Saturday, September 01, 2007

Is Zimbabwe an Example of UN Success?

By Stanford Matthews
Blog @

The UN's Millennium Development Goals program includes topics claimed to address basic problems worldwide such as hunger and poverty. Currently, the program is about halfway through its schedule to accomplish the goals. Based on how benchmarks are designed and appraised there is plenty of room for argument on what has or has not been accomplished. It is the opinion of the author of this post that the UN's MDG are nothing more than a proclamation of grandiose plans intended to justify the existence of this impotent international organization.

Today's installment focuses on one country in Africa. There was no special formula or criteria used to select today's featured country. It was more a matter of what was readily available and being covered by various news sources at the time of this writing.

The country is Zimbabwe. Whether or not this country is typical or common in terms of the obstacles that face any attempt to improve conditions for people around the world is unknown. But certainly this example cries out for recognition as evidence supporting the fact that UN policies toward problem solving are fundamentally flawed.

It is ironic that Robert Mugabe came to power in Zimbabwe in 1980 which is the same year the now failing water supply infrastructure was installed. One of Magabe's recent moves (July 2007) was to force businesses to slash prices on products like wide-screen TV's. Hurry folks, you can get 'em for about 20 pounds. In a country with a 20,000% inflation rate and the economic crisis Mugabe blames on business that is trying to undermine his government, cars are also going for the incredible price of 30 pounds.

Even though economists weighed in on the situation, it doesn't require a financial genius to understand the stupidity of this move by Mugabe. It is also not surprising that this country's leader has been subject to criticism for most of the time he has been in power.

The insanity in contrasts between the problems faced by Zimbabwe, the solutions offered and apparent mixture of priorities demonstrated by the following news accounts reinforce the notion that the UN Millennium Development Goals are either naive in their simplistic approach to problem solving or believe the rest of us are.

Infrastructure problems would be expected as a problem in nations suffering from the ills of ineffective or corrupt governments. As mentioned earlier, the water supply infrastructure in Zimbabwe is seriously inadequate. Frequent interruptions to the supply of water as well as electricity are cited as primary influences in the economic crisis within Zimbabwe. The municipal control of the water supply being transferred to a national authority has not improved the situation. Failure to provide adequate water for the needs of the population creates obvious risks.

Another result of Zimbabwe's economic crisis has been a flood of two or three million refugees to neighboring the neighboring countries of Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa. There has been some question of how South Africa will handle the swell of mostly illegal immigrants. About one week ago, the UN in their wisdom had stated there is a plan for responding to the refugee situation but no mandate is in place to intervene. This suggests the UN's grand MDG has no realistic solutions either. Is this not exactly the kind of problem the UN should be capable of resolving?

While Mugabe continues to express his position that the West is trying to bring about regime change, infrastructure problems with water and electric power have created another crisis. People have resorted to using wood to fill the void for cooking requirements. This has resulted in devastation to Zimbabwe's forests. The power failures have also caused problems for irrigation and a reduction in the food supply. Go figure, the UN will be looked to for supplying food to more than a third of the population through next April's harvest. So much for the MDG hunger program as it relates to Zimbabwe. Rather than fewer hungry people it appears as there will be more.

No crisis would be complete without headlines suggesting an opposition leader to Mugabe's government is involved in actions that will impede progress in 'crisis talks.' Perhaps this is an area the UN may have previously been expected to participate in and direct other UN member to provide incentives for resolution. The membership of the UN as well as government leadership in struggling nations can be viewed as the central obstacles to problem solving. It would be no surprise that those in positions of authority do not share the concerns of ordinary citizens within troubled nations. If that is the case, how can the UN be a catalyst for improving conditions for the less fortunate throughout the world?

While this next story does not address the MDG primary education goals directly, it offers some insight to the difficulties of education in troubled nations as well as an example of another aid complaint that has targeted the US as not doing enough. Who can hope for the promise of education in areas where basic human needs are in crisis? Must those issues be solved before education can truly help? A tiny fraction of the funds provided by the US recently paid for one week's training for Zimbabwe teachers to be instructed on how to teach 'life skills' as a deterrent to the spread of HIV/AIDS. For a mere $500,000 of aid, or about $40 per day, 1500 teachers attended the training for a week. Considering the difficulties presently faced by Zimbabwe, the wisdom of this activity is suspect.

The final story provided for contrast in this post deals with a topic that by luck of the draw was available as a current example of what makes little sense in the scheme of things. There is a Zimbabwe film festival celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The usual descriptions and hype for such an event are expressed in the article. But to the outside observer, relying only on media reports, it serves as another reason to ask what the hell goes on in places in the world that seem to be consumed by strife? People cannot eat, attend to common tasks, are exiting the country by the millions and yet there is demand for a film festival. Not that anyone in Zimbabwe should be denied an opportunity to develop whatever skills they can, but doesn't this seem out of place?

Certainly we discuss similar contrasts in the US. The United States is not exempt from bizarre combinations of circumstances featuring the over privileged and underprivileged. It is not expected that these same situations would not be present in other countries.

The central question for this post is how does the UN reconcile public opinion about its operations? It appears they don't as their activities continue to demonstrate peculiar responses to chronic problems. More statements, more research, more monitoring, more appeals for funding and excuses for performance that never seem to solve anything is what maintains a less than positive public opinion of the United Nations.

Zimbabwe's problems may be generally representative of nations throughout the world requiring international attention and resolution. Perhaps the UN could spend some of the funding used for communication to explain why its members cannot see their way clear to negotiate effectively with countries around the world like Zimbabwe. Even if one country at a time, the United Nations should be able to rally members to solve problems of poverty, hunger, disease, etc., without the hype and suspicious characteristics of projects like the Millennium Development Goals. The solutions to these problems do not require all the sophisticated and complex arrangements often described by the UN and related organizations.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe strongman

Mugabe's price cuts bring cheap TVs today, new crisis tomorrow
Water Shortages Make Every Day Life A Struggle In Zimbabwe's Cities
Zimbabweans Fleeing Economic Collapse Not Refugees - UN Agency
South Africa Mulls New Response To Massive Zimbabwean Immigration
Zimbabwe Economic Crisis Wipes Out Forests
Harare Says Tsvangirai's Australia Contacts Jeopardize Crisis Talks
Zimbabwean Teachers To Instruct Life Skills To Avoid HIV Infection
Zimbabwe Film Festival Celebrates a Decade in Cinema