Mugabe’s Wrath of the State

President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union has, in recent days, embarked on a warpath against civil society organizations.

 Robert Mugabe

 President Robert Mugabe: Africa’s strongman

Ordinary citizens with political views that favor the opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, have also not escaped the wrath of the state.

 Mugabe’s government accuses civil society organizations of both working in cahoots with the MDC and being funded by Western countries.

In Zimbabwe today, the venom of the state machinery, including the military, the police and the state-owned media, is being unleashed against anyone perceived to be connected to the opposition, which won the parliamentary elections in March — a first in Zimbabwe since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

Since 1980, ZANU-PF has won all the parliamentary and presidential elections by any means possible — fair, foul or murderous.

Incumbent President Mugabe, who narrowly lost to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 43.2 percent to 47.9 percent in the March election, blames Western forces (as he has glibly done for the past eight years) for his loss of popularity.

Ahead of a runoff election scheduled for June 27, Mugabe has invoked all the state machinery’s hell against his people, and is determined to win by any means necessary.

Throughout the country, opposition supporters have been abducted and discovered with limbs, private parts, ears and tongues chopped off in scenes reminiscent of ritual killings.

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Keith Mazonde, a Harare-based nongovernmental organization worker in a Skype interview, “But the old man [Mugabe] is going nowhere.”

“I think he will win, but if you get me right, it’s a different kind from the win we know,” added Mazonde.

The clampdown of civil society organizations by Mugabe’s government comes in the wake of an order barring humanitarian aid organizations from distributing food and agricultural aid to impoverished Zimbabweans.

Mugabe has accused humanitarian aid organizations of using food handouts to campaign in favor of the opposition. NGOs have been ordered to re-apply for operating licenses.

According to Zimbabwe’s National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations, HIV patients will likely die as a result of the ban on food aid because they rely on NGOs for home-based care and antiretroviral medical assistance.

“The country has become a bedlam for people seeking an honest means of living. It looks like it will get better if only Mugabe goes, and a government of national unity is the way forward,” said Obert Sherera, an NGO worker.

UNICEF estimates that a total of 185,000 children are likely to miss the essential support they need, including healthcare and nutrition, and labels the government ban against NGOs a “human rights violation.”

“One day it will all come to an end but for now people are living in fear,” said Nornia Dumare, a political activist in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Already, political analysts are saying that under the current circumstances it will be impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair presidential election.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, the Zimbabwean government’s campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC has extinguished any chance of a free and fair presidential runoff on June 27.

The report titled “‘Bullets for Each of You’: State-Sponsored Violence Since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections,” said that 36 politically motivated deaths and 2,000 victims of violence have been recorded in the run-up to the June runoff election.

“Since the runoff was announced the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabweans can’t vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed.” 

Food, Food, Food: Making Sense of A Global Crisis

Nothing could be as much a mirror of poor people’s food plight as Thai farmers reportedly conducting armed vigils in their rice fields at night to prevent thieves from reaping the crop.


As a measure against nocturnal rice thefts, Thai authorities introduced a 6 p.m. curfew on combine harvesters, vehicles used to harvest the crop.


In Thailand, as in many parts of Asia, the price of rice has gone up dramatically in recent months tempting greedy and corrupt dealers to use any means available to get a hold of the pricey grain for either sell or hoarding. In fact, the hoarding of rice has been blamed for the price spirals forcing governments to impose buying rations.


According to the Asia Development Bank (ADB), approximately 1 billion Asians need assistance to cope with soaring food prices and shortages.


The purchasing power of many of Asia’s poor has been seriously eroded reversing previous gains made in fighting poverty.


The International Herald Tribune describes rice, a staple food for half of the global population, as one of the “world’s most politically fragile crop.”


Like the price of rice, general food prices are on the rise in many parts of the world, forcing poor people to protest — sometimes violently — against governments.


Food riots have erupted in countries such as Haiti, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Senegal and Somalia, among others, threatening national stability or exacerbating conflict. Poor people, particularly children and those living with diseases, face the risk of malnutrition or death due to inadequate diets.


“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” Jeffrey Sachs, and economist and UN special adviser recently told The New York Times. “It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”


Experts say that food reserves are at their lowest in 35 years, and there is a systemic imbalance between the forces of supply and demand that cannot be fixed in the short term. UN statistics show that global food prices have risen by 65 percent since 2002 to levels increasingly beyond the reach of the poor.


The current food quagmire has been festering over the years with little to no media attention.


