2008 June 30 Monday
Nicholas Kristof: If Only Mugabe Were White

If the tyrant Robert Mugabe was a white man he'd already be a dead man.

When the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith oppressed Zimbabweans in the 1970s, African countries rallied against it. Eventually, even the white racist government in South Africa demanded change and threatened to cut off electricity supplies if it didn’t happen.

Yet South African President Thabo Mbeki continues to make excuses for Mr. Mugabe — who is more brutal than Ian Smith ever was — out of misplaced deference for a common history in the liberation struggle. Zimbabweans suffered so much for so many decades from white racism that the last thing they need is excuses for Mr. Mugabe’s brutality because of his skin color.

The cost of Mugabe's rule has wiped out most of the progress that white rule brought to Zimbabwe.

Life expectancy in Zimbabwe has already dropped from the low 60s to the high 30s.

Kristof claims Britain squandered its influence by complaining loudly about the plight of white farmers. Think about that. Why should complaints about the mistreatment (killings, rapings, dispossessions, etc) of white farmers cost Britain the standing to oppose Mugabe? Because in the twisted liberal moral calculus one loses status by complaining about whites in a black country. It just isn't done.

Few people care about the fate of Africa. In America even few black people care. We do not hear the NAACP or the Congressional Black Caucus calling on the US government to overthrow Mugabe. Bill Gates isn't offering a big cash prize to mercenaries to overthrow Mugabe's government. Yet cash for mercenaries is a really cheap way to make Zimbabwe a better place. Compared to other ways the US spends foreign aid it would be far more cost effective.

Paul Wolfowitz thinks Mugabe should be offered retirement.

Most importantly, dramatic action by the international community could embolden other Africans to confront the tragedy in their backyard. One step would be to offer Mugabe an honorable way out. South Africa or some other country should offer Mugabe a safe and comfortable retirement if he leaves without further violence.

But Wolfowitz admits that does not always work. Why not try bullets? One bullet in the skull would retire Mugabe.

One of the more complicated cases is that of Charles Taylor in Liberia, because he was offered exactly such a deal to leave Liberia and go to Nigeria. And I think that was a good thing. But what he did once he got to Nigeria was terrible, because he kept using communications and probably money to keep stirring up trouble in Liberia, and so eventually the Nigerians handed him over to the court. If I were going to get very explicit, I would say any deal with Mugabe has to make sure that he is no longer interfering in the affairs of Zimbabwe. It really has to be the end.

Zimbabwe just had a travesty of an election.

So, how'd the voting go in Zimbabwe today? John Simpson, the BBC World Affairs editor, reporting from Harare, said the atmosphere of fear and intimidation was the worst thing "he has seen in 40 years of reporting."

Many voters reportedly believed they would be subject to violence and harassment if their fingers were not dipped in red ink, a sign that they had voted. Although this might mean that they cast a protest ballot for Mr. Tsvangirai, don't bet on it -- election officials and Mugabe goons are requring voters to write down the serial numbers of their ballots, so they will have a record of everyone who voted for the opposition.

Over at the Foreign Policy Passport blog Blake Hounsell explains Africa's leaders stayed quiet about Mugabe at an African Union meeting because he shares too many characteristics in common with them.

The Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, I think, gets it right when she attributes the silence to the fact that a lot of the other folks in the room have also stolen power and maintained it by force. I mean, what could they say? Steal the election more artfully? Mugabe pretty much said the same last week at a campaign rally: "I want to see that finger pointed at me and I will check if that finger is clean or dirty." I wonder, though, if the tone would be different were the summit held in a democratic African country, as opposed to Mubarak's Egypt. Nobody wants to insult the host.

Rather than complain about Mugabe and propose impractical solutions for Zimbabwe the fastest way to improve the quality of its government is to pay some mercs to overthrow Mugabe and kill him and his top henchmen. Make them dead. Do it quick. Offer big cash prizes for the mercs who pull it off. The Executive Outcomes mercenaries from South Africa did an excellent job in Sierra Leone stopping rebels from killing lots of people until the IMF forced the President of Sierra Leone to fire them. He got overthrown a few months later and the place decayed once again. If the IMF politically correct liberal-minded fools hadn't interfered the conditions in Sierra Leone would have improved.

