Robert Mugabe may get a very unpleasant birthday gift, if this Times of London report is correct. After having decreed a ban on political protests over the next few weeks, it appears that Mugabe may not have enough police remaining loyal to enforce it:
In the clearest sign yet of government alarm at the deepening public discontent over the country’s economic collapse, it invoked the three-month prohibitions under the draconian Public Order and Security Act.
The Act was brought into effect for the first time because existing regulations were “insufficient to prevent public disorder,” officials said. …
Witnesses cited unprecedented boldness by opposition supporters and timidity by police during encounters at demonstrations last week. In Bulawayo, Mr Mutambara stormed through the ranks of riot police to lead a march through the city without being hindered. Under normal circumstances he could have expected a beating and spent several days in police cells.
“[The Government’s] intelligence is showing them that levels of anger are higher than they have ever been,” said Mr Coltart. “They also know that the levels of anger and frustration in the police are very high.”
Dictators have to have strong police and military loyalty to maintain power, and mutineers usually get treated ruthlessly as an example to others. The fact that police in Zimbabwe feel disenchanted enough to allow protestors to organize publicly indicates that Mugabe may have trouble ahead in his effort to make it alive to his next birthday. He’s planning a big celebration in Gweru and dunning the starving Zimbabweans to foot the bill, but they may have some other kind of party in mind.
You know the kind — bring your own rope, and play Hoist The Dictator on His Own Gallows. The Italians taught it to the Romanians, who taught it to the Iraqis, and so on.
The Birthday Boy of Gweru may not have the juice to keep the police in line any more. If history provides any guide, we may start seeing purges of the police and military as the strength of the opposition increases. With any luck, Mugabe may be fleeing for his life just ahead of the candles and party favors.
Robert Mugabe, who has managed to plunge Zimbabwe into ruin and famine during his 27-year dictatorship, promises his people that he will continue to afflict them for the foreseeable future. Mugabe warned those who eye his spot that they resort to “nonsense” when they muse on his replacement:
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has repeated in a televised interview to mark his 83rd birthday that he has no intention of stepping down.
Mr Mugabe criticised colleagues who have been debating when he will retire and who should replace him.
Mr Mugabe, who retains an iron grip after nearly 27 years in power, said they were resorting to nonsense.
The state-run Herald newspaper devoted 16 pages of pictures and messages to Mr Mugabe in their Wednesday edition. The same newspaper also announced that police have imposed a three-month ban on political rallies and protests in townships to try to calm tensions, following violence at the weekend.
Dictators have to rely on bans for political speech. Tensions would not require calming if Mugabe didn’t take steps like banning rallies and nationalizing agriculture, or like burning down the houses of the poor in the capital. If his people weren’t starving for both food and freedom, Mugabe would have nothing to fear from them.
Instead of allowing people to gather to determine their own governance, Mugabe has decided to throw himself a birthday party. He’ll allow Zimbabweans to gather together for that. In fact, Mugabe is so generous with his celebration that he wants Zimbabweans to pay for the celebration in Gweru. His agents have begun collection “donations” for the party already.
Like most dictators, Mugabe either lies about the state of his country or has no connection to reality about it. He told his interviewer that he disagrees that the economy is “sinking”, even though inflation in Zimbabwe has reached 1,600% annually. He admitted a decline in the standard of living, which the BBC noted would give slight comfort to those whose poverty has reached famine status.
Mugabe noted that the men looking to succeed him at the moment were “high-ranking, ambitious people who were looking at themselves”. Perhaps the Birthday Boy Of Gweru wants to assure his citizens of a smooth transition of power.
The UN has approved the deployment of 8,000 troops from the African Union to Somalia, replacing the Ethiopian contingent for peacekeeing now that the Union of Islamic Courts has been driven from the country. The Security Council also will consider a contribution of peacekeepers under their own flag:
The United Nations Security Council has approved the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force to Somalia.
Somalia has been beset by the heaviest fighting between insurgents and government troops since the withdrawal of Islamist militias last year.
The 8,000 strong force has a mandate to help stabilise the situation, but only 4,000 troops have been pledged so far.
A resolution has urged all AU member states to contribute troops. Moreover, a UN force may arrive in six months.
The fighting erupted again yesterday, as the Washington Post reports:
Mortar rounds and rockets hit Somalia’s capital early Tuesday in a series of attacks that killed 15 people and wounded more than 40, doctors and witnesses said.
