Zimbabwe on the brink of collapse
December 25, 2008, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Africa | Tags: , , ,

As conditions continue to deteriorate in Zimbabwe, the country’s embattled and defiant leader, Robert Mugabe insists that he will stay in power amid a chorus of calls by the international community asking him to step down. As a rally earlier in the week, Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled the country virtually unchallenged since independence, said that he has no plans to step down. Mugabe told the crowd “I will never, never, never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine.”

Yesterday, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu in an interview with the BBC, urged the international community to take action to oust Mr. Mugabe from power.

“We have betrayed our legacy, how much more suffering is going to make us say, ‘No, we have given Mr. Mugabe enough time”.

Some 5.5 million Zimbabweans now need food assistance, a striking figure for a country of 13.3 million people. In recent months, a cholera epidemic has broken out in parts of the country as more than 1,100 people have died and 24,000 others have been sickened since August.  The government has been blamed for its mismanagement of the crisis.  The cholera epidemic comes amid a economy on the brink of collapse in a society plagued by one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki spent most of his last few months in office trying to bring the impasse to an end and was able to get concessions from both sides.  The plan he and Zimbabwean leaders crafted, chiefly, that Mr. Mugabe would stay on as president while opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, would become Prime Minister, has now fallen apart.  Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has threatened to withdraw from a possible unity government unless 42 abducted members of the party are freed in the coming weeks.

The proposal was originally supported by the United States, but recent events in Zimbabwe have further soured relations between Zimbabwe and the international community.  Jendayi Frazier, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs said that Mr. Mugabe’s time is over. “The power-sharing agreement should be implemented, and it needs to be implemented with someone other than Robert Mugabe as the president,” Frazier was quoted as saying in an article in Voice of America.

In a Tell Me More segment, NPR’s Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports on the turmoil and the near collapse of the state.


Unease in Zimbabwe’s Barracks
December 19, 2008, 12:15 pm
Filed under: Africa, Poverty | Tags: , , , , ,
An unidentified man carries some cash for groceries in Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday, March, 5, 2008. The Zimbabwean currency tumbled to a record 25 million dollars for a single US dollar Wednesday as Zimbabwe battles with the worlds highest inflation currently pegged at over 100 000 percent. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Militaries are often immune from the tragedies of everyday life, especially in impoverished countries, where their ability to use force gives them a special power and position over civilians.  In many places, while the orphans and landless go to sleep with empty stomachs, the barracks often enjoy a modicum of stability.

In Zimbabwe however, soldiers from the ZNA have begun rebelling against the government of Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe, precisely because they too are feeling the effects of the government’s tragic mismanagement of the economy.  Though largely confined to Harare thus far, and comprised of lower ranking soldiers, the situation is worrisome for Mr. Mugabe and the ZNA.  Earlier in the week, Air Force Commander Perrance Shiri was shot in the arm in an apparent ambush.  Frustration with the longstanding economic crisis, which has made the Zimbabwean dollar worthless, has pushed segments of the military onto the streets, where they have battled with their fellow soldiers in violent street clashes.

Earlier in the day, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced a $10 billion note, which is the equivalent of $20 dollars. Banks have increasingly been unable to meet withdrawal demands and while new currency, according to the Reserve Bank, will “ go a long way in improving workers’ access to cash”, unless the political impasse is solved, it is likely that the Reserve Bank will be forced to take more action in the coming weeks and months.  The government has blamed some of mess on black market currency dealers.

To make matters worse, while Mr. Mugabe has offered to make his opposition rival, Morgan Tsvangirai the Prime Minister, Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has threatened to withdraw from a possible unity government unless 42 abducted members of the party are freed in the coming weeks.

“The MDC can no longer sit at the same negotiating table with a party that is abducting our members and other innocent civilians and refusing to produce any of them before a court of law”

Al-Jazeera’s Jonah Hull speaks with several disillusioned soldiers in the South African town of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.

Greentrification: Good Intentions and Bad Results of ‘Green’
December 16, 2008, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Environment, Poverty | Tags: , , , ,

This is an extended and edited version of a brief presentation I recently gave at a dinner for DC Green Muslims, a group of environmentally minded Muslims from around the Washington Metropolitan area. The discussion was geared around the concept of space and my portion of the program dealt with community space. I tried to guide the topic away from the euphoric and existential and focus more on the failures of ‘green’ and to make some criticisms of the green movement’s current community development paradigm, which I see as not taking into account the realities of disparate communities, specifically, the urban poor and communities of color.

At the most basic level, a community space is somewhere that people live and work together. School, mosques, grocery stores and neighborhood are all community spaces in that people come together to create a place, and that space is defined by its individual component parts. For example, one can say that a neighborhood is defined by the sum of all the buildings, roads, parks and trees which it contains. Remove any single part of the equation and you have altered that community space to some degree. Of course, altering is not always a negative thing and many communities need to be developed and changed in order to become more sustainable and livable. In the era of environmental degradation, ‘green’ discourse seems almost unchallengeable precisely because an alternative model is so badly needed.

