The People Are The Enemy

There’s not a lot to say about Zimbabwe that I have not already said. Things are bad, they don’t look to get better, they have the potential to get even worse, hard as that is to imagine. It’s not about Mugabe the person as much as the military, police and top leadership of ZANU-PF. The named political institutions visible on the surface of the Zimbabwean government are now completely hollowed out by the steady violence of the party elite and military-police leadership against any civic institutions, against anyone who actually tries to exercise meaningfully constructive administrative power, against anything but their own power. Under the circumstances, I think Morgan Tsvangirai had no choice but to withdraw from the run-off, though he and his party also never seem to me to have anticipated or thought through what they were doing.

There remains little that most outside interests can do. Even most sanctions don’t strike me as being potentially effective. I had to really stifle a thunderbolt of rage at one posting on a scholarly listserv that I read when one scholar proferred the argument that although Mugabe is a tyrant, it’s really the fault of the United States and Great Britain, and that the real political challenge is to keep them from interfering. That’s a tragic case of stupid addiction to old dogma, dogma that was analytically wrong-headed in the first place. If I could think of a way for the US and UK to usefully interfere beyond what they’re doing already, I’d encourage them to do it. Western intellectuals and scholars concerned with Africa often still treat sovereignty as an obsessive and magical political objective, as if its mere fact insures a better world.

Or more dubiously, treat some African states today as if they have yet to achieve sovereignty. I think it’s perfeclty fair to say that there are postcolonial states in Africa who have never had a functioning government, nor have ever achieved any kind of central control over the territory marked for them on the map. Zimbabwe is not one of those states. The people in power now, who have been in power for twenty-eight years, have long had a great measure of control over their territory. Zimbabwe is the opposite of the conventional “failed state”: its rulers have very significant capacity for violence and political control across most of their national territory, even with the economy in tatters. It demonstrates perfectly that the mere achievement of sovereign power and strong governmental authority guarantees nothing, improves nothing. When some contemporary Zimbabweans mutter that the last twenty years or so of Rhodesian power were preferable to the last decade of independence, it’s hard to disagree. That this statement alone is more likely to horrify concerned Western liberals than any number of ghastly utterances by Zimbabwean authorities in the last decade says a lot about the limited perspectives of those liberals. It’s not that we should have to choose between Smith’s Rhodesia and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: the former was forever stunted, the latter an unending disaster. The problem is with those who believed and sometimes continue to believe that the mere fact of succession by Mugabe over Smith was progress in its own right.

South Africa’s leaders, and to a lesser extent other southern African governments, do have meaningful leverage. As I’ve written in a number of places, they’re not likely to exercise it with some important exceptions because they define their achievement of sovereignty in negative terms against the West, that they are only sovereign as long as they don’t appear to be doing the bidding of the West. Moreover, some, very much including Mbeki and probably Jacob Zuma, don’t want to condemn some of what the Zimbabwean authorities have done because they want to notionally reserve the right to do the same things at some future date. The Zimbabwean government violently cleared out urban populations that they saw as a political danger and a visible sign of disorder; other postcolonial states have done and may anticipate doing similar things. The Zimbabwean government has and is using violence to manage or curtail ostensibly democratic processes, to seize property, to crush the press. Thabo Mbeki made it clear in his time in power that he sees independent or critical forces within civil society as a temporary encumbrance.

The Zimbabwean state is not alone in the world in its undisguised loathing for its own population, as we’ve seen in the last year. One of the interesting problems for the 21st Century is, “How can such a state survive?” The tragic answer so far seems to be, “Rather easily”. The only states which seem in danger of serious, rapid political transformation in the present (as in the past) are those in which the rising expectations of social classes with some independence from governmental power and some measure of independent access to global circulations of money and information push back hard against authoritarian overreach. Zimbabwe or Myanamar are not in that kind of circumstance and for the near-term they’re not likely to be.

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34 Responses to The People Are The Enemy

  1. How does Zuma’s reliance on the (definetly anti-mugabe) ANC’s leftwing fit into that ?

    Does you think he’ll forgo his promises to them as soon as he gets in office ?

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Yeah, probably. Because Mbeki’s reluctance to call out Mugabe isn’t just personal, so I think some of it is going to be an inherited position. Plus I think Zuma is likely to have the same reluctance as Mbeki in terms of reserving the right to take at least some of the same kind of actions, and not wanting to concede the legitimacy of outside criticism.

  3. I need to re-read myself before i type “send”. Those typos are not a good look.

  4. Ruben J says:

    I listened to Robert Seigel interview Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, on All Things Considered last night, and Charamba gave an unflappable defense of sovereignty. It rested on denying violence or chalking it up to imperialist agitprop, but that was the only acknowledgment he made about facts on the ground. He absorbed any rhetorical critique into a bad faith imperialist story. I don’t know how you crack that front.

    And if there’s no use in trying to flap someone who asks, “How can a pen fight with a gun?” then it does seem dire indeed. You’ve written before that you can only influence a country’s leadership if they still have a capacity for shame. At the same time, that a select few neighbors can make some claim on Zimbabwe. Does the U.S. have any pull with South Africa or other neighbors? Have Clinton or Bush made the attempt?