The violence was among the worst since a two-week war in December, in which Ethiopian troops helped government forces drive out an Islamic militia that had taken over much of the country. Somalia’s weak interim government then moved into the capital.
The Ethiopians still remain in Mogadishu, hoping to wait for their AU replacements. Unfortunately, the AU has taken its time pulling together the necessary troops, which is why the UN Security Council pushed them yesterday with its resolution. The exchange between the Ethiopians and the UIC remnants was serious enough to prompt Ethiopians to use artillery on their positions, a significant engagement.
It won’t take much more for the Somalians to lose confidence in the transitional government. With Ethiopia’s help, it broke out of a small pocket of control in Baidoa last December to capture Mogadishu and take control of most of Somalia. The transitional government holds the best prospect for establishing some sort of representative government, but it needs troops to hold its gains and to gather enough strength to fend off the UIC and the warlords in the Somalian free-for-all.
AU deployments will help in that regard. UN peacekeepers will likely do more harm than good. They will not engage as the Ethiopians have done. Their history shows that they will either sit and do nothing, or run and do worse, Even when they do nothing militarily, they tend to molest young women under their protection thanks to a systemic lack of discipline. Perhaps the UN’s consideration of a deployment is meant to send a signal to all sides of the conflict that further fighting will result in terrible consequences.
The African Union had an opportunity to demonstrate that they can act independently to stabilize problem areas on the continent, and appear to have blown it. Instead of acting quickly to tamp down anarchy in Somalia by providing peacekeeping troops to replace the Ethiopians, the member nations of the AU could not even provide half of the forces necessary for the mission:
African Union leaders have failed to secure full numbers for a planned peacekeeping force in Somalia, following a two-day summit in Ethiopia.
Speaking at the closure, new AU chairman John Kufuor said several nations had pledged troops – but only 4,000 out of a required 8,000.
The force is due to replace withdrawing Ethiopian soldiers, whose intervention swept Islamists from power last month.
The conference even had a head start on troop commitments. Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and Malawi all agreed to send the 4,000 troops prior to the start of the meetings. Those nations intended on using those pledges to secure more support from other African nations. Instead, the AU missed an opportunity to end the chaos in which Somalia has existed for the past two decades.
Somalia’s transitional government appeared to make better progress on their own. Somalia announced a reconciliation conference that would include various leaders of religious and clan organizations, a necessary step if Mogadishu will find its way to a stable, elected government and an end to vigilantism and retribution. The move will free up millions of aid dollars from Europe and the US, which has pressed Somalian president Abdullahi Yusuf to invite “moderate Islamists” to participate.
Hopefully, the conference will work if the AU cannot get its act together to provide for better security. If the Somalis can agree to put aside past wrongs and forego revenge, the transitional government will have a short window in which to build the infrastructure necessary for elections and credibility. Otherwise, the nation will fall back into warlord rule, allowing radical Islamists to creep back into power and terrorists to once again exploit the anarchy for their own purposes. Europe and the US have to remain engaged to prevent another catastrophic collapse.
As promised, Ethiopia began to withdraw its troops from Mogadishu after it ran off the radical Islamists who seized control of the Somalian capital last year. The withdrawal comes less than a month after their victory, and some question whether they may be a little too quick to honor their commitment to leave:
A column of 200 Ethiopian troops left Mogadishu yesterday less than a month after they helped to rout Islamist militias and deliver the capital to Somalia’s Government.
Ethiopian commanders said that it was the beginning of a withdrawal from the country, but they offered no timetable amid fears that too rapid a departure could hand Somalia back to the warlords who kept it in anarchy for almost 16 years. …
The Government remains jittery at the prospect of losing Ethiopia’s firepower. Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi, Ali Mohamed Gedi, Somalia’s Prime Minister, insisted that Ethiopian forces would not be leaving until a peacekeeping force from the African Union was deployed.
“We are trying to avoid any vacuum,” he said, referring to the clan-based militias and warlords whose rivalries had made the country ungovernable.
He said that his administration had re-opened police stations but still needed international support.
The Ethiopians want to have the African Union send troops to replace them and help stabilize the city and Somalia as a whole. It’s unclear how many troops the Ethiopians will pull out of Mogadishu while the AU pulls together its multinational force, and how many of those troops will be Ethiopians already in place. Sending 200 troops to the rear sounds more like a gesture than a real withdrawal, but it may not stop there, and the Ethiopians will not wait forever for the AU to deploy.
