Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Africa's Shame and Zimbabwe's Broader Danger
The recent assault by armed government gangs, leading to dozens of deaths and hundreds of encarcerations, has led the opposition in Zimbabwe to withdraw from the electoral process. The striking inability of Tabo Mbeki in South Africa and other sub-Saharan African nations and institutions (the Africa Union, for example) is a shameful episode that has set the continent back for decades.

But there are reasons other than human rights and the rule of law to be concerned about Zimbabwe and its meglomaniacal leader, Robert Mugabe. To discern that, one only has to look at other criminal states in the region, and their history.

As regimes such as that of Mugabe, Charles Taylor or Mobutu in Zaire (DRC) become more isolated and more desperate, the leadership turns increasingly to organized criminal activity to finance itself and stay in power. With the organized crime, one almost always gets the shadow facilitators that connect the transnational criminals to their desired source of wealth or activity.

And the shadow facilitators almost always bring in the terrorist connections, because the two groups operate through the same pipelines. A merger is almost impossible to avoid.

These shadow facilitators, like Viktor Bout, who dealt with Charles Taylor, a host of other African governments, the FARC and the Taliban, don't distinguish among their clientele. Others, like Sanjivan Ruprah, facilitate the deals across the continent.

By 1998, Taylor was hosting Russian organized crime, Ukrainian organized crime, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Israeli crime and South African organized crime. Why? Because he was able to give them things they needed-passports, aircraft registrations, safe entry and exit points etc.-in exchange for what he wanted-money to run his regime.

Zimbabwe is already a criminal state, although not a failed state. The regime has control of the main levers of power, and is willing to use them to retain power, showing it can be ruthlessly efficient in areas where it chooses to operate.

Already with a long involvement in the rape of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and hosting large groups of criminal organizations, Zimbabwe is already a threat to its neighbors because of its tolerance and participation with these groups.

The Venezuela-Iran alliance shows that, if there is a common perceived enemy, unlikely actors form alliances. In that case, the sole unifying factor is hatred for the United States.

In Zimbabwe, Mugabe's desperation to hold on to power, his hatred of Britain (in particular) and the West, and his willingness to tolerate high levels of criminality that benefit him and his party, all mean he is likely to look for ways to strike back at his enemies. This could easily include Islamist radicals, who already have an infrastructure in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Stepping up to Mugabe's thuggish activities is not something that can be viewed as solely benefiting the West.

Africa, including South Africa, will suffer not just in terms of democratic development and stability, but in terms of allowing organized crime and terrorist groups to entrench themselves in a way that will be a threat to every government. The sooner the leadership gets its head out of the sand, the better chance Africa will have of moving modestly forward.

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