Monday, July 25, 2005


African leaders turn up heat on Mugabe

There's no doubt Mugabe is still seen as a revolutionary hero who ejected a brutal white colonial regime. Unlike most African leaders, he has also aggressively tackled the race-charged issue of land reform and continued white dominance over his economy.

But he may have gone too far. Besides the troubles caused by Operation Restore Order, unemployment now hovers at about 70 percent. Inflation hit 164 percent in June, one of the highest rates in the world. The UN says 4 million of the country's 12 million people are verging on starvation. Fuel is so scarce that few cars reportedly ply the streets of Harare, the normally bustling capital. Even Air Zimbabwe, the national airline, recently had to cancel many flights because of lack of fuel.

The problem no one wants to talk about is that the "white dominance" is a code word for the "outsiders" taking over the economy. In Zim they were mainly English, although there were many Boers (who are the "white tribe" in South Africa, who have few European ties).

But there are also many other "outsiders". Idi Amin wrecked his economy by throwing out the Indian store keeper (there used to be many Indian stores in Zim also). When I lived in Liberia, the Lebanese ran most of the stores. East Africa has a long history of Arab traders.

The dirty little secret is that you need people to run the place. There are many Africans who could do this, but alas they are in Europe or the US. You see, there are more opportunities there, and a lot less danger of being disappeared or shot. And, of course, in West Africa, there are thousands of small entrepeneurs who could be very very successful: But they are women, who have little education and less "start up capital" to be able to utilize their skills.

But Africa is still spouting the Marxist rhetoric of the 1970's, and alas hasn't noticed that their utopias didn't work anywhere...

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