Al-Qaeda issued another empty threat on the occasion of the departure. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has served as the #2 man for years in AQ, issued a videotaped speech promising that the UIC remnants will “break their [Ethiopians’] back” if they stay, a scenario that seems 180 degrees in opposition to the actual experience of Ethiopia’s army in Somalia. The Islamists Zawahiri supports have mostly dissipated, and the real danger in Somalia now is the resurgence of the warlords from the major clans. The UIC only temporarily suppressed them, and the Ethiopian withdrawal could provide them an opening.
Speaking of Zawahiri, has anyone else noticed that Osama bin Laden has gone a long time since his last message to the ummah? Since the 2004 elections, he has been remarkably silent. One might expect Osama himself to weigh in on Somalia, especially since he saw that as such an American disaster and often cited our withdrawal as proof of our weakness and hypocrisy.
In this case, though, the Islamists gave flight, breaking the illusion that they fight to the death for Islam. When faced with an overwhelming military force and the will to use it, the radical Islamists hotfooted it towards Kenya rather than matryr themselves on Ethiopian guns. Perhaps Osama doesn’t want to have to explain that.
Somalian warlords that turned the Horn of Africa nation into an easy example of a failed state have agreed to disband their militias and join the transitional government. The agreement, produced at a summit meeting of the major factions of the nation, clears the path for the new government to end street violence that threatened to extend the Somali nightmare:
Somalia’s warlords have agreed to disarm their militia and join a new national army, a government official said Friday.
The announcement followed a meeting between President Abdullahi Yusuf and clan warlords that proceeded even as, just outside, clan gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade and briefly exchanged gunfire with government troops. The violence left at least six dead and 10 wounded.
“The warlords and the government have agreed to collaborate for the restoration of peace in Somalia,” said government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari.
By disbanding the militias and joining the national army, the warlords and clans can end the need for the violence in Mogadishu and around the country that spiked up in the wake of the Islamist withdrawal. The presence of the Ethiopian Army on the side of Yusuf’s transitional government undoubtedly help convince the warlords that their days of chaos should and could come to an end. The experience of having the UIC and its Arab partners seize power in Somalia also must have helped them to realize how dangerous a prostrate Somalia has been for everyone.
If the warlords and clans honor the agreement, that would leave the Islamist remnants as the only groups bearing arms against the transitional government. They had operated only sporadically since the collapse of the UIC over the last few weeks, but their leadership had threatened an insurgent war in the near future. With the Yusuf government gaining strength and the clans and warlords disarmed, the prospects for success through insurgency have shrunk greatly, even if the UIC and the Islamists could organize in the aftermath of their ignominious defeat.
This is the best possible outcome from a set that included some very bleak conclusions, and it only became possible with the intervention and the determination of the Ethiopians to rid the Horn of the Islamist threat. The West needs to provide plenty of support to make sure the incentives for the warlords and clans is to remain disarmed and part of a representative government, in order to avoid giving the Islamists a second chance at Somalia.
Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has conducted a massive campaign of theft against gold panners in his nation, arresting as many as 20,000 of them over the last few weeks. Mugabe wants to seize control of gold supplies from people that have already been dislocated once, from the farms that used to produce both food and labor opportunities:
As many as 20,000 miners have been arrested in police raids across Zimbabwe.
Their detention, in one of the largest police actions in the country’s recent history, has left thousands of family members without any support at a time of rampant inflation and a desperate shortage of maize meal, the staple food.
Many of those arrested are legally registered as miners with the mines ministry. The government has claimed it is detaining illegal gold panners selling ore on the black market and causing massive environmental damage.
Mugabe’s government forces the miners to sell the ore they capture at the fixed currency rate, a policy which means that they can only get a tenth of the real value of the gold. Many do sell on the black market, and others have to mine and pan more agressively in order to make enough money to survive. As a result of these raids, families on the edge of survival even with the panning will probably not live very much longer.
Who are the panners? They are the people who worked the farms of Zimbabwe when they were under white ownership. After Mugabe seized most of the farms, the farming system fell apart, and most of the workers had no opportunities for jobs in Zimbabwe’s collapsing economy. They took to gold mining and panning, not the safest of professions, by the hundreds of thousands. It’s a subsistence job, regulated by Zimbabwe, but it puts the gold in the hands of the people — and like any dictator, Mugabe cannot allow power to remain in the hands of those who might threaten his rule.
