Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hundreds of thousands die in Hypothetistan

I suppose it was inevitable that "Project Africa" would start off with a post about Zimbabwe; I am uncomfortably aware that this is an exercise in dilettantism and in many ways pretty patronising. And here I am, a Brit writing about Zimbabwe and seeing it as a mirror in which are reflected my general political views. Sorry, Zimbabwegians[1]. The only real defence I have is that a) I've been planning to do this for a long time and b) it's better than US election horserace coverage. Did I ever tell you I was born in Zambia? No, you're right, that doesn't really have much to do with anything. Anyway in any case, it's important to emphasise that this isn't meant to be a project of me learning a lot about Africa or becoming a source of news and comment for that continent; it's the same mix of personal hobbyhorses and oddball economics, but hung on a hopefully less overfamiliar set of news pegs. Heho, moment of self-awareness over, back to standing on your heads lads.

Over at B'n'T, discussion of whether we can that if (as currently looks likely), Zimbabwe ends up transitioning to a post-Mugabe world by election, it will compare somewhat favourably with the outcome in Iraq. Dan H makes the reasonable point that nobody can really tell how Zimbabwe will end up - whoever's in charge, it will still be a hyperinflationary basket case economy with bad food security[2], lots of unemployed people with weapons and quite a few old ethnic/political scores to settle. Which is true, but on the other hand we can never tell what the results would have been from an armed intervention in Rwanda[3] and that does not stop people making it the backbone of their argument for humanitarian interventionism. So I think it is actually quite fair to count Zimbabwe as a success story for noninterventionism, and even to try and come up with a few estimates of the number of lives saved[4].

Zimbabwe had three consecutive years of crop failure between 2003 and 2005, leaving approximately 7.5m Zimbabweans dependent on food aid during that period. There was a lot of talk about Zanu-PF officials denying food aid to opposition supporters, but since there wasn't mass starvation during those years, my assumption is that the food aid was largely effective. Bishop Pious Ncube was quoted in media reports at the time as saying that 200,000 Zimbabweans were at risk of death in 2004, and this looks like a more credible estimate than some of the numbers around 500,000 that were being floated around at various points during that year; this was the stakes we were talking about, although an exceptional effort by the aid agencies meant that mass starvation didn't happen.

If, on the other hand, there had been an invasion, it would have been much more difficult for the aid agencies to do their job. It is true that mass famine deaths were predicted in Afghanistan as a result of the 2001 invasion and didn't happen - this was partly due to a massive effort by the World Food Programme, operating alongside the coalition army, and partly due to the fact that the drought which had been in place in Afghanistan since 1997 ended late in 2001, meaning that more livestock survived than was expected.

In principle, an Afghanistan-style operation could have been carried out alongside any invasion of Zimbabwe; Zimbabwe has about half the population of Afghanistan, it would have been if anything easier to transport the food, and there were stores of wheat readily available. However, I think that would be optimistic. The US operation in Afghanistan had the support of neighbouring countries to act as bases, so there was no issue with the fact that allowing aid convoys to move through your country implied allowing US troops to move with them. No such support could necessarily have been assumed in the case of Zimbabwe. Also, the Afghanistan invasion was a massively important goal of the USA. No other power on earth could have organised that sort of operation. This is straying into the territory of assuming that the politics of the world are as they are, rather than as someone wants them to be[5], but I really don't believe that the USA, no matter who was in charge, could have been persuaded that an operation on that scale for Zimbabwe was justified, particularly since it wasn't even an imminent humanitarian catastrophe - after, Mugabe was a bastard right enough, but you only have to think about Sudan, Uganda, DR Congo and Somalia to realise that there's a quantitative difference here that makes a qualitative difference. And that's without getting into the obvious point that the fact of Afghanistan and Iraq made it impossible to launch another operation on that scale.

