Robert Mugabe

MugabeRobert Gabriel Mugabe (1924-) is the founding father of Zimbabwe and a dictator of 37 years. At age 93, he was, until very recently, the world’s oldest serving head of state.  A champion of Black Nationalism against white minority rule Mugabe was once a glimmering hope for post-colonial Africa. Nearly four decades later and he has left a nation plagued by corruption and tyranny.

mugabe young.jpgThe former schoolteacher was a hero in 1980, fiercely popular within Zimbabwe and without. He had led the insurrection against Rhodesia’s white minority government and won the following election in a landslide. Like Nelson Mandela, he was a Marxist, a revolutionary, an intellectual, a political prisoner for over a decade and a relentless crusader against minority government and Apartheid. At the official independence ceremony, Bob Marley played his ‘Zimbabwe’ to a jubilant crowd in Mugabe’s honour. Mugabe was lauded by both his Communist backers and the western left. The US gave 25 million dollars in aid to his nascent regime.

Mugabe had been born in 1924 in Southern Rhodesia, a British settler colony named for Cecil Rhodes, the famed British imperialist, diamond magnate and De Beers founder. Three ethnic groups called Rhodesia home: the majority Shona, a Bantu speaking people, the Ndebele, a Zulu offshoot comprising 20% of the population, and a minority of white British settlers.  The latter ruled the greater black population as a ‘subject race’, exploiting the nation’s rich mineral reserves and owning the vast majority of its arable land.  In 1964 Rhodesia gained independence but under a white ruled government. Mugabe was Shona and Catholic.

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Two parties led the liberation movement. Fighting alongside his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party, who were largely Shona and backed by China, were the Ndebele led, Soviet backed ZAPU party of Joshua Nkomo. Mistrusting his former ally and fearing a power grab from ZAPU, Mugabe dispatched the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade into the Ndebele homeland of Matabeleland. Suspected Ndebele malcontents and ZAPU members were summarily executed in the ‘Gukurahundi’, ‘the rain that washes away the chaf before spring’. Ndebele men of fighting age were forced to dig their own graves before execution. Others were herded into their houses and burned alive. Genocide watch estimates Mugabe’s government killed 20,000 Ndebele from 1983-1987.

Though the 80s saw substantial improvements in Zimbabwe’s literacy and standard of living, Mugabe’s rule became increasingly tyrannical and corrupt. By the 90s the economy was faltering. The now president’s dubious human rights record and electoral fraud soured western opinion. In 1997 Tony Blair rescinded on Britain’s pledge to compensate the new government and froze Zimbabwean assets.

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In 2000 Mugabe violently appropriated white-owned farms, parcelling out the vast estates to landless blacks and political favourites. The new owners, however, had no experience as commercial farmers and the resulting mismanagement, white exodus and foreign sanctions drove Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy to ruin.

By now Mugabe’s dictatorship was entrenched in mismanagement and cronyism. Zimbabwe’s vast mineral wealth found itself in the pockets of Mugabe and his followers while the common people starved. In 2016 Reuters estimated over a billion USD a year had been lost to corruption.  To afford foreign imports after the 2000 land reforms Mugabe’s Central Bank printed extra money. Incredible hyperinflation resulted: when Zimbabwe abandoned its currency in 2015 the exchange rate was 35,000,000,000,000 ZWD to 1 USD. Unemployment reached 95%.

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On November 14th, 2017, a 93 year old President Mugabe was arrested and expelled from his own party in a bloodless coup. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s right hand man, orchestrated the takeover to ensure his succession on Mugabe’s death. He had been fired from the vice presidency eight days earlier. On the 22nd of November the president officially resigned. The leadership has reshuffled, but Mugabe’s party remains in control, and Zimbabwe must  now face the dismal legacy he has left behind.

Update 7/09/19: Robert Mugabe dies age 95.

2017 Warsaw March


On  November 11th 2017, 60,000 demonstrators celebrated Poland’s 99th Independence Day in Warsaw in a bout of flag-waving nationalist frenzy.  It was Europe’s largest public demonstration in recent years and the biggest gathering of its kind this century. Activists, some wearing balaclavas and displaying fascist insignia, marched for Catholic identity and ethnic nationalism, chanting against Jews, Muslims, gays, liberals and the EU.

At first glance, the Independence Day March seems innocent enough. Poland, its rough history considered, has a right to feel patriotic. The rhetoric surrounding this demonstration, however, was especially disturbing.

Notable chants and slogans included:

  • ‘We Want God’ (references Donald Trump’s 2017 Warsaw speech)
  • ‘Catholic Poland, not Secular”
  • “Refugees get out!”
  • “White Europe of Brotherly Nations”
  • “Clean Blood”
  • “White Poland, Pure Poland”
  • “Pure Poland, Jew Free Poland”
  • “Death to Enemies of the Homeland”
  • “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust”

The march attracted far right activists from across Europe, including Britain’s Tommy Robinson, a former EDL leader. Richard Spencer, the leading American white nationalist, was invited but denied a visa.


I did an earlier post on the Charlottesville Riot and the shared ultra-conservative and xenophobic messages of both events calls for comparisons. The Warsaw March was something the American far-right could only dream of. Saturday’s marchers waved red flares, not tiki torches but their message was similar: nativism, white nationalism and bigotry. Their numbers were greater than a meagre 2,000.

