The challenge of Sisyphus and Africa; What to do with Zimbabwe?

The current of malaise in Africa is ever flowing. It is by a legion the most economically under developed continent and the most prone to violent political conflict. It is becoming impossible to contemplate Africa without it evoking of images of decay and war. Political and media attitudes towards the region are consumed with unequivocal pessimism. In 2000, The Economist described Africa as the “hopeless continent” and “a scar on the world’s conscience”. This pessimism is often attributed to the continual failures by the UN, NGOs, regional agencies and even celebrities to manage the spiralling collapses of Africa’s political and economic environment. There is a feeling of Sisyphean futility towards the task of developing the Dark Continent. It is perceived that as much as the International Community tries to play the role of the Greek mythological protagonist and attempt to push a boulder of peace and reconstruction up the hill, it constantly comes crashing down and leaves us with extremely violent conflicts and downward economic spirals.
This current situation in Zimbabwe echoes this feeling of Sisyphean futility very loudly. In all certainty, the task of development in Zimbabwe has been exceptionally difficult due to the crippling droughts, an every growing HIV crisis and Mugabe’s hostility towards outside relief endeavours. Nevertheless, the possibility that the former British colony may have been moving towards some form of democracy has now been circumscribed by an ever growing climate of tension that sits on a knife edge waiting to erupt into seriously violent confrontation.


The crisis in Zimbabwe is mounting. Talks are deadlocked between Mugabe and the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Morgan Tsvangirai under Mbeki’s supervision. Whilst the symbolic exchanges of handshakes and proposals of power sharing are debated then interpreted by some as a form of progress, the rest of the World sits on with the terrible feeling that the country’s plight now may be inevitable.
The severity of a potential conflict in Zimbabwe cannot be underestimated. If we indeed, and it seems likely that at some point we will, see a confrontation then it will not be confined to Zimbabwe. The fighting will overspill the borders into Zambia and increase the refugee flow into South Africa. It potentially threatens to chronically destabilise the whole of Southern Africa. However, it is the possibility of greater human rights violations that should cause the greatest anxiety. Terms like genocide and ethnic cleansing have been raised in media reports, such tidings should not be dismissed as exaggerative gossip. The words “Never Again” were inscribed on the walls of Dachau some six decades ago , yet since then our commitment to such declarations have been somewhat mixed as the slaughterings in Rwanda and Burundi have painfully illustrated. The questions that must now be asked are whether Zimbabwe will join the bucket list or whether for once, the International Community can indeed provide effective relief to an African state?
It is an unenviable dilemma that now swims around the minds of the International Community elite. The tired old practice of economic sanctions is likely to be continued for the time being and the possibility of sundering military intervention will be described as a “fantasy theory”. If proposals are made to the Security Council to deploy an intervention force they will, in all probability, be vetoed and the dialectics of realism will speak loudest. The justifications of national interest will out shout humanitarian rhetoric and proposals of moral obligations to save suffering strangers in distant lands.

At the same time however, there must be the admission within the whisperings of elite corridors that sanctions will do very little to deter Mugabe. If history has taught us anything it is that Mugabe will do anything to hold onto absolute power. To be true, Mugabe may agree to some form of compromise now but this will only be temporary. The “silent diplomacy” of South Africa will no doubt end with Mugabe’s continuation as leader in reinvented forms. It will not be long before Mugabe calls for the Tsvangirai’s head and then steps up the terror. Unfortunately what must be accepted by the International Community is that the only way in which any real kind of resolution can be reached is through third party intervention and the removal of Mugabe.

On this note the annals of history are brought to our attention and labours of Sisyphus will be thrust into our consciences. Interventions in Africa have produced detrimental effects to the regional stability. We do not have to go far back to recall the failings of peace keeping in Africa. Operation Restore Hope in 1992, which will be forever remembered for the images of the two US helicopter pilots being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, was conducted “to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in Somalia”. Since that ill fated mission we have seen some 400,000 dead in the Civil Wars and anarchy in Somalia. The greatest fear is that this will be the same for Zimbabwe if an intervention force is deployed. However, the failures of the past are not without their reasons. The fruitless labours can be heavily attributed to an inability of the First World to fully understand the causes of violence within Africa and a subsequent ineffectiveness to streamline conflict management strategies into intervention practices.

If some kind of peace keeping/making force is deployed then it must understand the nature of the problems or else we may well see intervention become an exacerbating factor rather than a method of resolution. This will not mean the traditional practice of the ”white knights” applying quick justice before riding of into the sunset to see the country seep back into the shade. Instead, we must me mindful that maintaining a peace and rebuilding Zimbabwe will involve a social transformation. This could be achieved by a co ordination of efforts between agencies such as the UN, NGOs and local authorities to rebuild the nation from its foundations. Failure to do so may see the mythological labours of Sisyphus once again realised.

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