Ripe for Genocide

A critical look at sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Kopel, Dr. Paul Gallant, & Dr. Joanne Eisen of the Independence Institute

February 13, 2001 11:10 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on genocide.

It's not often that America's mainstream media is willing to talk about the failure of government in sub-Saharan Africa.

But that was exactly the subject of a segment on 60 Minutes which aired on January 21, 2001.

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe provided provocative news filler. But while the report touched on the main points of current events there, the producer failed to recognize that the segment was really the portrait of a society ripe for genocide.

In his 1992 book Revolution and Genocide, Robert Melson, a Professor of Political Science at Purdue University, enumerated factors which scholars on the subject have identified as predisposing a nation towards genocide: The presence of powerful, ambitious leaders with no compunctions about murdering political opponents is one of the requirements. These leaders cunningly exploit internal strife and economic distress to their advantage. And they employ the rhetoric of hatred and fear, and the scapegoating of potential victims, in order to demonize a minority population so that the minority appears to be evil and in league with outsiders, intent on overthrowing the prevailing society.

All of this is in play in Zimbabwe, today.

The handwriting is on the wall everywhere, scrawled in such big letters it's impossible to miss. That reality didn't escape one unidentified farmer quoted in the April 18, 2000 London Telegraph: "I'm so sad that they have to use us all as scapegoats. It's almost like the beginnings of genocide."

Until 1980, Zimbabwe was the British colony called Rhodesia. Today, black Africans comprise approximately 98% of its population. Less than 1% — approximately 70,000 — are white. The remaining population consists of Coloureds (people of mixed racial origins) and Asians.

According to the 60 Minutes report:

There was a time when the country of Zimbabwe represented the hopes and the aspirations of the entire African continent…it had democratic institutions, and blacks and whites lived together in relative prosperity…. With independence, [Robert Mugabe] preached conciliation and convinced many whites to stay on and participate in a new democracy. But this past year, things have gone terribly wrong in Zimbabwe. For the first time, President Mugabe is facing tough political opposition and he has reacted by declaring war on the whites he once courted, and on thousands of blacks whose only crime has been to support the political party challenging him. What was once the most promising democracy in Africa is now on the verge of economic collapse and political anarchy.

Mugabe has set about killing and terrorizing white landowners, and promising their land to his supporters. In the process, he's provided a glimpse into the horrific dangers of so-called "reasonable" gun laws such as gun registration and gun owner licensing.

From its inception as an independent nation, Zimbabwe has been ruled by only one man: Robert Mugabe, first as prime minister, and since 1987 as president. The country's last general election was held in 1996, and Mugabe won his fourth term as president handily. No one dared oppose him then; he had already "browbeaten, dismissed and intimidated his rivals."

But there was trouble on the horizon. According to the London Telegraph, by 1997, "Zimbabwe's economy plunged into crisis, creating a need for a scapegoat."

That need intensified when, on February 15, 2000, Mugabe was voted down, suffering a "crushing blow to his authority" as a constitutional referendum — which would have strengthened his power and allowed him to run the country for up to twelve more years.

The defeat spurred calls for Mugabe to step aside as leader of his ruling Zanu-PF party (Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front), even prior to the outcome of the country's upcoming general elections to be held later that spring.

Despite a February 18, 2000 report in the London Telegraph that "Mr. Mugabe's quest for a scapegoat is expected to settle on his own MPs [Members of Parliament]", Mugabe gave "his seal of approval" just two weeks later for government confiscation of white-owned farms.

As the March 4 London Telegraph noted, "for the seven million Zimbabweans who scratch a living in overcrowded communal areas, the prospect of resettlement on rich farming land is a powerful incentive to vote for Mr. Mugabe." Kleptocracy — government by thieves — has always been appealing to those who are promised a share of the boodle.

One month later, Mugabe had the country's constitution amended to allow him to confiscate farms without compensation to their owners. And on June 27, he emerged victorious in Zimbabwe's general election.

Mugabe's war against Zimbabwe's white farmers, who employ about 330,000 black workers, escalated rapidly. On March 29, 2000, he threatened them with "very, very, very severe" violence. Then, on April 18, he branded them "enemies of the state." Eight months later, he declared that "an 'evil white alliance' was working to overthrow all the black governments of southern Africa."