These raids and mass arrests come as no surprise. Mugabe threatened to nationalize the mining operations, at one point in 2006 insisting that he would take controlling interest in all mines without compensating the owners. He bragged at the time that those who opposed these plans would hear “Goodbye, and good luck” from his minions, and it looks like Mugabe may have been true to his word — except that the “goodbye” comes in the form of sending people into what sounds like concentration camps, or worse. One witness talks about 1,000 detainees being left handcuffed together for days in a small fenced field for days, exposed to the rain and sun and unable to care for their basic human needs. Others have simply been shot resisting arrest, the favorite gambit of any dictator.
If the world needs to address the woes of Africa, Zimbabwe has to be one of the first places that gets attention. The real tragedies of Africa can be found in dictatorships like Mugabe’s, which cause so much unnecessary famine and death. At some point, the West will have to get over being embarrassed by its colonial history and deal with the damage done by the monsters that filled the vacuum of their departures. All of the Live Aids in the world will not touch the underlying causes of famine and misery in such a fertile land.
Last February, I wrote about the expensive tastes of Daniel Sassou-Nguesso, the ruler of the desperately poor African nation of Congo and the president of the African Union. In a September 2005 stay in New York, the man who keeps demanding Western aid also demanded a lot of room service. He dropped over $190,000 in cash as a down payment on a $326,000 bill for a week’s stay during a UN session for Sassou-Nguesso and his entourage. Now the Times of London reports that Sassou-Nguesso ran up another bill in 2006 which belies the abject poverty of his subjects:
IN two short visits to New York last year the leader of one of Africa’s poorest countries spent $400,000 (£207,000) on hotel bills as members of his entourage drank Cristal champagne and charged tens of thousands of dollars of room service to accounts paid by the Republic of Congo’s mission to the United Nations.
Detailed hotel bills obtained by The Sunday Times showed that a Waldorf Astoria suite occupied by Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, chairman of the African Union, recorded £12,000 of room service charges during a five-night stay last April that cost his country £73,000.
When he returned to the same hotel during the UN general assembly meeting last September, almost £14,000 of room service was added to his bill during another five-night stay. His entourage, including several members of his family, occupied 44 rooms which together ran up a bill of £130,000 — comfortably more than the £106,000 that Britain gave the country in humanitarian aid last year.
The latest revelations about Sassou-Nguesso’s lavish travel habits have appalled anti-corruption campaigners and embarrassed the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Last year they agreed to a large debt relief package on the grounds that the country — known as Congo-Brazzaville to distinguish it from its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo — was too poor to meet its financial commitments.
At least Sessou-Nguesso is consistent. He continually runs up bills higher than the foreign aid that the West has granted his nation. I suppose we could just ask the World Bank and the IMF to just simply transfer the aid directly to the Waldorf-Astoria, and cut out the middleman.
In a five-night stay in April, the entourage ran up $23,000 in room-service charges, or around $4,600 per night. That amounts to over three times the GDP per capita of his nation. In September on another visit, the room-service bill ran to $27,000 for a trip that lasted five days and included 44 people. And bear in mind that this just calculates what Sessou-Nguesso spent at the hotel. Who knows how much cash he dropped in New York restaurants and other entertainment destinations?
The Western industrial nations have been pressured to forgive debts of African nations, including Congo. France pressured the World Bank to implement its debt-relief package for Sessou-Nguesso after the revelations of his earlier stay in New York caused Paul Wolfowitz to suspend the deal. Now we see how that aid gets used — to entertain a Marxist dictator while 70% of his citizens live off of one dollar a day or less.
It behooves us to give struggling nations in Africa a helping hand, if not for humanitarian reasons, then at least to keep al-Qaeda and other terrorists from exploiting the people and resources of nations struggling to survive. George Bush rightly limits that assistance to nations which have reformed their political systems in order to ensure that the aid does not prop up dictators and kleptocrats. Sessou-Nguesso provides a brilliant example of why we need to follow that wise policy.
The political situation continues to deteriorate in Zimbabwe, even as it improves in Somalia. Dictator Robert Mugabe has ordered the closure of a newspaper opposed to his rule by stripping its publisher of his Zimbabwean citizenship:
Robert Mugabe’s government has moved to close Zimbabwe’s remaining independent press by stripping newspaper owner Trevor Ncube of his citizenship.
The action against the publisher comes as Mr Mugabe, 82 and president for 26 years, pushes for an extension to his term of office by a further two years. Frustrated by unprecedented resistance from within his Zanu-PF party, he appears to be trying to silence all of his critics.
