Genocide in D Minor

Thabo Mbeki has just spent 5 days in the Ivory Coast. This is on top of several intensive face-to-face meetings with rebel leaders and the current Ivorian leadership. The reason? The Ivory Coast has imploded politically and economically and most serious of all - they have started killing each other. The French army has arrived to protect French interests and lives and to try to restore some order and in doing so they have incurred the wrath of the incumbent and taken a number of casualties. In retaliation the French simply destroyed the Ivorian Air Force, demonstrating the superior capacity of the French military over the local.

The Ivory Coast has been independent for several decades, was once the brightest star in West Africa under a benign dictator who was more French than he was African in many ways. Suddenly, it was just another failed African State and everyone, Mbeki in the lead, rushed in to try and patch things up. Not easy once the situation reaches the state that the country is in after all these years of corruption, maladministration and dictatorship.

The parallels with Zimbabwe are many. We are a small central African State that has lived under a dictatorship for 25 years. For most of that time we were regarded as the star in the region - an example to others of reconciliation, moderate economic policies and reasonable, if slightly corrupt administration. Mugabe, for all his UK phobia, is a real Anglophile - Seville Row suits and shirts and ties made in England.

Then suddenly all hell breaks loose. Our government goes crazy and destroys the heart of the economy - our commercial agricultural system, goes on to savage other industries like mining and industry and oversees the collapse of much of what they had built up in the first 20 years of independence. The skilled and experienced have fled and more than half the adult population now lives (subsists) outside the country.

Our GDP has crashed to 60 per cent of what it was in 1997; exports are down by two thirds and employment by over 40 per cent. Living standards have collapsed, savings been destroyed and life expectancy has fallen from 59 years in 1990, to 35 years today - the most dramatic decline in such measurements in any country in the world.

We are now a country with all the symptoms of a failed State - infant mortality is at record levels, maternal mortality is over 15 per cent, over 1000 people die every day - four times the norm in this country and unbelievably, our national population has fallen from an anticipated level of 16 million by 2004, to under 11 million and is still declining. These are statistics on a par with the great famine in Ireland, the collapse in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia.

But, we are not killing each other with guns and panga's and the world pays little or no attention. Mbeki flies over our heads to deal with a crisis that is 4000 kilometers away in Francophone Africa where he has little or no interests. He steadfastly ignores what is happening on his borders and in his own backyard. And because he does so, the rest of the world say's "why bother" and his African colleagues in the AU and the SADC take their lead from his stance and likewise do nothing.

Two and a half million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa where they are treated as ordinary economic illegal immigrants and no special assistance given. They slip into the overcrowded slums of Johannesburg and Cape Town where they turn to crime to earn enough to send home to keep their families alive. They will kill for a cell phone. They deny South Africans hundreds of thousands of low-income jobs in the service sector where they can hide until they get the required papers to claim South African citizenship.

Last week I watched a conference in South Africa attended by South African Ministers including Essop Pahad from the Presidents office. The subject "free and fair elections in Palestine". "The world and Israel, have an obligation, to see to it that Palestine has a credible election for new leadership after the death of Arafat." Pahad saw no discrepancy between the oft-expressed view that the question of the future of Zimbabwe was an issue to be decided by Zimbabweans without the benefit of intervention by its neighbour, South Africa. Why the distinction? South Africa, like Israel, has real power over the leadership in Zimbabwe. Free and fair elections are an impossible dream if South Africa does nothing and the consequences of neglect are just as unthinkable.

We are being backed into a corner from which we may well have to fight our way out. Is that what it will take to get the attention we deserve from those who have power and influence and therefore have responsibility?

28 000 American troops failed to restore order and sanity in Somalia and were withdrawn when they lost men in combat conditions. Millions of Somalis have died and been forced into exile after that failed intervention. Somalia still does not have a government and guns rule the streets. Sudan defies the whole world after decades of civil war and millions of deaths - most of them unseen and unsung. Liberia, the Ivory Coast, the Congo and a dozen other African nightmares - are virtually beyond help unless someone is willing to go in and knock heads and lose lives.

Zimbabwe on the other hand still has what it takes to turn around and get back on the path of stability and growth. It still has a democratic opposition, which is capable to taking over and running the country. It still has a civil service, teachers in classrooms and nurses in hospital wards. It still has speed traps on the main roads. It still has a functioning infrastructure - water in taps, electricity in switches. It can be turned around, quickly and painlessly and without further bloodshed. But we cannot do it alone - any more than the Ivory Coast or Palestine.

This is not a situation which warrants either the attention or the intervention of the western powers. This is an African crisis that can be solved very quickly by African leaders acting in concert. There is consensus on the way forward - we need a democratic electoral process and it has to be put in place soon if it is to work. No rocket science needed here, no men with blue hats and guns in their hands or white UN armored vehicles. Just a bit of old fashioned hardball diplomacy conducted by men and women with power.

But it looks to me as if it is not going to happen and this represents a tragically lost opportunity for African leadership. Are African leaders really as hopeless a bunch as they seem? If so, God help us all. In fact for those of us who reject violence in any form as a means of effecting change, it is perhaps only to God that we can look in these circumstances. On Saturday our Men's Fellowship at Church discussed this and we agreed that we should approach this new crisis point in our lives with three things in mind: -
1. Give the Zanu PF regime over to God, as we do not have the power or the means to deal with the crisis at a political or practical level;
2. Recognise in our own lives, the life of our family, Church and community, that ultimately God is supreme and He can not only guide and provide, but in the end He will prevail; and
3. We need to share this perspective with others who are in the same predicament as ourselves and help each other to do what we can to ameliorate the situation until real change comes - as it must in the end.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 12th December 2004