Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Post Colonial Spectacle: Carving Up Zimbabwe

I like opera, especially European opera of the 18th through 20th centuries. There is nothing like it for its power to fuse distinctive musical forms within a theatrical experience in which all human proclivities are intensified and exaggerated to illuminate their reality, and its pathos. Over the course of the last year of so we have been witness to a great operatic event. The stage is Zimbabwe. The action revolves around the great battle for control of the levers of power to dispense the national wealth in a country composed of two principal nations, the Shona and the Ndebele peoples, along with the European peoples who colonized modern Zimbabwe last. and least graciously The players include a cast of principal characters from Zimbabwe itself--Robert Mugabe, a member of the Zezuru Shona and adept manipulator of European guilt and Shona pride, and Morgan Tsvangirai, President of the Movement for Democratic Change - Tsvangirai (MDC-T), who grew up in a Karanga Shona region, and became a political rival of Mugabe that has had the luck to avoid an untimely end thus far. To Mugabe's Shona nationalist anti-colonial strong man state politics, Tsvangirai represents the poor man made good--the labor union boss who "is the figurehead for all the disparate groups opposed to Mr Mugabe: unemployed and low-wage black workers; wealthy white farmers and industrialists and ethnic Ndebeles who remember the government's murderous campaign against them in the early 1980s." Joseph Winter, Profile: Morgan Tsvangirai, BBC News Online, October 15, 2004. The object is control of the apparatus of state--its government--through which the spoils of power can be harvested, along with the natural resources that brought the Europeans last to this land. The battle ground is pre colonial--a rematch among the two nations within the European created colonial territory now known as Zimbabwe among the Ndebele progeny of the Zulu and the Shona remnants of the Rozwi Empire.

In the battle the Europeans once played the villain and now play the fool--and willingly perhaps in expiation of the their actions, now judged sinful, which they committed somewhat less successfully than the peoples they found in Zimbabwe in the mid 19th century. To this list is added a bunch of officious inter-meddlers, each with his or her own peculiar agenda. Among the most officious has been the now former leader of South Africa, Mr. Mbeki, once the protege now the last strong mentor of the aging Shona revolutionary. For him, the laborious task of the merchant prince--striking a deal for the preservation of the treasures of Zimbabwe for distribution in a way that benefits all of those anxious to profit thereby. "Because elections tend to be bloody in Zimbabwe, and the political culture stalked by the force of ethnic, religious and other rivalries, managerial internationalism would seek a solution that while appearing to respect the form of democratic organization subverts its essence in the service of violence abatement. Stability, it seems, trumps even the forms of democratic change--and why not? In this case the hope might well be to rid Zimbabwe at last of a dictator without either the continued pretense of more "elections" or the fuss of a potentially quite bloody civil ethnic war in Zimbabwe." Larry Cat'a Backer, Democracy Part XV: In Which Elections Serve as a Prelude to Carving Power in Democratic States, Law at the End of the Day, Sept. 8, 2008.

And so, for the protection of South Africa's north, the preservation of the wealth of the country, and the preservation of networks of power that keep elites in position to exploit state to control those goods necessary to maintain their patronage clients (see Rome: Social Class and Public Display), the full power of international managerialism has been deployed to induce the factional leaders to accept a deal that preserves the form of the state, and the productive capacities of passive citizens, but perhaps little else. See Larry Catá Backer, The Fuhrer Principle of International Law: Individual Responsibility and Collective Punishment. Penn State International Law Review, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 509-567, 2003. "For that purpose, in this modern and increasingly medieval age, violence and dialog, properly managed, become the hall marks of law, politics and economics. The rule of law at the international level, serves as the means through which conflict is made permanent, regularized and contained, to be fought through words and bullets. This is the language of law--bureaucratic, managerial, well mannered and brutal in its own way--in which exhaustion serves as victory and the masses are kept protected (for their effective exploitation) and engaged in sensible ways." Larry Catá Backer, On Israel's 60th Anniversary of Statehood: Views From the Empire and the Caliphate, Law at the End of the Day, May 16, 2008. See also Larry Catá Backer, ETA and the Management of Revolution in a Bureaucratic World, Law at the End of the Day, May 14, 2008.

