Zimbabwe Ten Years On: Results and Prospects

By | 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.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Zimbabwe: Where is the Outrage? Mamdani, Mugabe and the African Scholarly Community

By | 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.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Re: Lessons of Zimbabwe (Mamdani)

By | 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.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Re: Lessons of Zimbabwe (Timothy Scarnecchia, Jocelyn Alexander, et. al.)

By | 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’.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Re: Lessons of Zimbabwe (Terence Ranger)

By | 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.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Lessons of Zimbabwe: Mugabe in Context

By | 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.

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Reflections on Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘Lessons of Zimbabwe’

By | 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.”

Filed under: ACAS Review (Bulletin), Bulletin 82
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Zimbabwe: MDC Had to Get In Or Change Course

By | February 2009

I was not surprised to see the MDC joining the Government of National Unity. In fact, I concluded so the moment that party president Morgan Tsvangirai decided to go home from Botswana earlier in the month. When an opposition party takes the option of armed struggle off the table and vests all its energies in an internal solution after all nonviolent strategies have failed, there is indeed no choice other than to participate in the GNU or sink into oblivion. The MDC National Council’s decision to participate in the GNU—whether an elopement with Zanu (PF) or traditional marriage where the festivities of a church ceremony are not the main issue but paying lobola—was merely a coup de grace. My verdict is that Mugabe had already tactically and strategically outwitted the opposition, from the very moment that the MDC agreed to participate in the talks. When you plunge into a crocodile-infested pool, make sure you know how to swim.

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Zimbabwe: What does the GNU hold for the MDC?

By | February 2009

In a piece written before the opposition MDC joined Robert Mugabe’s Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe, MIT assistant professor Clapperton Mavhunga (also a Zimbabwean national), writes that “… if the MDC decides to go in, it must not do so blindfolded, otherwise it will seal its own fate. If it stays out, it must change course.”

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What might a better US policy towards Zimbabwe look like?

By | January 2009

Obama’s inaugural remarks did seem in some direct way to be pointed towards Robert Mugabe: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

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