  5. AKShutt says:

    Several years ago–in 2005 I think–I said to a Zimbabwean friend, “surely this can’t get worse”, and he simply replied, “why not”? Why not indeed. One of the best concise accounts I’ve read of the historical threads of the rhetoric of sovereignty is Luise White’s The Assassination of Herbert Chitepo. I’ve been hoping for the middle ring of the party to rise up in their pragmatic interests, and perhaps they have in some respects or they have tried (at party conferences and the like), but Mugabe and his loyalists do seem to be able to wiggle out of party troubles. I doubt that Bush or Clinton have much impact on Zimbabwe (though some Americans might believe that we’re making some difference). South Africa is important though, and I’m not sure that South Africa and Mbeki won’t change course at this juncture. Tim is right, Mbeki’s approach to Mugabe isn’t personal, it does seem etched in ANC politics, but those politics are about to change as well with Zuma who leads a different section of the party.

  6. mencius says:

    Professor Burke,

    Frankly, this is a pretty ballsy post, and I have to more or less salute it.

    (I’d watch out, however, for any use of the word liberal in a pejorative or even negative context. It is all too easy to sound like Rush Limbaugh. If you stick with progressive, you can say the same thing and it sounds less hateful.)

    Do you have a position on the Muzorewa period? Have you researched the elections that produced Muzorewa, the observers who validated that election, etc?

    It certainly strikes me that this post pushes you well into Muzorewa territory. This is not Huggins-Welensky territory, and certainly not Smith territory – let alone Burton, Carlyle and Froude. (Also, for sheer, desperate bravado in stating the anti-progressive case: Semmes.) But every journey begins with a single step, n’est ce pas?

    Since it’s not nice to carp at problems without proposing constructive solutions, here is mine: restore the British South Africa Company, chartering it under Cecil Rhodes’ motto of equal rights for all civilized men.

    For oomph, the new BSAC can sell some stock and use the capital to rent Blackwater, half of whose staff already appears to consist of washed-up African white nazis. Give the combo ten years to turn Rhodesia into something at least vaguely resembling Dubai. And if it can’t, let it pass as a county palatine to Barack Obama and his heirs indefinite.

  7. Timothy Burke says:

    My view of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. .

    BSAC and subsequent “responsible government” rule was predatory, incompetent and corrupt (perhaps in the 1950s and 1960s, less so than the RF after 1961, however), long before we get to the fact that Cecil Rhodes’ motto was a lie and that the main genesis of African nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s all across the continent lay in the fact that it and similar promises were lies. Look back at the early careers of Mugabe, Muzorewa, Sithole, Chitepo and many other Zimbabwean nationalists, and you usually find a well-educated, intelligent man who was told that he’d hit the limit of his professional ambitions as an underling, not because of his abilities but because he was the wrong color.

    If you want one good example of that which should worry even an ardent free-marketer, the Maize Control Acts were straightforwardly intended to keep African farmers from producing maize for market in order to give white farmers privileged prices. One of the underexamined aspects of southern African economic history from about 1860 to 1920, in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa, is that at least some Africans responded quite vigorously to capitalist markets–as long as the wages and commodity prices on offer were relatively “free” in their determination (e.g., as long as potential employers had to offer wages which were actually incentives to do mine or farm labor, and as long as white commodity buyers had to pay commodity prices at which African farmers were willing to sell surplus grain and cattle). It took an extensive state regime of racially-structured wage and price suppression to change that response. So getting all moony about the BSAC doesn’t make much sense, unless what you’re getting moony about is the notion that a racially-defined oligarchy with a hypocritical motto is progress. If on the other hand what you like is the motto: “equal rights for all civilized men”, then you need to put on your thinking cap and ask what kind of state or society secures something like that.

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    (By the way, Mencius, I’m a little puzzled that you worry about the pejorative use of ‘liberal’ while unloading nasty stuff like “a country palatine to Barack Obama and his heirs”…)

  9. mencius says:

    Professor Burke,

    What’s nasty about “a county palatine to Barack Obama and his heirs?” I consider it a compliment. I’d love to see Europe split back up into about five hundred county palatines, and one would certainly be lucky to get a royal family with the Obama touch, which is nothing if not regal, for each of them. Or, for example, I think you could do a great temporary job switch with Obama and al-Maktoum of Dubai. I suspect both of them would learn a lot – especially Obama, who strikes me as very adaptable.

    It’s pretty impressive that you can justify bringing death and destruction to an entire country based on the complaint that a few men, each of whom was actually a stunning success when judged by the standards of his own peer group, were not treated with absolute fairness in their careers. A lot of people in this world aren’t fairly treated in their careers. You don’t seem to have been one of them, fortunately, so perhaps you have not experienced the response that most of us have: deal, and get on with it.

    The other day I was in a dim sum place on Clement Street in San Francisco, and the proprietess refused to serve me because I was white. Somehow, like ten Chinese people managed to just walk in the door and be in line in front of me. Was I a little annoyed? I was certainly a little annoyed. Am I aware that Chinese people, as a very broad average, are congenitally smarter than white people, and probably more civilized as well? I am. Although frankly, I suspect this specimen was a bit of an exception.

    In the pursuit of your Exeter Hall god, you have elevated ordinary personal rudeness and stupidity to the level of a crime against the Lord himself. Imagine if, instead of a list of men whose careers had been stunted under Rhodesian rule, you had posted a list of victims of some brutal act of personal violence and destruction. Under Rhodesian rule, of course. I’m sure there was at least one heinous murder per year, in Rhodesia. There was probably a lot of physical assault, fistfighting, all kinds of old-school testosterone crap. Perhaps you could put up that list, to add to all your ruined careers.

    Was prewar Rhodesia a happy, perfect place? Were all its laws ideal? Was it governed by you and your friends? The answers are no, no, and no. Unfortunately, present Zimbabwe is not a happy, perfect place, its laws are not all ideal, and it is not governed by you and your friends – though I’d lay even odds it will be in the next five years.