Mugabe's condemnation of Zimbabwe's white farmers as "enemies of the state", and his linkage of them to an alliance of British "forces of imperialism," is strongly reminiscent of Nazi rhetoric which preceded the Holocaust, describing a supposed conspiracy of Jews preparing to take over the world.

Thumbing his nose at a November 10 ruling by Zimbabwe's Supreme Court that his "fast track land seizures" were illegal, Mugabe defiantly declared that "nothing" would stand in the way of his land theft, which he called a "noble effort to retrieve our heritage" (just as Hitler claimed to be retrieving Aryan heritage from corrupt outside influences).

According to the January 7, 2001 London Telegraph, more than 1,000 white-owned farms have been "illegally occupied," to date, and "Mugabe has vested all remaining hope of political recovery in the seizure of 12 million acres of land from 4,000 beleaguered white farmers."

The parallel with Hitler's determination to let nothing stand in the way of holding absolute power with promises about restoring the glory of the Aryan people is unmistakable. It is of no small significance that Mugabe's right-hand man, Chenjerai Hunzvi, goes by the nickname of "Hitler." He dismisses it as "just a name, like John."

But Hitler Hunzvi is the capable leader of a terrorist group called the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association (or simply War Veterans). When asked on 60 Minutes if "He [Hunzvi] has your support?" Mugabe replied, "Yes, of course." In answer to the follow-up question, "Even though he likes to refer to himself as 'Hitler'?" Mugabe replied, "Of course. But what is in a name?"

In this case, apparently plenty. The Guardian Unlimited labeled Hitler Hunzvi "the most feared man in Zimbabwe and one of the most powerful." According to 60 Minutes, Hitler has threatened that "anyone who resists the farm takeovers will end up six feet under." When questioned as to why it was necessary to beat up elderly couples on their farms, Hunzvi replied: "This is a war. It's an economic war to transform the means of production. Economic war is more bitter than political war…. The Zimbabwean people are taking back their land…. There is no going back."

It is Hitler Hunzvi's belief that Adolf Hitler's reputation has been tarnished by "Western propaganda," and that it is Great Britain and its imperial legacy — not the Third Reich — which are evil incarnate.

With the help of Hitler Hunzvi, Mugabe has set the stage for a continuing campaign of murder and mayhem. His thugs have unleashed their terror against the country's newspapers which dare criticize his regime, and even conspired to have the editor of Zimbabwe's leading independent newspaper, the Daily News, killed. That attempt was aborted at the last minute, when the assassin got "cold feet."

Mugabe has threatened to nationalize the country's mining industry, stating: "After land, now we must look at the mining sector…. At the end of the day black people must be able to say 'Ah, the resources are ours. Our people own the mines. Our people own the industry'." Not that the mining resources would really belong to "black people." They would belong to Mugabe himself, for all practical purposes.

And on January 22, 2001, the London Telegraph reported that Zimbabwe's Supreme Court Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, who is white, had formally requested government protection for the Court. Infuriated by its earlier ruling declaring Mugabe's land grab unconstitutional, Hunzvi and his War Veterans gave the five white Supreme Court justices an ultimatum: resign, or face unspecified consequences. Gubbay's plea was ignored, and the government responded by launching a new attack on the country's white judges.

According to R.J. Rummel, a University of Hawaii genocide scholar, "democracy is a method of nonviolence…. The more democracy, the less genocide and mass murder," because of the greater decentralization of power that exists in a democratic society. But while Zimbabwe has been characterized as a democracy, and indeed may once have been, clearly that's no longer the case. Government power now resides squarely in the hands of Robert Mugabe and his close-knit cabal of tribal henchmen.

What most genocide scholars and 60 Minutes have failed to appreciate, however, is the presence of the most important factor for the accomplishment of genocide: victim disarmament. In the 20th century, every government that has perpetrated genocide has disarmed its victims first. This suggests that — although disarmament does not cause genocide — disarmament is the sine qua non of genocide. The history of eight genocides in the 20th century committed against unarmed victims is laid out in terrifying detail in Lethal Laws, published by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. A new article in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, by Stephen Halbrook (a constitutional attorney with a 3-0 record before the U.S. Supreme Court), details how German firearm laws disarmed the nation's Jews.

In Zimbabwe, the essential pre-condition for genocide was unintentionally created by the British colonial government, through the 1957 Rhodesian Firearms Act. That legislation, establishing nationwide firearm registration, effectively closed what America's firearms prohibitionists have dubbed the "gun-show loophole." In fact, the 1957 Act closed every "loophole" for the lawful acquisition of firearms that lacked a government paper trail, because all transactions must go through a licensed dealer.