Zimbabwe needs overthrow of a government rather than the beating back of rebels. A private army could get this done.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 June 30 10:41 PM  Cultural Wars Western

Stephen said at June 30, 2008 11:52 PM:

Perhaps. But its crucial that the right people do it. Overthrow must be internal, it must be driven by the people, otherwise it has no legitimacy.

I prefer another plan - leave Zimbabwe as an object lesson to the rest of Africa. Tribal loyalties + bad economics = national collapse

That said, its important to provide quick and substantial support to neighbouring countries so that they aren't overwhelmed by refugees (SA has some two million Zimbabweans at the moment, and I'm sure more are streaming across the border as we speak).

On the news last night the journalist held up a copy of an SA daily newspaper. He observed that in SA it cost 16 rand (or some such number), but in Zimbabwe the inflation adjusted price was 15 Billion Zimbabwean Dollars, up from a bargain price of 8 Billion at the start of the year.

Dragon Horse said at July 1, 2008 3:48 AM:

Time to educate Randall, who obviously knows little about Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe was never "rich" it was just better off for an African country, the local Africans were not anywhere near middle class international standards, they were still majority poor and lived under political repression (just as they do today under Mugabe, Ian Smith did it behind closed doors like the South Africans, as he was fond of torture in prison, ask Zimbabweans).

Money drives politics, here and everywhere. The only thing that happened after “minority rule” ended was political power shifted, but economic power remained in the same people’s hands, and only a handful of Mugabe followers got any benefit after they negotiated with the white land-owners. Basically they sold out so they could “get over”, and they became the face of the “new Zimbabwe” but they were bankrolled by the people who have always had the power, and they were not natives.

There were back room deals made to ensure nothing “happened to Smith” such as an “accident”, a trial”or prison. Why? Well the lives of 30 million or so blacks in Southern Africa were less important than the Soviet Threat, and this was the cold war. The whites in Zimbabwe and South Africa were fervent anti-communist, and more importantly South Africa mined chromium, a key component in the manufacturing of circuit boards and they did not sale this to the Soviets. They also had nukes and biological warfare weapons,and they had a strong interest in white controlled Zimbabwe and the way the “liberation” went down…because they were thinking about their future. America and Britain were thinking about the Cold War. This was the environment the negotiations of the future of “Rhodesia” were negotiated.

Thatcher and Reagan gave a lot of support to South Africa and Rhodesia, especially in the proxy war in Angola.

Notice what year majority rule returned to South Africa? Was it before or after the Berlin Wall fell? Keep your eye on the ball. :-)

In any case, there will be no happy medium reached in Zimbabwe as long as the majority of the land is not owned by the majority of the people.

Mugabe’s problem is his corruption, but also the fact he used the “land reclamation” issue to keep himself in power, but he never intended on land reform to the people, just to his buddies. He made a deal with the whites to get power, but when they didn’t do what he wanted the way he wanted, he thought he could change the rules of the game and they and Britain shut him down.

Who suffered in this power play? The people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe now has sky-high inflation to the point where people are fleeing to South Africa, former school teachers are prostituting, and kids are starving. That is due to British led sanctions. They are basically blockading the country due to their issues with Mugabe. The media talks all day long about “hyper inflation” and how bad it is, but they never talk about the cause. The cause is drought, sanctions, and botched land reform efforts. The media only mentions land reform, which is the least of the three. Why?

This issue gets very complicated….I think I will refer you to a source I actually trust to give some background on the situation. NYTimes and the BBC…nice for general info but I have caught them so many times in the last 3 years saying things about Japan and China that I know to be inaccurate (which I e-mail the editors about to no avail) I don’t take anything at face value to be true.

Try this:


Mugabe is corrupt and an populist authoritarian opportunist, but if he dies tomorrow of a heart attack or if he goes into exile, Zimbabwe will not be stable until the people get their land back. They didn’t fight a revolution to allow a colonizing minority that is less than 1% of the population to own 95% of the land, especially when everyone know the land was acquired by ill gotten gains.

So for me, Mugabe could have never taken advantage of this situation if the situation did not exist to begin with. He is a symptom of a larger and older problem.