    And somehow, you still have a career – unlike poor Herbert Chitepo. Whose career was so limited that he became Rhodesia’s first black barrister. Perhaps he was insufficiently successful as a barrister. Perhaps this was due to (gasp) racism. Perhaps that’s why he went to the hills and became a murderous bandit, and was eventually killed by the Rhodesian army. Tears are running down my face. Tears of sadness they are not.

    And as for the people who warned you (and your school of colonial policy, Exeter Hall, which has held the upper hand in Anglo-American foreign relations for at least the last 150 years) that this was exactly what would happen, you write as if they never existed.

  10. mencius says:

    And as for “equal rights for all civilized men,” since I am after all a bit of a Jacobite, I’ll have to go with absolute monarchy on that one, preferably under the Stuarts.

    Are you aware that the legitimate Stuart line has been sucked into the princely family of Liechtenstein, Europe’s last working royals, and very good at it they seem as well? Bit of a coincidence, that. Perhaps something could be done about it.

    If you’re thinking of democracies, however, they tend to end in tears. Whether the voters are black or white, though the results seem a little better with white ones. Fortunately, since our “politicians” are strictly forbidden to either formulate policy or select employees, our system of government cannot be described as a “democracy” in the sense that, say, John Adams used the word. It is a civil-service state, like the EU or the USSR. This has its own problems, but it’s a heck of a lot better than a democracy.

    Probably like yours, my aesthetic sense is not particularly satisfied by any regime on the planet today, but I’m pretty partial to Singapore and Dubai, and to a lesser extent the PRC. The great figure of the second half of the 20th century – certainly the great reactionary figure – is Deng Xiaoping, whom I view much the way you see Mandela. A distant relative of mine was recently hired to run one of the new universities in the UAE, and he says the local sheik is a really great guy. I suspect his streets are clean, too, and I am quite confident that he does not “necklace” his enemies.

    Students of the 19th and 20th centuries generally misunderstand the progress of liberal nationalism (the “good” nationalism, not the “bad” nationalism) and democracy. They do not represent any kind of impending proximity to the millennium, except in the strictly temporal sense. They simply represent the increasing power of the British and American spheres of influence.

    Today the US deals with the entire world as a 19th-century power dealt with its sphere. The UN, for example, is essentially the Good Neighbor Policy for the world, and Good Neighbor was not so different from the Monroe Doctrine as commonly supposed. When the US or the UK creates good government in its puppet states, the result is (in my book) good. When it creates bad government, the result is bad. Either way, the protecting power has complete moral responsibility for the government of the protectorate. I hope this doesn’t strike anyone as an appallingly tortuous line of reasoning.

    The US has been exporting republicanism, small-r, for its entire history. Sometimes this has done some good, but for the most part it has been a disaster for us and the world alike. Frankly, I think the best general policy that the US can take toward sub-Saharan Africa is to unilaterally declare it in the Chinese sphere of influence, and forget about the place for twenty or thirty years. At the very least, State should close its embassies, the press and NGOs should withdraw, and the same condition of international relations that benefits Somaliland as we speak should be made to pertain. At the very, very least, listen to James Shikwati: “Just stop the aid!”

    Of course, this would mean a lot of expensively-educated white people would need to find something else to do with their lives. But surely this is not one’s primary concern.

  11. peter55 says:

    It is odd, isn’t it, that we seem to be back 30-odd years: an undemocratic, murderous regime in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) led by a shameless, recalcitrant, racist, and our only hope of regime change is pressure being brought to bear on him by the Government of South Africa. Just as with Smith and Vorster, the South Africans feel (or, at least, profess) affinity with their kith and kin north of the Zambezi, and refuse to bring pressure to bear.

    And, just as in the late 70s, the two regimes are not really affines. Vorster and his buddies had been interned during WW II for membership of the pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag, while Smith was off in Europe flying for the RAF. (Indeed, the Rhodesian Government even sent an army unit to the border with South Africa at the outbreak of WW II, in case the South Africans opted for the Nazi side in the war and decided to invade.)

    Mbeki and the ANC were the sworn enemies of ZANU-PF while both were fighting white settler colonialism, so much so that the ANC was only just permitted to be represented in Zimbabwe after 1980. (They were lucky — the USSR had to wait 2 years to open an embassy in Harare. ) No brotherly solidarity from ZANU-PF there, no staging posts for southerly incursions, no Mkhonto-we-Sizwe troops stationed in Bulawayo or Mutare, not even any refugees to speak of. Instead, during the 1980s, monthly “border-co-ordination” meetings between the top brass of the Zimbabwean and South African militaries, where General Rex Nhongo (CiC of the Zimbabwe Armed Forces) could joke with his white opposite number about whether the secret agents of the South African Defence Force inside Zimbabwe had managed to kill another ANC representative or not.

  12. peter55 says:

    In para 1 of the previous comment, I experienced a slip of the keyboard and wrote “Zambezi” where I meant to write “Limpopo”.

  13. Timothy Burke says:

    Mencius, having a conversation with you is roughly like being Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy Van Pelt’s football. Though you do seem to take the “reactionary” idea rather seriously, trying to insult me as though I were Bishop Colenso or Arthur Cripps and you were a letter writer to the Times in 1923. It’s an entertaining bit of dinner theater, but that’s about as seriously as I can take it, at least as you offer it here.

