, restless and politically-dangerous group (unemployed urban black youth).

Mugabe’s rhetoric is purely an idiom of retention of power. If he was actually serious about redressing land injustice, he would have done something about this in his first 20 years in office. Instead, his corrupt and incompetent admininstration launched only tepid and badly implemented programs of land reform and transfer in this period. When these failed, he blamed the British for not providing sufficient financial support, when in fact he did not spend all the money proffered.

Zimbabweans are generally sophisticated, well-educated, and cosmopolitan, and his opponents and his supporters, both, realize that his rhetoric is about retaining power, and keeping the support of the military-administrative elite. One good consequence of the current economic collapse is that it has made this ZANU-PF elite realize that they need a well-functioning economy to continue to enjoy their klepto-prosperity.


raisin 03.26.07 at 11:06 am

I would agree that intervention would make things much worse for ordinary Zimbabweans.

A Zimbabwean acquaintance returned from a home-visit recently and described to me the condition of the Middle-class. They are still living off the fat of the land; there is no incentive for them to press for changes while they can purchase petrol and other staples like milk, sugar, bread, which for the majority are out of reach. But more, they enjoy ostentatious lives of luxury in an economy that is grinding to a halt.

Viewing the photos she shared with me, it was difficult to reconcile the images with the ones painted in the Guardian and Times. It is this that leads to a sense of injustice among the poor which is being agitated by both the MDC and Mugabi.

While the middle-class which is devoid of principle or ideology and in awe to neo-liberalism will happily switch allegiances for Mugabi to the MDC. They won’t suffer in the least.

So how would intervention improve the plight of Zimbabwe’s desperate poor? If there is to be a change it will come from the ranks of people such as these and not western think tanks.

Surely, Afghanistan and Iraq have by now educated most of us to how completely woolly headed these ideas of supplanting dictators with western ideas on what’s right for the natives are. If there is to be a solution to the problem, it will come from Zimbabweans and fellow Africans.

Lastly, is Mbeki about to be used to entrench white privelege in Zimbabwe, because that is how it would be seen by many Africans. With the recent history of South Africa still a fresh memory, I doubt it. Intervention by the SA would be unconstitutional under SA law and illegal under international law, and finatlly, what would Mbeki’s objectives be? To overthrow Mugabi? To put in place Tsvangirai? What ends would he hope to achieve?


Tom Doyle 03.26.07 at 11:23 am

Daniel Davis: “Amnesty International certainly thinks that Thabo Mbeki and his government could be more unequivocal in condemning the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.”

As best as I can determine, AI has taken issue with African political leaders not because it regards their stated objections to the human rights violations in Zimbabwe as overly equivocal. Rather, AI, often in association with like minded cohorts, complains that African officials have not spoken out at all against these depredations.

In any event, Amnesty International’s Zimbabwe related operations included pressing African states and public officials to take official positions and/or make public statements opposing various human rights abuses by Zimbabwe authorities. In response to David Aronovich’s column, which bore at least a facial similarity to what Amnesty has been up to, you wrote two excellent essays which suggested some possibly very good reasons that South African authorities might have for not snapping to when Mr. Aronovich called them to their duty. I will defer any further commentary to a subsequent message.

Because of it’s relevance to the subject under discussion, I offer an example of Amnesty International’s activity discussed above, the Joint Appeal on Zimbabwe, in which AI was part if a coalition.

On 11/16/05 this “coalition of human rights and civic organizations across Africa,… supported by human rights and non-governmental organizations in Asia, Latin America and Europe[,]… issued [the] Joint Appeal…, sending letters to their [respective] Heads of State calling for African leaders and the African Union to address the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.” According to AI this action “highlighted … the failure of African States and the AU to address the [Zimbabwe] situation in any meaningful way.” (Quotes from AI press release, 16 Nov. 2005)

A Joint Appeal to African Leaders to Address the Human Rights Situation in Zimbabwe (16 November 2005)

Through the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) African Heads of State and Government have made a commitment to human rights and accountability in Africa. We are calling on African leaders to honour these commitments and end their long silence on human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Today in Zimbabwe, hundreds of thousands of people are internally displaced and destitute, not because of a war, an earthquake or a tsunami, but because their own government has forcibly evicted them, demolished their homes, and destroyed their property and their livelihoods. These acts, totally unjustifiable under international law, have been widely condemned. However, African States have remained conspicuously silent and have not demonstrated the political will to respond to the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Kofi Annan, has described Zimbabwe’s mass evictions as “a catastrophic injustice…carried out with disquieting indifference to human suffering”. UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues, Anna Tibaijuka, has reported that the government’s Operation Murambatsvina directly affected 700,000 people, indirectly affected at least a further 2 million people and “has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions”.

