Diamonds are a dictator's best friend. Just ask Robert Mugabe, president and dictator of Zimbabwe. When things seemed to be at their worst for Mugabe, diamonds were discovered at Marange, in eastern Zimbabwe. The old monster was saved because he got enough money to pay his thugs. One of the first lessons of dictatorship: Keep the thugs happy. Mugabe, who had destroyed his currency, starved his people and turned the breadbasket of Africa into yet another begging bowl, looked as though he was through, when in 2006 diamonds were found in an unexpected place. Thousands of itinerants flooded into Marange to lay claim to the riches, under the colonial-era mining laws. They had few tools, but they had hope. Sadly, they also had Mugabe. He sent in his military to evict the miners. They used helicopter gunships; at least 200 miners were slaughtered and the rest were driven off. The army took over the diamond fields and Mugabe was renewed in power. There has been enough money (about $1.7 billion a year), through official and unofficial diamond sales, not only to keep the thugs in power and their Mercedes-Benzes fueled. But there also may have been enough money quiet Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and impotent prime minister. When I asked two very brave women, who have cycled in and out of jail because they tried to do something about the pitiful condition of women in Zimbabwe, whether they were hopeful about Tsvangirai and the opposition, one of them snorted: “Government in Zimbabwe is about who gets a Mercedes-Benz.” Peter Godwin, who was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1957 and who has been a fearless chronicler of the decline and fall of his homeland in books and articles, has pointed out the evil of these “coalition” governments. It is, he has said, a spoils system where elections are negated when the contestants decide they both won; and in a united government, they can just divide up the spoils instead of fighting over them. In Zimbabwe the fear is that Tsvangirai, rather than resolving to get rid of the Mugabe government apparatus, if he ever becomes president, will keep it and perfect it. Mugagbe preserved the most repressive colonial laws to use at will himself, while blaming the white settlers for them. One of Mugabe's gambits, detailed by Godwin, is particularly cruel: How you appear to win elections fairly when you have coerced the electorate cruelly. Suspected opposition supporters are seized by the police and the military in the rural areas and then are taken to torture centers -- located in schools -- where they are beaten and maimed. Often, their feet and legs are pulped. The children of dictatorships learn their lessons early. The victims are sent back to their villages as a perpetual reminder of what happens if you vote against the “Big Man.” Even so, it should be noted the Mugabe lost the last election and simply stayed. His concession to the winner, Tsvangirai, was to stop bringing treason charges against him and to make him prime minister. Not so much power-sharing as loot-sharing. Watch for more of it as faux democracy continues in Africa, south of the Sahara and possibly north of it. Like Godwin, I was born in Rhodesia. Like many young people at the time, inside and outside of the country, we dreamed of a free, multi-ethnic Africa -- the whole continent a kind of Garden of Eden. Our template for that was Rhodesia of the time: peaceful, prosperous, idyllic, but in need of extending the franchise genuinely to all the people -- de facto ensuring black government. Instead, we got Ian Smith: a brave fool who tried to extend the status quo and brought on a race war which brought Mugabe to power. In his first days as president, while Mugabe was feted around the world and showered with honors, he sent his dreaded 5th Brigade into Matabeleland; the stronghold of his opponent Joshua Nkomo, later to be incorporated into the Mugabe system of government, but not before 20,000 of his Ndbele people had been killed by the Mugabe men. For 31 years, the government of Mugabe and his “security” men has reduced Zimbabwe to ruin, driving maybe as many as 3 million people into refugee status in neighboring countries, starving and beating the people of my childhood. The tears of Africa, like diamonds, seem to be forever. -- For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
“Publish and be damned,” the Duke of Wellington told the courtesan Harriette Wilson, who threatened to publish her memoirs and the general’s love letters in 1825.
In challenging Wilson, Wellington gave publishers and journalists a rallying cry that has echoed down through the years.
The irony here is that “The Iron Duke” despised anything that suggested opening up to the people: Indeed, he may have been history’s greatest elitist. He is not likely to have endorsed the dumping of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic dispatches by WikiLeaks. As for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Wellington would have had him shot or maybe hanged for better effect.
Yet Wellington gave us the famous phrase and, by and large, it has been a serviceable rule for journalism.
Publications that have sought to censor themselves—sometimes out of fear and sometimes for political reasons–have paid a high price. In 1963, the Profumo affair nearly brought down the Conservative government in Britain. But The Sunday Mirror, which had learned that war minister John Profumo was sharing the favors of party girl Christine Keeler with the Soviet naval attaché and a few others to boot, did not publish for fear of libel.
