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!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Refugee Camp All-Stars

A commenter on CT rightly upbraided me for neglecting the old blog and in particular, not having got round to the current Scouse wedding that is South African race relations. Once more, Thabo Mbeki demonstrates that there is a special place in the hall of political ignominy for those who do important jobs badly. I'm gonna top and tail this one with a pair of JK Galbraith quotes:

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership

Obviously, Mbeki does not score well on this one; he's a world-class ignorer and equivocator. But on the other hand, I do think that a lot of people underestimate the unconscionable shittiness of the hand he's been dealt.

I have been on this one for quite a while, usually in the context of Mbeki's otherwise astonishing stasis in respect of Mugabe. The issue here is that South Africa is developing, along with a growing contingent of actual Zimbabwean refugees, a massive great class of bayaye - a piece of Ugandan slang made famous by Ryszard Kapuscinski, referring to an urban caste of full-time unemployed, living off their wits and small casual jobs, but mostly hanging around and being the source of nearly all the big political trouble in pre-Amin Uganda. The distinction between bayaye and the ordinary unemployed is one of accommodation to the status; the absence or disappearance of any link to the formal economy and civil state (to return to a theme of the last few weeks, it is not exactly difficult to think of your favourite local chickentown where the distinction between "long term unemployed" and bayaye is currently getting blurred. Quite an achievement for one of the world's most natural resources-intensive economies to deliver this during a commodities boom, by the way.

And refugees and IDPs are like the ultimate extension of bayaye. As well as having loads of spare time and no stake in society, they tend to have a frighteningly high frequency of mental health problems, a background of conflict and a daily lifestyle that more or less requires one to behave in an antisocial and violent manner in order to survive. Just as a scholar is a library's way of making more libraries, refugee camps are a crucial reproductive stage in the life cycle of atrocities. My guess is that Mbeki's inertia is the paralysis of fear - he's on a path on which all forks seem to be heading toward a very material risk of civil war in Zimbabwe, and the nature of things is that when it breaks out, a lot of the consequences are going to end up on his front porch.

Politics is not the art of the possible. Frequently it is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable
5 comments this item posted by the management 5/30/2008 05:49:00 AM

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