Human rights are being further violated in the context of the humanitarian crisis. There is considerable evidence that the Government of Zimbabwe is unable or unwilling to ensure that those affected have access, at the very least, to minimum essential levels of food, water, shelter and medical care. It is denying victims the humanitarian help they so desperately need:
Thousands of people, including children, the ill and the elderly, are facing the rainy season with little or no shelter. The government is not providing basic shelter for those in need, and it is blocking the UN and churches from doing so; police have forced destitute people from churches at night.
More than four million people need food aid, but the government is limiting food aid distribution, having also blocked a UN appeal for humanitarian aid and forced tens of thousands to return to rural areas where food security is already low.
Zimbabwe’s consistent failure to respect human rights has been well documented, including in reports published in 2005 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues.

In the face of such clear, well-documented and large-scale violations, member States of the AU and UN have a duty to ensure that the recommendations of such regional and international problem-solving mechanisms are implemented in order to address the present deprivation of African citizens and deter such harmful practices in the future. The silence of African States in the face of the grave suffering caused by forced evictions, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent, has created the regrettable impression of tacit approval of forced evictions as a policy option.

Today, we call on African States, individually and in their capacity as members of the AU, to:
Publicly express concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe…;
Publicly encourage and offer support to the Government of Zimbabwe to implement the recommendations contained in the reports of the ACHPR and the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues, as a matter of urgency;
Place the human rights and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe on the agenda of the AU January 2006 Assembly of Heads of State and Government;
Condemn the refusal of the Government of Zimbabwe to cooperate with the Special Envoy of the African Union Commission…;
Call for the immediate lifting of all unnecessary restrictions on the provision of humanitarian assistance, including restrictions on the provision of temporary shelter.
Call for the provision of effective remedies for the victims of the mass evictions and demolitions and all other human rights violations, including access to justice, reparations, guarantees of non-repetition, compensation and restitution where possible;
Call for an end to impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations in Zimbabwe and for those responsible to be brought to justice;
Pledge to seek alternatives to forced eviction in their own jurisdiction.

We also call on African States as members of the UN to:
Give full support to the UN initiatives aimed at addressing the human rights and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe and to put pressure on the government to allow independent human rights monitoring in Zimbabwe…[.]
In particular, we call on [current and future] African members of the UN Security Council…to allow the Security Council to be regularly informed on the situation in Zimbabwe, including the situation in respect of the UN’s humanitarian access to displaced and vulnerable people.



derrida derider 03.26.07 at 11:53 am

To give the SA government the benefit of the doubt, we don’t know what they’ve been saying privately to Mugabe. If they’ve been quietly saying “we don’t want to embarrass you publicly because we think it’ll make you worse, but here’s the facts ..” then we can criticise it as an error of judgement – it clearly hasn’t worked. But it’s not deserving of moral scorn.

If it’s from misplaced sympathy with the bugger because he’s sticking it to the white man, though, then they deserve every bit of the shellacking they’re getting. Such a stance is wicked and, worse, very stupid. SA is going to find itself having to pick up the radioactive pieces from the meltdown.


brooksfoe 03.26.07 at 4:01 pm

To give the SA government the benefit of the doubt, we don’t know what they’ve been saying privately to Mugabe

Whatever they have been “saying privately to Mugabe”, they’ve been saying it for 6 years, while he has methodically turned his country from the second (first?) hope of multiracial Africa, into just another lawless, wrecked, rotting postcolonial basket case, where gangs of illiterate thugs cannibalize the state’s shrinking resources in defense of their patron’s absolute power.

The Zimbabweans I met in early 2001 said “It’s different down here. There are white Africans and black Africans, but it’s all of our country.” Mugabe killed that in 2 years. It’s unclear what will be left of the state by the time he falls, or dies. But the idea that Thabo Mbeki is now faced with this terribly difficult, difficult decision, and we outside Africa should not presume to criticize his delicate approach, is a barefaced insult to everyone who railed at Mbeki to clearly condemn the land seizures, newspaper closures, stolen elections, imprisonment and beatings of opposition leaders year after year in the early ‘oughts, and who warned that to pursue “quiet diplomacy” was to court disaster later on. Certainly, by 1994 Europe was faced with a terribly difficult situation in Bosnia. But those who had called for military support against Serbian aggression were understandably angry, by ’94, at the complacent idiots who had done nothing but whisper from ’91 on, and who continued to warn of the terrible dangers of intervention in the face of genocide which they themselves had invited through their passivity.


Timothy Burke 03.26.07 at 4:53 pm

The Reagan Administration used to claim that privately, it was totally harsh with PW Botha. You just had to trust them, but man, privately? They were giving him, oooo, such a tongue-lashing.

I see no reason to suspect that any part of the Mbeki government has been privately harsh or demanding with the Mugabe regime. I see plenty of reason to suspect the opposite.


Jon Kay 03.27.07 at 4:08 am

Surely, Afghanistan and Iraq have by now educated most of us to how completely woolly headed these ideas of supplanting dictators with western ideas on what’s right for the natives are.

Because these guys don’t really deserve human rights. Our failures to help Panama, ex-Yugoslavians, Georgia (we discouraged armed Russian intervention against the Rose Rebellion), and Simon Bolivar’s rebellions in South America just bolster that position. Oh, wait. Maybe intervention sometimes works and those nasty imported Western ideas like human rights and democracy sometimes work, too.

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