Exit Mugabe

I confess to having an interest in “important” people. What is it that makes them get to where they do? I have explored this in a number of my novels, and I have met and talked with a number of important people here, not that New Zealand is very important on the world stage, nevertheless I think I have seen enough to know that I don’t really know the answer. In Mugabe’s case, though, I think there were two major causes that brought him to the top. The first was self-belief and determination, and the second was stubbornness. Once he made up his mind on something, nothing would turn him away. And yet he has finally decided to quit.

He probably had little choice. The army did not want to have to shoot him, but eventually it must have occurred to him that the senior army officers could not back down and live. That is the sort of reality that someone like Mugabe would understand. The fact there were mass demonstrations may have finally got through to him, and now it must be galling that the crowds are cheering his departure. Still, he would know the usual exit for dictators is quite brutal, and there would be a time when the soft options would disappear.

Mugabe’s main positive claim to fame is that he led the Shona resistance to the white government the British colonial administration left as the government in Zimbabwe, or Southern Rhodesia as it was then called. For that he would get much gratitude from the Shona people, which would make him the obvious choice to become Prime Minister of the new government. It seems that at first he was reasonably enlightened, and expanded healthcare and education. Later, he would become President, but by then the signs were deteriorating.

This started when many of those of European descent fled, essentially for economic reasons. By itself, this was no great deal, however the skills they took with them was. It was the highly educated or those with money who could find a life most easily elsewhere. The economy started to contract, but Mugabe was not one to be put off his vision, and this is an unfortunate aspect with many dictators. They think their dream is the only one, and the reality of achieving anything is irrelevant. Means will be found, and they tend to shut their eyes at the consequences.

Worse was to come, because Mugabe now feared all those who had fought for revolution, and worse, there were scores to settle with the Ndebele. The Shona people hate the Ndebele for things that happened in the early 19th century, so then was the chance for revenge. To bolster his position, Mugabe ordered the training of the Fifth Brigade by North Korea, and set them loose on the Ndebele. Estimates are that there were 20,000 killed for no good reason.

Mugabe nominally was a Marxist, but he also realized that he should leave the economy working. Zimbabwe is naturally a rich country, and it was the breadbasket of Africa, and is also rich in minerals. The problem was, whites owned all the resources, so Mugabe set about confiscating them. The land seizures were declared illegal by the Zimbabwe courts, but Mugabe continued with them, declaring the courts irrelevant. Land was for Zimbabweans. It was all very well to put ill educated Shona as farm owners, but they did not know how to farm. Food became in short supply. Inflation soared to 7600%. Apparently, they even issued a banknote for 100 trillion dollars. But no matter how bad things got, Mugabe would not step down and let someone else try.

One of the bad aspects of revolution is that the people who carry out revolution are often not the best for what follows, and the history of revolutions is not a happy one. Not only that, but the leaders seldom if ever encouraged successors. South America was interesting because Jose de San Martin abandoned politics altogether after the successful liberation of the south, while Simon Bolivar did try to manage a major coalition of countries in South America and eventually gave up, leading to somewhat chaotic outcomes. The first Russian revolution was led by “nice” people who really had little idea what was required next, and we all know what Lenin and Stalin did to Russians.

One of the very few successful revolutions was carried out in America. What resulted after the British were ejected was a rather enlightened set of leaders who founded a truly great nation. And it is here that we see a great difference. This may sound awful, but in my opinion the best thing George Washington did as President was to step down after eight years. The reason I say it was the best is that while no doubt he did a number of other good things while President, they were relevant only at the time. His standing down and respecting the constitution, and I rather suspect he would have had the other option, has cemented that forever: no President would ever dare to suggest he was more important to the United States than George Washington, the man who effectively was responsible for it formation.

And here is Mugabe’s great failure: he could not put the country before his own personal wants. This was a tragedy. So what follows? Will Zimbabwe emerge into a bright new era? I am far from convinced prospects look good. The man replacing Mugabe is Emerson Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s “enforcer”, and was in charge of carrying out the killing of the 20,000 Ndebele. Not the most promising of starts. Worse, why the coup then? It appears that Mugabe fired Mnangagwa, and Mnangagwa had the generals behind him. You form your own conclusion.

