Zimbabwe Tyranny Confiscates Guns:

The ZWNews website reports that the Mugabe dictatorship has ordered a new round of gun confiscation:

Police at the weekend said they were revoking licences for all automatic rifles and some types of pistols and said civilians owning such weapons had until today to surrender them....

But sources at police headquarters in Harare said the move was just precautionary to ensure such weapons could not be used by civilians should tension gripping Zimbabwe in the wake of the government's clean-up exercise erupt into public violence. "The ban is targeted at all automatic weapons which the government fears could pose a security threat in the country should the civil strife in Zimbabwe turn violent," said a source, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation. This is not the first time that the government has cancelled firearm licences. At the peak of its chaotic and often violent farm seizure programme in 2000, the government issued a decree compelling civilians to surrender their guns. The move was targeted at white commercial farmers who at that time held a number of assault guns for self-protection. Zimbabwe's security forces have been on high alert since the government launched a "clean-up" campaign last month that has left close to a million people without shelter after their shanty homes were demolished.

As I detailed in a 2001 article, Zimbabwe's dictatorship has a long practice of using gun controls, many of which were inherited from British colonial rule, to ensure that victims of its barbaric abuses of human rights are unable to resist. The International Association of Genocide Scholars, in a June 7 statement, warned that the Mugabe government was again on the path to mass murder.

Perhaps the most effective foreign aid which should be sent to the people of Zimbabwe would be millions of rifles, so that the people would no longer be defenseless against the depradations of one of the most evil governments in all of African history.

Rob Lyman (mail) (www):

If they have guns now, or had them when the bulldozing campaign began, why aren't some of the people there using them? Or are there just too few to matter?
6.30.2005 12:01pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
I suspect that communications are more important that actual weapons in most modern circumstances. Even if people have weapons, if they cannot coordinate their actions the central authority can pick them off one by one.

They need something like a radio based internet that could shoot text messages from hand-held unit to hand-held unit without any kind of central controller that the government could seize. Routing would be the hard part I imagine. (Perhaps a cell phone systems that used hardware based outside the country would work better.)
6.30.2005 12:13pm
Instead of this Live 8 nonsense, Hollywood should be fawning over arms smugglers.
6.30.2005 12:30pm
countertop (mail):

I believe when Mugabe first began his campaign - and focused it solely on white landowners - some of themshot back and where able to resist for a period of time. However, once it became clear that the Europeans (read British) were unwilling to eventually offer aid or assistance the resistance collapsed. As far as the remaining gun owners, since they still possess guns, Mugabe hasn't gone after them in an organized manner. I guess this is the first step - once they refuse to turn them in he will use the army to decimate them and simply appeal to the liberal (and anti-gun but pro-murderous dictator) UN to justify his use of force against armed citizens.

Shannon - its a big country and the range on cell phones is quite limited. He would have too easy of a time controlling acces to cell phone towers. Of course, satellite phones might work, but I don't know much about their costs and/or availability generally.
6.30.2005 12:30pm
Eric Wilner (mail) (www):
Shannon -- back in the mid-90s, I sketched out a concept for a peer-networked packet-walkie-talkie system (spread spectrum and encrypted, of course). Didn't try to develop it as an actual product, for a variety of reasons.
I hadn't figured on text messaging, but then SMS wasn't popular at the time.
With the improvements in both RF chips and embedded processors the last several years, such a thing could probably be built fairly cheaply (manufacturing cost maybe $50 in moderate quantities), and not eat batteries too fast. It'd be strictly line-of-sight, but with message-forwarding capability (which could borrow from recent work on self-configuring networks), setting spare units on ridges, perhaps with solar panels, would allow messages to get past hills. I figure about 2 man-years on the engineering side, to get from concept to live product. Then somebody has to come up with the money to build millions of the things....

Taking off from your idea, though: the walkie-textie might be a gadget that could be sold as a kids' toy in the US. Include the message forwarding, and sneakily incorporate public-key encryption. Text messages don't take as much bandwidth as voice, so you can get more range on the same power budget. If we think "toy", maybe the build cost comes down to $10 in huge quantities; possibly even less. (It needs an LCD and some sort of keypad, but, if it's a toy, they don't have to be very good.)
Hmmm. Know any toy companies that might go in for that sort of thing?
6.30.2005 1:19pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
Eric Wilner,

The system you describe would be ideal. I doubt you could get one up and running anywhere in the 1st world because whatever authority controls spectrum allocation would probably shoot it down.

Probably the best interim solution would be to seed the country with military satellite radios and that link to a "Radio Free Zimbabwe" broadcaster outside the country. Those with the radios in country could call in reports to be re-broadcast out to conventional radios. That alone might provide communications to let people fight back.
6.30.2005 1:34pm
mojo (mail):
the walkie-textie might be a gadget that could be sold as a kids' toy in the US. Include the message forwarding, and sneakily incorporate public-key encryption.

The FCC (among others) would go absolutely ape-shit, Eric. Why do you think it is that you can't get PKE-protected calling abilities on your cell phone? Why is WAP so weak?

Why ask why?
6.30.2005 1:35pm
Joe Katzman (mail) (www):
Actually, Zimbabwe was the event that changed this Canadian's mind re: gun control. I now view gun ownership as a global human right.

