Geldof: The Unexpected Bush

Bob Geldof pens an unusual article for Time Magazine today, extolling the intellect and virtues of President George Bush. He starts off by noting — as have we conservatives since early in the administration — that Bush has no talent for marketing. Geldof instead assigns himself that task and reminds people that Bush may be the most significant President in modern times for the lives he has saved:

The Most Powerful Man in the World studied the front cover. Geldof in Africa — ” ‘The international best seller.’ You write that bit yourself?”
“That’s right. It’s called marketing. Something you obviously have no clue about or else I wouldn’t have to be here telling people your Africa story.”
It is some story. And I have always wondered why it was never told properly to the American people, who were paying for it. It was, for example, Bush who initiated the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with cross-party support led by Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist. In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.
So why doesn’t America know about this? “I tried to tell them. But the press weren’t much interested,” says Bush. It’s half true. There are always a couple of lines in the State of the Union, but not enough so that anyone noticed, and the press really isn’t interested. For them, like America itself, Africa is a continent of which little is known save the odd horror.

Geldof doesn’t pull punches where he disagrees with Bush. In fact, he spends most of the article outlining his disagreements. However, he also paints a picture of a man of intellect and deep belief, and one who has been shortchanged by the media, at least on Africa. He also understands that while he disagrees with Bush on many policies, Bush is motivated by his own sense of what is right.
The Anchoress notes:

But I do like that he gives the president serious credit not just for his humanitarian aid to Africa, but for his smarts in general. The press narrative since 1999, has been that Bush is “incurious and slow.” Geldof writes precisely the opposite, noting after a discussion of Africa and trade tariffs, “he’s curious and quick.”
And while in not engaging the president on is a bit unfair because does not allow rebuttal to Geldof’s own meme’d musings, the Irish rocker does allow Bush to make his case as to the steadiness of his interest in Africa, going back to his debates w/ Gore.

Indeed. Rather than the two-dimensional caricature that so many pundits and journalists have created, Geldof gets much closer to describing Bush as he is — intelligent, emotional, combative, and unusually open. In the end, Geldof and Bush have to agree to disagree on Iraq, but Geldof obviously has some affection for Bush despite the media-driven cardboard cutout most people choose to see.
This does not surprise me much. I have had the pleasure of participating in two round-table conference calls with Geldof, and he surprised me with his openness to all points of view. Like Bush, he has grown a thick skin through years of political combat. His last project, a series of concerts intended to produce pressure on the G-8 nations to forgive African debt and pledge more assistance, drew a lot of naysayers — and Geldof almost seemed to relish engagement with them, in order to change minds.
In some ways, Geldof appears to recognize a bit of that in Bush, and has a difficult time not liking it.

A Way Out For Kenya?

After a week of rioting and murder, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki has apparently decided that his re-election cannot stand any longer. He has suddenly offered a power-sharing arrangement with his opposition, Rail Odinga, following charges of genocide on both sides over the violence that has wracked this East African nation. No one knows exactly what Kibaki has in mind, but the step comes after the US intervened with Kibaki:

Kenya’s president is ready to form “a government of national unity” to help resolve disputed elections that caused deadly riots, a government statement said Saturday without explaining what such a power-sharing arrangement might involve.
President Mwai Kibaki made the statement to Jendayi Frazer, the leading U.S. diplomatic for Africa, according to the director of the presidential news service, Isaiya Kabira.
Kabira said he could not say whether that was a formal offer to opposition leader Raila Odinga, who accuses Kibaki of stealing the Dec. 27 elections that international observers say had a deeply flawed vote count.