Certainly one gets the sense of the shopkeeper's approach to the buying and selling of Zimbabwe, its state apparatus and the rights to exploit its peoples by pursuing the terms of the "deal" for power sharing that the international community of seeking to sell. Shameful, perhaps, but more troubling is the ease with which such shopkeeper-'s law quickly overwhelms the niceties of democratic governance when it suits. Despite the great efforts of excellent merchants--including Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai--Zimbabwe Deal: Key Points, BBC News Online, September 15, 2008. even the new international managerialism that has been so good to people like Mr.Mugabe, appears insufficient to settle the affairs of Zimbabwe.

Now enter the clowns. Not clowns, really. . .the Elders, a group of ancient distinguished politicians who were conceived as a body by Peter Gabriel and Richard Branson in 1999 and implemented with the imprimatur of Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel and Desmond Tutu in 2001. The Elders, History. Three of their number, Kofi Annan, Graca Marchel and Jimmy Carter, sought to inter-meddle in the negotiations for the division of spoils in Zimbabwe. The Elders to Visit Zimbabwe, The Elders.com, Nov. 14, 2008. But apparently they got in the way--they were denied entry into the country by one of the parties to the negotiations--Robert Mugabe. See UN Calls for Rapid Zimbabwe Deal, BBC News Online, Nov. 25, 2008. This caused the UN Secretary General Ban no end of grief--especially since it might have upended his own negotiation strategy.
Mr Ban also said he regretted the Zimbabwean government's decision to refuse visas to the group of world leaders known as the Elders, and not to co-operate with their "timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe". He said he hoped another mission could take place in the near future, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country. Id.
But the Elders appear to have gotten in the way of Mr. Mbecki's efforts to broker the division of power. And the division itself evidences both the nature of the the state apparatus and its malleability for the greater ends of siphoning resources for those in control of its apparatus. "President Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to form a power-sharing government in September in the wake of disputed presidential elections. Officials say Tuesday's meeting will focus on finalising a draft constitutional amendment which would enable Mr Tsvangirai to be sworn in as prime minister. However, the two sides have still not agreed on who will control the ministry of home affairs, which has responsibility for the police. " Id.

But no matter, the Elders are undaunted, especially since there is a likelihood of impasse at the checkout counter. And the object of the group will be a quick deal --for all the right reasons: to ameliorate the collateral damage these contests for rights to exploitation might have on the Shona and Ndebele nations. But th Elders also showed their hand--they were pushing for the implementaiton of the September 15th deal (Zimbabwe Deal: Key Points, supra) at a time when both Mr. Mugabe and Mr. T are in the midst of hard rebargaining on those terms.
"'We hope that our visit will also add momentum to the global response to longer-term issues of reform and development once an inclusive government is in place and operational,' said Mr Annan. 'It is crucial that the international community supports a Zimbabwe-led process of recovery, and provides sufficient funding for its implementation.' Mr Annan emphasised that this will be a humanitarian mission. 'The delegation will not be involved in the current political negotiations,' he said. 'However, we urge Zimbabwe’s political leaders to move swiftly to fully implement the 15 September agreement, particularly the provisions on humanitarian and food assistance. Delays in forming a government are prolonging the suffering of the people.'" The Elders to Visit Zimbabwe, The Elders.com, Nov. 14, 2008.
Thus, despite the nice labguage of humanitarianism, the humanitarian objective covered a deployment to force the hands of the negotiators on a deal that apparantly has already been approved by the international community.

"One of the Elders, former US President Jimmy Carter, said on Monday that the situation was 'much greater, much worse than anything we had ever imagined'. Mr Carter described the government in Harare as unwilling to communicate and said President Mugabe did not want to admit that there was a crisis, preferring instead to blame problems on what he called 'non-existent sanctions'." UN Calls for Rapid Zimbabwe Deal, supra.

Aaaah. . . Jimmy Carter, the global elite's most useful face. Now the curtain opens on the next act of the Zimbabwean opera buffa. In the meantime, the negotiations over the purchase price of the Zimbabwean state apparatus continues apace--

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