Friday, December 15, 2006

"Even aspirin is unavailable in health clinics"

Radio Netherlands' excellent documentary series did a piece on the collapse of Zimbabwe, entitled A Deep Cancer.

The piece was done by their Eric Beauchemin, who I consider to be the best radio journalist in the world. One thing that separates Beauchemin's work from that of most other reporters is proximity. Most other reporters deal with the abstract; they are most concerned about interviews with big shots: presidents, prime ministers, rebel leaders. Beauchemin's work focuses on the effect of crises on the lives of ordinary people simply trying to make a living; the stars of his work are not cabinet ministers but cleaning ladies and taxi drivers. Such journalism with a social conscience connects with listeners in a way that sterile transcription journalism, the profession's norm, does not. It also offers a fuller understanding of the situations in question.

Anyways, to refer to what's happening in Zimbabwe as a collapse is misleading. When a bridge falls apart because its component materials are old and decrepit, it's called a collapse. When a bridge falls apart because human beings blow it up or chip away with a pickaxe at its foundations and pillars, it's called sabotage. Zimbabwe is the victim of willful sabotage by its supposed leaders.

The country's medical system is in such a state that even aspirin is unavailable in health clinics. To say nothing of blood sugar monitors and insulin for diabetes' patients.

When life expectancy is halved in 15 years, that is the definition of a meltdown. This in what was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa when the current regime took over. And unlike in many other places, such a meltdown was not caused by war but by the active malfeasence of the central government. No state falls apart this quickly on its own.

And yet Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe continues to get a free pass from much of Africa's so-called intelligentsia. His role in liberating Zimbabwe from white colonial rule and helping South Africa's African National Congress do the same made him a cult figure among pan-Africanists. And that may have been reasonable for a while. But surely no one who cares an ounce for the humanity of black Zimbabweans, Mugabe's main victims, could possibly have an ounce of sympathy left for this tyrant.

Only someone living outside the country (or Mugabe's cronies) could possibly think the Big Man isn't an unmitigated disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. One woman interviewed in the documentary considered the country's liberation a myth. "We are not free because we are starving. More starving than what our forefathers were doing," she explained. History doesn't fill the stomach or put a roof over the head.

Zimbabwe has gone from breadbasket to basket case in less than a decade. This is because Mugabe no longer sees himself as the country's leader (it's an open question if he ever did). He considers himself Zimbabwe's owner, his personal plaything. Mugabe may be not Leopold II in scale, but perhaps he is in spirit.

Update: Apparently Leopold of Zimbabwe feels there's some part of the country he hasn't destroyed yet and needs two more years to finish the job.

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