The conflict in Kenya went beyond just the disputed election. It opened up fractures in Kenya’s social system between its various tribes, as the Luo and Kikuyu began a series of tit-for-tat attacks in support of Odinga and Kibaki. The beleaguered president tried to cast the civil and tribal conflict as a genocide, but no one bought into that convenient accusation.
Ambassador Frazer’s intercession appears to have made clear that the world would not recognize Kibaki’s re-election. Earlier, Kibaki had insisted that he would only order new elections if Kenya’s Supreme Court ordered it, but the panel consists mainly of Kibaki allies and would not likely overturn his election. Instead, after meeting with Frazer, Kibaki abruptly reversed himself, indicating that the US had a strong and rather unpleasant message for Kibaki.
Frazer may have saved hundreds of lives in the short run with this successful diplomatic intervention. Kenya needs an honest election and a return to the rule of law, rather than political lawlessness. Kibaki’s offer provides his nation a step in the right direction; let’s hope it succeeds.

Tribal Warfare In Kenya?

Kenya has erupted in violence after a suspicious election process kept president Mwai Kibaki in power, but that political unrest may have turned to tribal warfare. Thirty people died in a church in a fire, reminiscent of a well-known Nazi atrocity in France, and over 200 more have died in fighting since an election rejected by European and American observers as flawed. The Luo tribe, to which opposition leader Raila Odinga belongs, appears to be targeting the Kikuyus of Kibaki:

The tribe of the church victims in the western town of Eldoret is not immediately clear, but the Kikuyus of Mr Kibaki have been the main targets of the violence so far.
The Kikuyus are the largest tribe in Kenya, and Mr Odinga belongs to the second-largest Luo tribe.
“Supporters of Raila Odinga are involved in ethnic cleansing,” a government spokesman said. Members of Mr Odinga’s party have made similar charges against the president. …
Kikuyus are fleeing from towns west of the capital, Nairobi, trying to take refuge in police stations or escaping into neighbouring Uganda.
Gangs wielding machetes again manned road-blocks on some roads, searching for Kikuyus.

The Kibaki government has an interest in having this cast as a tribal war. If he can sell this as an attempted genocide by the Luo, then he can sidestep Western criticism over the rigged election and put the blame on the Luo for the unrest. After Rwanda and Darfur, Europeans and Americans have a great deal of sensitivity towards accusations of ethnic cleansing, and the Telegraph report helps build a case for Kibaki.
It could be a blend of both, of course. The Kikuyus form the power base for Kibaki, as they comprise the largest tribal bloc in Kenya’s population at 22%. The Luo come in third at 13%. Politics and tribal affiliation blend there as they do in many African (and Arab) nations, and tribal affiliation has more resonance than shifting political movements do. If Kibaki has attempted to hijack the Kenyan elections to grab power, it could be seen as a Kikuyu move to retain primacy over other tribes in Kenya.
Odinga holds the majority of Parliament, and can make life very difficult for Kibaki. Odinga refused an entreaty from Gordon Brown to enter into negotiations with Kibaki, demanding that Kibaki first step down from the presidency and allow international monitors to recount the ballots independently. Kibaki refuses, and has barred the Orange Democratic Movement from holding any assemblies or demonstrations. Odinga plans to hold one anyway and predicts that a million people will join him in the streets, a situation that will almost certainly end in violence.
That won’t be tribal warfare but a real political opposition to a corrupt government. Kibaki cannot afford to have that happen, and he may cry “genocide” to gain Western support for his rickety grip on power.

Where Are The Damn Monkey Pictures?

Apparently, America has a strong export capability in political analysis, even in analysts with a track record of scandal. A Kenyan presidential candidate hired Dick Morris to help win the election, even though Morris has no history in Kenyan politics, and traveled to the country on a tourist visa. No problem, says his new boss — Morris works for free:

Political consultant Dick Morris, who rose to prominence as a key adviser for President Bill Clinton and then fell from grace after a scandal involving a prostitute, has surfaced as a political consultant in an unlikely place — Kenya.
Leading presidential candidate Raila Odinga has brought Morris on as a consultant to help him beat incumbent President Mwai Kibaki in next month’s elections. Last week Morris arrived in Kenya on a tourist visa and held a press conference saying he believed Odinga was poised to win the election.
“I think the reason is he has a clear reputation for courage and for integrity and for change,” Morris said. “I am delighted to be here in Kenya and to help you get rid of the corrupt government.”
But news of Morris’ own scandals soon spread throughout Kenyan media. Letters to the editor and op-ed articles have severely criticized Odinga’s choice of consultant. One op-ed in Kenya’s The Nation newspaper laid out Morris’ past indiscretions, including his affair and leaking of sensitive information to a prostitute, and that the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services has Morris as one of the top 10 tax evaders in the state. As of Oct. 1, 2007 he still owed almost $300,000 in back taxes.

