More on Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe

My comparative silence on “…my Heart’s in Accra” has been counterbalanced by a couple of long posts on the Global Voices website. Rebecca and I presented our current thinking about GV to our Berkman colleages and friends on Tuesday, and we wanted a couple of great stories to show off as we “soft-launched” the project. In the past couple of days, I’ve posted an online conversation with Sokari Ekine, the creator of the fantastic Black Looks blog, an essay by Elina Karakulova on her reactions to the “revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, and a quick look at the weblog put together by rights organization Sokwanele in Zimbabwe. I’ll throw something up later today talking about what we accomplished in Tuesday’s brainstorm…

A bit of followup here, talking a bit more about aspects of the Kyrgyz and Zimbabwe stories.

I’m suspicious of folks on both the left and the right who are talking up the Kyrgyz “revolution” as part of the spread of democracy through the world. One of the reasons I think Karakulova’s piece is so important is her observation that the events that just transpired were not a revolution, but a rebellion:

“I personally do not think that Kyrgyzstan witnessed a revolution, but a rebellion with change of political elites. Revolution implies ideological change. I do not see any ideological difference between the current interim government and the former one.”

The Akaev government was so rotten with corruption that no one was willing to stand in the way of the protesters when they seized the “White House”. But it’s a mistake to conclude that this shows support for a revolutionary “movement”, rather than just massive dissatisfaction with the status quo. (Indeed, Kurmanbek Bakiyev has said little that sounds like a recipe for a new direction for the Kyrgyz government.)

It would also be a mistake to assume that the Kyrgyz “revolution” will create some sort of domino-effect in the former Soviet republics. A rally of 1,000 people last week against Lukashenko was quickly dispersed, with the ringleaders being thrown into prison. As Fred Weir observes in the Christian Science Monitor:

the post-Soviet countries that have so far been rocked by revolution have been among the most liberal and relatively democratic in an admittedly tough region. “Akayev, to his credit, allowed a fairly permissive environment for NGO’s to work,” says Stuart Kahn, Kyrgyzstan project director for Freedom House, which is partly financed by the US government. The danger, he says, is that other Central Asian leaders may see Akayev’s concessions to democracy as the Achilles’ heel of his regime. “The lesson they may draw is that the permissive, or semi-repressive environment Akayev created is antithetical to maintaining the status quo.”

In other words, one very real possible outcome of the Kyrgyz revolution is an increasing crackdown on the limited freedoms still available in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Belarus.

On the Zimbabwe side of things, I wanted to look more closely at an article by my main man, Abraham McLaughlin. McLaughlin observes that China is a major player in the Zimbabwean election, an observation consonant with the trend that China is becoming a huge, if not dominant, political force on the continent. It’s widely understood that China’s efforts to prevent UN sanctions against Sudan have had less to do with solidary between oppresive nations, and more to do with ensuring access to a regular oil supply.

McLaughlin reports that the Chinese governments, or Chinese companies, have provided pro-Zanu-PF t-shirts and radio jamming devices to the ruling party, helped build Mugabe’s presidential palace, and sold the government jet fighters and trucks in violation of a Western arms embargo. It’s hard to know whether this is “just business” for the Chinese government, or whether they actively support Mugabe’s repressive regime. But, one way or another, it helps relieve pressure on dictatorial rulers by enabling them to point to the support they see in the east even as they lose support in the west.

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