  14. Timothy Burke says:

    Though on the other hand, for very different reasons, I tend to view much of “development” as you do. So it’s not impossible to have a conversation–but if you’re going to insist that one is either a reactionary, monarchist, formalist or whatever label you’re going to hang on your position, or one is evil, contemptible, and worth nothing but abuse, why are you hanging around here? What do you expect to get out of the discussion except a straw man to beat upon? If that’s all, then you’ve got a blog of your own where you can assemble a straw army readily enough. If you’re here, one of the basic starting premises is that I’m a liberal (in the 19th Century sense certainly, and on some but not all positions the 21st Century US sense as well). Either that’s a starting premise that interests you, or that you think you have some useful engagement with, or that poses some interesting problems for your own point-of-view that you want to work out in dialogue. Or it’s anathema–and if so, really, what am I or any other reader here going to get out of listening to you play the itinerant preacher ranting and raving at the gathering with your nose pressed against the glass?

  15. mencius says:

    Professor Burke,

    All I can ask from someone who disagrees with my admittedly-unpopular views is an explanation of why, how, etc. Broad disagreement, as “liberal” versus “reactionary” or “Whig” versus “Tory” or whatever, does not – as you point out – contribute anything.

    Obviously our interpretations of history and society don’t match. This means you disagree with my interpretations. But my interpretations seem right to me, because they are my interpretations. So I offer them as reality, expecting to be contradicted. But what creates communication is a detailed response, not a general one.

    My experience is that when I get anything like this detailed response, it usually surprises me. I am not good at predicting others’ beliefs. Thus discussion is valuable – for me, at least. On your side, perhaps at least you have a better idea of what you’re missing out on by working in a reactionary-free environment.

    If you’re uncomfortable playing a character in Dr. Johnson’s debates in the Senate of Lilliput, of course, I can respect that. However, my basic contention is that you think and act more as an unofficial policymaker than as a historian in the traditional sense – “manipulating procedural outcomes,” as you put it – and thus it is fair to treat you as a pre-20C parliamentarian treated his peers across the aisle.

    But perhaps it is more polite and to the point to ask simple questions, one by one. If so: when judging a government, do you judge it (a) solely by its actions, or also (b) by the ethnic origin of its executives or other employees, or (c) by the procedures by which its officials were selected? If your answer is anything but (a), how is this consistent with the best interests of the residents of the country?

    BTW, my father was an FSO who served a tour in Nigeria, so I suspect our opinions on development are more similar than you might think. The difference is that to a Tory the disaster fits a pattern, whereas to a Whig it remains a surprise.

  16. Timothy Burke says:

    Now that’s interesting, because I’d say the follies of development fit a pattern for me as well, but once upon a time, I agree that they didn’t. In philosophical terms, I’m completely open to adding new insights, just not to holding to a fixed and immobile dogma. So the failure of development now makes sense to me from the standpoint of a historical perspective on institutions and the state that I have thought through with the help of Foucault, Hayek, Scott; but also from a view that utopian hubris is dangerous and just as likely to cause unintended and unexpected outcomes that I get in different ways from Edmund Burke and complex-systems theory. None of which is incompatible, in my view, with a belief in liberal personhood, etc., or in a pragmatism about the state, bureaucracies, policies, institutions, etc. in particular instances and cases. In this, I’m more like William Easterly, willing to countenance new approaches as long as they finally come to grips with the systematic failure of development practice to date. Theory isn’t anything more than a premonition: when you decide to come to grips with the world as it is, has been and might be, it should never be a constraint.

    I think that’s how I answer the question about judging governments. I judge them by the particulars of their history, by the fallabilities, failures, strengths, possibilities that they actually possessed. Different kinds of judgments apply to different questions. “From where did that government come, and what were the consequences of its existence?” “How did that government compare with others of its sort, that grew under similar historical conditions” and “Is that government a good model, or something I should admire, or does it have something to commend it to the present and future”? These are really different kinds of questions, but I prefer dealing with all of them in terms of the specifics and messiness of history, rather than on some massive theoretical grid that has all of its places marked out in advance.

    So take Southern Rhodesia, later Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe. From where did it come? Beyond the generalities of the Scramble for Africa and the “new imperialism”, what was its specific genesis? Most specifically, it came from Rhodes and the Rand, and from financial speculation in London. Think of it as a tulip frenzy, or an e-commerce bubble. It didn’t come from “equal rights for civilized men”: there *were* liberal imperialists who were driven by that kind of idea (Livingstone was one of them) but Rhodes was not. So when Southern Rhodesia turned out not to be a “second Rand”, the speculators and settlers needed something else as a payout. Hence the building of settler agriculture through land alienation and deliberate sabotaging of African participation in market exchange. These don’t strike me as inevitable developments, and they did have destructive consequences. After 1923, in many respects, Southern Rhodesia’s administration of African affairs was “ordinary imperialism”, with its flaws but also its interesting complexities. I’ve come to see indirect rule as a strikingly contemporary, complex and morally ambivalent formulation of some of the same kinds of problems in interstate relations, intervention, liberalism, cultural difference, etc. that bedevil global society today. But the early decision to build up settler agriculture also laid the groundwork for UDI–and honestly, Smith and his associates may have been right about Mugabe, but many of them were also cynical blusterers, and painfully short-sighted. There’s a huge difference in the one district I study closely between the competency and complexity of imperial administration between 1920-1945 and the RF loyalists who came onto the stage after 1955. But in any event, if the question is, “What was this government, from where did it come, what were its consequences?”, I think the answers to those questions are complex, worth investigating, and not reducible to dogma or invective. Same for comparing it with other regimes of its kind in its time and place.