Yes, that doesn’t exactly build credibility for a reformist candidate. Odinga may not have known much about Morris, but then again, he didn’t have to pay much, either. At least, that’s the story to which his campaign has steadfastly clung since the revelation that Morris arrived on a tourist visa, in apparent violation of immigration law.
The government — the one Morris accused of corruption within hours of his arrival — has a different interpretation. It takes far longer to get a work visa than a tourist visa, and the election is in less than six weeks, and the government sees this as a dodge. Dr. Alfred Matua, the government’s spokesperson, says that Morris broke the law and will be subject to arrest, prosecution, and deportation if he enters Kenya again in a similar manner. Morris needs to apply for the appropriate work permit, or confine his activities to tourism … such as “taking pictures of monkeys”.
Taking pictures of monkeys? That sounds almost as much fun as wrestling with pigs, which any American political analyst can do easily enough here at home. If Morris wants to return to Kenya, though, he’d better start taking some snapshots of the primate life and spend less time on electioneering.

Zimbabwe: Reform Or Ruse?

Zimbabwe’s opposition party has reached agreement with Robert Mugabe’s organization to achieve some political reform in time for the next election. Mugabe has given up his ability to directly appoint one-quarter of the legislature, a key prop to maintaining a majority and controlling the body. However, the reforms will only improve the chances for the opposition if the election is clean:

Zimbabwe’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, yesterday struck a deal with Robert Mugabe to change the country’s electoral laws.
The rule change abolishes President Mugabe’s right to appoint 30 MPs, removing a major hurdle to the opposition winning an election.
But it also increases the number of constituencies from 120 to 210, which the ruling Zanu-PF party could easily gerrymander to return loyalist MPs.
But observers believe that the deal could mark a breakthrough and that talks chaired by South Africa could produce a new constitution in time for presidential and parliamentary elections next March. The process, however, remains subject to Mr Mugabe’s veto and there are no assurances of a free and fair ballot.

Even if the opposition wins the election, they’re not going to like what they get. The Telegraph reports now that Mugabe says inflation has slowed — to 6,592.8%. (It’s the 0.8% that really hurts, of course.) The country still is careening to complete collapse, as the International Crisis Group warns in its latest analysis. Winning the election and taking control of the government will put the MDC in charge just in time to preside over the catastrophe.
And that depends on Mugabe changing his stripes enough to refrain from stealing the election. Mugabe hasn’t been particular about restraining himself in order to allow democracy to flourish. He has made himself into a President-for-Life through intimidation, fraud, and corruption. If he allowed the kind of accountability that democracy imposes, he knows he’d spend the last few hours of his life up against the wall or preparing to mount the gallows. He can’t afford to let the MDC take charge, not unless he has a death wish.
The ICG recommends that the Southern African Development Community push to get Mugabe to resign his position. So far, they have proven themselves uninterested in assisting Zimbabwe’s people to free themselves from Mugabe’s disastrous rule. If Mugabe tries corrupting the next election, the question may be which of the SADC members will save Mugabe’s life by offering him asylum — which may be the best solution of all.

Does Mugabe Have The Collapse Playbook?

Robert Mugabe has thus far done everything known to bring about an economic collapse in Zimbabwe, and perhaps invented a couple of new twists along the way. Lately, his steps have become as predictable as they are disastrous, with price freezes, confiscation, and the state takeover of foreign assets. Now Mugabe has announced a wage freeze, a move that guarantees an end to any remaining buying power among Zimbabwe’s working class:

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has banned all pay rises without authorisation and given himself extra powers in a new bid to curb the world’s highest inflation rate, state media said Friday.
As part of the measures, all rents, school fees and service charges must be frozen for the next six months.
“No one in private or public sectors can now raise salaries, wages, rents, service charges, prices and school fees on account of increases or anticipated increases in the consumer price index, the official and unofficial exchange rates, or valued added tax and duty,” said the government-controlled Herald newspaper.

