Zimbabwe violence: blogosphere roundup

(Image: Sokwanele). Ethan Zuckerman has been keeping a close watch on the worsening situation in Zimbabwe. Why might that government have found itself suddenly in need of 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition? Apparently, because Zimbabwe's health minister needed to reload. Snip:

Chris McGreal, reporting for the Guardian, begins his story with this paragraph:

ZIMBABWE’S Health Minister armed himself with a Kalashnikov and threatened to kill opposition supporters forced to attend a political meeting unless they voted for Robert Mugabe in a second round of the presidential election, witnesses say.

And I thought campaigning in Pennsylvania had gotten rough.

McGreal’s story, titled “It’s Mugabe or death, voters told” focuses on a climate of rising rural violence, designed to intimidate MDC supporters in a second round of voting. Many of these attacks have occurred in Mashonaland East province, a traditional ZANU-PF stronghold, and the home of the armed and dangerous minister, David Parirenyatwa.

There’s a growing body of photographic evidence to support reports that opposition supporters are being detained and beaten. Sokwanele, a Zimbabwean activist group based in Bulawayo, is maintaining one of the world’s most disturbing photo albums, a collection of photos of citizens hospitalized for injuries they received in beatings. The most recent photos are of a 38-year old man, beaten with chains and fan belts to punish him for driving citizens to MDC rallies before the election. (The previous two links lead to graphic and disturbing images.)

This is useful context for understanding the saga of the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese vessel carrying 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, rocket propelled grenades and mortar rounds for delivery to the Zimbabwean government. The ship attempted to dock at Durban, a South African port, but a strike by South African transport workers and a court decision banning transit of the weapons through South Africa forced the vessel to find another port.

Link to the full text of Zuckerman's post. Global Voices, the organization he co-founded, has some 56 posts and counting right now about the situation in Zimbabwe.

HAVE YOU SEEN other noteworthy blog coverage of this story you'd like to share with us? We invite you to post about it in the comments.

Previously on Boing Boing:
* Mapping post-election violence in Zimbabwe
* The Million Zimbabwe Dollar Homepage
* Zimbabwe: Mugabe enacts law to spy on phones, 'net, mail


  1. Bob is sweating. Of course, he’s always sweating, but he knows that he’s screwed this time. It’s amazing to me that he can maintain such a high level of spite into his mid-eighties, but I think he sees the handwriting on the wall.

    I was particularly encouraged by the SA dockworkers refusing to unload the weapons shipment. Thabo Mbeki may be useless, but the South Africans themselves are representing democracy and African unity beautifully.

    Pamberi ne Chimurenga, Bob. It’s not that much fun when the shoe’s on the other foot and the world wants to overthrow you, is it?

  2. Even more interesting is this report that Chinese troops in uniform have been seen in one of Zimbabwe’s largest cities. Military troops in uniform is a very bold move for the Chinese.

  3. it would be a very small and very easy gesture for other less visible players to have this Chinese vessel mysteriously explode and sink. Could this at least not be done for long suffering Zimbabewe?

  4. #2: There were reports of Tibetian splittists and hooligans causing trouble there. Damn their evil theocratic hearts!

  5. That’s a hell of a bold move on China’s part, given the current political climate. I wonder what they were offered in exchange?

  6. “And I thought campaigning in Pennsylvania had gotten rough.”

    The odd thing is there is, to my knowledge, only one national-level U.S. politician who has publicly defended Robert Mugabe’s regime (there are some morons at the state and local level in some areas that have expressed support for Mugabe).

    And, what is truly odd, that person is currently the clear favorite to win the Green Party nomination for president.

    Can’t wait to start seeing McKinney ’08 bumper stickers.

  7. I don’t get it. Why does Mugabe need to win an election? His reputation wouldn’t get any lower if he suddenly declared himself dictator. Tossing out all of the losing elections until he intimidates voters enough to win is probably worse for his reputation.

  8. @8 “I don’t get it. Why does Mugabe need to win an election? His reputation wouldn’t get any lower if he suddenly declared himself dictator.”

    It is an interesting question — why do dictators since the 20th century at least go through the appearance of having elections?

