Robert Mugabe’s Long Shadow

The despot of Zimbabwe was ousted in 2017. But much remains of his tyranny and misrule.

This month, after President Mnangagwa raised the price of gasoline by 150 percent, protesters hit the streets. Mr. Mnangagwa arguably had no choice, since the government could not continue subsidizing fuel, and the protests were inevitable. The problem was that security forces replied with all the viciousness of the Mugabe era — a crackdown like what Mr. Mnangagwa used to mete out when he was in charge of internal security and earned the nickname “Crocodile.” Soldiers and unidentified thugs went door to door in Harare beating and arresting scores of people at random; 12 shooting deaths were reported; the internet was shut down.

.. Whether he ordered the crackdown remains unclear; one rumor is that his vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, a hard-line former commander of the army who backed Mr. Mnangagwa in the coup, was trying to undermine the president for his own ends.

It almost doesn’t matter. What does is that many Zimbabweans — and potential international investors — concluded that things had not changed with the exit of Mr. Mugabe. The ZANU-PF political machine that the old dictator ran since independence in 1980 was still in command and up to its old ways.

.. A few weeks later he was in Davos, spreading the word that Zimbabwe was “open for business.” At home, he declared that “the people’s voice is the voice of God,” and he promised free elections.

..the 40-year-old challenger, Nelson Chamisa, claimed fraud, and when his supporters gathered in protests, government forces crushed them mercilessly.

.. The economic challenges before Zimbabwe are enormous: vast debts, a battered infrastructure, hyperinflation, soaring unemployment. Confronting them will require foreign aid and investment, lifting the international sanctions imposed during Mr. Mugabe’s rule and restoring a glimmer of optimism for the future in a population that will be asked to make more sacrifices, like the fuel price increase, before things can get better. Under American law, removing sanctions requires a nonpartisan army and respect for the rights and freedoms of all people.

It is far from clear whether Mr. Mnangagwa or ZANU-PF are up to the challenge. But if they have any hope of surviving in office or lifting Zimbabwe out of the mess they helped create under Mr. Mugabe, the time to start is now, by immediately reining in the security forces and opening the dialogue Mr. Mnangagwa has pledged with the opposition and civil society. The United States and other potential donors could create an incentive by preparing a major package of assistance once the Zimbabwe government shows it is really committed to change.

China is Losing the New Cold War

In contrast to the Soviet Union, China’s leaders recognize that strong economic performance is essential to political legitimacy. Like the Soviet Union, however, they are paying through the nose for a few friends, gaining only limited benefits while becoming increasingly entrenched in an unsustainable arms race with the US.

When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the Communist Party of China (CPC) became obsessed with understanding why. The government think tanks entrusted with this task heaped plenty of blame on Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist leader who was simply not ruthless enough to hold the Soviet Union together. But Chinese leaders also highlighted other important factors, not all of which China’s leaders seem to be heeding today.
.. But overseeing a faltering economy was hardly the only mistake Soviet leaders made. They were also drawn into a costly and unwinnable arms race with the United States, and fell victim to imperial overreach, throwing money and resources at regimes with little strategic value and long track records of chronic economic mismanagement. As China enters a new “cold war” with the US, the CPC seems to be at risk of repeating the same catastrophic blunders.
.. China spent some $228 billion on its military last year, roughly 150% of the official figure of $151 billion.
.. the issue is not the amount of money China spends on guns per se, but rather the consistent rise in military expenditure, which implies that the country is prepared to engage in a long-term war of attrition with the US. Yet China’s economy is not equipped to generate sufficient resources to support the level of spending that victory on this front would require.
If China had a sustainable growth model underpinning a highly efficient economy, it might be able to afford a moderate arms race with the US. But it has neither.
.. China’s growth is likely to continue to decelerate, owing to rapid population aging, high debt levels, maturity mismatches, and the escalating trade war that the US has initiated. All of this will drain the CPC’s limited resources. For example, as the old-age dependency ratio rises, so will health-care and pension costs.
.. while the Chinese economy may be far more efficient than the Soviet economy was, it is nowhere near as efficient as that of the US. The main reason for this is the enduring clout of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which consume half of the country’s total bank credit, but contribute only 20% of value-added and employment.
.. the CPC is that SOEs play a vital role in sustaining one-party rule, as they are used both to reward loyalists and to facilitate government intervention on behalf of official macroeconomic targets.
.. Dismantling these bloated and inefficient firms would thus amount to political suicide. Yet protecting them may merely delay the inevitable, because the longer they are allowed to suck scarce resources out of the economy, the more unaffordable an arms race with the US will become – and the greater the challenge to the CPC’s authority will become.
.. The second lesson that China’s leaders have failed to appreciate adequately is the need to avoid imperial overreach. About a decade ago, with massive trade surpluses bringing in a surfeit of hard currency, the Chinese government began to take on costly overseas commitments and subsidize deadbeat “allies.”
.. Exhibit A is the much-touted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a $1 trillion program focused on the debt-financed construction of infrastructure in developing countries.
.. An even more egregious example of imperial overreach is China’s generous aid to countries – from Cambodia to Venezuela to Russia – that offer little in return.
.. from 2000 to 2014, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe together received $24.4 billion in Chinese grants or heavily subsidized loans. Over the same period, Angola, Laos, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela received $98.2 billion.
.. Like the Soviet Union, China is paying through the nose for a few friends, gaining only limited benefits while becoming increasingly entrenched in an unsustainable arms race. The Sino-American Cold War has barely started, yet China is already on track to lose.

