O diplomat of great nation Hybrid — contact: hybrid.diplomat «at» gmail.com

Different Perspective: Zim Edition

with 3 comments

The Hybrid Diplomat does his best to obtain critical analysis from those close to political action and elites around the world. So when New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof decided to make a big show of his Zimbabwe column, the HD had the article wired to his CLOSEST Zimbabwean source in Zimbabwe. So rather than reading the words of a man who only spent a few days in Zimbabwe, the HD tries to bring you the perspectives of people who have spent their whole lives in a country. His point by point response, below, is rather SCATHING (Read the Kristof column first):

“Start by asking asking people whether or not things were better before or after independence and then pause. The counterintuitive answer you will most certainly get will allow you to purge any form of historical racial guilt that your reader might have. Ignore the fact that people will almost always tell you what you want to hear, especially if you are white, but remember more important than anything keep it simple.

Then talk about how dangerous it is to be found “committing journalism” in Zimbabwe, but tell stories about how you have snuck in and out of unnamed villages (in a discreet four by four of course). Don’t forget to describe the villages as made up of mud huts. That should really draw the attention to the misery these people have suffered under this oppressive regime. Draw attention to the bon sauvage battles the natives have with elephants.(Now would almost be a good time to mention re-legalising the ivory trade: but remember your audience they are after all very sensitive to the plight of black man and elephant alike. Besides they probably don’t want to have to think about anything too complicated as the CITES treaty and all that: remember keep it simple!

Now get back to the poverty: Talk about the precipitous decline of this once thriving country since the whites were kicked out in 1980 but give your facts of decline from 1990, too much nuance would ruin your report.

Talk about the schools and the healthcare and how they have declines.

Now might be a good time to mention Rhodesia again. This particular school was built during Rhodesia, and was probably more efficiently run, but possibly not as well as the segregated schools, but we had better not mention that?

Now talk about how much you love the country, its pretty much one of your favourites, the scenery, the animals, and the people, don’t forget the people, just magical! Big smiles.

End it with a bold political statement about how political pressure ended Rhodesia, you might want to forget the brutal bloody war that the current dictatorship had to wage against the Rhodesian regime, and ignore the tacit as well as overt military support that the regime got from the western states: but that was a different time, a simpler time when the quaint issues of racial discrimination and a ten year bush war.

Ah, kids say the darndest things: Zimbabwe, a brutal bloody dictatorship for the whole family.


The point is it is complicated, so on one hand when you have the Harare Herald writing absolute crap about american imperialist interests in Zimbabwe (they even busted on michelle obama the other day, seriously!). It doesn’t help to get trite simplistic articles in the New York Times.”

Well said, the rise of the commentator (Kristof) over the specialist (my source) in international affairs is troubling.

And for all those who want to learn  “How to Write about Africa”.

ADDED: The good sir has just released another column. I’ll leave you to read it. The HD must attend to diplomatic business and ensure the world is running smoothly.


3 Responses

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  1. Thank god someone is mentioning the need for nuance.


    April 11, 2010 at 13:42

  2. Dear HD:

    What is most disappointing about this post is not the inclusion of Kristof’s poorly written column, but rather the bitter and uninformative response given by your source.

    Yes, Nicholas Kristof’s piece is clichéd in both its reminiscences for Rhodesia and oversimplifications of the challenges facing Zimbabweans. Perhaps Kristof was considering his audience; “Postcard from Zimbabwe” is, after all, an opinion piece and not a true news article. Or perhaps not. Whatever the case may be, my primary frustration is with the method your source employed to discredit Kristof.

    Instead of mocking the column and the author responsible for creating it, your source could have used this as an opportunity to educate readers about the root causes of extreme poverty in Zimbabwe. S/he could have refuted Kristof’s point that life was better for the average person under colonial rule with an intelligent argument rather than a sarcastic diatribe. Was this her/his attempt at providing critical analysis?

    Nicholas Kristof’s mediocre (at best) style of writing does not necessarily preclude him from presenting a premise that is accurate and free from racist connotations. I would appreciate a response from someone who could engage in an intelligent debate regarding this matter, as I thought the idea behind this blog was for us to learn something from each other.


    April 13, 2010 at 22:31

  3. THE SOURCE SPEAKS!!! HD’s Zimbabwean Commentator:

    Perhaps a diatribe, point taken, was not the wisest point of departure
    for critical analysis. In this commentator’s defence the piece was
    intended as a personal note between the commentator and HD. That said
    the calibre of writing surrounding the crisis in Zimbabwe is poor and
    often lacking the necessary nuance required to explain the
    multilayered, political, socio-economic and humanitarian crisis that
    Zimbabwe faces. This criticism is not levelled at Kristof alone but to
    the stock journalism and commentary on Zimbabwe that is too often
    ahistoric, and tends towards clichés for instance: “from breadbasket
    to basket case” seems to be particular favourite. Added to this is the
    simplistic notion that all of Zimbabwe’s problems have emanated from
    Robert Mugabe and will inevitably evaporate once he is removed from
    power. A breakdown of the roots of the Zimbabwean crisis would be a
    complex undertaking that, for all intents and purposes is virtually
    redundant at present.
    In short, Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a period, albeit very
    tenuous, of relative stability. The Government of National Unity has
    provided a respite in political violence, and the economy is showing
    signs of recovery since dollarization was implemented in 2009. The
    balance lies in the implementation of the Global Political Agreement
    (GPA) signed by the principals of ZANU-PF and the two factions of the
    MDC. Bickering and intransigence over the “outstanding issues” in this
    document may still prove to be a fault line in the current political
    dispensation. Delays in the constitutional outreach programme partly
    due to administrative processes in UNDP funding for the process,
    threaten to derail the process. In addition, the hi-jacking of the
    “people driven” constitutional process by political actors is
    noteworthy. There have already been reports of ZANU-PF selection and
    coaching under coercion of individuals to steer the outreach process
    towards the party’s proposed constitutional draft. Possibly most
    worrying are the looming threats of elections and the attending
    violence if the GNU breaks down, and possibly before the completion of
    the constitutional outreach process. These are all issues HD’s
    Zimbabwean commentator will attempt to critically analyse as they


    April 14, 2010 at 21:09

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