Saturday, July 02, 2005

Africa's Real Problem: Tyranny

Today, the series of Live 8 concerts designed to promote increased development aid and debt relief for Africa are taking place. Problems such as disease, poverty, hunger, and lack of education are very serious, and I respect Live 8's efforts to help. My concern, however, is that Africa's major problem is not any of these issues, as serious as they are, but the corrupt, tyrannical regimes that rule all too much of that continent. The 1984-85 Ethiopian famine, for example, was a direct consequence of the Stalinist policies of the Mengistu dictatorship, and was deliberately used by that regime as a weapon against its enemies. Today, one need only look at Sudan, where the brutal Islamist tyranny in Khartoum has waged a campaign of genocide in Darfur that has cost an estimated 180,000 lives. Dictatorships such as the Sudanese regime not only cause an enormous amount of human suffering, they also exacerbate the very conditions that Live 8 is trying to address and make positive change virtually impossible.

There is no better example of the destruction wrought by barbarous, dictatorial regimes in Africa than the events now taking place in Zimbabwe. In a piece for the June 27th Weekly Standard, Roger Bate provides a chilling description of Robert Mugabe's attempt to become the Pol Pot of Africa:

Mugabe has lately been looking East for trade and financial support, but also for pointers on oppressing his people, as he follows the lead of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, which gutted towns to make for a more pliant populace. After Mugabe handed over white-owned farms to his cronies who didn't know how to farm, a million jobs were lost and the workers and their families migrated to cities and towns. There are now more people in the towns than in the countryside. This aggregation in urban centers has helped these rural people become more politically aware, and diminished the power held over them by the chiefs, headmen, and political councils--all people Mugabe has bought off.

The current attacks on urban centers are part of a corrective strategy to drive perhaps two million people back onto the land. Once there, they will be cut off from the rest of the country and at the mercy of government-controlled food supplies. It is more difficult to starve people in urban areas where the outside world might catch wind of what's going on. As one displaced farmer puts it: "The people don't want to go back to the rural areas because they are afraid and also they know the hardships they will face. In summer, it would be easier for people--even those who have lost the skills--to live off the land from berries and wild mushrooms--but it's the height of winter now and there is nothing."

But controlling this population becomes easier all the time, as millions have fled over the past few years, over 3,000 people die every week of AIDS, and most college graduates, many of whom are activists, leave the country. The result has been an astonishing decline in the population, which is down to around 10 million from over 13 million a few years back. Not that the government minds. In August 2002, Didymus Mutasa, today the head of the secret police, said: "We would be better off with only six million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle."

For those who remain in Zimbabwe, a Cambodian experiment awaits. Thousands of people made homeless in the government's clean-up campaign are being herded into reeducation camps and told they can have a housing plot if they swear allegiance to the party of President Robert Mugabe. Those who refuse are loaded onto trucks and dumped in remote rural areas where food is scarce. Human rights workers say they are deliberately being left to die in an effort by the Mugabe regime to exterminate opponents.

"This is social cleansing to try to eradicate the opposition," says Trudy Stevenson, an opposition MP whose Harare North constituency includes Hatcliffe, where the homes of 30,000 people have been demolished along with an orphanage for children whose parents have died of AIDS. "It's horrific. They are dumping people in rural areas to get rid of troublesome elements to make sure they can't challenge the regime," she adds.

Working to rid the African continent of poverty, hunger, and other afflictions is a necessary and noble task. Without political change in places such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, however, all such efforts are bound to be futile.


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