The New African Genocide

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses mourners at the state funeral of Eddison Zvobgo, a ruling party founder, in a Sunday, Aug. 29, 2004 file photo. On the eve of the verdict in the treason trial of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, opponents of the government of President Robert Mugabe predicted Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004, that government-sponsored repression and political violence will escalate.
AP
This column was written by James Kirchick.
Less than ten miles from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's mansion in Harare — the largest private residence on the African continent — Cleophus Masxigora digs for mice. On a good day, he told me, he can find 100 to 200. To capture the vermin, he burns brush to immobilize them, then kills them with several thumps of a shovel. This practice has become so widespread in Zimbabwe that, as a Zimbabwean journalist informed me, state-run television has broadcast warnings against citizens setting brush fires. Masxigora began hunting mice to support (and feed) his wife and three children soon after Mugabe began confiscating thousands of productive, white-owned farms in 2000, a policy that has since led to mass starvation. Not long ago, Zimbabwe, the "breadbasket of Africa," exported meat and produced what was widely considered to be Africa's finest livestock. Today, Masxigora tells me that each mouse nets $30 Zim dollars, about 12 cents, which makes him a wealthy man in Zimbabwe. "This is beef to us," he told me in August.

The conditions Mugabe rendered in Zimbabwe do not merely stem from idealistic economic and social policies gone awry. He has undertaken a campaign of violence and starvation against political opponents, the fallout of which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, every year. In 2005, there were roughly 4,000 more deaths each week than births, a rate that the famine has surely increased. This is worse than brutality. The United Nations says that "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" constitutes genocide, and that is exactly what Robert Mugabe has wrought.

The genocide in Zimbabwe is not as stark as others. There are no cattle cars and gas chambers. There are no machete-wielding gangs roaming the countryside. There are no helicopter gunships or Janjaweed. The killing in Zimbabwe is slow, oftentimes indirect, and not particularly bloody. But Mugabe's campaign of mass murder against those who oppose him has been no less deliberate than any of the other genocides in human history.

It all began with Mugabe's land seizures in 2000, in which he booted white farmers from the property they owned and replaced them with political hacks who have no interest in agriculture. The results were disastrous. Zimbabwe annually requires 1.8 million metric tons of maize. Yet, in 2006, for instance, it faced an 850,000 metric ton deficit — of which planned imports would cover just 60 percent, with only 28 percent of that delivered by December. The country also requires 400,000 tons of wheat annually, yet, last year, it produced only 218,000 tons by the government's count — meaning the true total was likely far less. As early as 2002, the BBC was reporting that people in Matabeleland, the southern region of the country where the minority Ndebele tribe lives, were starving. That same year, on the eve of a massive drought, the Minister of Zimbabwean State Security said, "We would be better off with only six million people — with our own who support the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people." Today, according to the World Food Program, 38 percent of Zimbabweans are malnourished.