Friday, August 27, 2004

MDC makes itself irrelevant -- Mugabe greater than Senghor?

Jonathan over at The Head Heeb is disappointed in the decision by Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to boycott future elections until "real" democratic reforms are implemented.

Jonathan notes that as frustrating as life is for the MDC, it's far from irrelevant. And it's boycott could actually be more dangerous than helpful. He writes, The MDC lacks the power to block most ZANU-sponsored legislation, but it acts as a pro-democracy voice on the international scene, and as recent events have shown, it retains leverage through its ability to block constitutional amendments. The party doesn't have a serious chance of securing a majority next year, but if it competes in the election, it has a good shot of retaining the 50 seats necessary to prevent unilateral constitutional change. If it doesn't compete, then Zimbabwe will return to the pre-2000 days when ZANU answered to no one, and the MDC will sacrifice what power and moral authority it still has.

The boycott is a foolish, and perhaps ultimately fatal, decision by the MDC. Opposition boycotts only work in countries where the regime is concerned about its image. It only works where the regime feels international pressure to have something vaguely resembling a "normal" political situation. It's clear that strongman Robert Mugabe is comfortable in defying western pressure. And it's also unlikely that Thabo Mbeki, president of regional power South Africa, will soon cease his role as head of Mugabe's apologist brigade.

The MDC would be much wiser to participate in elections and then protest the results. Or organize another general strike. I admit this is a tough deicsion, considering the regime's repression. But a boycott makes them irrelevant.

**

A London magazine, New African, recently named Zimbabwe's Mugabe as the third-greatest African of all-time. He was behind only former South African President Nelson Mandela and Ghana's iconic leader Kwame Nkrumah. South Africa's The Daily Mail and Guardian reported: Mugabe, widely criticised outside Zimbabwe for stifling dissent and crippling the economy of his once-prosperous Southern African nation, is an "interesting" choice because "a high-profile campaign in the media has painted him in [a] bad light", the New African wrote.

Are Africans' expectations THAT low that they admire so highly a guy who destroys his country, its people and its economy so thoroughly? I guess it shows how a little appeal to reflexive nationalism/patriotism can block nerve receptors in the part of the brain that deals with logic.

Abiola, at Foreign Dispatches, isn't quite as worried as he pointed out the ranking should hardly be considered definitive.

This would indeed be very worrying if it were some sort of representative cross-section of the African populace we were talking about here, but the very fact that it's a write-in survey ought to be enough to suggest that the anxiety might be a tad overdone. For one thing, the people who get to even hear of the survey aren't going to be a random sample to begin with, as every publication in a marketplace will necessarily skew to one demographic or another.

While I don't accept the New African's write in survey as some definitive sounding out of the entire continent (especially since it's surely read by a lot who live outside Africa), it's clear Mugabe's appeal to many Africans isn't a figment of anyone's imagination.

I guess it's much easier to admire Bob and his thugs when you're living in London than when you're living in Harare or Bulawayo.

**

The genocide continues unchecked in Darfur, eastern Sudan. At least against those few who are left. African peacekeepers are expected to arrive in this week, none too soon.

Janjaweed Arab militias are engaging in a throrough campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur's black population (which, ironically, comprises mostly fellow Muslims; though if so-called Christians can kill each other in Northern Ireland, why should I be surprised?). The Janjaweed are almost universally believed to be armed and supported by the Sudanese military junta. Not surprisingly, the regime denies this but the genocide campaign has involved aerial attacks by bombers and helicopter gunships, things that are a little out of the price range of your everyday rag-tag bandit militias.

One British official who has been working in western Darfur told journalists the region remained largely "bandit country" in which the Janjaweed were "doing what they want, where they want, when they want to the non-Arabs".

Having driven the farmers from their villages into makeshift refugee camps, the Janjaweed were keeping them there by continuing the beatings and sexual attacks, he said. This ensured that the militia was free to do as it wished in the rest of the country.


One refugee summed up the widely believe sentiment: "The government of Sudan doesn't want blacks, they want only Arabs. Before the first attack, some Arabs in the region came to tell us: 'We're going to send you blacks away and claim this land for ourselves.'"

In one typical attack documented by Human Rights Watch in July, a group of women and girls were stopped at a Janjaweed militia checkpoint in West Darfur. Militia members told them that “the country belonged to the Arabs now and, as they were there without permission, they would be punished.” All of the women were then beaten, and six girls aged 13 to 16 were raped.

HRW added: In response to the Security Council’s demand that Janjaweed militia members be disarmed, the Sudanese government has instead begun to incorporate them into official state security units such as the police and semi-regular forces such as the Popular Defense Forces.

**

The Globalist, an excellent website, ran a good article on Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and how the introduction of xenophobia into politics provoked the previously stable country's collapse.

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