Saturday, April 02, 2005

Death in Zimbabwe

In his column in the New York Times today, Nicholas Kristof wrote about another kind of racism in Africa, effectively another genocide. This one is self-inflicted, the result of incompetent and corrupt political leadership. In the 25 years since the end of white rule, Robert Mugabe and his well-fed cronies have taken Zimbabwe from a prosperous country that fed itself and exported food to a charnel house of death by slow starvation.

Mugabe drove white farmers off their land and often out of Zimbabwe through force and intimidation. That almost instantly crippled agricultural production and generated wide-spread hunger. Then last year he declared that Zimbabwe could feed itself, a ludicrously obvious lie, and prohibited the UN World Food Programme and other aid agencies from distributing food. The last food in the aid pipeline was delivered in January of this year, and now the people of Zimbabwe are slowly starving to death.

As Kristof wrote,

What makes Robert Mugabe a worse oppressor of ordinary Zimbabweans than the white racist rulers who preceded him is not just the way he turned a breadbasket of Africa into a basket case in which half the population is undernourished. It's also the fact that he's refusing to let aid organizations provide food to most of his people. He prefers to let them starve. ...

If the old white regime here was deliberately starving its people, the world would be in an uproar. ...

One of Africa's biggest problems is the perception that the entire continent is a hopeless cesspool of corruption and decline. Africa's leaders need to lead the way in pushing aside the clowns and thugs so their continent can be defined by its many successes - in Ghana, Mali, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Uganda and Botswana - rather than by the likes of Idi Amin, Emperor Bokassa and Robert Mugabe.

I lived in Africa for a year and a half in the 1990s, in Senegal and Angola, and traveled in other countries. Senegal is an example of what passes for post-colonial success in Africa. Growth and development have been minimal since the end of colonial rule in 1960, but at least people aren't starving to death or dying in wars and tribal conflicts. Angola, on the other hand, is an example of the many failures in Africa. Since the end of colonial rule in the mid-1970s, Angola has experienced virtually non-stop internal warfare, abetted by foreign interventions, and untold numbers of people have died. Although progress has been made and the warfare seems to have ended, the country remains a pit of misery.

The truth is most of Africa is a helpless and hopeless mess, from starvation in Zimbabwe to genocide in Sudan. More successful African countries and their leaders aren't going to do anything about it. The international community has two choices: Sit back and watch these untold millions of human beings suffer and die, or intervene forcefully in the worst cases through both diplomatic and military action.

In Africa, as in so many other circumstances, the UN has failed miserably. Some of its agencies, such as the World Food Programme, have done good work when African leaders permit them to operate. But in terms of overall leadership of international action in Africa, the UN has done little to help and much to harm. Unless significant world powers, most notably the United States, act alone or lead coalitions of the willing to intervene, the dying will continue unabated.

To understand the true nature of the UN and the virtual certainty of its continued failure, take a look at the next high-level General Assembly meeting. Among many similar delegations, you'll find a well-fed Mugabe or one of his senior henchmen leading a large retinue of prosperous, mostly corpulent cronies. They'll behave in any way they please, enjoying all the benefits of diplomatic immunity. They'll live in luxurious surroundings, travel in limousines, shop in all the best Fifth Avenue boutiques, and dine in the finest restaurants. The folks back home, of course, will continue dying miserable deaths because no one cares enough to do anything.


Anonymous kevin said...

If significant world powers, most notibly the United States, were to put even half as much effort and $$$ into coaxing the UN into acting as they do in acting on their own or with coalitions I think we wouldn't be having this conversation.

It's awefully easy to point fingers at the UN for their failings and ignore the pivotal role our own government has played in undermining the UN when doing so is deemed in our nations best interests... which seems to historically been most of the time.

I have no doubt that were Bush to have spread many billions of dollars around the UN coaxing cooperation he could have walked away with a UN mandate to invade Iraq. Heck, he might have been able to save the American taxpayers billions of dollars in the process compared to the cost of "going it alone."

4:23 PM, April 03, 2005  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

I don't know, Kevin. Are you suggesting bribing people? I hope not. Because if the functioning of the UN depends on money, where does that leave the little, poorer countries?

Surely we ought to be able to do better than this? What good is an organization that doesn't defend the true interests of the oppressed and abused unless some rich country spends lots of money to make that happen?

And suppose Bush did. That would only increase the incentive for everyone else to hold out for money next time, wouldn't it? I may misunderstand you, but you seem to me to be proposing a strategy like paying ransom, and if we do that we are institutionalizing and funding corruption.

Furthermore, no country can be right all the time, including the US. To follow such a course would merely mean that the richest nations would have an oligarchic control over a corrupt organization.

I like Free Iraqi's suggestion better. Set up another, competing United Nations, this one confining its membership to those nations that meet a minimal level of democratic participation.

5:36 PM, April 03, 2005  

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