    If the question is, “Is it a good model for anything in the future”, I really honestly say, “Oh my god, not at all”, and that’s even (especially) if you find the administrative competence and economic prosperity of Singapore and Dubai attractive. Again, imagine if Singapore were administered on the basis that three-quarters of its population were permanently excluded from economic and educational equality. I’m not talking the vote or conventional liberal rights here–imagine if Singapore had a law that specified that three-quarters of its population, if they chose to start a business, would have a special tax levied upon them while at the same time special tax forgiveness would be granted to the other 25%. In the 1910s, peri-urban African farmers in Southern Rhodesia were selling maize to white farmers, mine owners, and urban communities, both for cattle feed and for human consumption. They were consolidating land claims near the cities, putting more land under cultivation and they were plowing some of the money they were making back into educating their children. The Rhodesian state systematically went about sabotaging that response in order to protect white farmers from competition. When “civilized men” of African descent presented themselves in very short order after the establishment of colonial rule, they were systematically excluded from professional and institutional life–this isn’t one person we’re talking about, but several generations. It’s not the same as people jumping the queue in a restaurant, really it’s not. On the other side of things, whites in Southern Rhodesia before 1950 were the beneficiaries of generous import subsidies intended to improve their standard of living (as well as subsidized land prices), and were given privileged access to both business and government. There were some enormously skilled, competent, meritocratic men (and women) in Rhodesian commerce and government, but there were also a large number of cronies, hacks, and ne’er-do-wells. You might well reply that this is true of all modern governments, but it’s a different kind of thing when they are there because of their skin color alone. That *is* an action by which that government can be judged–the procedures by which people are selected are actions. Now there were also hardscrabble settler farmers who benefitted from none of this (Alexandra Fuller’s memoir is a great treatment of their world), and I think they raise another range of questions. (Though people like the Fullers mostly came after 1945, actually.)

    But all of this is also why I wouldn’t think anyone would look at Southern Rhodesia or Rhodesia as a model for the future, whereas I quite agree that Singapore raises some interesting questions and offers an interesting model. That’s partly *because* Lee Kwan Yew gave pride of place to administrative competence and merit, because he seems to have genuinely wanted prosperity for all his citizens, because he’s tried to make good policy, to serve the greatest good for the greatest number, because he’s been consistent in attacking cronyism and corruption. Honest injun, that’s nothing like Southern Rhodesia, really it’s not. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it began under “company rule” into thinking so.

  17. peter55 says:

    I’ve always thought that that the responses to incentives of black african farmers in 1910s Southern Rhodesia, which you describe, Timothy, also explained the rapid and positive response to market incentives established in 1980 by the newly-elected Zimbabwean government. By allowing farmers in the former tribal trust lands to participate in the market economy for agricultural products (in particular, maize), and by setting the price signals well, the Zimbabwe Government in 1980-81 almost overnight created a new source of food, a new class of food producers, a new source of export income, and a new way to transition from a subsistence to a modern economy.

    It’s a great sadness that the sophisticated economic and public policy understandings evident in those early policy decisions (in which, I am sure, Robert Mugabe was fully engaged) seem since to have been lost, or worse, over-ridden in favour of other policy priorities.

  18. AKShutt says:

    It may help this discussion to remember that when Rhodes proclaimed “equal rights for all civilized men” he was thinking about Afrikaners, not African peoples. Second, concerning rudeness and politics, the Rhodesian state did in fact criminalize rude behavior by way of a 1910 Proclamation, the Native Affairs Act (1927), and by the late 1950s, a series of political-security measures that made illegal acts that could/might/looked like they could upset white people, usually acts considered subversive or indeed, rude, by settler authorities. Rudeness and subversive politics were by the 1950s considered one and the same.

  19. mencius says:

    Professor Burke,

    I am certainly not operating under any impression that Rhodesia was some kind of lost utopia, capitalist or otherwise. In fact, I don’t see anything at all to disagree with in your characterization of Rhodesian history, although I might tinker with the tone.

    It was a country, no more and no less. Its system of government is best described as a degraded, second-rate copy of Edwardian Britain. Visitors to Rhodesia – I am thinking specifically of Jan Morris, but this is a common response – used to feel as if they had stepped into a time machine.

    In particular, I think it’s completely accurate to describe the demographic behind the Rhodesian Front as the same demographic that provided Hitler’s core support. In a word, petty-bourgeois. Ian Smith was not an aristocrat, either by birth or by training, and nor for the most part were his people.

    No. The real aristocracy, as always, was on the side of Garfield Todd, and if they’d gotten their way Rhodesia would have disappeared into Africa Addio territory sometime in the ’60s, rather than waiting until the ’90s. This inversion – wherein the coarse, intuitive, and often traditionally constructed narrative, the mesolect as it were, turns out to be more accurate than the scholarly and/or aristocratic acrolectic narrative – is common in the interaction between colonists and their governments. Colonialism proper ended not because the natives overcame the colonialists, but because the postcolonialists overcame the colonialists – often with native assistance. Always willing to lend a hand, those natives.

    This is reflected perfectly in Burton’s dichotomy between “the real friends of Africa” and “the philanthropists of Exeter Hall.” The “real friends” are explorers, merchants, traders, soldiers, settlers and administrators. In a word: exploiters. The “philanthropists” are Protestant missionaries, basically. They don’t call themselves missionaries any more, at least not for the most part, but this is only a change in nomenclature.

