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April 04, 2005

Drowning, Not Surfing
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Goodness knows the Zimbabweans have earned a place in this latest parade of democratization.  I have been unpleasantly surprised to see how little of the context of their struggle makes it into any of the reportage.

To read most of the coverage of the latest Zim elections, in which I include us members of the chattertariat, you would never know that:

  • the opposition has been at this for a while -- these are the third bogus elections foisted on Zimbabweans by Mugabe in five years;
  • his methods of persuasion include denying food to opposition MDC members and entire neighborhoods or villages that have been MDC in the past;
  • on the other side of the ledger, Mugabe still enjoys almost-mythic status for leading guerrilla forces in Zimbabwe's war of liberation and sheltering South African ANC members during apartheid -- which is why Thabo Mbeki is so embarrassingly unwilling to let Mugabe fall of his own weight.

Oh, and I kept waiting for someone to mention that journalists now operate under incredibly strict restrictions and most foreign journalists have been expelled.  Charlayne Hunter-Gault's pieces on NPR were particularly frustrating in this department.  Great examples of journalism offering objectivity by failing to provide context -- a non-informed listener would have had a very hard time figuring out what was going on.

So, in a few months, when polls tell us that lots of folks believe that this wave of democratization was created by the Bush Administration, this is why -- the idea that people in places like Zimbabwe and Georgia and Lebanon have been struggling for years to change things just doesn't break through.  Strugging and failing is business as usual.  Now, as to why we seem to be at a "tipping point" in public demands for democracy -- that is an interesting question.


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Expressing concerns or denouncing the results, even in the "strongest terms possible" (my favotite) aren't going to get it done. Mugabe has won a super-majority giving him the ability to alter the Constitution of Zimbabwe at will. We can only watch in horror as marxism becomes stalinism and descends into its natural state.

From the Washington Post:

Any public gatherings not approved explicitly in advance by the police are essentially illegal under Zimbabwe's laws. In his comments Saturday, Mugabe made clear that anyone protesting against the election results would meet resistance.

"We can also raise mass action against their mass action, and there would obviously be conflict, serious conflict," Mugabe said at a news conference, flanked by two life-sized stuffed lions.

Mugabe said members of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had shown themselves to be "a very violent people" incapable of peaceful protest."

There's an article by Gretchen Wilson on Slate about her experiences observing the election and witnessing Mugabe's bald-faced lying about the food situation first-hand. It's available here: .

So what do we do now?

Martin Peretz has an up on The New Republic now, giving Bush his due for creating the tipping point that's enabled these democratic revolutions.

As a Dem who's somewhat of a fellow-traveller with you guys on many foreign policy matters, what do you make of Peretz's conception of Bush's role in bringing all this about?

I haven't registered to read the article, but I can probably image the gist of it. I think the Bush Administration does deserve some credit, especially in the Middle East.

The Bush Administration clearly brought democracy, though it remains an official Islamic state, to Afghanistan beyond any hope that it ever would be again. The politics behind the invasion of Afghanistan also resulted in parliamentary moves to correct the problem with Musharraf's rule in Pakistan and restore proper democratic elections there. We'll have to wait until next year (or maybe 2007, I forget) before we know for sure whether or not Musharraf sticks to his end of the bargain (I think he will).

The Bush Administration has clearly brought democracy to Iraq where it had no chance without outside intervention. Qaddafi's change of heart was the result of a joint British and American good-cop/bad-cop routine begun a year earlier; and the scenes of the Great Arab Knight being checked for fleas didn't hurt.

The successful Iraqi elections was the nail in the coffin for Syria's habitual foreign interference in the region and probably did weaken Syria's hand in Lebanon enough to allow the democratic movement a foothold there. Although I don't think Mubarak will be defeated in the next Egyptian elections, his decision to permit an opposing candidate is probably the result of a convergence of the Iraqi elections and an explosion of free press in places like Qatar (before Bush) and Iraq.

However, Bush does not get to take credit for everything. Though Kyrgystan was directly affected by US involvment, the democratic revolution in the Ukraine had little to do with US policy or intervention. Also, I would not call the Palestinian elections "democratic" and those elections would likely have happened upon the death of Arafat regardless of who was President.

Finally, all this talk of democracy is a bit out of place in a thread about Zimbabwe. There is no democracy in Zimbabwe and, of course, the only way marxism can survive over time is through restrictions on travel, communications, and political expression. Zimbabwe is likely to descend into an Ethiopia or a Somalia within twenty years at this rate.

Zim is not a Marxist state at all. The rhetoric and the control over media smell like it from a distance, but ultimately it was a state with more-or-less functioning apparatus of democracy and justice, taken over by increasing gangsterism in the ruling class.

State ownership is not the issue there; the issue is power and keeping it, and the fact that fake elections are necessary shows that SOMETHING of democracy is alive in the expectations of the people.

As for descending to an Ethiopia or Somalia, it has come a long way down but the class with the money and power are doing fine thank you.

The most depressing thing is knowing how hopeful and idealistic people were, brimming with goodwill for Mugabe and Zimbabwe to make it a successful society; but the greedy hyenas would not get their shoulders out of the trough and let the ordinary people have a chance.

I think you are very wrong in your analysis of the situation in South and Central Africa. Certainly there is oppression and economic catastrophe and very real suffering, but the democratic reform movement simply could not muster sufficient support to succeed. It was not a failure of nerve on the part of the leadership, nor inattention from NPR that re-elected Mugabe, but a failure of the democratic reform itself. It has real limits, in Africa and elsewhere.

DB Light could not be more wrong in his assessment. Familiarity with the situation on the grou nd is essential to an understanding of why the opposition umbrella movement failed to get the vote out. It won its chief urban strongholds -- in the two biggest cities, Bulawayo and Harare -- with ease. The rural areas were marked by a vanishingly low turnout because there too a majority would have voted MDC -- if they had dared. The price of doing so in these areas, where Mugabe militia reign by terror, was denial of food aid, and a range of threatened punishments including murder.

The failure -- apart from that of the observer missions from the region, which could have exerted real pressure on Mugabe -- was in the strategy of the opposition MDC itself, which seemed to have no clue for dealing with a situation where overt state violence was largely absent, yet its voters clearly were not going to turn out in the current climate. It should have abandoned the election instead of giving an opportunity for Mugabe's backers to declare it legitimate. The result is catastrophic defeat and a free hand for Mugabe.

It is a myth that Africans and Arabs don't want democracy. They do, but they suffer terribly for that desire. Those already marginalised by poverty and ignorance have few resources to resist tyranny except violence, which can be contained and quelled. The world has shown itself unwilling to support democratic movements in Africa -- indeed, the genocide at Darfur is currently a reminder that the continent is largely abandoned to its fate.

The failure also lies in the hands of South Africa's Mbeki, who has steadfastly refused to voice any criticism of Mugabe. This gives courage to the regime in Harare to continue with their thuggery. Mbeki's role in this charade will hopefully be exposed now that the extent of the fraud is becoming apparent.

As Dave F said.

I think the picture promoted by the media and to an extent the political cheerleaders of democratic upheavals is seriously wrong. We saw the Berlin Wall fall, but that was just the visible expression. We also need to include Tianenmen Square and the massacres of Kurds and Shia in Iraq as realistic outcomes of popular attempts to change a regime.

Successful changes of regime occur when the regime has not the will or power to suppress the people with force. It may voluntarily facilitate the transition, as in the removal of the Smith government in Zim or apartheid in South Africa. We saw that regime change can occur with an invasion as well; but 'people power' does not stand against tanks and helicopters of oppressors who are motivated and willing to use force.

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