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City of Brass

City of Brass

Mugabe says, “Zimbabwe is mine”

Robert Mugabe is not going quietly:

BINDURA, Zimbabwe (AFP) — President Robert Mugabe declared Friday
that “Zimbabwe is mine” and vowed never to surrender to calls to step
down, as his political rival threatened to quit stalled unity
government talks.

Addressing his ZANU-PF party’s annual
conference amid a ruinous political crisis and a deadly cholera
epidemic , Mugabe returned to the kind of defiance he has often shown
in the face of mounting criticism.

“I will never, never, never,
never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine, I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for
Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe never for the British, Britain for the British,”
Mugabe told his party’s annual conference.

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The veteran leader in the former British colony said he would remain until “his people decided to change him.”

There’s a powerful piece in the LRB about the lessons of Zimbabwe which provide an excellent history lesson as well as provides context to the problems facing the troubled African state. In a nutshell, Mugabe is a problem; but removing him won’t magically solve things, because the country still has to face its post-colonial legacy of land reform.

It’s hard to excerpt a piece as lengthy as this but I think it’s one that really merits a full read. Here’s the introductory paragraphs:

It is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert
Mugabe. Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a
brutal dictator, and blame him for Zimbabwe’s descent into
hyperinflation and poverty. The seizure of white-owned farms by his
black supporters has been depicted as a form of thuggery, and as a
cause of the country’s declining production, as if these lands were
doomed by black ownership. Sanctions have been imposed, and opposition
groups funded with the explicit aim of unseating him.

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There is no
denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and
even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters. His policies
have helped lay waste the country’s economy, though sanctions have
played no small part, while his refusal to share power with the
country’s growing opposition movement, much of it based in the trade
unions, has led to a bitter impasse. This view of Zimbabwe’s crisis can
be found everywhere, from the Economist and the Financial Times to the Guardian and the New Statesman,
but it gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For
he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform
measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just
in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the
preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the
socio-historical issues involved.

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I’m all for ousting Mugabe but people are treating him as the sole embodiment of evil. Zimbabwe’s problems go a lot deeper than that. As the intro asserts, Mugabe is indeed governing partially with the consent of Zimbabweans. The article has this to say about the recent (disputed) elections:

Despite the EU’s imposition of sanctions in the run-up to the
parliamentary elections of 2002, Mugabe polled 56.2 per cent of the
vote against Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC’s 42 per cent. There were
widespread allegations of Zanu-PF violence and last-minute
gerrymandering, with polling stations in urban areas – Tsvangirai’s
electoral base – closing early and extra stations being set up in rural
areas, where Mugabe’s support was assured. Nonetheless, it was clear
that support for Zanu-PF was higher than in the pre-fast-track
elections of 2000.

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And the essay goes into a lot of detail as to what groups support Mugabe and why. In a nutshell, Mugabe has given Zimbabwe’s land back to Zimbabwe’s people, confiscating it from the British white settlers, who had a grotesquely disproportionate stranglehold. Underestimating this and pretending that Mugabe governs as a Saddam-esque dictator at odds with the will of his people is a mistake, and does nothing to help the Zimbabweans conceive of and realize a better future ahead.

More importantly, the essay provides a lot to think about, with regards to the effectiveness of sanctions as punitive diplomacy, about the consequences of the colonial tactic of appropriating the best land by a foreign settler minority, and the intersection of ethnicity and class as internal forces that need to be reconciled. These questions have applicability to Iraq, to Palestine, and to Iran, and US foreign policy in general.

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