This does not mean that I support people violently taking the farms. Reality is that whites have owned the land so long and acquired so much capital they have formed an oligarchy of concentrated power that will not give itself to free and fair competition. so the black Zimbabwean is free to be poor and work for the people who formerly oppressed them.

Catch 22 is, if you remove the farmers, they will take their capital with them and no one can replace them because the average native is not educated to run a modern farm.

In that situation they should agree to do it in phases, but faster than they were before, and screw that ‘willing buyer and seller crap”…in this world, you can buy almost everything else, but land is finite and it is power. Mugabe tried to do a Chinese Communist style land grab but the problem is, unlike Mao and the Chinese landlords, Mugabe had Britain backing up his landowners. The Chinese had nothing, they gave it up, got killed, or fled to Hong Kong, SE Asia, or Taiwan. Hell there was land reform in Taiwan as well, because even Chiang Kai Shek (Jiang Jie Shi) was not dumb enough to think he can have a vibrant economy with a minority of old school aristocrats owning everything. The communist in Mainland China could just outright shoot the landowners because they were bankrolled by the Soviets and had training team on the ground teaching modern farming techniques. Zimbabwe doesn’t have that kind of broker backing them, so they had to negotiate and allow the white colonizers to keep their land. Their was never a hope of an “equal settlement” being made, the natives didn’t have the clout even if Mugabe was legit. The French and the Brits freed up their land by killing their aristocrats…Zimbabweans don’t have the option.

So Mugabe has to go, but the land has to be liberated and redistributed fairly. If not, you will only get another Mugabe. He’s in his 80s, he is not long for the world…

Somehow I don’t think the UK would be stable if 95% of the best land was owned by foreigners, lets say the Japanese. The other 5% owned by people who had colluded with the Japanese to get into Parliament. I don’t think the average Brit would lay down for that. They should not expect anyone else to either.

People think Apartheid was about social repression based on racialism. Nope. Those were tools. Reality was, Apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe was about economics. It set up a system where a small oligarchy united by racialism could maximize “rent seeking behavior“ against the majority. It was about “anti-market sustainable wealth transfer”.

So after ‘white majority rule, ended in Zimbabwe” white elites said, “well we dug this hole for you, and we used the dirt to build up our platform. Out of the goodness of our heart we are now going to take our foot off your head, you climb out and up to our level by yourself.

See, that is fair and free. Everyone is equal. LOL

Average said at July 1, 2008 7:14 AM:

Blacks can't run a thing, whether it is a country like Zimbabwe or a city like Detroit. Period.

"So after ‘white majority rule, ended in Zimbabwe” white elites said, “well we dug this hole for you, and we used the dirt to build up our platform. Out of the goodness of our heart we are now going to take our foot off your head, you climb out and up to our level by yourself."

And the white man provided the shovels, dug the hole and then built the platform! You've been fooled, tricked, bamboozled, mislead! Then he took his foot off our heads and handed the country over to the Brothers! And we had to make something of ourselves, the bastards! We didn't land on the kopje, the kopje landed on us, in Masavingo!

Settle down there Dragon Horse X!

And I knew I was just a matter of time before you got to blaming whites. You could have saved lots of time and pixels instead of using all that blather as filler. In other words, whites handed a nation over to blacks who proceeded to fuck it up.

Randall Parker said at July 1, 2008 5:38 PM:


Most of the Zimbabwe workforce have fled the country.

If you do not want external forces to overthrow Mugabe you are basically arguing for a continuation of the status quo.

Dragon Horse,

I will say it again: You need to edit. You need to ask yourself what points you really want to get across. Cut down. Make those points clearly. Try numbering them.

Farmers: No, they didn't take their capital. They were forced off of farms in many cases over night. Whitey is not to blame.

Percent ownership of land: Well, what about all the non-farmers? Are they also poor because few own the farms?

Dragon Horse said at July 1, 2008 8:27 PM:


This situation is complicated.

1 - If The Irish were given independence and the Brits still owned 70% of the good land do you think there will be stability? I don't even think we would be having this conversation? Do you think the IRA would tolerate that situation or will they start blowing up and setting fire to Brits? I'm pretty sure Japanese people could farm British land better than those the English, but somehow I think the English would object to almost all their farm land being controlled by "foreign invaders" from another continent. What do you think?