In the end the scandal leaked out in the United States, and the newspaper was left looking very foolish. I know because I was working at The Sunday Mirror.
A few decades later, Newsweek sat on the Monica Lewinsky–Bill Clinton scandal and inadvertently boosted the fortunes of Matt Drudge.
It is easier to say “publish and be damned” about a sex scandal involving public figures than it is about national and international security, which is orders of magnitude more difficult.
Is WikiLeaks doing a public service in posting hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic dispatches on the Web and hand-feeding them to five major news outlets, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, El Pais and Der Spiegel? Or is Assange indulging in a grand act of anti-Americanism; or an equally grand act of anarchy, using technology in furtherance of the petulance of one man and his small band of accomplices?
The measurable good is slight. It may be confined to improved computer security, itself lamentable.
The evil is ongoing and will take years to assess. The first casualty will be in the quality of information sent back from the field to Washington: It will be sanitized, bowdlerized and neutered. The free exchange of ideas and information is compromised. The integrity of diplomatic communications cannot be taken for granted in future.
Then there are those, uncountable, whose careers have been ended because they were friends of the United States; not spies, just friends.
During the first tranche of leaks, I was the guest of the U.S. ambassador in a small country. Although there was nothing incriminating released, our diplomats suffered acute embarrassment and wondered how difficult their jobs would be in the future.
The gravest category is where vicious regimes are exploiting the WikiLeaks information to punish their political enemies: Step forward Robert Mugabe, the savage and ruthless dictator in Zimbabwe who has trashed what was once the jewel of Africa. He has seized on meetings his political rival Morgan Tsvangira held with Western diplomats, seeking to save the people of Zimbabwe from the predations of Mugabe and his band of thugs.
“Treason”cries Mugabe, who is as promiscuous in accusing his enemies of treason as was Henry VIII.
Relying on a law from the colonial days, Mugabe has appointed a commission to rule on whether Tsvangirai should face trial for treason. He has also picked out negative comments about Tsvangirai from various American dispatches to vilify his political rival.
Assange knew exactly what he was doing because he provided early access to his data dump to the five most reputable news organizations he knew. Clearly he hoped they would treat the material gingerly, as they have.
In so doing Assange must have hoped to mitigate the really serious damage–including executions–that might result from his mischief. He was hoping they would save him from the damnation of his own publishing.
The devil looks after his own. Or so it would seem in the case of Robert Mugabe, the de facto dictator of Zimbabwe.
Under Zimbabwe’s unity government established last year, President Mugabe, who took Africa’s garden and trashed it, has retained enough power to reverse the optimistic direction the country is taking. He and his ZANU-PF party still control the discredited central bank; the military; the police; the Central Intelligence Organization, which is Zimbabwe’s version of the KGB; and the Ministry of Information.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who, until the formation of the unity government was Mugabe’s great enemy and rival, has control of the Ministry of Finance. His ally, Finance Minister Tendai Biki, has done the impossible: He has brought the worst inflation the world has ever known to a halt.
The remedy was simple, though extreme. Biki substituted the U.S. dollar for the worthless Zimbabwe dollar. How worthless was it? Would you believe a currency that once had rough parity with the U.S. dollar was trading–if you could find a buyer–for 1 billion (sic) Zimbabwe dollars to 1 U.S. dollar? Incredibly, the Mugabe faction of the government and ZANU-PF party members want to bring back the Zim dollar, as it was known.
Under the new setup, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange has reopened and is prospering. And again, shops have goods on the shelves for those who can afford them. While U.S. dollars have circulated illegally in Zimbabwe for some time, it is unclear where they are now coming from, and what is the plight of those who have no access to them and no employment, which is most of the population.
In fact, many Zimbabweans live in a barter economy without cash. Rural people lead a desperate subsistence life, relying on perhaps a few chickens, sometimes a goat or, if relatively well off, some cattle. Most depend on growing enough corn to feed their families and on the generosity of relief agencies, although these are often the targets of Mugabe’s thugs. Food is power and Mugabe has used his troops, police and secret operatives to control food, starving the opposition and feeding only his political loyalists.
In the face of Zimbabwe’s tenuous recovery, there are many questions about Mugabe and his acolytes, and about Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change.Will Mugabe use his control of the military and the courts to destroy Tsvangirai’s reforms?
Mugabe likes to be the top man, even the reviled top man. His unhinging can be traced back to Nelson Mandela’s release from long imprisonment in South Africa and the deserved global acclaim he was welcomed with. Until then, Mugabe had been the golden African leader. Also he and Mandela were courting Graca, the widow of former Mozambiquan leader Samora Machel. Mugabe lost out and Mandela married her.