Certainly, those who are not too fond of the environmental movement come up with their usual complaints, but internal criticism if rare, and where it is found, it has yet to pick up any steam. This is because planting trees, opening cafes, building walkways, using recycled bags to do our shopping, planting community gardens, installing solar panels on traffic lights, all these things are needed in order to develop a community space and make it sustainable.

But what often goes unnoticed and sometimes even ignored is the idea that no matter our intentions, the present green development paradigm has dramatic consequences on the urban poor. In order for the green movement to be successful in developing sustainable community spaces, the community which is most impacted and which defines the space MUST be at the forefront of all projects.

In Islam, our deeds are judged by our intentions. Good rarely comes from a bad intention.

The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:

“Surely actions are by intentions and each will get that for which they intend”

But what if a good intention actually produces a negative consequence for some? Examples of this abound here in DC and in urban centers around the country where the dominant green discourse is said to clean up areas and promote sustainability while actually accelerating the process of gentrification. Communities may be developed but seldom do the current residents of these spaces benefit from such development.

The reason that the urban poor are often left out of the equation is because the development paradigm began not as a movement to make cities more sustainable, but rather, to stop the spread of and reverse the process of urban sprawl. This movement, almost from inception was led by the middle and upper class. Susana Almanza, in her article, Removing the Poor through Land Use and Planning published in Race, Poverty and the Environment, asserts:

People of color, the poor, and the working poor were not at the table and thus, the impacts on these communities did not receive meaningful consideration. Urban planners and developers began developing the urban core as if people of color were not living in them. New zoning codes and policies were adopted to make room for the new urbanisism. Communities of color throughout the United States began to see condos, lofts, McMansions, and live/work buildings pop up in low-income and people of color neighborhoods. A tidal wave of gentrification began to engulf people of color communities.

Columbia Heights is but one example.

B. Jesse Clarke, editor of Race, Poverty and the Environment admits to me that the current system is doing nothing more than “greenwashing and smart development at the expense of established poor communities.” The solution, according to Clarke, is to put political power in the hands of the poor and communities of color who have historically been disenfranchised. In short, “it takes political power to win social and economic rights for communities of color and low income people”, a power which often takes a backseat while we figure out the next project that will make us feel good about ourselves.

The fundamental issue is that the green movement is perceived as, and in many ways actually is, a movement of the elite, or rather, to be less critical, a movement that is, more often then not, led by those who have the ability and the time to care. If we are to move beyond just feeling good about ourselves because we recycle, reuse and reduce and towards developing communities, the urban poor, the residents of these neighborhoods MUST be at the forefront and we MUST work towards their political rights and their power. Unfortunately, the poor often don’t have the means or ends to participate, just as they do not have the means to shop at Trader Joe’s or buy organic products.

If the people most impacted by environmental degradation are not considered, then green projects ultimately fail in their goal of sustainability. We must make sure that our good intentions result in good deeds which benefit the poor rather then making their communities unlivable.

Court Convicts Food Crisis Protesters
December 15, 2008, 3:30 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: ,

An Egyptian court has sentenced 22 people found guilty of taking part in violent food riots earlier in the year in Mahalla el-Kubra. The unrest, the worst in 30 years, irrupted amid this summer’s food crisis and the government’s faulty agricultural policy.

Al-Jazeera’s Amr El Kakhy reports on the shocking outcome:

walid zafar

The Role of Media and Piracy in Somalia
December 12, 2008, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Africa, Poverty | Tags: , , ,

My friend Joe Le Sac at The Melon Online recently published a comment on the state of anarchy in Somalia and how piracy is being painted in the international press. He writes:

Somalia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While international eyes scorn the recent hijackings of over 40 shipping vessels off Somalia’s coast and berate the perceived “lawlessness” of the pirates who hold them for millions of dollars ransom, Somalis themselves seem more concerned about the destruction of human life caused by corporations and blood money from Western governments.

Very little attention is given to the fact that Somalia is, by the UN’s own admission, the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa. Rather, the focus on piracy seems to avoid contextualization.

Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post analyzes the sensationalist coverage of piracy across the international media.

The AP reports that the commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, is showing reseveration on the recent idea of attacking the pirates by land.

Since Somalia has no effective government, there is no international consensus on what to do with the pirates if they are detained.  The government they do have seems to be on the brink of collapse.

The New York Times reported last week that:

Somalia’s transitional government looks as if it is about to flatline. The Ethiopians who have been keeping it alive for two years say they are leaving the country, essentially pulling the plug.

To make matters worse, BBC reports that about 15,000 Somali soldiers and police have deserted.  Furthermore:

Mr Kumalo, the South African ambassador, also said most of the Somali government’s security budget – supposedly 70% of its total budget – disappeared through corruption.


Walid Zafar