And the records of all transactions — i.e. the names of licensed gun owners, and details of the firearms they own — go straight to the office of the president, Robert Mugabe.

Of course, the Rhodesian colonial government didn't intend for its 1957 firearms registration law to facilitate genocide. Nor did the legislators in Germany's Weimar Republic intend for their "moderate" gun control laws to be used later by the Nazi government to disarm all opponents of the dictatorship.

The lessons of Zimbabwe should serve as a graphic warning about the dangers of excessive restrictions on civilian firearm ownership. With few exceptions, guns now remain only in the hands of government agents and common street criminals who seek to terrorize Zimbabwe's disarmed citizenry.

As one Zimbabwean farmer who requested anonymity told us in a private communication:

Police may inspect weapons and licenses any time. The big deterrent to shooting anyone, even in self-defense, is that a murder charge is automatic, and the onus is now on you to prove innocence or reduce the charge…. And whatever, you are in the wrong. Better to have a black security guard with a weapon. Ninety percent of black Zimbabweans are good people and just want to get on and make a living. The lunatic fringe of racist and get-rich-quickers are killing the country, and only a mass political move by the silent majority will set things right. That is what we have to hang in for.

While the country's besieged, essentially disarmed, and unorganized white farmers are forced to wait their turn to become the next victims of Mugabe's terror squads, the Financial Gazetterevealed that the government has been arming chosen supporters, another element common to pre-genocidal societies:

Senior Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers have clandestinely released firearms from the police armoury to independence war veterans…to unleash violence and terror on white-owned commercial farms and against members of the opposition."

On April 18, 2000, the London Telegraphreported that "Zimbabwe's white farmers came under renewed pressure yesterday as squads of up to 20 police searched at least 200 properties for illegal weapons…. Chen Chimutengwende, the Information Minister, confirmed that police had orders to scour all 4,000 white-owned farms for unlicensed firearms [and] ammunition." House-to-house searches by government agents with lists — as were carried out by Adolf Hitler's thugs — is a common pre-genocidal tactic. Said one farmer about such an incident on a nearby farm, "Every single square inch of the farmhouse was searched. They even looked under the knickers." The story noted that "the police retreated looking 'disappointed' after failing to find any illegal weapons."

Here in America, a large number of poll respondents who say they favor gun prohibition are willing to accept its enforcement through house-to-house searches. That would spell the end of the Fourth Amendment. Those who would cavalierly cast aside our Constitution's protections of civil liberties can count on support from some in the judiciary. Former D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Malcolm Wilkey bemoaned the fact that the exclusionary rule, which bars courtroom use of illegally seized evidence, "has made unenforceable the gun-control laws we now have and will make ineffective any stricter controls which may be devised." (Malcolm Wilkey, "Why Suppress Valid Evidence?" Wall Street Journal, October 10, 1977). And Clinton White House counsel Abner Mikva, a handgun-prohibition advocate, agrees that the abolition of the exclusionary rule is the only way to enforce gun control.

One wonders how many of those same poll respondents would enthusiastically greet armed government agents knocking on their own doors, and ransacking their homes looking for firearms. Or how many would nod with approval as their neighbors' homes were ransacked.

Contained in the August 2, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Associationis an editorial entitled "Recognizing the Public Health Impact of Genocide." Noting that "public health organizations and human rights organizations need to discuss ways to identify groups at risk for genocide and how to respond," the editorial concluded:

Genocide is the result of a complex combination of political, economic, social, ethnic, religious, and historic factors. Such a combination of factors requires an interdisciplinary approach to identify and prevent genocide…. Whenever there is a threat or occurrence of genocide, physicians and other health care professionals must advocate strongly for immediate international action to prevent morbidity and mortality among vulnerable groups. With little doubt, rapid intervention in Rwanda could have saved tens — perhaps hundreds — of thousands of lives. Such a public health and human rights disaster must not be allowed to happen again.

Lofty words. But are we Americans truly serious about ending the epidemic of genocide? Are we no longer willing to watch from the sidelines as another century rolls by, and witness thousands or millions more innocent victims killed by their own government?

If we really mean "never again," then the solution is rather obvious: ensure that the potential victims of genocide are never disarmed.

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