    So the “real friends” tended to accept human biodiversity, whereas the “philanthropists” were stalwart Biblical egalitarians. The result was that the latter saw the former as brutal and uncivilized, as I’m sure in many ways they were. The Rhodies were, in a word, easy to hate. And yet the fact remains that when it came to predicting policy outcomes, the Rhodies tended to be right and the Zimbos wrong.

    Moreover, when the rough men of Africa did develop pretensions to civilization, they pretended to entirely the wrong kind. Among the smart set, Imperialist kitsch had been out of style for generations. Britain was entering into the great vertiginous plunge of its postwar career. As Peter Hitchens points out in his Abolition of Britain, a time traveler taken from 1920 to 1950 would notice almost no change in the country, whereas one from 1950 to 1980 would feel like he’d been through the wrong end of a black hole.

    So, as a cultured member of the American intellectual aristocracy, Whig to the marrow, Rhodesia instantly smells wrong to you. It is not just Tory, it is low-Tory. It reminds you of the worst in American politics, the Southern populists who supplanted the Redeemers and the Bourbon Democrats – Vardaman, Tillman, Bilbo and the like. A foul froth of democracy: garbage in, garbage out, as we say in my line of work.

    But this is prejudice, not perspective. If you add up all the corruptions and stupidities of Rhodesia, from Cecil himself right down to P.K. van der Byl, and put it on a balanced pair of scales with any postcolonial country in Africa, judging abuses of power without regard to color of skin, I defy you to find any regime which Rhodesia does not improve on. Certainly both Rhodesia and the old South Africa observed negative migration pressure: in general, Africans wanted to get into these countries, not escape from them.

    I’ll resist the temptation to express this as a dramatic indictment. Presumably by this point you can fill in the blanks.

    As for the British South Africa Company, as a chartered company it was, of course, shite. The 20th century was not exactly the golden age of the chartered company. We actually have no good examples of a good chartered company with good corporate governance, because in the days when chartered companies were real business ventures, as opposed to the colonialist equivalent of quangoes, corporate governance was, um, not good. It is still not particularly good, but it’s a lot better than it was in the 17th century.

    However, I suspect that if you rechartered something like BSAC and gave Zimbabwe to it, preferably renaming it Rhodesia to prove that the international community is genuinely apologetic for its errors in this matter, it would look much more like Singapore or Dubai than like Southern Rhodesia. For that matter, Lee Kuan Yew himself has a good bit of time on his hands these days.

    In particular – to get back to the topic of your post – one of the great postcolonial nonos, sort of going along with the whole sovereignty thing and all, is the old practice of appointing European or other international executives to manage a civil service or military which is partially, largely, or even entirely staffed by natives. Even in UN occupations such as Kosovo, where there is of course no question at all of any subversive outbreak of Toryism, this taboo is faithfully preserved. Internationals can advise. They cannot manage, and they certainly cannot hire and fire.

    Do you believe that the international community should revisit this prohibition? Or do you believe it’s a sound one, and any violation would be the first step down a slippery slope right back to the 21st-century equivalent of the sjambok and pith-helmet?

  20. “So the ??real friends?? tended to accept human biodiversity”

    *hint*! *hint*!

  21. peter55 says:

    mencius said;

    “Rhodesia would have disappeared into Africa Addio territory sometime in the ??60s, rather than waiting until the ??90s.”

    Really, this statement is just outrageous. Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi, all British colonies, all in South-Central Africa, all received their Indepdence in the 1960s, none of them degenerated — even in the 1980s, when at their worst — into state-terror regimes, murdering their own citizens, none of them ever with 6-figure hyper-inflation, and none of them ever invading their neighbours for personal plunder (as Zimbabwe did in the DRC). Why not? Well, for a start, all three were led to Independence by black leaders who did not have to fight a large-scale guerrilla war to achieve it. If Southern Rhodesia’s whites had granted majority rule in 1965, it is most unlikely that Mugabe, Nhongo, Mnangagwa, Shiri and their ilk would now be running, or would ever have run, the country. Zimbabwe might still have major economic problems, but at least people would not be murdered in their homes by agents of the ruling elite.

    The effect we see today in Zimbabwe is Mugabe, but the cause, without the slightest doubt, was Smith.

  22. peter55 says:

    mencius wrote:

    In particular – to get back to the topic of your post – one of the great postcolonial nonos, sort of going along with the whole sovereignty thing and all, is the old practice of appointing European or other international executives to manage a civil service or military which is partially, largely, or even entirely staffed by natives. Even in UN occupations such as Kosovo, where there is of course no question at all of any subversive outbreak of Toryism, this taboo is faithfully preserved. Internationals can advise. They cannot manage, and they certainly cannot hire and fire.”

    Except that, in the case of Zaire (now DRC) after the departure of Mobutu and his top officials, the civil service was primarily run by Catholic priests, of a mix of nationalities, the Catholic Church then being the only non-state organization left standing having people with any education, integrity and competence.

  23. …Or Ivory Coast were up until the 80’s a bunch of services and departments were headed not only by French administrators but also by other Africans.

  24. mencius says:

    ??Or Ivory Coast were up until the 80??s a bunch of services and departments were headed not only by French administrators but also by other Africans.

    Indeed, the French have managed to retain a lot more of the mechanics of golden-age colonialism than most people think. (Although, for the sheer balls of it, one has to admire that stunt they pulled in Guinea.)

    Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi, all British colonies, all in South-Central Africa, all received their Independence in the 1960s, none of them degenerated even in the 1980s, when at their worst into state-terror regimes, murdering their own citizens, none of them ever with 6-figure hyper-inflation, and none of them ever invading their neighbours for personal plunder (as Zimbabwe did in the DRC).

    (Excuse me, but were there any neighbors of the DRC that didn’t invade it for personal plunder? Congo-Brazzaville, maybe?)

    As for Tanzania: you really haven’t seen Africa Addio, have you? The film contains what is as far as I know the only live color footage of genocide shot in 35mm: several helicopter shots of the murder of the Arabs in Zanzibar. This one does not get a lot of press for some reason. It is known, but downplayed. Frankly, the State Department was a little too busy courting the winners.

    There’s something else Zambia, Tanzania, and Malawi never had: a substantial population of white permanent residents. The problem in Zanzibar was basically the same, though: the decline of the British Empire and the weakening of its protectorates, such as Zanzibar, exposed a large set of relatively prosperous middle-class citizens whose security had been previously provided by the State, to hatred, violence and destruction. There is simply no such community that has survived in any postcolonial African state, sub-Saharan or super-Saharan. You see the same thing, for example, with the Asians in Uganda, and even the Europeans and Jews in North Africa.

    This is no coincidence. All the nationalist actors in all these countries got their ideas from the same place. Can you say “Frantz Fanon,” boys and girls?

    And doesn’t your theory that it was all the victims’ fault, because they resisted too much, run into a slight problem with the indisputable fact that Zimbabwe, for at least four or five years after Mugabe took office, really did appear to the unwary observer in the guise of a success story? At least in the field of black-white relations? Surely you won’t deny that there was an apparent honeymoon. Which means that you can go from peace and happiness to “Hitler” Hunzvi in fifteen years, at any point when an African population chooses to elect a Zuma rather than a Mandela.

    I mean, don’t you think that if majority rule in Africa were a medicine medicine rather than a political prescription, the FDA might be asking some questions by now?

  25. mencius says:

    Oh, and Random African – are you trying to say something? I’m not sure I can parse your hint code.

  26. peter55 says:

    mencius —

    It is a grossly-inaccurate and tendentious distortion of my argument so say that I am claiming it is the victims’ fault in Zimbabwe. I am claiming nothing of the sort.

    If Zimbabwe had achieved majority rule anytime before 11 November 1965, and thus before the Second Chimurenga began, the most likely political and economic evolution of the country would be the same as that we have seen in Zambia, Malawi or Tanzania. That the country’s political and economic evolution since majority rule turned out differently is thus (let me repeat that in case it is not clear: THUS) directly attributable to the policies of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia Front between 1962 and 1979. These policies not only delayed majority rule but guaranteed that majority rule would only be achieved after a military struggle, and thus that the eventual leaders would be people able and willing to use terror and murderous force to gain and keep political power. This was obvious to some people — eg, former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, a conservative and virulent anti-communist — as far back as the early 1960s.

    It should also not be forgotten that the RF between 1962 and 1979 was not benignly promoting economic development and social mobility in the tribal trust lands, but was itself running a criminal campaign of state-sponsored terrorism and economic malfeasance against the country’s own non-white citizens.

    Unreconstructed Rhodesian Front supporters, of course, even now refuse to accept this clear causal link between the locust-like policies of plunder of the illegal regime of Smith and the locust-like policies of plunder of the illegal regime of Mugabe. As was said of the Hapsburgs, RF supporters have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing.

  27. mencius says:


    “This animal is very vicious. When attacked, it defends itself.”

    The victims in Rhodesia were the whites. You’re claiming it was the whites’ fault. Of course, there was infighting among the whites: some of them were on Ian Smith’s side, some of them were on your side. “This animal is very vicious…” Let’s take an example: Judith Todd. Do you know the story of Judith Todd? Which side was she on, and which abused her more atrociously?

    Many people who died in the conflict, of course, were not white. But if you can claim that the war was over anything but white supremacy versus black supremacy in Rhodesia, or that the former side did not lose or the latter did not win, you have transcended history.

    Talking about the similarities between Rhodesia and Zimbabwe is like talking about the fact that the Allies, after they occupied Germany, reused many of the old Nazi concentration camps. Of course they did. They needed the same kind of facility. But this does not enable any meaningful comparison between the Allies and the Nazis. It does not make the Allies responsible for Nazi crimes, or vice versa. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and claiming that any man or party is responsible, in some magical way, for the crimes of his enemies, is extraordinary. At least in my book.

    And the thing is repeating itself. You might enjoy this link. Scroll down to where he describes it as a government-sponsored campaign. Rest assured that the author (a surgeon in South Africa) is anything but an unreconstructed Rhodesian Front supporter. (Actually, in hindsight, the RF was far too liberal in the end. I’m more of an unreconstructed Rhodesian Action Party man myself. The Rhodies should have struck for Beira and dared the world to do its worst.)

    Note also your complete refusal to consider my explanation of the difference between Rhodesia and Zambia and Malawi, or the similarity between Rhodesia and Zanzibar. (For those who are not African history buffs, Zanzibar is the “zan” in Tanzania.) Don’t worry: we reactionaries are accustomed to the old stone wall.

    Noam Chomsky was right: the US is and always has been the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. Revolutionary terrorism, to be exact. Support from the most prestigious institutions in America fueled Bolivar, Mazzini, the Fenians, Juarez, Chiang, Mao, Ho, Mugabe, Mandela and Zuma. Perhaps at some point, the State Department, the CFR, the Times and Harvard will learn to quit adopting any murderous bandit warlord who can dupe them into thinking he’s a 18th-century Renaissance man, a 19th-century statesman, or even a 21th-century technocrat. But I am not optimistic in this matter. The delusion is too advantageous to all concerned.