    I suspect UCLA PSCI prof Barbara Geddes is on to something when she argues that they do it in part as a break on the military (who are frequently the major threat to dictators,

    I hypothesize that authoritarian leaders create and use parties and hold elections, despite the risks and costs of doing so, because they help to solve problems of intra-regime conflict that might otherwise unseat them. I suggest that dictators create and use parties primarily to counterbalance the power of the military. Because of its control of weapons and men, the military is always a potential threat, especially to dictators who have arisen from the officer corps themselves. A mass party organized to support the dictator or the regime decreases the likelihood of public acquiescence in the overthrow of the dictator because party militants have both an interest in mobilizing popular protests and the kinds of networks that make quick mobilization possible. Parties provide their militants with benefits that give them a stake in the regime. The same logic applies to elections. Elections are routinized, predictable, and less risky means for authoritarian rulers to demonstrate popular support, or at least acquiescence, and thus to deter challenges from intra-regime rivals. The paper uses simple game theory to show the logic of party creation from the dictator’s point of view.

    It’s probably also a good way to demoralize the opposition in Mugabe’s case. It’s a constant message of “you can’t win” and allows Mugabe to openly defeat his opposition (and, likely, reduce somewhat its appeal if, for example, people who might otherwise be tempted to support it conclude that their taking risk for basically zero chance at a positive outcome).

  9. Also, in Zimbabwe, independence was won by an uneasy coalition, the Patriotic Front, consisting of mostly ZANU and leastly ZAPU. Technically the differences are political, but there’s ethnicity politics at play between the majority Shona and minority Ndebele. Elections are probably, to some extent, conciliation theater for the political and ethnic minority.

  10. Thanks for covering this.

    I’m so angry about Mugabe trying to wrest back control and the South African government’s inability to do anything but “wait and see” (as well as the UK’s patronising squeamishness about getting involved in a former colony). Thank the FSM for the trade unions.

    This should have been a real victory for democracy but instead Mugabe is turning it into a violent and oppressive spectacle showstopper for his violent and oppressive regime.

    I’d love to see the Tibet protests extended to include boycotts of China for propping up a horrendous tyrant.

    We need international pressure on Mugabe to step down or for Mbeki to get off his quiet diplomactic ass and do something.

    If democracy matters at all, if it has any meaning, the world needs to intervene.

    I’d recommend people go through Sokwanele’s Flickr collection – the harrowing images bring home (hard) what is really going on in Zimbabwe.

  11. @12, 9 and 8: I suspect that’s another reason for the elections – the US won’t step in to unseat a democratically elected leader, since that would defeat our pro-democracy stance. An outright dictator is at higher risk of becoming a US/international target.

  12. One thing about Uncle Bob – he has never (afaik) actually defied the Constitution of our little Republic. Everything he’s done, from land seizures to election thievery has been under some Amendment or Presidential Order.

    Within the Laws. His laws, of course, but laws nonetheless. That’s life.

    I’ve been trying to follow the stories, with a little humour and/or personal issues in between :-) on my blog http://rustygate.org

  13. @13 … perhaps, but Saddam Hussein also held elections and the Bush admin supported the coup against Chavez a few years ago.

    I also wonder if given how important an ideological movement democracy is whether dictators aren’t engaging in self-deception. They *want* to believe they are the expression of the people’s will. Even transparently undemocratic “elections” may help them to maintain that facade.

  14. Looks like the An Yue Jiang could be heading home. Way to go, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union!

    The funniest part is that KfW Ipex-Bank is looking to repossess the cargo to offset the debts of the Zimbabwean government. (Details in article linked.)

  15. @12

    It’s difficult for the UK to do anything productive in Zimbabwe. Being vocally supportive of pro-democracy parties only furthers Mugabe’s attempts to paint them as British/colonial parties, as he’s tried to do to the MDC and turns public favour away from them.

    The only thing our government can really do is quietly put pressure on South Africa and other commonwealth nations in the area, which we must hope they are doing.

  16. so that is 1500 MANPAD threats to civil aviation that can be broken to small packs and sold over the side on the high seas. Thank you China.

