“When Africans are on top, they resort to individual display.” — Roger Milla, former captain of the Cameroon national football team
Archive for April, 2008
“Why spend several years and many pages examining honor when the problems of contemporary Africa are so often atttributed to lack of honor, to corruption and cruelty and greed? The contention here is that such thinking is mistaken. Human beings seldom do things they believe to be wrong. They do wrong things because they believe them to be right. That is why honor is so important. It is an immensely powerful motivator.â€Â — John Iliffe
None would begrudge the heads of African nations for their failure to criticize one another if behind closed doors they could gather the will and imagination to resolve the most flagrant leadership lapses on their vast turf. This weekend South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki described as “normal” the collapse of fair elections in Zimbabwe. Mbeki made his comment at a meeting of African leaders designed to end the electoral stalemate in Zimbabwe — and perhaps set the country on the right track. Mbeki has long spared Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictatorial president, the lash of public criticism. Yet why not at least lash Mugabe in private? After, Zimbabwe’s current plight — including its broken electoral process — is neither nor healthy under any definition.
Mugabe chose not to attend the meeting, a clear snub to Mbeki, whose country is the regional powerhouse in southern Africa. Imagine what praise Mbeki might have heaped on Mugabe had he merely attended the meeting!
Some of the same flair theater without pragmatism was also displayed this weekend in Kenya, where Odinga and Kibaki continue to struggle to forge a workable governing coalition (though reports of a new “compromise deal” say details were revealed today). To be sure, such coalitions are very difficult to create from the soup of intensely-rivalrous politics. Yet the continued uncertainty over the specifics of Kenya’s political settlement surely can’t help the country’s once-booming economy get back to “normal.”
Closed-door deals aren’t helping in Cameroon either, where President Paul Biya — in power since the early 1980s — seems to be winning over members of the country’s weak Parliament in a bid to permit Biya to for what he calls his “third term,” but what would actually be “only” his third term since he allowed “contested” elections. But since these are Zimbabwe-style elections, they are really not elections at all
The Economist in its new issue examines the peculiar relationship between the U.S. Department of Defense and the government of Ethiopia, whose armed forces occupy parts of Somalia at the behest of the Bush administration. Quietly, the U.S.-Ethiopia military alliance has become the most important in sub-Saharan Africa. The Economist tallies some of the relative costs and benefits of the relationship. Unasked is the question, will it endure the change of administrations in Washington? Democrats have questioned the special treatment given to Ethiopia by the Pentagon under Bush. Come January, the Democratic rhetoric may turn into action — and spell the end of the alliance with Ethiopia.
Are Robert Mugabe’s days numbered? Can he possible engineer a “dignified” exit from his role of Africa’s most decorated dictator?
The news reports this week suggest that Mugabe may finally be history. He has lost control of the Parliament, and he can’t possible win a presidential run-off against a single candidate. So say journalists and observers near the scene. I am far away, in California, a new term at Stanford starting and Zimbabwe seemingly far away. Yet Zimbabwe is one of those places where distance makes the heart grow fonder — and the mind clearer.
Once Africa’s breadbasket, Zimbabwe was the first of the “apartheid” post-colonial states to give way to a black-run government. Mugabe did well for a time as Zimbabwe’s economic steward. That is easy to forget. Since 2000, he’s been unhinged, bent on wrecking the economy by driving out both energetic white farmers and talented black professionals, merchants and even laborers. State-failure does not begin to describe Zimbabwe’s condition. Indeed, Mugabe’s ability to hold together a state that offers nothing to his people represents a new disease model in the pathologies of African governance. Even today, opponents of Mugabe act as if they can inherit a functioning state apparatus that will bounce back like a dry plant that gets proper watering.
The world will see what Zimbabwe has left after the ravages of Mugabe; the big question is how soon will the old man go? The sudden optimism regarding an imminent departure may prove misplaced. Mugabe’s henchmen may see a presidential run-off as easier to rig and another electoral campaign may serve, in their twisted minds, merely to flush more Mugabe opponents into the open.
Keep shedding tears for Zimbabweans. Their cheers and joy cannot yet be heard.