Rebuilding Zimbabwe

This post was written by Richard Norman, in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe

Earlier this year, inflation in Zimbabwe reached 231 million per cent per month (with some unofficial estimates at more than 80 billion per cent). Prices doubled every day. Citizens were forced to cross borders to buy bread. The political instability that had wrecked the country for a full decade, and which had begun with the violent seizure of white-owned farms, appeared finally to have destroyed the Zimbabwean economy. Computers froze up when forced to calculate the zeros.

But following the swearing-in of a unity government in February, the first stirrings of stability returned. The power-sharing agreement between Morgan Tsvangirai, who was widely seen to be robbed of a presidential win in elections in 2008, and Robert Mugabe, the country’s only and continuing president, was hailed as a breakthrough. The Zimbabwe dollar, which in January featured $100 trillion notes (even after cutting more than half a dozen zeros) was scrapped in exchange for a liberal foreign currency regime. Now goods and services are paid for in dollars or rand, change is very scarce, and the old currency is sold to tourists as memorabilia.

But things are far from happy, and one hundred days after the unity government came into office—with Tsvangirai as prime minister and Mugabe, tenaciously, amazingly, still in power as president—the economy continues to be in tatters. Zimbabwe’s major cities, Harare and Bulawayo, are struck frequently by huge power outages, to say nothing of rural areas. People who make a monthly salary of $100 find bills in their post from the state electricity provider of $150 or more; some places haven’t seen electricity in more than a year. Water services are similarly in shambles. Suburban professionals who once enjoyed comfortable lives may still have their homes, but they must wake at 4 a.m. in order to beat the line at the community borehole. A cholera outbreak in and around the capital earlier this year claimed more than 4,000 lives, plainly attributable to the ransacking of public utilities under the uncontested time of Mugabe’s reign. While the supermarket shelves have filled up again with basic products, and gasoline is widely available, signs of deprivation are apparent everywhere. Torture continues in prisons with journalists and lawyers frequent targets. There have been reports of the general prison population surviving on tree leaves and rats.

How have Mugabe and Tsvangirai been getting along as partners in power? The two men have faced off against each other throughout the last decade, which saw the rise of the latter as the only opposition leader with the stamina and popular appeal to challenge the independence hero. Tsvangirai, who has survived repeated beatings by Mugabe henchmen, and whose wife was killed in March when a truck side-swiped the car the couple were driving, has been doing his best in the face of repeated interference by the president and ZANU-PF, the president’s party.

On the one-hundred day mark of the unity government, serious obstacles remain. The key to revitalizing the Zimbabwean economy is reforming the central bank, in particular its corporate governance structure, and launching a new currency. This process, which Tsvangirai and his finance minister have been hard at work on, has been undermined by the hold-over reserve bank governor Gideon Gono, the man who presided over the extraordinary inflationary period and whose official signature testifies to the worthlessness of the $100 trillion note. Mugabe has insisted on Gono’s reappointment against the wishes of Tsvangirai and much of the international community, and also wants the reappointment of the attorney general, Johannes Tomana, who would rubber stamp Mugabe and ZANU-PF’s lawless actions. These are the outstanding issues to be dealt with under the unity agreement and have finally, after endless negotiations, been sent to the Southern African Development Community for arbitration. While this may eventually resolve the problem in the months to come, this may also be a tactic on the part of Mugabe to run Tsvangirai and his ministers into the ground.

Faced with such a principled and well-organized opposition, so deeply unpopular, most other leaders would have ceded power no matter how undemocratic and tyrannous their nature—especially at the age of 85. But Mugabe is sui generis. The last African independence leader, the last bastion of a false and misery-generating Afro-Marxism, the Zimbabwe president appears to have a limitless capacity and energy to plot against opponents and see them off with maximum violence. Even in his dotage he remains formidable. As the months go by and the unity government remains stuck in mid-gear, his interference and stalling appear less to be a basic unfamiliarity with the concept of sharing power and more of a tactic to wear out his opponents before again going on the attack.

Political Body Language

Browns meet Obamas at Downing St

By Mel O’Brien

Body language amongst world leaders is a subject that crops up occasionally in the media. Angela Merkel has been unimpressed by inappropriate physical advances from both George W. Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy; Kevin Rudd has been chided for giving a deputy sheriff salute to George W. Bush. It was with great interest this morning that I watched the footage of the meeting of the Obamas and the Browns at 10 Downing St prior to the G20 summit in London. Continue reading

Most popular posts since July 2008

Since July 2008, this blog has been viewed over 98,276 times. I think this is a good opportunity to celebrate. In order to do so, I have listed the most popular blog articles, in terms of the number of views since July 2008. This is the Top 10 (number of views in brackets):

