Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Post: The Politics Behind the Acoustics

Ed. Note: The following is a guest post by my colleague, Michael Rohrs.

The show was organized and advertised in under two weeks.The tickets were sold out in under twenty minutes.Dispatch, a world famous yet eternally philanthropic college band from Vermont, has been broken up for five years, but was playing a reunion concert in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. I came into two coveted tickets by a cosmic stroke of luck. The evening performance coincided with Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai’s eminently diplomatic visit with President Barack Obama that afternoon. The entire set was played acoustically, the Prime Minister himself spoke eloquently, without notes, and the proceeds went directly to the starving people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s government exists today, as it has for four months, as a two-headed snake. The unlikely ‘unity’ or ‘power-sharing’ system has precariously empowered two heads of state—the inexorable Robert Mugabe and the ineluctable Morgan Tsvangirai—each the illustrious champion of his party.

For the impoverished people of Zimbabwe, caught between the pestle and the mortar, it’s midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Depending upon the political leadership in the country and which man best leverages the power of the government ministries he controls (in general, Tsvangirai controls the treasury and Mugabe controls the secret police), determines whose political will be done. As the Post’s Michael Gerson wrote today in his op-ed Taking Meetings with a Murderer,

His [Tsvangirai] intention is to fight arbitrary and personal rule with the weapons of process—a Madisonian response to a Neronian dictator…If Tsvangirai fails, he will be just another victim of Mugabe’s charming ruthlessness. But if the prime minister succeeds, he will be an exceptional statesman who set aside his own claims of justice for the peace and progress of his country.

For the citizenry, the cessation of despotism, the economic prosperity of the country, the existence of sustainable democracy, and so many more basic human and civil rights hang in the balance.

Last Friday, the United States tipped the scale towards Tsvangirai. The Obama Administration devoted $73 million in foreign aid to the people of Zimbabwe—a salvational humanitarian effort that will, however, require an international political end-around. The Obama Administration will mete out millions of dollars for medicine bottles, bread loaves, and text books through NGOs and charities—effectively circumnavigating the graft of the Mugabe machine. The Dispatch Foundation, and the proceeds from their small but sold-out acoustic evening in the Kennedy Center, is one such charity. The amount of U.S. aid to ease the suffering and promote the suffrage of Zimbabweans just went up to $73,022,000. Now, we’ll watch and hope—as Obama remarked during his meeting with Tsvangirai—that concrete things solidify and enable the Prime Minister’s commitment to concrete improvement in day-to-day life in Zimbabwe.

I was lucky to get two tickets to see my favorite band reunited. But from what I saw on Friday night, the Zimbabwean people are even luckier to have the immanent resolve of PM Tsvangirai and the attention and aid of the United States.

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