Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More on Murderous Autocracies

Consider this a public service announcement: I find recent stories on the ongoing social and political meltdown in Zimbabwe to be heartbreaking. No exception was last week's article in the Los Angeles Times regarding the state of medical care and the additional burden of burying the dead in that beleaguered nation.

The following excerpt sums up much of the article:
"Things are so bad," said one man, Sikhumbuzo Dube, "that it's more expensive to die than to live these days." The body of Dube's nephew, a 39-year-old communal farmer, lay in the morgue for three weeks until the family could come up with the money to rent a truck.

A young Bulawayo doctor named Nqobile Ncube said many of those who end up in hospitals have little chance.

"You do your ward rounds and you see a patient," Ncube said. "He's in the same condition as the day before. Why? He's not been given the drugs. He is trying to find relatives to buy the drugs for him.

"You go to the next patient. He's dead. It's written on his card, 'Fluids not available; relatives to buy.' It's just 'relatives to buy, relatives to buy, relatives to buy.' "

Ncube has watched a teenage boy die in a diabetic coma. He has sent the parents of children with broken limbs to buy plaster. They return days or weeks later.

He has seen patients die of strokes because there was no medicine to treat their hypertension. He's seen surgery days canceled for want of surgical gloves.

"You can't resuscitate patients. There's no oxygen. There are no IV fluids," he said, anger rising in his voice. "The only time when you are guaranteed of having everything there is for death certificates."Doctors write them out on the back of used bits of paper.

Families are left to cope with the grief of a death that could have been avoided, then must find more money for the funeral.
Of course, much of the blame can be put on one man, namely, President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since the country became independent in 1980. Things have steadily declined since policies of "land reform" were enacted after 2000 or so, when a nation that was once the veritable breadbasket of southern Africa started to fall into total agrarian collapse, because commercial farming was all but dismantled in an effort (perhaps noble in theory) to redistribute land more equitably.

However, Mugabe can surely not be the only one to blame for this mess. In the same way that Western nations all but ignore repressive and inhuman governments like that of Myanmar/Burma, the antics of Mugabe are given lip service at best. What's the solution? "Regime change?" Political assassination? Ground war? The truth is, I really don't know. However, I can't help but feel "we" all have a hand in allowing this type of thing to go on. We weep in 2003 over the "oppression" of Iraqis (much of which was certainly not fabricated), but don't seem to have a deep enough emotional well to become indignant enough to act against equivalent horrors in a place like Zimbabwe.

There are often times like this when I regret never having joined the Peace Corps, or gone into international development work in Washington, or Geneva, or wherever. Not that those avenues are permanently closed to me, even now, but I have to think about what I can do right this minute.

And one of the things I was able to do right this minute was to set up a recurring donation to an AIDS Service Organization that does work in several countries including Zimbabwe. In fact, I earmarked my donation to go specifically to the ASO's partner there. So, three faithful readers, I give you the weblink to [taken down temporarily -- cannot verify NGO still in existence], where you can give an online donation if you like. Included there is a link to the Zimbabwean partner organization, The Centre. I guess after reading that LA Times article, I felt that my measly donation was the least I could do to prevent one fellow human being from suffering the type of fate described as follows:

Eva Ndlovu, 27, died March 18 in a rough mud hut on the outskirts of Bulawayo. A piece of plastic she had picked up at a cement factory became her burial shroud, along with the filthy blankets she had huddled under as she died.

Her husband, Phinias, tore the door off the hut to support her body. Her family wheeled it on a borrowed handcart to the cemetery, three miles away. Three mourners dug the grave. No death certificate was issued.

Eva had been ill for two years with AIDS, but family members said the hospital always sent her home.


The Angry Young Man said...

There was nothing remotely noble about Mugabe's land distribution plan. In a blatantly racist power grab, Mugabe took white farmers' land and handed it over to his so-called "war veterans" - most of whom were in no way qualified to own and work farms. The British could do nothing but issue strongly worded protests at the disenfranchisement of the whites for fear of accusations of neo-colonialism. Mugabe took land for himself, his wife, and others who will never farm it. No one has done anything about it for two basic reasons - the entire world is over sensitive when it comes to interfering in the internal affairs of former Eurocolonies and Zimbabwe has no resources, like, say Iraq, that makes interfering worthwhile. South Africa, the one country in the region with the moral authority to interfere, can't because it has the reactions of it's own white minority to consider and is just as hung up on the drama of self determination as everyone else. Mugabe is a bad guy. It's shame that this is happening to the Zimbabwean people, but until they become outraged enough to rise up en masse against this guy, they're just going to continue to suffer. This is the ugly side of self-determination...

Dave said...


copperred said...

The West has severely condemned Mugabe and ZANU-PF, it's the utter silence of his neighbors that has kept the lights on. South Africa and Mbeki in particular have done nothing to criticize Zimbabwe, even as their own country is swelling with refugees, and upsetting its own labor markets.

All Western affiliated news orgs have been kicked out and most NGOs have no ability to help the population, including the UN, because Mugabe expels anyone who appears to suggest he's a bad ruler.

No western country, or at least any former colonial power, can even consider military intervention in Africa. Look at Sudan, sitting pretty for all these years, because the AU sits on its hands and won't admit they can't handle the situation, but still oppose intervention by others as it would infringe on "sovereignty".

Huntington said...

It would be nice to have an answer to the question "what is the international community's duty here," but I guess a question with such dubious assumptions as that can't be answered.

I wish it reassured me at all that the principles at work here have been around throughout history, but it doesn't.

Mike said...

Hopefully, as in most cases of despots, this man will die and take with him the horrid regime he created. I don't know how Romania got over Ceaucescu, Paraguay overcame Stroessner, Cambodia went beyond Pol Pot, Uganda survived beyond Idi Amin. Each so different in their totalitarian versions of hell.

Hopefully, the nightmare of Mugabe's regime will not be lost on the people of Africa of what NOT to do to a country and its people. Too bad it will take twenty to thirty years for the damage to be undone.