2 - Mugabe is a thug megalomaniac, Britain failed to live up to their end of the bargain and gave him a wedge issue to maintain power. Its that simple. He used the war veterans and the Zanu-PF in a way to acquire power by sympathy...once he got it he went nuts. Mugabe, in my opinion needs to die. That is besides the point because if he is killed it will be someone else unless the root issue that causes the instability is fixed.

3 - You cry all day about immigrants and settlers and how Hispanics want a reconquistadora, blah blah...but your racialism does not allow you to realize that the fathers and grandfather's of these same whites got this land the same way the people are taking it back. Often by intimidation, crooked land deals, rape, murder, etc. Read about Mugabe's life? He was also tortured along with many others just for suspicious that they knew people against the white supremacist government. This is well documented. These people were historically farmers could feed themselves for a very long time before Brits showed up. As far as I'm concerned they are invaders and if they want to stay in the country have to make serious concessions as far as land redistribution. That being said, there are far better ways to do it, and that way was agreed upon but that agreement was not lived up to by Britain, primarily due to the politics of the Cold War as I explained.

4 - Mandela did not advocate the expulsion of whites off of land in South Africa because he knew it would hurt the nation as the blacks were not ever trained to run big farms under the previous government, so it would take time for that niche to be filled by the indigenous people...Mugabe didn't care about that, obviously because he has other goals (insanity).

5 - As far as the nonfarmers, they are poor for a variety of reasons, one is they were only allowed so much education under the previous government (just like in South Africa) because uneducated people are easy to control. After Mugabe took over he did nothing to help this situation because he was worried about his own personal power. As I said, he has to go. They did nothing to prepare those people to take over and they were obviously not prepared, as they could not even hold managerial level work under the old government. So what do you expect to happen? Somehow magically people would become enlightened and start running complex enterprises and government agencies? LOL If I kept you as my butler and only allowed you to learn and do that and then one day I died and left you my company as soul shareholder and you run it into the ground or have no clue what to do with it...and obviously hostel relatives of mine are against you, and the people who say they will help you don't do it and you bankrupt it I guess that is 100% your fault because you were just too stupid. LOL

Dragon Horse said at July 1, 2008 8:35 PM:

Hey Average:

Go to Bermuda...

Is "average" in relation to you IQ?

If you weren't so concerned about me "blaming" your co-racialists like a child, you would have seen I blamed various people for Zimbabwe, including Mugabe and the Zanu-PF, who last time I checked were black, who I would like to see have bullets in their head. That being said there is plenty of blame to go around...then again I think that would be obvious to someone of the meanest intellect...guess not.

Stephen said at July 1, 2008 8:53 PM:

I'd be happy if it were done by Zimbabweans - irrespective of whether they were inside Zimbabwe or refugees on its borders. If that were to happen it will follow the usual African model - long running low intensity internecine warfare with no clear winner.

I doubt the African Union has either the willpower or capacity to conduct any major military operations against Zimbabwe. And there's no oil there so the west won't get directly involved.

Average said at July 1, 2008 9:34 PM:

Yes, yes Dragon Horse, I'm an idiot. Your little theory about Zimbabwe sounds like a black paranoid conspiracy theory anyway. "Why YT gave the Brothers a country they knew wuz fucked up and knowin' we would fail! Damn that hole sure is deep!"

Go sell your crazy somewhere else, we're all stocked up here. I'm sure it is just a matter of time before you feel the same about SA. But at least you posted a shorter comment! I suppose it is progress of a sort...

Big Bill said at July 1, 2008 10:36 PM:

Dragon horse, the black majority DOES own the majority of the land. Indeed, they own all of it. Yes they ARE stupid and cannot run large farms. But they can hire white folks to run the farms for them and tell them what to do. They choose not to.

Sadly, it is not the lack of a college education that hurts the natives but their own innate ignorance. Their general intelligence is so low that they require an intelligent person to direct them in their day-to-day activities if they are to make enough to support themselves at an above-subsistence level. And their just aren't enough smart white folks or smart black folks to go around.

Your attempt to equate Mugabe and the white farmers because the people were "still poor" (i.e. no change from white rule to black rule) is silly. Under Mugabe the economy has been destroyed, the population run off and the life expectancy has been cut by 30 years under Mugabe as compared to Ian Smith rule. He has exiled one half of his own people and stolen half the life span of the remaining ones, and they STILL vote for him.

