George A. Pieler and Jens F. Laurson: Cup Boon for Zimbabwe

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa promises to be an economic, political, and public relations boon for not just South Africa, but its cranky neighbor to the north, Zimbabwe. There was hope that Zimbabwe would be hosting national teams for training and tourists would come to see its wildlife. All in all, sport enthusiasts would see the softer side of Mugabean tyranny.

This isn’t happening. At least, not like it’s supposed to. Zimbabwe will benefit economically, but only by exporting sex workers to South Africa. There is also the rare (and highly unlikely) opportunity to host North Korea’s football team, which would stir controversy in Zimbabwe—and everywhere else–because North Korean troops played a part in Mugabe’s civilian massacres in Matabeleland in the 1980s. North Korea has shown rare sensitivity towards the concerns of Mugabe’s regime, and was recently rewarded with shipments of native wildlife (baby elephants so far) plucked from Zimbabwe’s wildlife preserves. They may not survive the trip, but the gesture is what counts, right?

Adding to Zimbabwe’s—or just Mugabe’s—World Cup “benefits,” is the fact that South Africa is closing a camp that holds political and economic refugees from Mugabe-ism. “We don’t want to see people in camps during the World Cup,” says Charles Ntsomi, mayor of nearby Breede Valley. Of course not—who wants that?

All told, FIFA’s 2010 festival of sport seems to be bearing none of the economic benefits many Zimbabweans had hoped for.  It does, however, help solidify Zimbabwe’s status in the world community as a rogue state, governed against and not for its people. It also illustrates the complementary but less-remarked upon role of South Africa as its willing enabler, not just in rejecting refugees when they are inconvenient, but in running interference for Mr. Mugabe throughout the international community. Perhaps these bits of clarity, along with the heightened focus on Zimbabwe and South Africa’s role in (not) advancing freedom, are the only silver linings for Zimbabweans in FIFA 2010.

George A. Pieler is an attorney and graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School. Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum.

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