The dictators club?

One of those choruses we hear wherever people talk freely is "Don't trust SADC/ the AU/ UN; it's just a dictator's club".

I wonder whether the situation is that simple. If these are dictators’ clubs, what are the club rules? Indeed, do they have any? Is there any honour among big thieves?

I wouldn’t go any further than to say there is a family spirit in these organisations: the sort of family spirit you find among sharks. The shark is a strange creature in a number of ways.

Biologists tell us it differs in some significant ways from the other fish we are more familiar with. One big difference is that sharks don’t lay eggs like most fish. They bring forth live offspring. But unlike mammals, which appeared on the scene much later, the young sharks are not dependent on their mother, who just gives birth and swims away, leaving them to fend for themselves. So they have to fight for food from the first moment of their lives.

In a crowd of hundreds of his own kind, where does the baby shark find the food he desperately needs to help him grow? The answer is amazingly simple: the little shark grows bigger by eating his brothers and sisters. At their family dining table, the rule is “Eat or be eaten”.

So there was nothing extraordinary about our army going to the DRC a few years ago to plunder their diamond mines. The Namibian, Angolan, Rwandan and Ugandan armies no doubt had their own ways of making a profit once they’d got their teeth into the juicier parts of the Congo.

So why should anyone be surprised that, when Zimbabwe becomes the basket case of southern Africa, we end up paying most of Namibia’s electricity bills and thanking them for the privilege? Our chief shark may be surprised that his friends are also sharks: dubious Malaysian businessmen and other characters who’ve just completed, or escaped from a long prison sentence. As long as they’ve got credentials like those, even white sharks are welcomed. China, Britain it doesn’t matter where they came from; their smiles are broad enough to show they have shark’s teeth, so they are welcome at the Zimbabwean feast.

Isn’t it rather amazing that we heard someone high up cursing the Australians a little while ago, calling them “a nation of convicts”? They are proud of their origins, because they know what sort of convicts their ancestors were: an English peasant who stole a sheep because his children were starving would be sentenced to seven years Down Under – and then there were problems about paying his fare back home when he’d completed the sentence. One would expect that a man who had done his own stretch in a colonial prison would have some sympathy for the descendants of Irish freedom fighters who were given the same one-way ticket to Botany Bay.

Some people have strange ideas about which kind of jailbird is respectable. They shouldn’t be surprised if they fall among bigger and hungrier sharks than themselves.

Post published in: Opinions

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