Would the English tolerate the Japanese owning their farmland? Of course they would! They have no racial restrictions on land ownership. Hell, if they tried to, you would be the first to call them evil racist b@stards, Dragon Horse. And if the English were starving and the Japanese promised to feed them with their own land and add 30 years to their lifespan AND create jobs for 20% of the English population, I imagine they would be positively cheering in the streets when the Japanese tractors rolled through. Why would any sane, reasonably intelligent person choose death over life?

The problem is the same all over. The Smart Fraction of these black countries is so tiny that the only way to get white people (or smart black people, for that matter) to stay in these countries and keep them at anywhere near a first world level is to give them a disparate portion of the wealth. If you cut off that wealth, the white people--not being morons--will just emigrate to white countries where they can invest their talents for a much better return. If your labors have to support not only yourself and your family, but ten ignorant black peasants as well, you are just going to leave and let them sink back to their natural level.

You suggest that the white farmers of Zimbabwe were somehow wealthy and living off of the blacks. To the contrary, the Zim farmers were not getting rich off their farm laborers. They lived about as well as an American farmer lived. If you expect them to live even poorer, you also have to expect them to leave -- just like black African doctors, scientists, engineers, nurses and other professionals leave to go live among white folks in North America and Europe.

White folks brought a first world economy to Zim, lifted the people out of the Stone Age. Now Zim has expelled white folks and is returning to the natural Stone Age culture it had before white folks arrived 110 years ago -- with South Africa soon to follow. What else would one expect? The Zim farmers now own the land and are eking out a pathetic existence scrabbling in the dirt with wooden hoes planting a few square feet of corn. They own the land and they will die in Stone Age poverty hoeing it in their miserable little plots. I just don't see how owning the land makes them better off.

tommy said at July 2, 2008 12:00 AM:

I suspect we could have overthrown Mugabe and brought democratic rule to Burma for a small fraction of the cost of our intervention in Iraq. Too bad!

Stephen said at July 3, 2008 4:29 AM:

tommy, a military overthrow wouldn't be difficult for any western country. The harder question is "...what happens after the overthrow?"

Randall Parker said at July 3, 2008 12:31 PM:


Maybe you do not understand just how incredibly bad things are in Zimbabwe? What do you think the Zimmers would lose if their government was overthrown? Do you think things could get worse when the life expectancy has already dropped in half and most working age people have left?

Why not spend, say, $50 million or even $200 million to pay mercenaries to overthrow Mugabe and his top lieutenants? We could announce that we recognize the government of this other guy who just dropped out of the election. The mercs could take over the top office buildings of government and let this guy in along with whoever he says is part of his government.

This would be easy to do. It can't make things worse. Doing nothing means things get worse.

Stephen said at July 3, 2008 11:46 PM:

So Randall, are you saying that Zimbabwe has the cultural and institutional sophistication to run a democratic government? Do you have any reason to believe that the replacement guy is anything more than the next dictator in the queue?

I don't dispute that things are bad. However, short of intra-national genocide or inter-national aggression, the historical lesson is that foreign military expeditions merely extend the pain by substituting one thug for another.

Famine etc should be left to the Red Cross as usual.

Randall Parker said at July 4, 2008 10:52 AM:


Zimbabwe is doing worse than its neighbors. It is doing so much worse that people in Zimbabwe are leaving to work in the neighboring countries. These neighbors are better governed.

Mugabe is worse than the leaders of almost every (or all?) other African country. The odds are quite favorable that a different leader would be better.

Sometimes I think you intentionally turn away from the obvious because you want the world to play out in a certain way. Oh, locals uprising and overthrowing the government sounds so, well, mass participatory. But look at how incredibly bad things have gotten in Zim without that happening. Look at how far better the place used to be. Look at its neighbors. Africa is going to be messed up. But it doesn't have to be that messed up.

Stephen said at July 4, 2008 7:04 PM:

Zimbabwe is doing worse than its neighbors

Take a snapshot right now and you'd be right - Zimbabwe is doing worse than its neighbours. However, the better analysis is to look at Africa over the last 40, 30, 20 or even 10 years. Do that and you'll see plenty of other kleptocratic (or worse, psychopathic) governments that have been equal to or much worse than the Mugabe.

