This post is a tribute to Zimbabwean political scientist, John Makumbe (1949-2013), who has just died. I first met him in Zimbabwe in 1981, and once traveled with him to Botswana. We had many conversations on religion, where we disagreed greatly. He became an outspoken and fearless opponent of Robert Mugabe’s corrupt regime, and had been planning to stand for election for his home region, Buhera, to the Zimbabwe House of Assembly at the forthcoming national elections.
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Robert Mugabe is a superb public speaker. I have been fortunate to hear him speak in public many times, from large ceremonial public addresses on state and official occasions, to speeches at ZANU-PF political rallies (ranging from a few hundred to several scores of thousands of people at Rufaro Stadium, and with both sophisticated urban and traditional rural participants), to addresses to foreign investors and business leaders, to quiet, grave-side orations at funerals of mutual friends. And I have expressed before my admiration for his rhetorical skills, his superb command of different registers, his intelligence, his Jesuit-trained casuistry, and his guile. I have never met him, but from accounts of people who have, he can also be very charming when he wishes.
Despite claims by some that he has become diminished with age, and even falls asleep during official meetings, the opposition ministers in his Cohabitation Government say that he is just as charming, intelligent, and wily as ever. From a report this week in the Guardian:
Welshman Ncube, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Commerce and Industry and leader of one of the factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lost his grandfather in the 1980s Gukurahundi. The Gukurahundi was a violent campaign in which thousands of opposition Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu) party supporters were killed and beaten by a brigade owing allegiance to President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Ncube shares his experience working with Mugabe in a unity government since 2009: “Ninety percent of the time, I cannot recognise the Mugabe I sit with in cabinet with the Mugabe who has ruled this country through violence. He shows real concern for his country and people, like a father. And he can master detail over a wide range of government matters. If I had only this experience with Mugabe in government and had not lived through the Gukurahundi and seen him denouncing Zapu with anger and belief on television, and you told me he carried out the Gukurahundi, I would say ‘no, not this man, he is not capable of it’. But I saw him.”
Another MDC minister, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, also struggles to reconcile the man she thought Mugabe was, before entering government, with the one she knows today. “I did not think Mugabe believed in things. Now I know that Mugabe actually believes in things, ideologically, like that the British are after regime change in Zimbabwe. When he believes in something he will genuinely defend it. If he believes in an action, no matter how wrong it is, he will not apologise. That is one hallmark of Mugabe. He is loyal to his beliefs.”
On Mugabe’s personality, Misihairabwi-Mushonga says that she had not known that he was “a serious charmer around women. A very, very, very good charmer . . . He also has an exceptional sense of humour. You literally are in stitches throughout cabinet. But he also has an intellectual arrogance. If you do not strike him as someone intelligent he has no time for you. There are certain people who, when they speak in cabinet, he sits up and listens, and others who, when they speak, he pretends to be asleep.”
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Minister of Information and Communication Technology, once thought Mugabe was “unbalanced”, but adds: “sitting in cabinet with him, I admire his intellect. He has dexterity of encyclopaedic proportions. He is bad leader but a gifted politician. Why do I say he is a gifted politician? He has the ability to manage political emotions and intentions. But leadership is a different thing. The best form of leadership is to create other leaders who can come reproduce your vision after you. Mugabe has not done that.”
I add a note to clarify this post: None of the above should be seen as an endorsement of Mugabe’s policies, many of which have been motivated by malfeasance, peculation, and plain, old-fashioned, evil. Unfortunately, his administration, unlike many in Africa, has been overwhelmingly competent, with even the policy of hyperinflation aimed – deliberately and very successfully – at enriching a few thousand people with foreign currency holdings at the expense of every other Zimbabwean. The pinnacle of this deadly-effective malevolence has been the enrichment of the political and military elite by using of the state’s military forces to operate protection rackets in foreign countries – eg, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with whom Zimbabwe shares no border nor any strategic interest.
Joshua Hammer has an article in the November 2011 issue of the New York Review of Books about the mysterious recent death of General Solomon Mujuru (aka Rex Nhongo) in Zimbabwe. The article presents an account of Mujuru’s death, an account about which most of us can only speculate.
