Why the silence about Zimbabwe?

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The New York Times published an article today (10-19-03) about the deteriorating quality of life for indigenous Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe is part of the 17th District of the AME Church. Under the brutal dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe this once resource-rich country is now experienceing hyper inflation, increased poverty, a crackdown on a free press, political persecution and a rising incidence of mortality and morbidity rates. Since I research, teach and lecture on international economics I have long known about the development challenges in this part of the world. While I have never visited Zimbabwe I do know State Department and World Bank officials who have spent a considerable amount of time in this country and I respect their objective opinions. Despite prima facie evidence of Mugabe's complicity in Zimbabwe's descent into an economic abyss, most black Americans appear to be somewhat indifferent about the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans. Most blacks in this country are morally outraged about Rush Limbaugh's comments concerning the play of Donovan McNabb (if anyone saw today's game vs the Giants you may want to rethink McNabb is a great QB) but few know or can even identify Zimbabwe on a map. Are we guilty of being selective about social injustice?

Nelson Mandela and Harry Belafonte are seemingly never lost for words in condeming President Bush's global activities. However,it is ironic that both seem to be tight-lipped about criticizing a black African leader who is single-handily orchestrating one of the greatest economic meltdowns I have ever witnessed. There is no doubt in my mind if Mugabe was white (like his Rhodesian predessor Ian Smith) during this period of economic chaos, Mandela, Belafonte, TransAfrica, Rev. Jackson and other notables would be speaking endlessly about Zimbabwean corruption and black exploitation. This is why Mr. Mandela's status as an impartial world spokesman is now dubious at best. If the injustice is being spearheaded by white malfeasance, let the op-ed columns fly. If the malfeasance is perpetuated by a black despot, public rebuke is restrained for not wanting to "exacerbate internal tensions". Black suffering imposed by black despots appear to take on a peculiar Orwellian connotation.

Apartheid was rightfully denounced as a system which yielded economic inequality based on specious theories about genetic status and racial privilege. The current nightmare in Harare however is in many ways even worse since many blacks in this country are witnessing an actual reversal of economic fortune under Mugabe's rule. Would it not be in order for the AME Church to speak out against Mugabe's cruelty just like she did during the repressive regime of apartheid under the Botha regime? Has the AME Church issued a paper addressing the situation in Zimbabwe? It would seem to me that with all of the talk about realignment of some of our African Districts the issue about Zimbabwe should receive priority at the next General Conference. Once again the Princeton sage, Cornel West, is right, race matters. QED

-- Anonymous, October 19, 2003



I do not have problems with the assertion you make, save the assertion about Mandela being tight-lipped and dubios at best. It is on record that he stood and spoke out clearly about his position regarding President Mugabe. Whether or not I agree with him on his criticism, that does not matter. Not only did he criticise but he also counseled him to consider retirement.

Of course, the Zimbabwe situation is worrying but to suggest that President Mugabe is a despot raises a serious concern, when there were elections in that country which put the man in that position. Would it be right to suggest, on the same breath and same vigour, that President Bush is a global despot, whose hands are dripping the blood of Iraqians and Afghanistans?

Indeed, there must be something said and done about the excess of human rights violations reported in Zimbabwe. However, I do not think that the answer only lies in the regime change while the historical baggage is not dealt with. African (political) leaders know that there is complicity on the part of the former colonial powers in the current delapidation of the economy of that country. Why is there such a defeaning silence in that regard?

Your source of information is the World Bank officials who spent considerable time in that country. Have they said anything to you about the extent to which the imposed policies of the instituetion have affected not only Zimbabwe but other African countries also? That institution created havoc on this continent and I wonder how objective their opinion is to that in the face of the criticisms of Joseph Stiglitz.

The idea of seeking to have something said about President Mugabe is suspect, when you bring Botha in the picture. In fact, there is an inference that suggests white evil is less evil than black's. Why you want the dumbness be corrected smacks of racism at best.

-- Anonymous, October 23, 2003

Parson Klaas opines -

"That institution created havoc on this continent and I wonder how objective their opinion is to that in the face of the criticisms of Joseph Stiglitz"

The WOrld Bank has its problems but the overall goal, promoting sound and sustainable economic development, is undeniably in the best interest of Africa. I studied the works of Joe Stiglitz as a graduate student in economics (Stiglitz won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2000). I admit he has had his share of critics. My only point about Mugabe is his reign of economic anarchy has created nothing but despair, dependency and declining wealth for indigenous Zimbabweans. His record of economic mismanagement warrant a "regime change". You take issue with my reference to Mugabe as a despot. That's fine. Reasonable men and women can and will disagree. I would likewise reject the characterization of President Bush as a despot. I followed the events of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) during the time of its transition from British colonial rule. Mugabe was a self- professed Marxist back then and the darling of the American left. While I loathed the regime of Ian Smith, I had my reservations about Mr. Mugabe. Twenty-three years later developments in Harare have not caused me to change my doubts. The reference to Botha is for purely rhetorical purposes. Botha's regime induced mass suffering in SA. Mugabe's regime induced mass suffering in Zimbabwe. The only difference is the quite diplomacy used by some (Mandela) to get Mugabe to change compared to the very vocal strategy used by many to remove Botha from power. I don't make a distinction about black suffering. That's the clever journalistic ploy used by some members of the black intellegentsia. QED

-- Anonymous, October 23, 2003

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