The Fall of Africa’s Most Hated First Lady

I was often struck by how deeply respectful Zimbabweans were of their president. Many people were obviously unhappy with Robert Mugabe’s leadership. Still, it was not unusual to hear people reference his role in the independence movement, to point out his clear intellectual gifts and his efforts to advance education.

.. The narrative, universally accepted across the country, was that the shy young typist had stolen Mr. Mugabe’s heart and then corrupted him. Mr. Mugabe was a good man turned bad; Ms. Mugabe was the temptress who led him to his downfall.

.. Her whereabouts is unknown — a testament to the fact that it is her physical safety rather than his that is in question in these tense times.

.. Over the course of the two decades since she entered public life, Ms. Mugabe garnered a well-deserved reputation for combativeness. She publicly humiliated key leaders; she has been embroiled in a range of personal scandals because of her volatile temper.

.. wore designer outfits while she fed the rural masses and didn’t hesitate to get into physical altercations with those who crossed her or her children.

.. She was just 31 when she married Mr. Mugabe in 1996; at 52, she remains relatively youthful.

.. The people who opposed her most fiercely are veterans of the movement

.. Grace Mugabe has fared particularly poorly compared with Sally Mugabe, Robert Mugabe’s first wife, who was the quintessential African first lady. Sally Mugabe was well educated. She had strong independence credentials, having been imprisoned for speaking out against the colonial rule of what was then Southern Rhodesia. And when her husband became prime minister in 1980, she quickly stepped into the maternal role: She was known across the country as Amai, or “mother.”

Mugabe and Other Leftist Heroes

unleashed a war of atrocity against his ethnic rivals in the Ndebele tribe, promising that he would pursue his enemies “until all dissidents are eliminated

.. The scale of Mugabe’s killing, estimated as high as 20,000

.. When will they stop confusing national independence with individual freedom, liberation with liberty?

.. As for the other Mugabes, Fidel Castro tyrannized Cuba for decades, yet was paid flattering tributes on his death last year, including from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 

.. Yasir Arafat’s turn on the world stage began and ended in terrorism, intermixed with corruption and human-rights abuses. Yet the rais never lacked for admirers on the left

.. Naomi Klein has any regrets about her fervent championship of the Bolivarian Revolution

.. Joseph Stiglitz has any second thoughts about his close ties to the ruinous Argentine government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

.. Western thinkers have been tempted by the prospect of influence abroad, along with the power that comes with it, particularly when both are denied to them at home.

.. The visiting economist calls for heavy deficit spending or a currency devaluation, but collects his speaking fee in dollars and doesn’t live through the eventual default.

.. Zimbabwe’s tragedy is just a fuller version of a post-colonial story of disastrous ideological experiments accompanied by foreigners who cheered those experiments and then looked the other way when they failed. There needs to be a reckoning with them, too.

‘Friendship Bench’ program proves effective at alleviating mental illness symptoms

Their offices are simple wooden seats, called Friendship Benches, located in the grounds of health clinics around Harare and other major cities in Zimbabwe.

 The practitioners are lay health workers known as community “Grandmothers,” trained to listen to and support patients living with anxiety, depression and other common mental disorders… Six months after undergoing six weekly “problem solving therapy” sessions on the Friendship Benches, participants showed significant differences in severity of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts based on locally validated questionnaires for depression and anxiety: the Shona Symptom Questionnaire (SSQ), the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) and the Generalised Anxiety Disorder scale (GAD). The results were striking.

The world needs to prepare for a Zimbabwe without Robert Mugabe

One reason is that Mr Mugabe’s mental powers seem at last to be failing him. He recently read out the very same speech that he had delivered to parliament only three weeks earlier.

Still more pressing is the fact that his government is running out of the money it needs to pay the public servants, especially policemen and soldiers, who keep it in power and whose wages gobble up more than 80% of public spending.