Applauding Zimbabwe’s Implosion

President Robert Mugabe’s program of seizing white-owned farmland has brought Zimbabwe to the brink of famine but has genuine popular appeal in the region. Namibia has announced it will begin expropriating white-owned farms; South Africa is debating how to speed up its own program. Is Zimbabwe’s implosion only the first in a series? Each foreign delegation to South Africa’s recent presidential inauguration ceremony was announced in turn and treated to polite applause. But President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe got a standing ovation. Which places him on a popularity scale somewhere below Nelson Mandela, whose arrival was greeted by sustained cheering and singing, but far above the Americans, whose announcement was met with stony silence. This was a bit of a shock. Since 1998 President Mugabe has pursued a program of “land reform” involving the violent seizure of white-owned farmland in his country for redistribution to black farmers. This is now complete: of the 15.5 million acres owned by whites in 1980, 14.5 million are now in black hands. It has also caused an economic collapse. The country is on the brink of man-made famine. On top of which, Mugabe won his recent reelection by having his thugs stuff ballot boxes and beat up opposition candidates. So his popularity in South Africa is hard to understand. But the politics of land reform in the region are complex. To over-simplify: (1) there are very good reasons to expropriate white-owned farms, (2) yet Zimbabwe’s program was undertaken for the worst of reasons, (3) which makes it unlikely that South Africa and Namibia, where these worst of reasons do not apply, will follow...

Saudi Arabia’s Costly Stability

In the past two years Saudi Arabia has suffered a series of brutal terrorist attacks, most recently the beheading of an American. Growing alarm about the country’s stability is driving up oil prices. Is Saudi Arabia coming undone? “Saudi Arabia’s thirst for bootleg liquor has been linked to a spate of bombings that has left one expatriate Briton dead and four others injured in the past month…” – from the Australian, December 2000. In the year 2000 such stories began to slip from behind the Saudi veil. An unlikely mix of foreign nationals – Canadians, Belgians, Britons – not know for gangsterism were turning Riyadh into a reenactment of Prohibition-era Chicago. Behind the walls of the immense compounds favored by the Saudi elite was there a secret world of speakeasies, gangster molls and tommy guns? In fact, no. There was a secret, to be sure. But the secret was not moonshine stills, it was al-Qaeda, which by then had begun killing foreigners working in the kingdom. The alcohol smuggling stories were, it seems, an elaborate hoax by the Saudi authorities to cover up their growing problems with Islamic terrorism. It is an odd story, and also an important one. In Saudi Arabia, political instability is not necessarily what it seems. To understand why the Saudis would invent tales of gang warfare and distribute them to the world’s press – including some “confessions” by British and Canadian gangsters allegedly produced under torture – one needs to know the rules of Saudi politics. This is a land of long and proud tradition, though a country of recent vintage. The story of...

Sudan’s Ugly Politics

Just as a peace deal has been signed between Sudan’s north and south, a new civil war has erupted in the country’s west. One million people have been driven from their homes and face death from starvation and disease in what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. What accounts for Sudan’s woes? When it rains, it pours. The ugly politics of oil states have lately seized the limelight all over the world. A political meltdown in Venezuela. Terrorism in Saudi Arabia. Bloody insurgencies in Iraq. And now, Sudan. The Sudanese civil wars did not start over oil. They started with the departure of the colonial powers – British and Egyptian – who made a last-minute decision to unify the largely Muslim north with the animist and Christian south. Many southerners had other ideas and launched a rebellion. This was bloody – killing about 500,000 people. But perhaps not intractable. Israel, fearing for its survival and surrounded by hostile Arab powers, funded the southern rebels in an effort to weaken the Islamist north. But democratization in the 1960s brought some southerners into Sudan’s government. And in 1972 a peace deal was signed that gave the south a great deal of political autonomy and largely stopped the fighting. That might have been the end of it, had Sudan not been afflicted by a series of great misfortunes. The first of these was the Cold War. This took a small southern uprising in the early 1980s and helped turn it into a renewed civil conflict. Foreign funding created professional Sudanese guerillas, amply provisioned but without any real ideology, popular support,...

Is India’s Shine Gone? (Part Two)

Attempts by India’s governing party, the BJP, to play up the country’s recent economic success and take credit for it backfired spectacularly. India’s rural poor, it emerged, did not buy the success – much less give anyone credit. So the BJP is out and the Congress Party in power. What next for India? (Part two of a two-part series.) “…India’s economy, for instance, could be larger than Japan’s by 2032…” – Goldman Sachs, October 2003. A new Silicon Valley sprouting in Bangalore. A roaring economy achieving nearly nine percent growth in 2003. A rising hysteria that every good US job might be outsourced to Mumbai. And suddenly India was no longer a byword for poverty. It seemed the country had achieved that Leninist fantasy – leaping stages of development. From subsistence farming to software services almost overnight. To be sure, about 80 percent of Indians were – as commentator Sundeep Waslekar pointed out – still too poor to afford a bicycle. But the rest had catapulted their country to the forefront of the high-tech global economy. In fact, no. What was an idle fantasy for Lenin remains so today. India has not leapt over anything. In India’s recent growth there is, unfortunately, less than meets the eye. The story of India’s unlikely boom is extraordinary but ultimately tragic. It began in the 1980s, when the ruling Congress Party attempted to see off the opposition BJP by co-opting the BJP’s business backers. The government – long hostile to private business – began handing out favors. Though meager, this was enough. India’s businesses, beaten down by decades of central planning, responded...