My point is that Mugabe is just the most recent in a long line of authoritarians, so I disagree that "The odds are quite favorable that a different leader would be better". As an example, look at Uganda - was a hell hole, currently less of one, now heading back again, and all the time its been governed by a series of kleptocratic rulers who violently suppressed potential rivals.

As for the Zimbabwean refugees (they're not 'leaving to work', its worse than that, they're actual refugees), as I said in the first comment to your article we should provide urgent and massive support to the neighbouring countries because those countries don't have the capacity/resources to handle the large number of refugees without western assistance.

But look at how incredibly bad things have gotten in Zim without that happening. Look at how far better the place used to be.

That's the kind of thinking that led you to support the Iraq fiasco...

Stephen said at July 4, 2008 7:36 PM:

sorry, my Iraq war remark was a cheap shot.

Randall Parker said at July 5, 2008 1:07 PM:


Regarding the Iraq fiasco: John Derbyshire argued we should have invaded Iraq, overthrown Hussein, and then immediately left. Then no fiasco afterwards. I'm arguing for something incredibly minimal as compared to that: Pay some mercs to overthrow a government. Mercs did a very cost effective intervention in Sierra Leone. They could do the same in Zim.

Massive support for neighbouring countries: It is cheaper to overthrow bad governments than to run massive aid programs. Zimbabwe produces $200 per capita. By contrast Mozambique produces $800 per capita. Zambia is tearing up with $1300 per capita.

Though that poverty in Zimbabwe still hasn't managed to get bad enough to shrink the population which is still growing at over .5% per year. To lower fertility in Africa we need to provide satellite soap operas and free TVs (powered by solar panels?) to towns in Africa.

Stephen said at July 5, 2008 11:23 PM:

The fundamental problem is that your scenario assumes that the mercenary operation happens and then everyone lives happily ever after. It doesn't work that way. Instead, it would become a political necessity that the US Executive be able to prove that their 'investment' in Zimbabwe was justified.

To that end, the Executive will provide an immediate aid package of $200 million (nominally for schools and hospitals, but most will be siphoned into Swiss bank accounts of the new regime's leadership), then the Executive will want to spend $100 million equipping the local armed forces (they'll need new generals too because the mercenaries won't be capable of doing it, and anyway, its non-PC to have white faces running a black army), then they'll want to take the opportunity to spend a few more hundred million building a military base there (never forget the imperative for imperial power projection), oh, throw in another $50 million for a nice embassy.

Next, the Executive will want the new regime to have an election so that the Executive can market it back home as proof they've 'brought democracy' to Zimbabwe. That might be a bit of a problem because the new regime, armed with a massive shipment of weapons and ammo paid for by the US, will be carrying out reprisals against the old regime. Oh, in that part of the world reprisals inevitably extend to tribal conflict - so expect plenty of the weapons to be handed out to the new regime's tribe, then expect plenty of civilians to be killed and factor in a few thousand gang rapes carried out by the new regime's army (rape is a standard tool of government over there).

When the usual guerrilla war breaks out the Executive will be willing to write a blank cheque to support their puppet regime leader (dumping him won't be possible because they don't have any other candidates with any legitimacy and anyway, dumping would imply Executive error and the Executive will spend billions to cover up those). To that end, they'll send military advisors, then they'll send special forces, then they'll provide air support, then the marines will start to sortie out of the nice new base they're building.

By now we're up to, say, $1 billion sunk costs, and monthly recurrent costs of say $10 million.

Oh, and then there'll be the inevitable incident where a US soldier machine guns some villagers. The Executive might want to have a press release ready to go that'll explain that its not clear what happened, but if anything did happen it was probably terrorists, in any event there'll be an inquiry).

Then things start to get interesting!

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2008 8:42 AM:


The United States spends $3 billion a week in Iraq.

US soldiers in Zim? I see no need for that. Again, think mercs. No need for a military base.

I'm not saying that what I propose can ever get the green light. But one of the reasons cheap and far more effective foreign policy can't get done is that so many people reflexively oppose such proposals.

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