One has to be reminded of King Canute, showing his acolytes and fawners on the English shore that he could not stop the tide by his command. Mugabe qualifies as Canute’s polar opposite. He apparently believes that he can stop a 7,600% inflation rate by ensuring that everyone but himself becomes rapidly insolvent.
Already, Zimbabwe has an 80% unemployment rate. That makes a wage freeze almost irrelevant to inflation. Employers won’t have to raise salaries, but if they don’t offer any buying power in return for labor, the labor will cease to exist. Employees will leave in order to look for other ways to subsist, and whatever remains of Zimbabwe’s economy will crash into oblivion.
With no economy, the government will have no revenue. Without revenue, it will have no means with which to pay the armed forces, among others. Soldiers may have some issues with remaining loyal when what little money they have won’t buy them anything at all. Even if they get raises, where will they spend the money? Hardly any retail business can stay open now, and the wage freeze will rapidly start closing doors.
The only economy left will be the black market, in which the government cannot participate. The wage freeze will push the rest of the nation into the underground economy, and new power brokers will emerge outside of government control. Eventually they will control the arms in civil society, and the new warlords will bust Zimbabwe into pieces. It’s the anarchy playbook, where strongmen exist outside of any sense of law and order, and those strongmen impose law rather than the people.
If Mugabe has set out to destroy Zimbabwe, he’s certainly made all the right moves in the exact order necessary to do so. It would make a fascinating laboratory for economic and political incompetence if it wasn’t so tragic and unnecessary.

Another Step Reached In Zimbabwe’s Collapse

Earlier this week, I noted that Zimbabwe had begun accelerating towards collapse with the imposition of price controls, backed up by enforcement squads that provided little more than government-assisted looting. I wrote at the time that when state-created shortages threaten the economy, dictators attempt to stamp out the symptoms through even heavier state action rather than cure the original disease. Now Zimbabwe has almost no domestic capital left, thanks to Mugabe’s ruinous economic diktats.
That didn’t stop Mugabe from taking the next step towards utter collapse — chasing out foreign capital as well:

President Robert Mugabe has paved the way to effectively seize control of foreign-owned companies, many of them British, dealing another blow to Zimbabwe’s tottering economy.
Under a bill laid before Zimbabwe’s parliament, all firms undergoing structural changes, and any new investments in the country, must be 51 per cent controlled by “indigenous Zimbabweans”.
Paul Mangwana, the minister responsible for the programme, said the bill was intended to “create an enabling environment that will result in increased participation of indigenous people in the economic activities of the country”.
The legislation makes clear, however, that white Zimbabwean shareholders do not count. It defines an “indigenous Zimbabwean” as “any person who was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of race before independence in 1980”.

Mugabe did the same thing with Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous farms, which at one time produced food in abundance not just for Zimbabwe but also its neighbors in Africa. He claimed, not without justification, that white ownership of the land sprang from the unfair advantage of Rhodesia’s colonialism. Rather than conduct a rational reapportionment of the land, he stripped it from the producers and gave it to political hacks, who turned Zimbabwe into a beggar state.
This, however, is worse. Zimbabwe needs foreign investment more desperately than ever, and Mugabe is about to ensure that foreign capital gets removed before it too gets looted. The investment didn’t result from colonialism, either, but from efforts in the post-colonial era to support Zimbabwe’s independence. It provided jobs and security to thousands of Zimbabweans, security that will entirely dissipate once the foreign companies pack off as much as they can before Mugabe confiscates their property.
When he does, the factories and businesses will cease to exist, just as the farms have returned to pre-agricultural tall grass. Mugabe’s cronies know just as much about industrial production as they do about agricultural production. New foreign investment will never appear as long as Mugabe or his thugs retain power. Zimbabwe will be a wasteland of starving, unemployed people, just a generation removed from living in Africa’s breadbasket.

