The Wall Street Journal editorializes today on the latest thuggish brutality from one of Africa’s saddest stories – Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (subscription required):
One of Africa’s poorest countries, Zimbabwe, is suffering through a brutal forced relocation reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge’s “ruralization.” Hundreds of thousands of people in and around the capital, Harare, have been evicted from their homes, which are then bulldozed under the order of dictator Robert Mugabe, the poster child for Africa’s governance problem.
The United Nations says that in less than four weeks at least 200,000 people have been displaced; other estimates are closer to one million. On one night alone, May 26, more than 10,000 people in a north Harare community called Hatcliffe Extension reportedly lost their homes.
Zimbabwe is probably the worst example of the type of corruption that keeps African economies from developing and turns well-intentioned foreign aid into an expensive failure. Robert Mugabe seems to be uniquely gifted in the dark arts of corruption and brutality:
Mr. Mugabe is the same leader whose theft of land from white farmers nearly pushed his once-thriving nation into famine. He calls this latest exercise in social engineering “Operation Murambatsvina,” or “Drive Out the Rubbish.” And it’s not only residents who are being shooed away: Street vendors are also banished, even though most Zimbabweans are out of work.
Cleaning up urban blight is not Mr. Mugabe’s real objective, however. By sub-Saharan African standards, many of the condemned dwellings were more than adequate. The evictees’ crime was living in areas that are increasingly opposed to Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, an unacceptable challenge to the man who has misruled Zimbabwe for 25 years. The cash-strapped government also wants to reduce the size of the black market — the only part of the country’s economy that still functions with some efficiency.
If only the barbarism of the Mugabe government could be put aside, Zimbabwe could be the breadbasket of Africa. Unfortunately, the same sort of situation plays itself out on a smaller scale across the heart of Africa. Those who call for vast increases in the amount of government to government aid for Africa need to keep this fact in mind: until a solid foundation of civil society is built and corruption is greatly reduced, increasing aid to African governments will probably not help. Indeed, it will be like building a house on the sand – foolishness.
For more information on the tragedy unfolding in Zimbabwe, be sure to check out the This is Zimbabwe blog.