  17. It’s difficult for the UK to do anything productive in Zimbabwe.

    David Miliband needs to put a sock in it. Mugabe’s whole existence is predicated on the fight against British colonialism. Miliband’s rhetoric, however reasonable, just creates support for Mugabe. And, honestly, why is it the UK or anyone else’s business. Adjacent African nations are involved because they have to pick up the pieces. We should let Zimbabwe and its neighbors clean up their own mess. If we feel an overwhelming need to intervene, then we should pressure China to stop arms sales.

  18. “Miliband’s rhetoric, however reasonable, just creates support for Mugabe. And, honestly, why is it the UK or anyone else’s business. Adjacent African nations are involved because they have to pick up the pieces.”

    Well, that approach has certainly proven its merit in the Sudan. Oh, wait…

  19. Peter Davies on Zimbabwe – Chinese troops on streets as “human wave” flees the country
    Posted on April 21st, 2008
    by Peter Davies

    Recent headlines have focussed on the “cargo of death” shipped from China to Zimbabwe last week, but in an even more sinister development, Chinese troops have been seen on the streets of a Zimbabwe town… (Daily Mail) Chinese and North Korean troops were also in evidence alongside Mugabe’s own troops when he attended a rally in Harare recently. I believe the Chinese and North Korean troops are now needed to stiffen Zimbabwean military support for Mugabe. There are increasing signs that not all the police, or the military, are still willing to enforce Mugabe’s murderous rule.

    Despite South African President, Thabo Mbeki being a staunch Mugabe supporter, South African dockworkers refused to unload the Chinese shipload of arms and ammunition that was destined for Mugabe’s troops to use against the Zimbabwean people. Instead the ship, with its load including 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, 3,500 mortars and rocket launchers and 1,500 rockets for rocket-propelled grenades, was redirected to Angola on Southern Africa’s West coast (Reuters). Angola has become a Chinese client state, and the country has become China’s main oil supplier. The weapons and ammunition will certainly be unloaded there and transported to land-locked Zimbabwe speedily. The Chinese require obedience from their African colonies.

    For example, the Chinese Ambassador in Zambia (Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour, and a neighbour of Angola) ‘showed the country’s claws with unusual directness during Zambia’s last elections in 2006: he publicly threatened dire consequences if the “wrong” candidate (from Beijing’s perspective) secured the presidency’ (Sunday Times Book Review).

    It seems that we are seeing these “dire consequences” in Zimbabwe now, because the “wrong” candidate (Morgan Tsvangirai) won the presidential elections there. A woman who is part of a “human wave” fleeing Zimbabwe says she has seen gangs loyal to Mugabe beating people – some to death – in her village (International Herald Tribune). On Sunday, the leading opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said more than 400 supporters had been arrested, 500 attacked, 10 killed and 3,000 families displaced. A Zimbabwean newspaper publisher, Trevor Ncube, (now living in South Africa) was quoted as saying “If the British were our masters yesterday, the Chinese have come and taken their place.”

    I suspect that this is now out of Mugabe’s hands – after all, he wanted to step down when it became obvious that he’d lost the election (see my post Mugabe “admits defeat”); he is now no more than a figurehead… Only South Africa can force a change in Zimbabwe, and it seems that the new leader of South Africa’s ruling ANC party, Jacob Zuma may be the man to do it. Zuma should become president of South Africa in due course, and he is reported to be ready to break with Mbeki’s ineffective “quiet diplomacy” approach. (Sunday Times).


    Author, Peter Davies was a soldier in Rhodesia from 1963 to 1975, where he took part in the capture and interrogation of terrorists. His novel, Scatterlings of Africa, is based on his own experience during Rhodesia’s war on terror, and personal observations of how terrorist activities impacted Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and its people. http://www.peterdaviesbooks.com


  20. “Author, Peter Davies was a soldier in Rhodesia from 1963 to 1975, where he took part in the capture and interrogation of terrorists. His novel, Scatterlings of Africa, is based on his own experience during Rhodesia’s war on terror, and personal observations of how terrorist activities impacted Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and its people.”

    I don’t know how anyone can still call our liberation struggle a war on terror. Freedom fighters, terrorists? That right there can only serve to totally discredit him in my opinion.

    And I’m not some Mugabe lackey, I’m a Zimbo still in Harare, struggling like the rest of us. Last thing we need is rhetoric churned out by some hungover Rhodie.

Comments are closed.