Meanwhile, time for a quick commercial. This Friday, my new ebook, “The Manganese Dilemma” is released on Amazon. Russians, hacking, espionage, fraud, what more could you want over the weekend? Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077865V3L

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The Ukrainian crisis

One of the issues I have put in the backgrounds of my ebook novels is governance. Thus Puppeteer was set in a failing over-leveraged democracy under siege from terrorism, Troubles involved emerging from anarchy, and how governance gets reborn, and not necessarily in the best interests of the average citizen. Thinking about the current problems in the Ukraine got me thinking about this problem. In some ways, there are similarities between what I wrote about in Troubles and what is happening in the Ukraine. We had a corrupt government there that collapsed, but rather than a period of anarchy, a government has emerged, but one based on might rather than right. Then, those in the Eastern Ukraine do not want what the West has to offer, and just as in Troubles, there is a massive force nearby. Perhaps I am taking this a little too far, because the Ukraine is not quite in such a dire situation, but . . .

One similarity with the characters in Troubles is that almost certainly none of the key players know enough about the other players, which makes for an extremely difficult situation. What do we know? The revolution was almost certainly carried out by average citizens who had had enough of Yanukovich’s corruption, however if we believe the BBC Newsnight, it did not stay that way. The revolution was somewhat taken over opportunistically by right wing militants of the Svoboda party, also known as the Social-National Party. A BBC program had one such right-winger saying that their policy was to eliminate Jews and Russians from the Ukraine by sending them elsewhere. In this context, they were wearing a Wolfsangel symbol that was also used by the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, and some western Ukrainians fought in SS divisions. Irrespective of how much of such extreme policies would be in a future Ukrainian government policy, the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east would have to be nervous. Add to that, consider the city of Kharkhov, which may have been one of the most fought-over cities in WW II, as it changed hands several times, all of them bloody battles. The third battle for Kharkhov may have been one of the greatest displays of strategic brilliance in that war as von Manstein did the near-impossible, but I doubt the Russian citizens appreciated that, nor would they be overly enthused to know of the help given to the Germans by the western Ukrainians. Since Das Reich took a prominent role in the third battle for Kharkov, the current use of the Wolfsangel by some Western Ukrainians can only be considered provocative at best.

The next question would be, faced with this, what would Putin do? Again, some background. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, countries like Poland and Lithuania promptly joined NATO. Further, despite previous agreements to the contrary, the US set up “missile defence systems” in these countries, ostensibly to defend against Iranian missiles. Russia not unnaturally considered these to be aimed at it, while the US seemed to think Russia should not be concerned in the slightest. In this context, recall what the US thought about missiles placed in Cuba, which is far further away from the US than Lithuania is to Russia. Are the missiles purely defensive? Who knows?

The first thing Putin did was to recover Crimea, which had been part of Russia until Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, transferred it to the Ukraine in the 1950s for administrative convenience. For Russia, however, it is its only seaport going towards the south. To lose that as a naval base would have been unacceptable, even though, from a strategic point of view, it really is not very effective. What about eastern Ukraine? It seems to me that Putin would be expected to have two primary objectives. The first would be to ensure that Russian-speaking citizens were not subjected to right-wing purges. The second would be to ensure that NATO did not dump more missiles on its borders. Are these so unreasonable?

Which gets to the next question, why is the US and NATO so interested in supporting a fascist coup? Yes, they will have elections, but elections there are unlikely to be truly honest because the only two parties sufficiently active in Kiev right now seem to be right wing and more right wing. If the US is a disinterested spectator, why was the head of the CIA in Kiev? More to the point, what sort of incompetence led to his being shown up being there? So far there is no sign that Russia wants to annex the east, and from a strategic point of view, it would probably be undesirable to do so, irrespective of what the West wants. Russia’s second most desirable outcome, and the most desirable of the “likely to be realized” is for partition. Which raises the question, why is the West so against partition? Scotland is about to have a referendum to see whether it wishes to secede, and nobody is too worried about this. Why cannot another group secede when they do not speak the same language, and they want no part of what the other half wants? Because the industrial strength lies in the east? Make no mistake about it, if the east is forced to join the EU, its industries will be history, because they cannot compete on even ground against the technical might of Germany.

Then again, do any of the Ukrainians know what is in store for them? Going west means they will be subjected to IMF economic stringency, and of course, the first twelve billion dollars of aid has to go to Russia to pay the arrears on their gas bill. They should look at Greece, and see if they really want that. Which brings us back to the east. Suppose they do not want that? Should they be forced to? What do you think? My guess is, as in Troubles, the average citizen will get no effective voice.