Saturday, February 28, 2009

Let 'em eat cake in Zimbabwe

Let’s play a quick game of ‘What would you do?’ Pretend you're Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe - your country is a mess: unemployment is running at more than 90%, hunger affects more than half the population, a cholera outbreak has killed nearly 4,000 and sickened tens of thousands of others and the Central Bank has basically given up printing money after issuing the $500 billion bill because they can’t keep up with inflation. It’s your 85th birthday, what do you do?

If you answered attend a lavish party that cost $250,000 and featured a two-hundred pound birthday cake, consider yourself a winner, since that’s exactly how Mugabe chose to celebrate his birthday, surrounded by political cronies making grand speeches, as his country dies around him. By contrast, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was meeting with foreign donors, trying to put together a $5 billion emergency aid package for his country.

Meanwhile, the power-sharing deal forced upon the two men by their South African neighbors is showing more signs of falling apart. Under the agreement, government ministries would be split between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, and Tsvangirai’s MDC. But Mugabe’s forces have already arrested one of the MDC’s party leaders, and now Mugabe is trying to skirt the intent of the power-sharing agreement by appointing ‘permanent secretaries’ to ministries under MDC control. Tsvangirai slammed the action saying that he would not allow Mugabe to run a shadow government. “There is only one government running Zimbabwe – one government, with one vision and one agenda – democratization and stabilization,” Tsvangirai declared.

And Mugabe is relaunching the policy that helped lead Zimbabwe to ruin - the seizure of white-owned farms. Several years ago Mugabe’s government began seizing land owned by white farmers, his explanation was that while Zimbabwe’s population is overwhelmingly black, much of the country’s farmland was owned by whites, a situation he found unfair. But instead of giving the seized land to black farmers, Mugabe parceled it out to his political backers, most of whom never bothered to work the land, turning Zimbabwe from a net exporter of food into a nation plagued by hunger, ruining the economy in the process.

Now Mugabe wants to finish the job by grabbing the last 400 or so farms still owned by whites. Last year Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court ruled the land reform law was unconstitutional because it was based on race. Mugabe called the ruling nonsense and said he would ignore it.
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