Too much praise for the reformers in Zimbabwe might set Mugabe off on another spree of destruction. His favorite charge–if he bothers with charges as opposed to random beatings—is treason, which is a hanging offense in Zimbabwe.
There are also question about Tsvangirai: Some of his early supporters are very critical of his conduct as prime minister. One critic, who does not want to be identified but who played a big role in establishing the unity government, told me: “He has become Mugabe’s bagman. That’s about it.”
This was a reference to Tsvangirai’s recent world fund-raising trip. He did secure minor commitments from doubting donor nations, but most want to see what happens. The money that was raised will go to humanitarian efforts, not the Zimbabwe government.
The success or failure of financial reforms may rest on the diamond fields of eastern Zimbabwe. These were only discovered in 2006 and should have been a valuable source of hard currency for Zimbabwe. But Mugabe had another idea: He allowed the military to massacre itinerant miners (in one case, 80) and seize the mines for their own profit. This has solved a pay problem among soldiers and kept the military faithful to Mugabe. Another gift from the devil for his protégé, Robert Mugabe.
Diamonds are not a country’s best friend; certainly not if yours is a semi-lawless country in Africa, like Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe the discovery of diamonds in the beautiful part of the country around Marange, southeast of the capital of Harare, has probably extended the life of the Robert Mugabe regime by two years. Their discovery by a British company, Africa Consolidated Resources, in September 2006, provided Mugabe with another source of plunder; plunder he could use to keep his brutal security forces loyal.
Fact is that such economic governance as remains in Zimbabwe is directed to finding cash to pay the army and the police, who keep the Mugabe regime afloat, Even so, Mugabe had fallen behind; and last December soldiers and police demonstrated in Harare, demanding to be paid. Basically, Mugabe’s response was to cede the diamond operations to the security forces.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the security forces killed 200 miners while tightening their grip on the mines and introducing forced labor. The Kimberley Process, a humanitarian alliance set up to stop the flow of so-called blood diamonds, sent a six-person team to investigate the Zimbabwe mines and found such human rights abuses that it classified the gems as blood diamonds to be sanctioned.
But diamonds are hard to trace and label; they are fungible and portable, and they can be mined with a pick and shovel in many places, as they are today in Zimbabwe and Congo. They also can be smuggled in many of the ways drugs are, except there is no odor to aid border guards with dogs.
Through the years diamonds have been ingested, concealed in body cavities and even hidden in wounds. Desperate people do desperate things–and never more so when there is the prospect of riches in places of utter poverty.
A diamond rush, as has happened in Zimbabwe, is a dangerous, lawless, violent and wretched occurrence.
As Mugabe has rejected international mining partners, who might actually know something about the safe and orderly mining of diamonds, the Zimbabwe mines are dangerous, inefficient and environmentally disastrous.
The Zimbabweans are not even getting fair value for their gems. These are being marketed through back channels established by the government, and untold numbers of gems are stolen at production and sold to middle men and unscrupulous cutters around the world.
The link between the security forces and the mines has another bad effect: It adds to the political impotence of Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister in a power-sharing arrangement with Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. In that arrangement Mugabe retains control of the the security forces, thus robbing Tsvangirai of any authority–not that he would use it well if he got it.
Zimbabweans are wondering what has happened to Tsvangirai, who seems to have lost the ability to stand up to Mugabe. For nearly a decade, Tsvangirai endured false arrests, allegations of treason, beatings while in custody and had the last election stolen from him and his Movement for Democratic Change.
Now Zimbabweans are asking whether the trappings of power have corrupted their hero or whether, in accepting the South Africa-brokered power-sharing deal, Tsvangirai boxed himself in. Anyway, he looks as though he has become Mugabe’s bagman, touring the world seeking “investment.” Tsvangirai has been promised some very limited humanitarian aid, including $8 million of conditional aid from the British and a promise of a little over $73 million of even more restricted and conditional aid from President Obama. World leaders are aware that $7 million in private charity money for AIDS victims was.diverted.
When Tvangirai got back to Harare, Mugabe supporters ridiculed his efforts
and his own supporters accused him of selling out to Mugabe. As if to show up his old rival, Mugabe then announced a Chinese loan of just under $1 billion; much of this money has to be spent on Chinese imports.
It is ironic that Mugabe should be kept in power by diamonds. It was diamonds that formed the basis of the fortune that enabled the adventurer, Cecil John Rhodes, to colonize Zimbabwe for Britain in the 1890s. Maybe all diamonds are conflict diamonds. Bloody stones. –For Hearst-New York Times Syndicate