Zimbabwe: Back To Nature

Yesterday, the Telegraoh reported that Western officials expect a complete collapse of Zimbabwe’s economic and political systems, by Christmas or even sooner. Today, the Los Angeles Times picks up where the Telegraph left off, explaining in detail the disintegration of Africa’s one-time breadbasket. The farms that once sustained the entire region have returned to pre-agricultural times, and manufacturing and retail will soon join them:

A drive across Zimbabwe today reveals a desolate portrait of decline: Aimless mobs of people wait along the rural roads, each with a silent pleading gesture for a lift at every passing vehicle. With fuel almost dried up, unemployment at 80% and transport too expensive for most, movement is almost frozen.
Along the highways, brown grass stands high between the thorny acacias in a stunning vista of what Africa must have looked like before mechanized agriculture made farming Zimbabwe’s main export business. Now, most farms lie dormant.
Meat disappeared after the government shut down private abattoirs, transferring all slaughtering to a quasi-governmental organization that cannot meet demand. Fuel supplies dried up after the National Oil Co. of Zimbabwe was made the sole authorized distributor.
In towns, straggling queues form at any rumor of sugar, maize or bread. Most supermarket shelves are empty of basic staples: no meat, no sugar, no maize, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no milk.

This is the prelude to violent revolution. People will not willing starve themselves en masse to save a government from toppling, especially one run by Robert Mugabe. The dictator’s only hope is that enough people leave to keep the uprising on the kind of small scale his forces can handle. In that, he’s been fortunate; millions have fled already.
That hasn’t kept Mugabe from pressing his luck. He has used violence and intimidation to virtually shut down sector after sector of the private economy. Now he plans on going after what’s left — manufacturing and retail. They employ 27% of what’s left of Zimbabwe’s workforce, and their collapsing under price controls that force them to operate at ever-expanding losses. Those losses got expanded when Mugabe forced enormous wage increases at the same time he imposed price controls. A pair of trousers on the legitimate market now loses over $2400 dollars US; on the black market, the loss is around $7.
Mugabe makes sure that the price and wage controls get enforced. Gangs of police and soldiers raid retail and manufacturing businesses to check on compliance. Even those who comply routinely get arrested, though, and their stores get emptied of goods when the gangs force owners to mark down the prices. The losses have staggered what little remains of Zimbabwean capital, and the arrests have convinced even more to seek their fortunes — or at least their lives — elsewhere.
It’s a perfect illustration of the end game for statist economics. When state-created shortages threaten the economy, dictators attempt to stamp out the symptoms through even heavier state action rather than cure the original disease. Now farms have reverted back to a pre-agricultural state, and Mugabe has destroyed the resources necessary to recover the industrial economy. The last throes of statism will shortly get played out, in which famine and civil war will compete for the highest body counts. Meanwhile, the African nations around Zimbabwe continue to offer plaudits and approbation to the most incompetent and deadly dictator seen since Uganda shed Idi Amin Dada.

Zimbabwe Collapse In Four Months: Telegraph

Zimbabwe has just about reached the end of its tether, according to Western officials contacted by The Telegraph, and in four months will be reduced to anarchy. Britain has plans to evacuate its 20,000 citizens on an emergency basis as the former agricultural power will send its starving people into the street in a paroxysm of anger, tribal conflicts, and utter collapse:

Speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject, one Western official said: “It is hard to be definitive, but probably within months, by the end of the year, we will see the formal economy cease to work.”
He added: “One of the great dangers in all this, if Mugabe hangs on for much longer, is that the country will slip from authoritarianism to anarchy, the government will lose control of the provinces, it will lose control of the towns and you will have a situation where the central authority’s writ no longer holds.” ….
There are also fears that a breakdown in law and order could lead to an outbreak of ethnic conflict between Zimbabwe’s two main tribes, Mugabe’s own Shona and the Ndebele in the southwest.
Some political groups are already talking about regime change as an opportunity to press for independence, while more extreme elements have voiced agendas that could amount to “ethnic cleansing”.