  1. Manipulating and measuring the political spectrum part 1: Obama and the flip flops (4619): In this post, Nick Li provided his own analysis of whether Obama had really moved to the centre on various issues, as was often suggested.
  2. Calvin & Hobbes on International Law (2513): In this post, Otto Spijkers provides an example of the lessons international lawyers can learn from comic books, especially Calvin & Hobbes.
  3. Understanding Bokito, the gorilla that escaped and attacked a woman (2290): In this post, Otto Spijkers tried to explain why a gorilla escaped from his cage in Blijdorp Zoo (Netherlands), and immediately attacked a woman that visited him on an almost daily basis in the Zoo.
  4. In Manipulating and measuring the political spectrum part 2: Political Rankings and Compasses (2266), Nick looked in greater detail at how one can actually measure the political spectrum. He looked at what constituted the ‘centre’ in US politics, and how these things were measured by the likes of the National Journal, which ranked Obama as the most liberal Senator in 2007.
  5. Political Economy of Myanmar/Burma Part 2 – what can the international community do? (1765): In this post, Nick Li assessed the steps the international community could take to alleviate the suffering of the Burmese people. He looked at the possibility of military intervention, economic sanctions, and engagement.
  6. New Online Journal: The Göttingen Journal of International Law (1553): In this post, Tobias Thienel wrote about the publication of the first issue in history of a brand new, exciting online journal: the Göttingen Journal of International Law (GoJIL). The GoJIL is the first student-run German international law review. Tobias himself was actively involved in setting up this journal: one of the articles in the first journal was written by him, and he is a member of the journal’s Scientific Advisory Board.
  7. Why the internship at UN Headquarters should be (un)paid (1549): In this post, Otto Spijkers listed all the reasons brought forward to defend the position that the UN interns should get paid for the duration of their internship. The comments to this article have slowly evolved into what can only be called an Unofficial United Nations Internship Programme Discussion Group, where various issues relating to the application process are discussed by a number of future interns.
  8. Acts of Dutchbat must be attributed to the United Nations and not to the Netherlands (1108): This post is about a number of cases before the Dutch District Court relating to the responsibility of the Netherlands for the failure of Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica in the early nineties.
  9. The problem with MONUC (1102): In this post, Richard Norman looks critically at the achievements and failures of UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, MONUC, which is based in the Congo.
  10. Update on Australia’s refugee policy (1034): In this post, Mel O’Brien looked critically at recent changes in Australia’s refugee policy. After looking in great detail at a speech by Chris Evans, Australia’s federal Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mel concluded that ‘it seems the government is really planning a complete overhaul of the immigration system to render it fair and treat asylum seekers with the dignity they deserve.’

I calculated the number of hits in the morning of 25 March 2009. The blog articles that were written before July 2008 have been published once again on this new blog, but they actually first appeared on our previous blog ( which is no longer available. Unfortunately I thus cannot take into account the number of views of those posts as originally published. The posts that appeared on United Nations, Global Values, and the Individual and The Core, our previous blog efforts, are also not taken into account. They are still available on the original blogs.

The Bashir Arrest Warrant- why is the ICC being blamed for repurcussions, actual or potential?

Why are people so deeply concerned about the issuance of an arrest warrant? What people should be deeply concerned about is retaining someone like Bashir in a position like head of state, where he is in a position to continue committing crimes. The bottom line is that Bashir is a war criminal (perhaps I should say alleged, but it is completely unlikely the ICC Prosecutor would bring such a case before the Court without certainty of the guilt of the accused). It is Bashir who has been the cause of the death, rape, torture and displacement of millions of people. How is this moment now the “critical juncture” in the peace process, when the peace process has been ongoing for years now, and in reality, is unlikely to succeed anytime soon with or without the existence of the arrest warrant for Bashir? I think we can categorically say that Bashir is not the key to peace in Sudan. It is not the ICC that has pushed out humanitarian organisations from Sudan- it is Bashir. It is not the ICC that has been involved in ongoing violence targeting civilians- it is Bashir. Why is it seen as acceptable to have such a person leading a country and being involved in a peace process, but not for such a person to be held accountable for his actions?

Yes, of course, the answer is politics, and fear of leaders that they too will be held accountable for any crimes they may commit. They cry “violation of sovereignty and immunity”. Yet international law has moved far beyond blanket application of state sovereignty and immunities. While the sanctity of these two concepts is still respected, there are limitations on their application. Achieving peace should not and does not have to equal immunity for those who have committed crimes. The ICC was established with the aim of ensuring individual criminal responsibility- accountability- for the most horrific crimes, regardless of the position of the person committing the crime. While I personally do not agree that the ICC should restrict itself to only prosecuting the big fish (and am relieved the Pre-Trial Chamber’s ruling in this regard was overturned on appeal, see Prosecutor v Ntaganda), it is still vital that the Court does ensure the biggest fish are brought to justice. It is rare that a state will prosecute a former head of state (although not entirely unheard of, e.g. Fujimori), so the ICC needs to guarantee that there is a forum in which these leaders can be held accountable. One thing that was reiterated at the arrest warrant press conference was the fact that the ICC is a judicial institution and political considerations are not in its ambit- and that is indeed the way it is and should be.