Like Charlottesville, counter protesters opposed the march though they numbered only 5,000. They were organised by Antifa Warsaw. Unlike Charlottesville, the Right had the obvious upper hand: ethnic nationalism is a far stronger force in Poland than the US, and in a region feeling the brunt of the Syrian refugee crisis and the rise of Russia, far more significant.

In the past police have clashed with protesters on these Independence Day Marches, but since the ascendance of the far-right Law and Justice Party in 2015, which embraces the politics of conservative nationalism, the demonstrations have largely been encouraged. Only 45 were arrested on Saturday, all of whom were leftist counter-demonstrators. No injuries or deaths occurred.

It is worth noting these elements did not represent the march as a whole. According to the BBC, a demonstrator claimed only 30% were committed neo-fascists. Nevertheless, 18,000 fascists parading is still unsettling.

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Extremist elements were condemned by possible sympathisers. President Andrzej Duda, of eurosceptic Law and Justice Party, said xenophobia, anti-Semitism and violence have ‘no place in Poland.’  Duda has accepted 0 refugees since the crisis began and previously claimed ‘the affirmation of homosexuality will be the downfall of civilization’.

Breitbart News, the self-described ‘platform for the alt-right’ described the march as ‘hijacked by white nationalists’ while downplaying its significance by stating xenophobia is commonplace across the world.

I was most surprised to find Sputnik, the mouthpiece of the Putin Administration, condemned the march, describing it as ‘the largest gathering of bigots in Europe and perhaps the world’. Russia has previously encouraged the resurgence of nationalism in Europe as a means to weaken the European Union.

After centuries of domination by foreign powers, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany, who committed their most atrocious evils on Polish soil, followed by over half a century of Soviet backed totalitarian socialism. Their common enemy shaped a cohesive national identity based on the Catholic faith and Polish identity. Religion, like race, is exploited as an identity marker to differentiate native Poles from outsiders.  As of 2017 Poland is arguably the most right-wing state in Europe.

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Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, New York Times, Foreign Policy, Politico, BBC, Breitbart News, Sputnik International

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The Allegorical Babylon

tower of babel

The Allegorical Babylon (400 BC -) is a city rooted in the Judeo-Christian imagination, first referenced in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Revelation. It is a bustling, cosmopolitan, decadent and oppressive place that symbolises human ambition and vanity in equal measure. It is the Mecca of the material world and the Ilium of the spiritual. Detractors see the Allegorical Babylon as the manifestation of the modern world and all its evils. Millenarian sects frequently invoke it in their theologies.

According to Genesis, Babylon (Babel in Hebrew) was founded by Nimrod, a mortal king and great-grandson of Noah. He turned his people from the worship of Yahweh and had them construct a tower so big it would not only survive another deluge but reach to heaven itself. Yahweh punished the people of earth by turning their one language into many and scattering them across the globe so, in the resulting confusion, the tower of Babel could never be completed.

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Following the ascendance of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the sack of Nineveh, a war ensued between the Babylonians and a coalition of Egyptians, Assyrian remnants and Greek mercenaries led by the Pharaoh Necho. Jehoachim, the king of Judah, sided with the Egyptians and his kingdom was crushed. Three years later, in 586 BC, the Jews rebelled again. This time the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroyed its temple and enslaved its people. Nebuchadnezzar, their king, exiled the Jewish elite to Babylon. This was called the Babylonian Captivity.

In exile, the Jews penned the Talmud and gave form to their religion. Their writings immortalised their Babylonian oppressors as not only the enemies of the Jews but of monotheism and spirituality in general.  The book of Isiah prophesied Babylon`s doom, and the Jewish people rejoiced when the Persians destroyed their empire and returned its displaced peoples to their homes.

From Isiah chapter 21:

“ And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.”

The Book of Revelations, in the New Testament, talks of Babylon again. Described is the terrible ‘Whore of Babylon’, riding a multiheaded monster; an instrument of the antichrist in the End Days. The ‘Mystery Babylon’ is described in apocalyptic terminology as a sinful and corrupt but all-powerful empire as it had been in the Old Testament.

The Book of Revelation was written in the 1st century AD however, centuries after the historical Babylon was destroyed. It is likely a reference to Ancient Rome, which fits the same characteristics as the Babylon of the Old Testament:

  1. A metropolitan and diverse state
  2. Seat of an empire oppressing different peoples and states
  3. Enemy of the Allegorical Zion
  4. Perceived as immoral, decadent and corrupt
  5. Pagan

jehovah's witnesses

The millenarian Jehovah’s Witnesses liken ‘Babylon the Great’ to the ostensibly corrupted world religions that govern the world today. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold them responsible for all the bloodshed suffered by mankind.

Some fundamentalist groups, including 7th day Adventists, explicitly identify the Whore of Babylon’s ‘purple and scarlet robes and golden cup’ with the Roman Catholic Church.

Identifying the African Diaspora with the exiled Jews of the Old Testament, Rastafari equates Babylon with the western world order. Babylon is the enemy of Zion. More broadly Babylon refers to any oppressive force – be it the slave trade, white imperialism, the Christian church, the USA, Great Britain, corrupt governance or the police.  This is why references to Babylon appear frequently in reggae music. The capitalist world order, or ‘Babylon System’, clearly demonstrates characteristics 1, 3 and 4, the British Empire all but 5. Similar discourse is found in the ‘African Zionism’ of Swaziland and South Africa.

Sources: King James Bible, JW.Org, Society of Biblical Literature

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