Thursday, March 22, 2007

Obrigado para nada, babaca

As a way to welcome my apparent new Lusophone visitors, I thought I'd get started with some news on a Portuguese speaking dictator.

If there's one thing I've learned to count on, it's that an embattled dictator doesn't usually have to wait very long before another dictator lends a helping hand. Such is the case for Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who has somewhat unexpectedly faced a firestorm of rather huffy international condemnation following a rather innocuous (by Mugabe's standards) police crackdown on the political competition.

What really set the latest round of scolding apart from previous denouncements of Mugabe's regime was that the normally inert African Union appeared to have finally had enough, calling the political problems in Zimbabwe "embarrassing", creating an unheard of opening for other African leaders to chime in and start publicly denouncing the Mugabe regime. South Africa, of course, kept their mouths shut, but considering that criticism of Mugabe's dictatorship within Africa was previously unheard of, Mugabe certainly had to be startled. With a ruined economy, crop failure, and rumors of a party and/or army coup d'etat, Mugabe had to be wondering: won't anyone give me a goddamned break, already?

Enter Angolan dictator José Eduardo dos Santos, who clearly couldn't abide to see a fellow autocrat like Mugabe risk the danger of political or social reform emerging in Zimbabwe. After learning that Zimbabwe's low paid police forces were losing their appetite for clubbing defenseless civilians with rebar, dos Santos thoughtfully stepped into the breach. As a show of comradely support, José Eduardo dos Santos offered to deploy 2,500 paramilitary troopers (known as "ninjas") to Zimbabwe to act as ZANU-PFs riot police, and to nobody's surprise, Mugabe has delightedly accepted dos Santos' proposal.

Considering that Mugabe's favorite rhetorical strawman is "foreign interference", his decision to let in 2,500 armed foreigners enter Zimbabwe seems completely baffling. In fairness, I can't say I find it any more or less confusing than dos Santos' decision to offer military assistance to an international pariah for no other purpose than to terrify Mugabe's political opponents. My inability to reconcile these apparent contradictions inherent in the "new era of African politics" may be at fault, but frankly, I'd thought the Big Man era in African politics was coming to an end. Thanks to José Eduardo dos Santos and Robert Mugabe, I can regretfully put off updating my assumptions for another year.

UPDATE: Or perhaps the "ninjas" will not be going to Zimbabwe after all ...


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