What all states should be calling for is the immediate carrying out of the arrest warrant, the arrest of Bashir. States should recognise that the removal of one of the main elements of the conflict in Sudan will be the positive step towards peace, not the retention of that element. Bashir should be under pressure from all sides, from all regions. He should be unable to travel anywhere outside of Sudan without being arrested. The Security Council should not heed (which they have not done, and hopefully will not do) the appeals of the AU and Arab League to exercise their authority under Article 16 of the Rome Statute to suspend proceedings. Instead, they should adjust the mandates of UNAMID and UNMIS to include the power to arrest any persons currently wanted by the ICC. There should be unencumbered support by all states and the UN (both the GA and the Security Council) for the ICC’s decision to take a concrete step and call for the arrest of someone responsible for past and ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity (and genocide? This we will see on appeal, undoubtedly). It’s about time someone was held accountable for the atrocities being committed in Sudan.

New Online Journal: The Göttingen Journal of International Law

GoJILBy Tobias Thienel

Last night saw the publication of a brand new, exciting online journal: the Göttingen Journal of International Law has published its first issue. The GoJIL, as it is known for short, is the first student-run German international law review. It thus applies in Germany the great American tradition of students taking on a role in the publication of valuable scholarly work, contributed both by other students and by more established writers.

The first issue already contains articles by such prominent authors as Robert Cryer (‘Prosecuting the Leaders: Promises, Politics and Practicalities’), Diane Desierto (‘Universalizing Core Human Rights in the "New" ASEAN: A Reassessment of Culture and Development Justifications against the Global Rejection of Impunity’) and the political scientist Dimitris N. Chryssochoou (‘The European Synarchy: New Discourses on Sovereignty’), as well as a Foreword by Judge Thomas Buergenthal of the ICJ. Judge Buergenthal is also a member of the Advisory Board of GoJIL.

Another very prominent contribution, by the former President of the German Federal Constitutional Court, Jutta Limbach, on ‘Human Rights in Times of Terror’ nicely sets up a more student-oriented part of the Journal: GoJIL has initiated an International Student Essay Competition on just that topic, and the winning essay, by Evelyne Schmid, is now published in the current issue of GoJIL. Ms Schmid writes persuasively of ‘The Right to a Fair Trial in Times of Terrorism: A Method to Identify the Non-Derogable Aspects of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,’ addressing in particular the role of other international law in derogations from the Covenant.

There is also a section of Current Developments in International Law, with comment on the recent decisions in Georgia v Russia, Kadi v Council and Commission and FIAMM (the last on the liability of the EC for lawful conduct), as well as on the nuclear deal between the US and India.

I have had some – limited – involvement with GoJIL as a member of its Scientific Advisory Board, and therefore can attest to the dedication of the editors and to all the hard work and intense care they have put into this project. The end result reflects all this; it is an impressive piece of work. Do have a look!

Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration Day

 By Nick Li

At 12pm EST on Tuesday, January 20th 2009 Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Americans and the rest of the world have high hopes for this man – nothing less than ending a global financial crisis and economic downturn, fighting the scourges of disease and poverty, promoting reconciliation and peace between the West and the Muslim world, and restoring America’s global moral authority (though we can debate whether or not it has possessed such a moral authority in decades). Continue reading

Some thoughts on the first US Presidential Debate

By Nick Li

After all the drama of the last few days, Barack Obama and John McCain finally got down to business today. US Presidential Debates are a very strange format for disseminating information about the candidates and their policies. The participants have very short periods in which to communicate their points, and tend to get judged as much on style as substance. Did Al Gore sigh? Did George HW Bush glance at his watch? Did Kennedy look better than Nixon? To make matters worse, in the US the debate is immediately followed by non-stop spin by the spokepeople for both camps, and any opportunity to take words out of context or dwell exclusively on minor gaffes tends to dominate discussion of the actual issues or the veracity of the speakers’ claims. Don’t expect the media to call out John McCain if he claims that Barack Obama wants to raise your taxes (which is a true statement only for the richest 5% of viewers), as the US newsmedia no longer feels its role is to be the arbiter of truth. Impartiality demands that lies not be called lies. Continue reading

Our Minister is blogging about the UN General Assembly Session, and people are free to comment

By Otto Spijkers

Mr. Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, is blogging about his experiences in New York during the 63rd Session of the General Assembly. As is the case with most weblogs, people can comment on his posts, anonymously if they want. I guess that if you allow people to freely express their opinion, you’ll always get comments that lack ‘nuance’. Let me give some examples. Continue reading

Manipulating and measuring the political spectrum part 2: Political Rankings and Compasses

political_compass.png By Nick Li

In my last post I argued that Barack Obama’s so-called move to the center is largely a fiction. This perception appears to be partly driven by a misunderstanding of his previous positions, for example on capital punishment. Some of it also appears to be the result of taking statements made in a speech out of context or putting a rather radical spin on them and then calling the subsequeht clarification and nuance a flip-flop(whether on timetables for withdrawal from Iraq, delaying tax increases if the economy is in recession, or meeting without preconditions with leaders of hostile regimes). But a large part of it must be due to the perception that Obama is a very liberal politician at heart. This perception is largely driven by the often repeated claim that Obama is the most liberal (or left-wing for our international readers) senator in the US senate, which according to McCain now means he is left of a self-described socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The source for the claim is a study by the National Journal, a magazine for Washington insiders. In this post I will discuss the methodology behind the study and some other methodologies used to gauge, based on voting records, where to located a politician on the political spectrum. Continue reading