“In the seven of the last eight years consumption has exceeded production, which can happen only if we draw down our stocks. The carryover, the grain in the bin when a new harvest begins, is the seminal indicator of food security, and it’s now down to 54 days consumption, not much than is needed to fill the supply line,” says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.


Nearly 1.7 billion people in Asia — three times the population of Europe — live on less than US$2 a day, and to them the spiraling food prices are like a shockwave.


“The world’s food import bill will rise in 2007 to $745 billion, up 21% from last year, the FAO estimated in its biannual Food Outlook. In developing countries, costs will go up by a quarter to nearly $233 billion,” reports Time Magazine.


Asia’s poor are particularly vulnerable to rising food prices for staples such as rice because 60 percent of their spending goes toward food and the figure rises to 75 percent if transport costs are included, according to the ADB.


Many countries in the region have resorted to banning food exports and imposing price controls; however, the ADB warns that this could worsen the crisis, as farmers will stop growing crops that bring a negative return on investment.


An assortment of causes have been cited for the ongoing food crisis from climate change, population growth, increased consumption of meat in Asia, particularly India and China, a ballooning oil price, focus on bio-fuels to greed and corruption.


According to experts, the transportation of specific commodities over long distances chews up a lot of oil, which in a context of a skyrocketing oil price is responsible for the food price hikes.


Also, the fact that many people in Asia and other parts of the world now eat like North Americans is also an underlying factor for the upward spiral of food prices. The more people eat meat, the less food will be available to satiate empty bellies of the poor because grains meant for human beings go to fattening chickens and animals for meat. Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat-eaters and the world’s poor, says the World Watch Institute.


In addition, the increased commercialization of agriculture has negatively impacted the productivity of small farmers. Consequently, small farmers opt to abandon the land, and trek to urban areas in search of proverbial greener pastures.


According to a United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) report between 2000 and 2030, Asia’s urban population is expected to increase from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, putting pressure on urban areas which are already incapable of meeting everyone’s food needs.


As the Asian food story reveals, to avert a global food crisis requires a multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional approach that employs short term and long-term measures.


In the short term, bilateral and multi-lateral agencies can lend monetary support and food aid to help seriously affected countries cope with the food crisis. While government subsidies can help the poor to withstand the food crisis, it is not a sustainable strategy in the long-term.


National governments will need to invest in agricultural systems in a manner that keeps small farmers engaged in the production of food with a guarantee of support, fair compensation and improved access to market information.


The ADB recommends that farmers need to have access to reliable and affordable seed, fertilizers, pesticides and credit.


In the long-term, agricultural research, improvement of irrigation systems and the development of new technologies, including improved seed and crop varieties suited to specific climatic conditions, are essential to improving yields.


The use of low cost technologies such as drip kits and treadle pumps can also help farmers to make optimum use of land and water in the face of global warming. Labor-saving technologies that will adapt agriculture to new conditions generated by rural-to-urban migration can help to compensate for the depletion of labor.


As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon succinctly put it, the longer-term challenge is to boost agricultural development, particularly in Africa and other regions most affected.


With increased political will, fair trade and investments into agricultural systems, hopefully rice farmers in Thailand will, once again, have nights filled with sleep unafraid of waking up to a bare rice field harvested by some unscrupulous characters bent on making a quick dollar.


Women At War

Populations that are displaced as a result of conflict face reproductive health challenges that require existent service delivery models to be adapted to suit their needs, especially those of women and girls.    

In many parts of the world, women and girls in conflict zones find themselves victims of a silent war that infringes their sexual and human rights.

According to statistics, 80% of the approximately 37 million refugees and displaced persons globally are women and children, yet little funding and programming goes into addressing their requirements.   

A UN report titled – The Shame of War: Sexual violence against women and girls in conflict, released early 2007 – says that “of all the abuses committed in war, rape is one specifically inflicted against women”.    

“The brutality and viciousness of the sexual attacks that are reported from the current conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Iraq and Sudan, and the testimonies from past conflicts in Timor-Leste, the Balkans and Sierra Leone are heartbreaking,” writes Yakin Ertuk, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in the foreword to the report.    

“Girls and women, old and young, are preyed upon by soldiers, militia, police and armed thugs wherever conflict rages and the parties to the conflict fail to protect civilian populations.”    

The victims are often afraid to report of their rape due to social stigma and shame, threat to personal security, or simply because there are no services available.    

As the report notes, women and girls lose their family and community after experiencing rape due to feelings of shame and discriminatory attitudes. Their only option may be further victimization through sexual exploitation.    

A major condition for the well-being and development of women and girls is their ability to exercise control over their sexual and reproductive lives.    