The dictatorship of Robert Mugabe could not have made more bad moves had it planned on destroying the nation. It took its productive farms from their owners — whites from the British era of Rhodesia — and assigned them to political cronies, who turned Zimbabwe from a net exporter of agriculture to a beggar nation. Mugabe then tried to drive the poor out of the cities, and the black market that fed most of them collapsed. Faced with rising shortages and the predictable inflation that followed, Mugabe capped prices — and now no one can find anything on store shelves. Riots break out whenever anything arrives.
Their capital has little electricity and less potable water. Four out of five people live in abject poverty. Even if Mugabe left at this point, people will start dying in droves very soon — those who stay, anyway. Millions have fled Zimbabwe, and millions more have packed their bags. There may be no one left to challenge Mugabe for power.
What have the African nations done about this disaster? Typically, nothing. They just held a conference where the leaders of Zimbabwe’s neighbors applauded and feted Mugabe, even while talking sotto voce about the need for change. The Southern African Development Community has shown themselves to be cowards in confronting one of the most incompetent dictators on that or any other continent, apparently content to see Zimbabwe’s people starve as opposed to confronting Mugabe.
If nothing changes in the immediate future, the once self-sufficient Zimbabwe will descend into the madness of tribal warfare and genocide, much like the Democratic Republic of the Congo did as Zaire. We will then hear plenty from activists, demanding interventions and UN peacekeeping missions, likely from the same neighbors who refused to lift a finger to stop Mugabe over the last several years, and even applauded him at the SADC. Famines will roll across the productive land, and Western television will be filled with advertisements begging for relief for the afflicted population.
Africa, unfortunately, is a constant re-run. At some point, we’re going to have to insist that Africans deal with Africa.

African Unity?

Members of the five-year-old African Union have begun floating the idea of a single continental government, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the EU and the US. Advocates call the pan-African government the only solution to the legacy of colonialism on the continent. Unfortunately, those leaders who back it are the ones Africa needs least:

Southern and East African leaders have rejected plans to set up a pan-African government, as suggested by Libya’s head of state Col Muammar Gaddafi. …
Some of the 50 leaders at the African Union (AU) summit in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, fear the issue will push the crises in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Darfur off the agenda.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said unity was vital to make the continent truly independent of the West, as he spoke to a crowd of cheering Ghanaians.
“Unless we put our act together… and start pooling our resources together, we will never, ever prosper from any aid from any source outside Africa,” President Mugabe said on Sunday in a speech at the tomb of Ghana’s first president.

This probably falls into the category of right message, very wrong messengers. If the nations of Africa could unite in an economic and political confederation of some sort, it might alleviate the constant warring between the nations on the continent — but that might be putting the cart before the horse. Much of the war in Africa causes the economic and political fractures, and in most cases comes from tribal conflicts. That’s not a legacy of colonialism, but the result of stubborn tradition. If the various tribes cannot settle their difference under the construct of statehood, then a pan-African government would probably make the problem worse, not better.
In any case, the leaders least likely to instill confidence in a continental government would be Moammar Ghaddafi and Robert Mugabe. Both hardly qualify as enlightened leaders. Ghaddafi runs one of the most paranoid dictatorships in the world, although he has mellowed somewhat since giving up his nuclear-weapons program. Mugabe has turned Zimbabwe from a breadbasket to a wasteland in a single generation, thanks to his insane economic policies. Inflation has gotten so bad there that traders refuse to buy and sell Zimbabwe’s currency.
Neither man should be in charge of a neighborhood watch program, and yet they want to be the leaders of a continental government. Given their proclivity for personal aggrandization at the expense of their already-unfortunate subjects, this looks like nothing more than a naked power grab, a chance for both to realize personal power over any benefit to Africa.
So far, their colleagues aren’t buying it. Some nations want to pursue the plan anyway, figuring that the balkers will eventually accede. The nations of Africa would be better advised to reform their politics within the existing national borders, and to hasten the exit of incompetent and brutal dictators before allowing them a path to greater abuses and personal enrichment.