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March 31, 2005

Comments

dsquared

Absolutely correct. Now imagine the same situation, but Mugabe is about a tenth as bad and the white Rhodesians were in government as recently as 1998 and attempted an actual coup three years ago. Imagine that the life expectancy in Zimbabwe has been increasing, literacy has been improving and infant mortality decreasing. Imagine that the non-white anti Mugabe movement is much, much smaller.

You've imagined Venezuela.

Jim

Dsquared - that is a reasonable comparison and I hope things turn out better there. It wasn't long ago that Zimbabwe went through a pretty hard driought, with half the country threatened, and the government, Mugabe's government, made it all work. People got fed for as long as it took and everyone made it through until the climate went back to normal. It used to be a decent government.
I am a long ways away from the situation, but from here it seems as though Mugabe just got old and impossible, which happens to most of us, but there just wasn't any mechanism to deal with that - a peaceful transfer of power. That's the danger with any revolutionary hero who really does good in the beginning. He becomes so much of an institution that it's unthinkable and then eventually impossible to move him along until it is too late. That is what can happen to Chavez.
It almost happened here in the US with Huey Long in Louisiana. Luoisiana was ripe for aa (electoral) revolution and one finally happened. He died one way or another, maybe helped along, before it got too, too bad.

kwasi

Mugabe is, in a lot of ways, the same as a lot of revolutionary leaders. While he may have started out well, the power has now gone to his head.
Part of the reason why I avoid openly criticising him is the fact that the level of British support for the main opposition makes me wary. Generlly foreign powers tend to support people who will champion their interests over those of the country.
Also, honestly, I wasn't opposed to him taking land away from the white farmers. They got their land by taking it away from the original owners, after all. I was upset that he chose to hand the land over to incompetent cronies.
Ideally he'll be peacefully removed from power and Zimbabwe will get a chance at a representative government.

Jim

"Also, honestly, I wasn't opposed to him taking land away from the white farmers. They got their land by taking it away from the original owners, after all."

In a moral universe that would be that, but conquest and expropriation are the way of the world. These people can lose the land the same way they got it, and that is what is happening. I wonder who was there before the Shona moved in? It doesn't matter; it has been theirs for long enough. But more to the point, if these white settlers had had an ounce of brains they would have made their African tenants into stakeholders, at least enough to object when the "verterans" started moving in. The settlers had every means available to build a constutency, but maybe they relied on some perception of inalienable property rights. See how well that protected them. If they are this stupid, Zimbabwe isn't losing much if they leave.

Pearsall

[If they are this stupid, Zimbabwe isn't losing much if they leave.]

Well, they were good farmers, and their cash crop exports contributed a huge amount to the national economy. Getting rid of them and handing their land to disinterested urban ZANU-PF hacks has been a total disaster for the country at large.

kwasi

"Getting rid of them and handing their land to disinterested urban ZANU-PF hacks has been a total disaster for the country at large."

I agree. I just find it ironic that the same people who were so offended when the farmers lost their land made no mention of the fact that the land was acquired by similarly killing and running off its previous owners. If mugabe had handed the land over to competent people, he'd probably have my support in this case.

"if these white settlers had had an ounce of brains they would have made their African tenants into stakeholders"

In my experience, a majority of the white settlers in Africa seem to suffer from 'manifest destiny' syndrome and see themselves as helping out these poor, ignorant savages who would otherwise be unable to mange their own affairs. Makes it harder for me to have any pity on them.

Julian Elson

It reminds me a bit of Neal Ascherson's article in the latest NYRB about the Mau Maus. Most of the perpetrators and victims alike were Kikuyus, but the British media was all focused on the handful of atrocities against British.

Jim

Kwasi,

That comment about mmanifest destiny is apt. Rhodes sounds more like an American rail tycoon than anything else.

I wonder to what extent the fact that people in what is now Zimbabwe were ranchers who farmed rather than pure agriculturalists fed that British sense that they were backward. In America in that period there was a sense that agriculture was the highest form of economy. There was a time whe the US government tried to turn the Plains nations into farmers. It ended with the beginning of immigration from Germany and Scandinavia to that area.

Pearsall, I take your point about these farmers' competence as farmers, but cash cropping may or may not be the best use of land. It sure made a mess of society in the American South. Furthermore these people are manifestly incompetent as community leaders if they can't get people behind them to protect them. And the choice doesn't have to be between alien transplants who insist on remaining alien and ZANU-PF hacks, does it?

Pearsall

Nah, that doesn't have to be the choice. In fact, if I remember correctly at the end of white rule there was a land redistribution agreement made whereby the Brits would pay compensation to white farmers, but it never made many inroads. This was probably the biggest fuckup the white farmers made (and I think the Brits were generally dawdled with payments), by not getting the process to move forward quickly enough they handed Mugabe a convenient card to play when he needed to.

I take your point on their political failures, but I'm not sure how much more they could have done in protecting their position. All sorts of groups in all sorts of societies have failed in standing up to authoritarian governments (after all, consider Mugabe's campaigns against the Ndebele in the 80's).

Abiola Lapite

"All sorts of groups in all sorts of societies have failed in standing up to authoritarian governments (after all, consider Mugabe's campaigns against the Ndebele in the 80's)."

The thing is, the issue isn't the failure of the settlers to "stand up" to authoritarianism, but their failure to get sizable proportions of the black majority to buy into stability by conceding land on their own terms, before Mugabe could get around to forcing them to give up all of it.

It took no great intellect to see that the skewed land ownership which prevailed at the dawn of black majority rule would not be allowed to stand forever, regardless of what Britain did or failed to do, and if white landowners had voluntarily organized to sell off sizable portions of their holdings at substantially discounted rates to willing black buyers in the 1980s, it would have been extremely difficult for Mugabe to later pull his "war veteran" card with much success. The contrasting experiences of the British and Continental European aristocracies shows the wisdom of an elite giving ground of its own accord, rather than waiting for the extremists to force its hand, and the fact is that Zimbabwe's white elite has shown nothing but short-sighted blinkeredness from 1965 onwards.

hex

Many, if not most, of the Zimbabwean farms had once been legally bought by the affected white farmers, and are "owned" by Zimbabwean banks, who were left holding the baby when the farmers were evicted. These days we hear a lot from Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, gloating about the Zimbabwean farmers now turning his country (formerly Northern Rhodesia) into Southern Africa's newest "breadbasket". Some of these farmers went to start over as far as Nigeria, where I believe they have been getting a bit of uphill from the locals. South Africa, being perceived as the upcoming Zimbabwe MkII, is definitely OUT.

Jim

"All sorts of groups in all sorts of societies have failed in standing up to authoritarian governments (after all, consider Mugabe's campaigns against the Ndebele in the 80's)."

It's not news when authoritarianism wins out; that seesm to be the default setting for us. It is news when someone comes up with a way to prevent it. Where does that happen and how? In the US we have had plenty of attempts at authoritarian takeovers. Our particular answer has been stasis and inertia, otherwise known as "checks and balances" - you build up enough inertia in society that the energetic authoritarinas just don't manage to get anywhere with their efforts. Another form of inertia is just the size of the society and its unwieldiness - Texas would surely have been an oil dictatorship by now if it were not for the threat of federal intervention. If the landowners in Zimbabbwe had managed to "get sizable proportions of the black majority to buy into stability by conceding land on their own terms" that would have been the inertia they needed to keep this from happening. What happened instead was that they obviously expected the colonial power to come to their aid somehow sooner or later. or maybe they just assumed that the common people would remember their place.

And the hell of it is, the landowners let their teneants down by being so inept, because they apparently they are getting run off by the veterans now as well as the white landowners.

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