However, the article has a couple of minor errors, which may not add to a reader’s confidence in the article’s authority:
- “When I visited the renovated Victoria Falls Hotel, built by the British colonial government in 1904 at the site of a railway bridge over the Zambezi River . . .” Except for a brief period of four months in 1979-80, Zimbabwe never had a British colonial government. Between the first settlement by Europeans in 1890 and the award of self-government (on a restricted franchise) in 1923, the region now called Zimbabwe was governed as a concession by the British South Africa Company (BSAC), advised from 1898 by a partially-elected council. This might seem a very minor point, but the fact that the modern nation was founded by a brutal, unelected, profit-oriented corporation strikes me as germane to its present sad state under a brutal, unelected, profit-oriented oligarchy. The violence and brutality of the white occupation is only just beyond living memory, and is certainly within the memories of the children of those affected. In particular, the fact that white settlers and the BSAC stole farm land from the black inhabitants, and often did so violently, has been used to justify the often-violent and illegal occupation of commercial farms by agents of the Mugabe regime a century later. While Minerva’s owl is taking flight at dusk, her chickens are busy coming home to roost.
- “I headed to a leafy northern suburb and entered the gated estate of Ibbo Mandaza, a liberation war veteran who served for ten years in Mugabe’s cabinet until his ouster in 1990.” Well, actually, the good Dr Mandaza was never a member of the Cabinet, as far as I am aware, but only a civil servant. In any case, the word “ousted” implies some sort of estrangement. In fact, well after 1990 Dr Mandaza was still working actively for ZANU-PF victories in national elections.
- On the other hand, the author could have noted that almost all the residences in the northern (formerly whites-only) suburbs of Harare are gated, so no inference should be drawn from Dr Mandaza’s residence being gated (unlike the situation were his residence to be gated and in the USA).
The Guardian today carries an obituary for Robert Oakeshott (1933-2011), pioneer of worker-cooperatives and employee-owned enterprises, whom I once invited to speak at the University of Zimbabwe and with whom I then spent an enjoyable dinner in Harare, at a time when the Government of Zimbabwe was sincerely promoting industrial and agricultural worker co-operatives, supported by many western aid donor agencies.
Writing in Bertinoro, Italy, I have just learnt of the death earlier this year of J. Martin Harvey (1949-2011), a friend and former colleague, and one of Zimbabwe’s great mathematicians. Martin was the first black student to gain First Class Honours in Mathematics from the University of Rhodesia (as it then was, now the University of Zimbabwe), the first person to gain a doctorate in mathematics from that University, and the first black lecturer appointed to teach mathematics there. He later became an actuary, one of the few of any colour in Zimbabwe, but this was a career that lost value with the declining Zimbabwe dollar: actuarial science is about financial planning under uncertainty, and planning is pointless in an economy with hyper-inflation. He then became part of the great Zimbabwean diaspora, lecturing at the University of the Western Cape, in South Africa.
Martin was a true child of the sixties, with all the best qualities of that generation – open, generous, tolerant, curious, unpompous, democratic, sincere. He was a category theorist, and like most, a deep thinker. Martin was a superb jazz flautist, and on his travels would seek out jazz musicians to jam with. He wrote and recited poetry, and indeed could talk with knowledge on a thousand topics. I once spent a month traveling the country with him on a market resarch project we did together, and his conversation was endlessly fascinating. Despite our very different childhoods, I recall a long, enjoyable evening with him in a shebeen in rural Zimbabwe talking about the various American and Japanese TV series we had both seen growing up (which I mentioned here). Among many memories, I recall him once arguing that a university in a marxist state should have only two faculties: a Faculty for the Forces of Production, and a Faculty for the Relations of Production. There was great laughter as he insisted that the arts and humanities were essential to effective production, and so belonged in the former faculty; this argument was typical of his wit and erudition.
Our mutual friend, Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, another great Zimbabwean mathematician, has a tribute here. I send my condolences to his wife, Winnie Harvey, and family. Vale, Martin. It has been an honour to have known you.
J. M. Harvey : Categorical characterization of uniform hyperspaces. Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 94: 229-233. Available here.
J. M. Harvey : Reflective subcategories. Illinois Journal of Mathematics, 29 (3): 365-369. Available here.
Being a colleague of Robert Mugabe greatly increases your chances of an early death, especially in a car accident. Here’s a list of people who met unexpected ends while working with Bob (showing the year of their death). No doubt the car accidents are due to chance.
- Herbert Chitepo (1975), ZANU leader, killed by car bomb in exile in Lusaka.
- Josiah Tongogara (1979), ZANLA leader, died in a car accident in Mozambique during return from exile.
- Charles Tazvishaya (aka Lovemore Mawisa) (1986), personal private secretary to Prime Minister Mugabe, survived a gunshot wound to the head and then died in Parirenyatwa Hospital, Harare, a fortnight later, after his medical drip was detached from the source medication.
- Maurice Nyagumbo (1989), Minister for Mines, died from ingesting pesticide.