World Health Organization (WHO) describes sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; and not merely an absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. It implies pleasurable and safe sexual experiences that are free of coercion, discrimination and violence.    

For women and girls in conflict zones, the consequences of rape are many: sexually transmitted infections and reproductive health problems, unwanted pregnancy, fistulae, maternal mortality, and HIV/AIDS, says the report.    

Female sexual vulnerability poses a grave public health problem, during the conflict and post conflict period.    

Women and girls in conflict areas have a myriad of reproductive health needs that policymakers at national and international levels need to take into account in the design of programs.      

Programs may involve working with community leaders, men’s and women’s groups and the military to sensitize about the need to prevent the problem of sexual violence. Women and girls need to be empowered to be able to prevent themselves from becoming victims of sexual violence through economic empowerment and access to reproductive health services.    

As Theresa McGinn, 2001, succinctly puts it: “Understanding the ways in which refugee women’s reproductive health problems are both similar to, and different from, those of women in settled populations can help policy makers and programmers.”    

Women and girls in conflict zones must have access to medical treatment, including access to drugs that can prevent sexually transmitted infections, psychosocial and legal support and access to abortion services to terminate forced pregnancies.    

With conflicts popping up in every corner of the globe, there’s need for more public discussion about how to bring much needed reproductive health and psychosocial support services to women in conflict areas. 

Rethinking Africa’s Unsteady Statehoods

The seemingly intractable tribal mayhem in Kenya, which has so far claimed over 1500 people’s lives, is not an isolated one in Africa.

It reflects the failure of the state machinery to blend numerous identities that were grouped together to serve colonial interests into a functional form of nationhood that is based on shared values.

In 1884, the then-Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany called for a meeting in Berlin to partition Africa. At the conference, European powers agreed to “rules of the game” in dividing Africa and defined their respective interests with regard to the African continent.

Without consulting any indigenous Africans, European powers proceeded to partition the continent regardless of the ethnic, social and economic composition of its peoples.

Today, across the African continent, states are comprised of heterogeneous ethnic groups.

If anything, what is taking place in Kenya is as much a product of the country’s pre-colonial and colonial past as it is a product of the corrupt faultiness of the post-independence governments and can potentially happen, or has already happened, in other parts of Africa.

A poor fit between pre-colonial societies and states created during the colonial period to serve European powers remains a long-standing blot that has resulted in political, economic and social instability in the continent.

What we are seeing in Kenya is undoubtedly the expression of long pent up tribal emotions and inequalities among tribal groups that date back to the colonial era.

The immediate and apparent effect is obviously the botched electoral process.

But underlying this is a failure in the concept of statehood and democratic institutionalism that addresses the outstanding questions of past inequalities.

The whole of Africa needs a unique transformative democracy that addresses economic disparities propagated by the colonial regimes. That transformative democratic process must engage in a sustained process of national healing, and build institutions that are not only transparent but foster trust and respect among the various groups of people.

In many parts of Africa, political and economic processes are organized along tribal and ethnic lines – a factor that does not augur well for the building of nations. While it may be easy to point fingers at the Africans themselves, much of the present dysfunction of African countries is a direct result of divide and rule policies that were propagated by colonialists – chiefly the British.

The disparities propelled by the colonialists have lasted for generations, and what Kenya shows today is that statehood, identity and nationhood are very much far apart.Tribal affinity defines identity, which does not necessarily translate into an overarching Kenyan identity required to define the nation.

In fact, it is not far from the truth to say that there is nothing like a Kenyan identity. Belongingness to the state through access to political, economic and other resources is mainly predicated by tribal affiliation. In my opinion, many of the symbols of statehood in Africa are merely tokenistic.

Until the festered resent between groups of people that has lasted for so long is addressed, more experiences like Kenya’s will be in store in other parts of Africa.

What the founding fathers of Africa failed to do was to take the continent through a process of shedding the schisms, pain and tears collected over centuries of white brutality and domination.

That process cannot be achieved through mere lip service but through the design of programs that ensure the equal access of all to national resources in spite of tribal identity.

African statehood is highly unsteady and riddled with age-old grudges between various groups that were forced into polities in 1885, when the continent was partitioned among European powers at the Vienna Conference.

Healing Africa will require that the Africans themselves face up to the ugly questions of the past and put in place appropriate strategies to address age-old problems.

Building Africa’s future will require innovative thinking on social, economic and political issues, which can be achieved by allowing voices of previously marginalized groups to help in determining the shape of state institutions, equal distribution of wealth, and ultimately nationhood