So I actually think that an invasion of Zimbabwe could quite easily have led to at least 200,000 avoidable deaths from famine, plus whatever lives were lost in the actual fighting. This is a pretty conservative estimate, since of course Pious Ncube's estimate was not made in the context of a massive IDP problem. Things could of course have got even worse if the "veterans' groups" metastatized into the kind of small militias/large crime gangs that have characterised the aftermath of other African civil wars.

In other words, I would chalk up to the Zimbabwe non-intervention something like 200,000 lives saved. Or alternatively, attribute to the interventionist tendency 200,000 dead in Zimbabwe, in the way in which the entire death toll in Rwanda is attributed to non-interventionism. It is important to note these things, because otherwise the benefits of non-intervention get wildly understated; one needs to show the kind of people who are prepared to claim that the anti-war camp has the blood of Rwanda on its hands that we can do counterfactuals too.

[1] I am never going to get tired of that joke.
[2] Hopefully a few notes on the general subject of hyperinflations and how they have been halted in the past (the paradigm cases are Israel in 1985 and Argentina in 2000; I also have one extremely heterodox alternative suggestion) forthcoming in the pretty near future.
[3] Other than the results from the one actual armed intervention which took place in Rwanda, Operation Turquoise. Which were disastrous, but for some reason this is just bracketed out of the interventionist narrative; all of the consequences of Turquoise are ascribed to French perfidy and incompetence and it is assumed that the hypothetical UN/Nato/whoever operation which did not take place would have been perfectly competent and had no ulterior political motives.
[4] I am not, frankly, a fan of the school of analysis which only counts lives versus lives and ignores the considerable financial cost of carrying out a war as being a vulgar and squalid consideration suitable only to morally disgusting human calculating machines. But for the time being I will reluctantly go along with it.
[5] It is clear that "engage with our ideas" is Decent slang for "spot us a load of very serious logistical and military problems which we regard ourselves as entitled to assume will be solved by people like General Petraeus". I don't regard this as a valid argument at all, but I can see how the other aspect of "engage with our ideas" as slang for "assume that we could persuade everyone to agree with us" is sort of legitimate.
27 comments this item posted by the management 4/03/2008 07:31:00 AM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


Bitch : Lab
Aaronovitch Watch
Brad Delong
The Robert Vienneau blog

Political and philosophical heroes

Subcomandante Marcos
Will Rogers
Boris Vian
The English Svejk

RSS Feed:
This seems to matter to a lot of people

If you liked this "Daniel Davies" website, you might be interested in

"Danux", the web developer
The martial artist (and fan of extremely annoying Flash intros) from Blackburn
The Welsh political journalist
A Scouse computer programmer who collects Soviet cameras
"Danimal", the heavy metal drummer
Canada's finest recorder of radio jingles
More of the same, at the Guardian
A tailor's in Lampeter where Jimmy Carter once bought a hat
An advertising man who has written a novel about dogging (I think we sometimes get each other's email)
An award-winning facilities manager in Dubai
The son of the guitarist from the Kinks Update: he is apparently "balls-out motherfucking shit-dicked exxxstatic" to be included on a Kerrang magazine giveaway CD of Iron Maiden covers, which is nice.
"Fritz Gretel" from the Ramones film "Rock 'n' Roll High School"
The former presenter of the leading politics talk radio show on the Isle of Man, now a business change manager in the Manx government secretary's office
An aquarium curator in Sussex who keeps on scoring home runs like this (this is the first stable link I've found, but he is constantly kicking ass in acquarial terms)

If you didn't like this "Daniel Davies" website, then don't give up on the Daniel Davies industry completely!

An American "Christian Political Analyst" who has the same name as me
A student at Patrick Henry College
these two might be the same guy ...
"Scatter", the deceased Liberian gangster
A naked man stuck in a chimney in Wigan
A thug in Barrow

This blog has been going downhill since ...

August 2002
September 2002
October 2002
November 2002
December 2002
January 2003
February 2003
March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
November 2003
December 2003
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009
January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
January 2012
February 2012
March 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
December 2012
February 2013
April 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
March 2014
April 2014
August 2014
October 2015
March 2023