Yesterday an outspoken opponent, Lovemore Madhuku, accused the police of failing to investigate a fire at his home, which he said was arson. “It is very clear that the government is trying to silence all critical voices, including Trevor Ncube and his newspapers, and me. We are all opposed to Mugabe’s attempts to extend his rule to 2010,” said Madhuku, a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.
Yesterday, when I spoke about aid to Africa, I warned about supporting oppressive regimes through the indiscriminate use of aid funds. When I spoke with Bono and Bob Geldof in a conference call for Live Aid 8. they assured me and everyone else on the call that Mugabe wouldn’t see a dime from it, and this is the reason for that concern.
This seems even more ridiculous than usual. Stripping a man of his citizenship to silence his newspaper takes oppression of free speech to a ridiculous low. Mugabe claims that because Ncube’s father was Zambian, Ncube does not qualify as a Zimbabwean. However, Ncube was born in Zimbabwe and has never lived elsewhere, making his citizenship very clear to all but the worst of African tyrants. Ncube’s father was a citizen of Zimbabwe by the time Ncube was born, in any case.
Ncube runs the only two independent newspapers left in Zimbabwe. He alone reported that Mugabe’s own party voted against his latest attempt to hold power. Mugabe has to find a way to shut them down in order to keep his thumb on Zimbabwe and extend his rule, which has already lasted for more than a quarter-century. If the citizenship dodge doesn’t work, Mugabe will no doubt use extrajudicial manners in which to silence one of the few people with any ability to oppose him.
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has earned a reputation as one of the leading thugs of Africa. The leader of Zimbabwe has turned a once self-sufficient nation into a starving wasteland in which a very few elites garner all of the wealth to themselves. Those who oppose his efforts to enrich himself at the expense of the millions of starving Zimbabweans get treated to a painful form of government attention, as the London Times reports:
THE beating stopped as the sun began to go down. After two-and-a-half hours, the fourteen men and one woman held at Matapi police station in Mbare township, Harare, had suffered five fractured arms, seven hand fractures, two sets of ruptured eardrums, fifteen cases of severe buttock injuries, deep soft-tissue bruising all over, and open lacerations.
The 15 included Wellington Chibebe, the leader of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and senior officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
“As a case of police brutality on a group, it is the worst I’ve ever seen,” a doctor who helped to attend to them said.
President Mugabe’s security agencies are notorious for violent assault, but this was the first time that the top strata of the Opposition had been subjected to severe physical attack.
Some of the victims spoke for the first time yesterday about the assaults that took place after police broke up an attempted protest by the trade unions against the Government’s ruinous handling of the economy.
The savagery of the attacks is seen as indicating the jitteriness in the Government over its hold on power amid the desperate poverty into which President Mugabe has sunk Zimbabweans. “It was carried out as a deliberate, premeditated warning, from the highest level, to anyone else who tries mass protest, that this is what will happen to them,” a Western diplomatic source said.
Zimbabwe has a long and twisted history, as do many of the African nations in the post-colonial period. Formerly the British colony of Rhodesia, it first gained independence by fiat in the mid-60s under white Prime Minister Iain Smith. Britain refused to recognize Smith’s declaration and pushed UN sanctions on the country. A civil war erupted, which threw Mugabe and fellow rebel Joseph Nkomo to power and brought South African troops to Smith’s aid. The war continued until 1979, when all sides agreed to a democratic form of government and independence for the new nation of Zimbabwe.
This supposedly showed how colonial masters could be overthrown; Stevie Wonder sang that “peace has come to Zimbabwe”, but it came in the form of Mugabe, the first PM of Zimbabwe and later its first (and only) “executive president”. Mugabe started a program of kicking out the white farmers, who had remained in Zimbabwe and produced enough crops to feed the nation, and giving the land to other interests. These other interests did not have much interest in — or talent for — farming, and Zimbabwe had to import more and more food, falling further and further into poverty.
Mugabe has broken the agricultural back of the nation and created massive inflation. He has destroyed the economic system of Zimbabwe. His political supporters have rigged elections and rewritten the nation’s laws to keep themselves in power. The only organized civil opposition has come from the labor unions, which have pushed to get free elections in order to push Mugabe out.
It comes as no surprise that Mugabe’s use of force has escalated into the open, but it is a worrisome development, at least in the near term. It indicates that Mugabe either feels so secure that he can openly beat the opposition leadership, or his position has become tenuous enough that he feels he has to do so. Both conditions indicate that Zimbabwe will experience a great deal more violence in the near future, and the former portends more than the latter.