Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Intervention in Zimbabwe: Humanitarian and Otherwise

Taking a cue from Lenin, I've decided to throw in my two cents on the subject of "interventions," specifically as the subject applies to Zimbabwe and that country's current crisis. Calls for humanitarian intervention by the west in Zimbabwe have, predictably, been multiplying like drosophila on ecstasy. Sir Ronald Sanders of the BBC, for example, argues that while the Bush administration has "made the world understandably wary of intervention," the international community should intervene "when any government turns upon its populace to maintain itself in power." Sanders is particularly representative of the current strain of interventionism on the market today, which prides itself on its criticism of (some) US imperialism. "Out of Iraq and into Darfur" was once the rallying cry of this crowd (before they got sued for artificially inflating the deaths in the Sudan to make their case.) Noticeably lacking from Sir Sanders' critique of US imperialism is any mention of the wonderfully multilateral intervention in Afghanistan, which has turned that country into such a bloodbath that not even the New York Times can now refer to it as "the good war."

Sanders and his ilk act as if the "international community" is currently engaging the Zimbabwean crisis with nothing but harsh-sounding phrases. The interventionists are quick to lament the role of sovereignty in international law, which supposedly prevents the UN and other groups from stepping in and solving problems like Zimbabwe's. Unfortunately, imperial powers have never respected the sovereignty of weaker states, and, in Zimbabwe, are part of the problem.

Take Sanders' own Great Britain, for example. As James Fiorentino points out in Socialist Worker, British banks have been investing heavily in Zimbabwe, extending credit to members of Mugabe's inner circle. Additionally, the British mining company Rio Tinto has been heavily involved in the diamond industry in Zimbabwe. Far from asking his government to intervene, Sanders should demand that his countrymen get the hell out.

The United States, unsurprisingly, has even dirtier hands. The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 has worked to strangle the country's economy, reducing average aid per HIV infected person to $10, from a regional average of $100. To fill the gap left by this evacuation of state aid, NGOs (often from the United States) have filled the void, in the process gaining an undue hegemony in Zimbabwean politics (a consequence I'll return to later.) Leo Zeilig, in a brilliant article in International Socialism, has drawn attention to the impact NGO's have had on the opposition party, the MDC.

Other, smaller imperial powers have also gotten involved. Amongst the coverage in the bourgeois press, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki has come under substantial criticism for the life raft he has thrown the ZANU-PF. Less attention has been paid to South Africa's economic role in Zimbabwe, which includes SA mining heavyweight Impala's substantial platinum operations, as well as Anglo American's newly announced $400 million dollar project. While these companies wish for a more stable investment climate, they fear any substantial agitation will bring about the nationalization of their investments. China has also been a major player in Zimbabwe, recently shipping over a million rounds of ammunition to the Mugabe regime. Far being neglected by the West, Zimbabwe is, in Zeilig's words, "a hive for regional and international capital."

These interventions by the international community in Zimbabwe demonstrate the complete lack of humanitarian motives. Indeed, there is simply no reason to believe that a Zimbabwean government backed by the larger powers would be any more progressive than Mugabe's. As Stephen Zunes demonstrates, the United States is only too happy to back African dictators with abysmal human rights records in "Swaziland, Congo, Cameroun, Togo, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Gabon, Egypt, and Tunisia." Zunes draws particular attention to the US support for Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, dictator of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang has been in power longer than Mugabe (29 years), maintaining himself through elections which even the State Department describes as "marred by extensive fraud and intimidation." Equatorial Guinea has a despicable human rights record. Members of the minority Bubi ethnic group are persecuted, and the political opposition is subject to wholesale terror. Most Guineans live on less than two dollars a day, and half of all children under five are malnourished. Obiang, meanwhile, has assets over $1 billion and two houses in Maryland. Given that Obiang has allowed US oil corporations, in the IMF's words, “by far the most generous tax and profit-sharing provisions in the region," Condoleeza Rice predicted that “this relationship will continue to grow in friendship and cooperation." Washington would be only too happy to have an Obiang style leader arise in Zimbabwe.

None of this, however, should be taken to suggest that Zimbabwe's problems are wholly external in making. The ZANU-PF has pursued a strategy aptly described by Zeilig as a "schizophrenic mix of state capitalism and neoliberalism." As the government has rushed to cut subsidies and privative sectors of the economy, it has also embarked on a plan of land seizure from white landowners which has served primarily to enrich an African capitalist class, as well has making noises about nationalization of foreign companies. Such a strategy has done nothing to bring economic advancement to ordinary Zimbabweans, undermining the regime's popular support and forcing Mugabe to rely more and more on authoritarian violence to maintain his rule.

The opposition sparked by economic depredation and political violence has its own problems. The opposition MDC, while arising out of a massive working class resistance in 1996-98, has today become, in the words of one of its own MPs, "“really fat and thick…it is almost a party of the rich." As Western NGOs have rushed to embrace the opposition, the MDC found itself with access to a massive inflow of funds that effectively welded the organization structurally and ideologically to the agenda of the NGOs, which is basically apolitical developmentalism. Today, the MDC is advised by both the free-market CATO institute and the International Republican Institute.

The way forward for Zimbabwe isn't with the NGOs, but rather with the events that inspired the formation of MDC. Described by Zielig as Zimbabwe's intifada, the uprising of everyone from housewives to civil servants was in reaction to the structural adjustments embraced by the ZANU-PF in the nineties. Out of this, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions founded the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999. Though bloated with bureaucracy and Western funds today, the MDC still carries the hopes of ordinary Zimbabweans who remember the uprising of ten years ago.

We've seen a repeat of this working class opposition to Mugabe on a smaller scale recently with the Chinese arms I referred to earlier. In April, when the ship carrying the weapons docked in South Africa, the South African trade unions refused to unload the arms, forcing the vessel to attempt to unload in Mozambique and Namibia, where it met similar fates. In Angola, dockworkers maintained watch to prevent anyone from attempting to unload the arms. This kind of working class solidarity is the key to bringing relief to Zimbabwe. The duty of those of us in oppressor countries like the United States and Great Britain is not to hold up our bleeding hearts for the suffering Africans, but to stand in solidarity with actions like these while pressuring our own governments to keep their bloody hands off.