  28. peter55 says:

    Mencius —

    I don’t know Judith Todd personally, but people whom I know well also know her well. So I know who she is and know about her fate following Independence. Ms Todd was on the side of majority rule, the only side which any morally decency human could be on during the Zimbabwean Second Chimurenga. That good deeds are often punished is a predictable feature of our world, but that fact does not justify choosing doing evil or doing nothing over doing good. But it is easy, and somewhat supercilious, for me to say this. I do not wish to take away from the suffering that brave and good lady has endured. She is an example to us all.

    I suspect that our argument here could continue for years, with neither of us shifting ground, so I won’t continue arguing. But, under no circumstances may you take this as a submission, in any respect whatsoever, to your obnoxious, morally repugnant, un-Christian and historically-unsupported views.

    Instead, I will just take up your final point.

    In your list, you omitted Castro, who received CIA funding and arms for an attempt (in 1956) to overthrow the Cuban dictatorship, and Saddam Hussein, who received CIA funding for his first (abortive) coup attempt in Iraq in 1959.

    And you included Mugabe. Do you have any firm evidence of CIA support for Mugabe and/or for ZANU-PF? I ask because of the following circumstantial evidence has long intrigued me:

    – Judith Todd in her recent autobiography says that within ZAPU circles, there were always rumours that ZANU-PF had CIA funding.

    – The Rhodesian Government allowed Mugabe and Edger Tekere to leave the country in 1975 when they fled to Mozambigue, according to an interview with a former Rhodesian CIO officer in Heidi Holland’s recent book about Mugabe.

    – In the early 1960s, the CIA had agents and friends inside the South African ANC (the CIA used these agents to inform on Mandela in 1962) and among the senior leadership of the Belgian Congo, including Mobutu Sese Seko (according to Larry Devlin’s recent book on his time as the CIA Station Chief there in the 1960s).

    – At Indepedence, Zimbabwe refused to allow the USSR to open an embassy for 2 years.

    – For several years following Independence, the Zimbabwean CIO had a counter-intelligence division with only two sections: one devoted to countering South African intelligence activity, and one devoted to countering Soviet intelligence activity. When I once asked a senior CIO officer (an ex-ZANLA man) whom I knew well why there was no section devoted to countering USA activities, he told me that the ZANU-PF Government did not believe the USA was a threat. This was in 1985, five years after Independence.

  29. Timothy Burke says:

    The question of CIA funding is a side question, but maybe we’re better sticking to side questions at this point to keep the discussion from getting too angry. I’m beginning to think that both the CIA/British intelligence and the KGB gave funding to and met with pretty much any African political leader they could, regardless of the stated ideology of that leader, at least after 1965 or so. Partly simply so they could meet with and develop an assessment of that leader, but probably also to have leverage in the positive sense (e.g., we’re here to help you) and leverage in the negative sense (we might choose to expose at a later date that you’re funded). I think the Cold War intelligence services on both sides were often pretty bad at getting much back for their dollar both in terms of serviceable information and in terms of policy loyalty. But I’m not clear that either set of intelligence services were actually much interested in policy loyalty in Africa (in contrast to other regions where political leadership was much more urgent and insistent in its priorities.)

  30. peter55 says:

    Agreed, Timothy. What is odd, then, is that we have seen so few of these exposes since 1960. If CIA or KGB had funded ZANU-PF, perhaps they think it would reflect badly on them, more so than on ZANU-PF, to tell the world, and so they have kept shtum.

    Devlin’s book, it is true, does reveals a great deal about CIA influence over the post-Lumumba regimes in Zaire. But I wondered while reading it whether it was in fact a very elaborate decoy — lots of revelations to persuade us that CIA did not kill Lumumba. Revealing Mobutu’s larceny was the price they paid perhaps for this diversion.

  31. mencius says:

    Obviously I stand by my morals, but as Hume noted these are beyond debate. However, while I’m not a Christian myself, I seem to recall that the Bible says that the tree shall be known by its fruits.

    I don’t know that CIA supported ZANU-PF, but the “liberation struggle” certainly had many American supporters outside government proper – most notoriously, the World Council of Churches. Nice going, guys. I promise never to complain about the Spanish Inquisition again.

    Castro as well as many others could be added to the list. I don’t know of any American activity in Africa, left-wing or right-wing, that did our country much credit or good. Didn’t the US send a plane to rescue some Belgian refugees from the Congo once?

  32. “But I??m not clear that either set of intelligence services were actually much interested in policy loyalty in Africa (in contrast to other regions where political leadership was much more urgent and insistent in its priorities.)”

    Indira Gandhi and Costa Rica’s Jose Figueres are notorious for having received funding for both the CIA and the KGB.. I wouldn’t be surprised there were more who managed to “play the game”.

    “Didn??t the US send a plane to rescue some Belgian refugees from the Congo once?”

    Are you talking about Operation Dragon Rouge in Kisangani ?

  33. peter55 says:

    Timothy — In the light your previous posts on Zimbabwe, this Washington Post report may interest you:

  34. Timothy Burke says:

    That’s very interesting. Post seems pretty confident of their sourcing. It confirms what most of us had already suspected, that Zimbabwe has already had, perhaps for as much as a decade, a military dictatorship with a civilian face, a silent coup d’etat.

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