- Border Gezi (2001), Minister for Gender, Youth and Employment, died in a car accident.
- Moven Mahachi (2001), Minister of Defence, died in a car accident.
- Elliot Manyika (2008), Minister Without Portfolio and National Political Commissar for ZANU-PF, died in a car accident.
- Susan Tsvangirai (2009), wife of Morgan Tsvangirai, the new Prime Minister in the Government of National Unity, died in a car accident.
- General Solomon Mujuru (aka Rex Nhongo) (August 2011), first post-Independence Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Armed Forces and husband of Vice President Joice Mujuru, died in a house fire which destroyed his farmhouse near Beatrice.
One did not have to visit many bars or nightclubs in downtown Harare in the early 1980s before encountering the late Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987), Zimbabwean novelist and poet. I knew him slightly, as did anyone who was willing to share a drink with him and enjoy (or endure) a stimulating late-night argument on politics or literature. Some of his writing, for all its coarse language, is powerful and sublime (in the tradition of Burroughs and Genet), and David Caute, in a book I have just read, argues correctly that he was a great writer. The book also captures his personality well, even if it gives the impression that Caute thinks the work forgives the man. It does not. As a person, Marechera was a victim of his addictions and perhaps also of a psychosis – mercurial, abusive, racist, foul-mouthed, illogical, self-destructive, and paranoid: not someone who was nice to be around for very long. Nothing forgives such poor behaviour, not even great writing.
As always when I read David Caute, I am reminded of Graham Greene: both are writers who grapple with the major moral questions and issues of our time, yet both write in the sloppiest of language, insincere and vague, and have the tinnest of ears. Woolly writing might be evidence of woolly thinking or evidence of malice aforethought (perhaps attempting to hide or obfuscate something, as Orwell argued); it could also be evidence of insufficient thinking. In any case, Greene’s and Caute’s arguments are often undone and undermined by their style. We only get as far as page 6 of Caute’s book on Marechera, for example, before we stumble over:
Piled high at the central counter of the Book Fair are copies of his [Marechera's] new book, Mindblast, published by College Press of Harare, an orange coloured paperback with a surrealist design involving a humanized cat and a black in a space helmet.”
A black what, Dr Caute? A black what? I guess you mean a black person. Just two sentences later, though, you speak of, “An effusive white executive of College Press . . .” So, let me get this right – white people are important enough to have nouns to denote them, but black people not, eh? Hmmm.
Although the effect is racist, I am sure Caute is not deliberately being racist in his use of language here, but rather just sloppy. But the sloppy expression, here as elsewhere, leads one to doubt his sincerity and/or his ear. Of course, someone who spent a lot of time in the company of white Rhodesians could easily forget how offensive the first usage sounds (and is); and we know from Caute’s earlier books that he spent a lot of time in the company of white Rhodesians.
Pressing on, on page 43 we read:
Such rhetoric counts for little against the current surplus of maize, tobacco and beef which only the commercial farmers can guarantee.”
Well, actually, no, Dr Caute. Tobacco and beef were in surplus at the time referred to (1984) due to commercial (ie, mainly white-owned) farms. But maize was in surplus because the avowedly Marxist government of Robert Mugabe used the price mechanism when it came to power to encourage communal farmers (ie, subsistence black farmers) to produce and sell surplus maize crops. This was something so very remarkable – the country in food surplus for its staple food almost immediately after 13 years of civil war and 90 years of insurrection, and because of the fast responsiveness of peasant farmers – that all the papers were full of it. Surely Caute must have heard. (See Herbst 1990 for an account.) And even beef production was boosted by contributions from communal farmers, particularly after the Government decided not to prosecute the many illegal butcheries competing against the state-owned meat-processing monopoly, the Cold Storage Commission. (One may wonder why a socialist government would not support its own state enterprise against privately-owned competitors until one learns that many members of the Cabinet had financial stakes in the competing butcheries.)
Is the sloppiness in Caute’s sentence then due to Orwellian sleight-of-hand – seeking to promote a case that was factually incorrect – or just due to insufficiently-careful thought? I suspect the latter, although it is throwaway lines like this – as it happens, lines so common in the conversation of white Rhodesians in the 1980s – that make me ponder the sincerity of Caute’s writing.
