J-Curve, Mugabe, and the World Cup

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/26/2007 12:43:00 AM
Ian Bremmer's recent book The J-Curve presents a simple thesis. Take a look at the illustration taken from the Daily Telegraph review of the book. Openness increases as you move from west to east, while political stability increases as you move from south to north. According to Bremmer, the least open regimes (like North Korea) tend to be more stable than those undergoing a transition to openness which are least stable (like Iraq), while those that are most open are also the most stable (like the US).

I bring this matter up for I recently came across this article in The American which illustrates J-Curve reasoning. Sanctions imposed on Robert Mugabe's regime have only had the effect of strengthening his grip on a highly dysfunctional country through isolation. Hence, the argument in the article is that the upcoming World Cup presents a better opportunity to make Mugabe shape up if Zimbabwe is to take advantage of the goodwill and business that the Cup will bring to the African continent:

Western sanctions—principally travel bans on Zimbabwean public officials allied to Mugabe and the suspension of most aid programs—have done nothing for Zimbabwe’s politics other than giving its pernicious leader a handy “foreign devil” to frame for his own misdeeds. The World Bank suspended all aid to Mugabe’s kleptocracy, with little effect (thanks in part to Chinese willingness to step in with loans), and at any rate, it did so not for geopolitical reasons, but because Zimbabwe wasn’t making good on its outstanding debts. Even now Zimbabwe remains eligible for “technical assistance” and civil service reform advice from the bank...

Is there no force, persuasion, sanction, or pressure—short of warfare—that can bring Mugabe to heel? Maybe not, but hope should not be abandoned. Where the World Bank has proved feckless, the World Cup may step in to fill the breach.

Zimbabwe, like all of southern Africa, has been counting on big economic and goodwill gains from the 2010 Cup to be hosted by South Africa. It wants to host teams for training, lure in tourists, and get a waiver from FIFA, the global governing body for football, to allow teams to live on-site in Zimbabwe, even during the competition. In fact, with South African support, Zimbabwean football has been assuming the waiver would be granted.

Too presumptuous, maybe: FIFA said earlier this month that no waiver decision has been made, putting a damper on plans to build two entirely new stadiums in Zimbabwe and renovate older ones.

Indeed, FIFA might want to hold that thought, and take it a step further. Already it’s clear that FIFA’s decisions matter more to Zimbabwe than anything the IMF or the G8 might do. The critical pressure point again is South Africa, which has been quite accommodating of Mr. Mugabe. If President Mbeki truly is expected to carry the ball for Tony Blair here, let him work with FIFA and the African Union to keep the World Cup goodies away from Zimbabwe altogether, so long as Mugabe rules. Here at least is a form of pressure that may begin to bite.

FIFA, fortunately, can still help some Zimbabwean workers even if it does act to harm the regime. Zimbabwean construction workers are earning true living wages (denominated in US dollars, not Zimbabwe dollars) by crossing into South Africa to work World Cup construction projects. That’s a lot more effective than western hand-wringing.