The Measure of Just Demands? A Response to Mamdani

16 March 2009

Judging by the passionate and wide-ranging responses to Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’ (London Review of Books, 4 December 2008), he has struck a deep chord amongst scholars of and from Zimbabwe – as well as others concerned more broadly with questions of African politics – both with the particular issues he has raised and those left starkly absent from his analysis. The present ACAS Bulletin is doing us all a valuable service by usefully bringing together the different responses evoked by Mamdani’s original piece and his subsequent response to his critics (London Review of Books, 1 January 2009). Although in disagreement with much of what he has written in these two pieces, I nonetheless express my appreciation for his efforts to stimulate serious public debate about Zimbabwe beyond partisan rhetoric (even if he himself has not entirely avoided such rhetoric). This is certainly welcome.

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Mamdani on Zimbabwe sets back Civil Society

16 March 2009

Although Mahmood Mamdani is an inspiring intellectual and political writer, one of Africa’s greatest ever, his London Review of Books article ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’ invites debate and disagreement. To begin, consider Mamdani’s ‘abiding recollection of my first few months back’ in Uganda when his compatriots did not oppose Idi Amin’s expulsion of ‘Asians’, saying only that ‘It was bad the way he did it.’ The Zimbabwe case is so different as to repel such comparisons. The 4000 whites who controlled the bulk of good land until February 2000 included beneficiaries of the historic colonial theft, while others bought into the system by purchasing farms after independence. Most had vast swathes of underutilised land, but many were extremely productive, using racially exclusive networks for credit, inputs and marketing, especially to growing international markets during the 1990s liberalisation era. Helter skelter, they were all removed; a few hundred remained on their farms through the late 2000s because they cut deals with local elites or in some rare cases, had the support of neighbouring Communal Area constituencies for whom they provided services.

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Zimbabwe Ten Years On: Results and Prospects

16 March 2009

After a decade of political polarization and international standoff, the debate on Zimbabwe has finally been opened up to a wider reading public, thanks to Mahmood Mamdani’s “Lessons of Zimbabwe,” appearing in the London Review of Books (04/12/2008). Renowned scholars, within and without Africa, have broken their silence and have taken public positions. The debate now extends beyond a small group of specialists in Southern Africa and the UK and also goes deeper into the issues than what is readily available in the daily media. While we may wonder why it took nearly a decade for this to happen, there is good reason for the sudden change: during November-December 2008, Western governments and associated think-tanks began to test publicly the idea of intervening militarily in a small peripheral country and ex-colony, this time under the pretext of the “right to protect” Zimbabweans from a crazed tyrant. For many of us, this is dangerous talk; for others, it is either not serious enough, or serious and overdue. It is no surprise then that the knives would come out in the ensuing debate, and that this would intensify with the prospect of forming an “inclusive government” and resolving critical issues.

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Zimbabwe: Where is the Outrage? Mamdani, Mugabe and the African Scholarly Community

16 March 2009

Concerned scholars should revitalise their opposition to Zimbabwe’s Mugabe regime, writes Horace Campbell. While being against any form of opportunistic, external intervention in the country, Campbell argues that scholars must come to offer an effective challenge to ZANU-PF’s persistent retreat into spurious anti-imperialist discourse. Heavily critical of writers like Mahmood Mamdani for echoing ZANU-PF’s claims around the effects of economic sanctions levied against Zimbabwe, Campbell argues that blocking international payments would prove a far more efficacious means of tackling Mugabe’s misappropriation of funds.

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Re: Lessons of Zimbabwe (Mamdani)

16 March 2009

Returns in the 2008 election suggest that Zimbabwe is a deeply divided society. This is so whether you go by the official count or that of the government. I have argued that this split has three fault lines: urban-rural, ethnic and class. R.W. Johnson ([London Review of Books] Letters, 18 December 2008) and Timothy Scarnecchia et al disagree, but they have not offered a satisfactory alternative explanation. Instead, they suggest, apparently in unison, that the splits in Zimbabwean society are a result of the machinations of those in power — ‘Mugabe and his cronies’ — who wish to hang on to it at all costs.

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Re: Lessons of Zimbabwe (Timothy Scarnecchia, Jocelyn Alexander, et. al.)

16 March 2009

For a number of scholars, Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’ requires a further response, given Mamdani’s stature as a scholar and public intellectual. Some aspects of his argument are uncontroversial: there was a real demand for land redistribution — even the World Bank was calling for it in the late 1990s as the best way forward in Zimbabwe — and some of the Western powers’ original pronouncements and actions were hypocritical. There is a real danger, however, in simplifying the lessons of Zimbabwe. It isn’t just a matter of stark ethnic dichotomies, the urban-rural divide, or the part played by ‘the West’.

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Re: Lessons of Zimbabwe (Terence Ranger)

16 March 2009

Mahmood Mamdani is correct to stress that Robert Mugabe is not just a crazed dictator or a corrupt thug but that he promotes a programme and an ideology that are attractive to many in Africa and to some in Zimbabwe itself. Mamdani takes care to balance this by recognising Mugabe’s propensity for violence. Yet this balance is hard to maintain and towards the end of his article Mamdani lets it slip.

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Lessons of Zimbabwe: Mugabe in Context

16 March 2009

t is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert Mugabe. Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a brutal dictator, and blame him for Zimbabwe’s descent into hyperinflation and poverty. The seizure of white-owned farms by his black supporters has been depicted as a form of thuggery, and as a cause of the country’s declining production, as if these lands were doomed by black ownership. Sanctions have been imposed, and opposition groups funded with the explicit aim of unseating him. There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters. His policies have helped lay waste the country’s economy, though sanctions have played no small part, while his refusal to share power with the country’s growing opposition movement, much of it based in the trade unions, has led to a bitter impasse. This view of Zimbabwe’s crisis can be found everywhere, from the Economist and the Financial Times to the Guardian and the New Statesman, but it gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved.

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Reflections on Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’

16 March 2009

Mahmood Mamdani, a university professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York City remains one of the pre-eminent scholars of African Studies in the West. He also remains prolific, often taking the lead in unpacking controversial debates. For example, this month he has a new book out on the Darfur crisis, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (Knopf, 2009). And few can disagree about the impact of his previous two books. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (Pantheon, 2004) certainly contributed—especially in popular media—to our understanding of the historical roots of the “War on Terror”: to the United States’ engagement in proxy wars in Southern Africa, Latin America and Afghanistan and the antecedents of “collateral damage.” A decade earlier, his Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, 1996) became a must-read in universities. So when, in early December 2008, the London Review of Books published a long essay by Mamdani on the ongoing political and economic crises (at least for a decade now) in Zimbabwe, it was inevitable that it would provoke debate. As one critic of Mamdani’s concedes in this issue, “…whatever Mamdani writes he is always brilliant and provocative.”

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Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa

14 March 2009

At the end of President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony, civil rights leader Rev. Joseph Lowery invoked the hope of a day “when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors.” No one expects such a utopian vision to materialize any time soon. But both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken eloquently of the need to emphasize diplomacy over a narrow military agenda. In her confirmation hearing, Clinton stressed the need for “smart power,” perhaps inadvertently echoing Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq as a “dumb war.” Even top U.S. military officials, such as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, have warned against overly militarizing U.S. foreign policy.

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