And, finally, Caute seems eager to berate the left and liberals for their failure to call attention to Robert Mugabe’s ethnic cleansing in Matebeleland in 1982-84, the Gukurahundi campaign. Certainly more could have been said and done, especially publicly, to oppose this. But why is only one side of politics to blame? Both the US and the UK had conservative administrations at the time, both of which (particularly Thatcher’s) made strong representations to Mugabe over the fate of several white Zimbabwe Air Force officers detained and tortured in 1982. These governments did not make nearly such strong representations over the fate of the victims of the Gukurahundi. Perhaps Mugabe was right to accuse the west of racism on this. And Mugabe’s military campaign in Matabeleland was not launched for no reason: As Caute must know, South Africa and its white Rhodesian friends were engaged in a campaign of terrorist violence against Zimbabwe from its inception, with terrorist bombings throughout the 1980s. The Independence Arch he describes traveling under on the way to Harare Airport was in fact the second arch built to commemorate Independence: the first had been blown up shortly after it was built. And even Joshua Nkomo admitted (at a press conference following his dismissal from Cabinet in February 1982) that he had asked South Africa for assistance to stage a coup after Independence. While Mugabe’s 5th Brigade was certainly engaged in brutal and genocidal murder and rape, the campaign was not against an imaginary enemy.
Although evil may triumph when good people do nothing, from the fact of the triumph of evil it is invalid to infer that nothing was done to oppose it by good people. Where are the mentions in Caute’s account of the strong, high-level and repeated Catholic opposition (both clerical and lay) to Mugabe’s campaign? Where is the mention, in the statement that Mugabe detained people using renewals of Smith’s emergency powers regulations, of the independent review panel established by ZANU(PF) stalwart Herbert Ushewokunze when Minister for Home Affairs, the Detention Review Tribunal, to consider the cases of people detained without trial? The members of this panel included independent lawyers, some of whom were white and liberal. Some people, even some of the people Caute seems to excoriate, were doing their best to stop or ameliorate the evil at the time.
FOOTNOTE: I speculated on Robert Mugabe’s possible CIA connections here. If true, this may explain the reticence of Western Governments to publicly criticize him in the 1980s.
David Caute [1986/2009]: Marechera and the Colonel: A Zimbabwean Writer and the Claims of the State. London, UK: Totterdown Books. Revised edition, 2009.
Jeffrey Herbst : State Politics in Zimbabwe. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press. Perspectives on Southern Africa Series, Volume 45.
I have posted previously about the different ways in which knowledge may be represented. A key learning of the discipline of Artificial Intelligence in its short life thus far is that not all representations are equal. Indeed, more precise representations may provide less information, as in this example from cartography (from a profile of economist Paul Krugman):
Again, as in his [Krugman's] trade theory, it was not so much his idea [that regional ecomomic specializations were essentially due to historical accidents] that was significant as the translation of the idea into a mathematical language. “I explained this basic idea” – of economic geography – “to a non-economist friend,” Krugman wrote, “who replied in some dismay, ‘Isn’t that pretty obvious?’ And of course it is.” Yet, becaue it had not been well modelled, the idea had been disregarded by economists for years. Krugman began to realize that in the previous few decades economic knowledge that had not been translated into [tractable analytical mathematical] models had been effectively lost, because economists didn’t know what to do with it. His friend Craig Murphy, a political scientist at Wellesley, had a collection of antique maps of Africa, and he told Krugman that a similar thing had happened in cartography. Sixteenth century maps of Africa were misleading in all kinds of ways, but they contained quite a bit of information about the continent’s interior – the River Niger, Timbuktu. Two centuries later, mapmaking had become more accurate, but the interior of Africa had become a blank. As standards for what counted as a mappable fact rose, knowledge that didn’t meet those standards – secondhand travellers’ reports, guesses hazarded without compasses or sextants – was discarded and lost. Eventually, the higher standards paid off – by the nineteenth century the maps were filled in again – but for a while the sharpening of technique caused loss as well as gain. ” (page 45)
Larissa MacFarquhar : The deflationist: How Paul Krugman found politics. The New Yorker, 2010-03-01, pp. 38-49.
Economists are fond of simplistic generalizations, which they refer to as “laws” (in imitation of Physics, itself showing its links to Theology), or as stylized facts. Most such are, at best, default conclusions, since there are always exceptions. Here are several, linked in a chain of inferences:
- A successful single European currency requires a single European monetary policy.
- A successful single European monetary policy requires a single European fiscal policy.
- A successful single European fiscal policy requires fiscal transfers from one part of the European Union to another.
- Fiscal transfers from one part of the European Union to another can only be undertaken over the long term by European institutions having democratic legitimacy.
- To achieve democratic legitimacy for European institutions, the nations of Europe will require full political union.
