What happens when your currency has collapsed to the point where you can’t pay your police? Ask your friendly neighbor to borrow some of their thugs.
The crisis in Zimbabwe has taken a toll on police and security forces, many of whom have deserted and left for South Africa, to seek work as security guards, according to a leaked police memo. They’re part of an exodus of Zimbabweans to neighboring nations – estimates suggest that two to three million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa, putting a strain on that country’s resources. Other members of the Zimbabwean police have refused to participate in increasingly brutal and violent crackdowns on dissent.
So Zimbabwe has turned to Angola for help. Angola is emerging from almost three decades of brutal civil war, where a proxy battle between the US and Soviet Union killed half a million civilians and left land mines scattered all over the country. (A side note: a Norwegian project to improve the self-esteem of Angolan landmine survivors – a beauty contest called Miss Landmine – has come up for some sharp criticism from my friends at Black Looks.) But Angola’s got oil – lots of it, as much as Brazil or Algeria. And international oil companies are lining up to drill in Angolan waters, pumping money into the coffers of a corrupt, low-transparency government that passes very little money to extremely poor civilians.
Angola’s security forces are considered extremely well-trained, as most have experience from fighting rebels in the Angolan civil war. And now 3000 Angolan troops are coming to Zimbabwe to assist with “quelling violence and maintaining law and order”. Officers are expected on the ground as early as April 1st – the deal is nominally an “exchange” program between the two forces, but it’s unclear whether Zimbabwe will be able to provide officers to serve in Angola any time soon.
Christopher Dell, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, gave an interview to the Associated Press yesterday from South Africa, in which he suggested that dissafection with Mugabe had reached “a tipping point”. He believes that Mugabe is losing control of the police in part because individual officers are afraid of reprisals from their communities:
“Police are trying to distance themselves from the repression. Police officers feel insecure. We are told some are afraid to wear their uniforms back and forth to work,” said Dell, noting that most police live in the poor, high-density suburbs of Harare and are afraid of reprisals from their neighbors.
It’s unclear whether Dell will be able to return to his post in Harare – Mugabe and his foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwe have been demanding that diplomats stop “backing” the MDC opposition. I’m glad that Dell is speaking publicly and openly about the deteriorating situation – it may have become clear to him that he’s going to be expelled one way or another and he’s chosen to go out with a fight rather than leaving quietly.