This is not a new argument. I first heard it put by Zambian economist Chiselebwe Ng’andwe in a paper read to a meeting of the African Association of Political Science in Salisbury (later Harare), Zimbabwe, in May 1981, talking about regional economic unions in Africa. In today’s Guardian, Simon Jenkins refers back to a book about European integration by Larry Seidentop, published in 2000, which apparently makes a similar case about Europe. Here is Ng’andwe in 1981:
Central banks play a pivotal role in the harmonization of fiscal, monetary and general economic policies. Hence, separate central banks make it difficult to harmonize even those policy areas where joint arrangements exist such as a common tariff.
The Central bank is such an important institution for economic policy control that a joint central bank [in an economic union of states] needs total political harmony to function. The necessary political harmony is not possible without political union. Hence, a joint central bank and its potential benefits are simply not possible in a grouping of political[ly] independent states. If one state wants some specific monetary policy to deal with an internal problem, a joint central bank will [op]pose some problems [policies?] unless the desired action is completely consistent with the economic and (or) political mood of the other countries. The loss of some territorial capacity for fiscal and monetary manoeuvre entailed by a joint central bank may involve a greater loss in territorial economic growth than the territorial gain from joint economic actions. This possibility of net economic loss does not augur well for a joint central bank. But even more important to the territorial political leaders is the loss of control over the key instruments of economic policy. This loss can create frustrations in the internal economic and political policies of individual countries.
. . .
Another signifance of joint policy instruments lie in the capacity of these instruments to reduce imbalances in the distribution of economic benefits. . . . Even in the U.S.A. where there is practically no government industrial and commercial activities, the availability of common fiscal and monetary policies enable[s] the central government to redistribute income throughout the federal states.
This redistribution may not be enough to remove inequalities completely, but it does remove the rough edges from any regional economic imbalances.” (pp. 13-14)
Why is this argument not, then, widely understood? Is it that some ideas are too comprehensible – in other words, apparently lacking in complexity or subtlety – to be understood by intelligent people? Or is that the political forces which benefit from the non-democratic European status quo are so strong as to prevent the adoption of democratic structures, and to muzzle the arguments for them? As I recall, Ng’andwe’s talk was received very coldly by his audience, most of whom were keen on economic unions (between African countries), while maintaining national sovereignty in all other respects.
Chiselebwe Ng’andwe : Problems of Economic Integration in Africa. Paper presented to the Fourth Bi-Annual Meeting of the African Association of Political Science (AAPS 1981). Salisbury, Zimbabwe: 23-27 May 1981.
Larry Seidentop : Democracy in Europe. London, UK: Penguin.
The Times article mentions the two main contenders for the leadership of ZANU (PF) following Bob’s always-imminently-predicted-but-never-quite-arriving retirement: Emmerson Mnangagwa and Solomon Mujuru. One would think that the Zimbabwean Vice-President, Joice Mujuru, who is likewise a ZANU (PF) nomenklatura, would perhaps also be a contender, but she is married to Solomon, so he takes precedence. She is more famous in Zimbabwe under her chimurenga name, Teurai Ropa (or Spill-Blood) Nhongo, and for leading a team of guerrilla fighters into battle while pregnant. Because she joined the struggle (for Independence) in her teens, she did not finish high-school; to her great personal credit, she completed her O-levels after Independence and while a Cabinet Minister. In the year she did O-level English, a novel by George Orwell was on the syllabus, leading to her infamous stage whisper at the official opening by then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe Institute for Development Studies; when the VIPs were led to a different (and much better) buffet than that provided for the other people present, she was heard by all to exclaim, “But this is just like Animal Farm!”
Her husband also had a loud voice. When I first met him, he was calling himself Rex Nhongo, and I did not then know what he looked like. A mutual friend introduced us using only first names as we happened upon each other buying groceries one evening after work in Twelve Gods, a foodstore and delicatessen in the low-density (ie, formerly whites-only) suburbs of Salisbury (as it then was). Making conversation while we stood in the queue, I asked, “And what do you do for a living, Rex?” In a booming voice which scared the living daylights out of the white customers in the shop, he replied, “Oh, I’m Commander-in-Chief of the Army, son!” Whether intended or not, this statement got the three of us to the front of the queue immediately. The mutual friend who introduced us is now himself a Cabinet Minister, one of the MDC contingent in Zimbabwe’s Cohabitation Government.
UPDATE [2011-09-12]: In August 2011, Rex Nhongo’s body was found after a fire destroyed his farmhouse. He was 62, and may have been killed or prevented from moving prior to the fire. The Guardian obituary is here.
Note that in maShona custom, a person may be given or may adopt different names over their life, and may prefer different names at different times or for different purposes. In addition, for reasons of security during the liberation struggle many people adopted noms de guerre, so-called chimurenga names.