As I put it in my blog article: "The right to bear arms - it's not just for Americans any more."
6.30.2005 1:38pm
Some Jarhead:
It's always fun to watch left-wingers talk about how guns start wars and kill people (but very, very painful to listen to). You know, how humanity was so peaceful and serene before the introduction of the gun...

I am truly amazed that people who refuse to recognize the effectiveness of a deterrent force actually have the stones to call their political foes reactionaries.

A firearm is a tool that may be employed for good and evil, and most closely resembles a tax.
6.30.2005 2:04pm
Sigivald (mail):
Mojo: This is the first I've ever heard of the FCC caring about encryption strength (ie, wanting it weak). Do you have a source on this?

WAP is weak because it's intended for use on cellphones, with practically no ram or CPU, by encryption standards (Note that your wireless ethernet solutions, also FCC regulated, get to use WPA and whatever else you want). At least, this is what the WAP Forum people claim, and I'm willing to take their word for what their intentions were, especially since it makes perfect sense.

Do non-US markets get public key encryption on cellphones? The internet doesn't seem to think so, but maybe it's just obscure. If not, again, I don't see how the FCC can be blamed.

(For that matter, I'm not sure what the intended use for that is. Me, at least, I use my cell phone to make cell phone calls over a plain old phone network. I think PKE isn't in cell phones because practically nobody cares about it, just like very few people use PGP/GPG for their email.)

(Now, the FCC might well go ballistic about the specturm used, or about having yet another class of people broadcasting all over, and even about the message forwarding/networking issues. But the encryption? Dubious.)
6.30.2005 2:06pm
davod (mail):
The save Africa from poverty concert is one thing. How about Aficans save thyselves. The African Union, South Africa in particular have refused to criticize Zimbabwe.
6.30.2005 2:42pm
D Thompson (www):
Actually, Zimbabwe was the event that changed this Canadian's mind re: gun control. I now view gun ownership as a global human right.

At a talk by Volokh he used gun registration laws as an example of a slippery slope that might have merit. The point of the talk was seperating legitimate slippery slopes from rhetorical ones, and the take-away was that you have to figure out the mechanism of the allegedly slippery slope. The example with guns was that forcing owners to register guns makes it a lot easier to come back later and collect them. Compliance with a "mere" registration statute will likely be high if done at a time when suspicion is low.
6.30.2005 2:43pm
the snob (mail) (www):
Man, what's with all the high technology? Satellites? Encrypted IP? A 10-meter amateur band transceiver can reach anywhere in the world on power from a car battery, and a 2-meter has pretty good range in a portable handset. Encryption if needed can be provided with one-time pads, which are safer anyway than relying on hardware. I'd think it would be hard to build a rig that fits inside a TV set and uses the TV antenna so that if the thugs show up there's nothing obviously out of place. DF'ing the signal in a crowded urban area isn't the easiest thing and I suspect the Zimbabwean army isn't skilled in much beyond physical labor and bullet spraying. All sides in WWII managed to do quite a bit of intel gathering using precisely this kind of equipment.
6.30.2005 3:06pm
D Thompson,

Yes, and as we read from the article, the police are not looking for criminals with firearms. They are revoking the licenses of those who registered. Lawful citizens have X days to comply or become unlawful.
6.30.2005 3:18pm
Eric Wilner (mail) (www):
Shannon, Mojo --

Spectrum allocation shouldn't be a problem in the US; just run it on one of the ISM bands (915 or 2450 MHz), along with all the other clutter on those bands (cordless phones, WLANs, X10 cameras, ...). As far as I know, using public-key encryption on those bands would be perfectly legal. Some of the new microcontroller chips (e.g., the ARM-based cheapies, Atmel AT91SAM7S series or similar) ought to be able to handle the encryption while still keeping cost and power consumption down - especially if it's just a text-messaging system (no encrypted digital voice).

Way the heck cheaper than satphones (once the development cycle has been paid for, which toy sales ought to take care of). They wouldn't handle global communications, unless someone set up a gateway, but for local tactical communications they ought to do fine.

Um... if it's text-oriented, there's the problem of handling the local alphabet... and perhaps of finding literate users. User interface is an issue, too, if it's for grown-ups (kids can learn to use anything).
6.30.2005 3:27pm
cfw (mail):
Key variables for a military force are abilities to move, shoot and communiucate. Once one provides the potential victims with these abilities, they could hopefully fight to a draw.

Suppose they do better - what keeps them from "genociding" the folks now in control. Precedents to keep in mind - Rwanda (formerly dominant, light skins genocided by formerly subservient dark skins), Afganistan (mujahedeen still a threat in Afganistan and elsewhere).

This does not mean, to me, do not support genocide targets with guns, vehicles, and ways to communicate. But, one must realize such activity may be creating a force that will do more than just fight to a draw and quit.

Guns in particular have an extremely long shelf life. Cannons sold by Krupp in 1860-80 to Norway were used to sink Nazi ships in 1940. With proper care, .50 cal machine guns (a WWI weapon) supplied now could be around and usable in 2105. The useful life of a WWII era .45 hand gun is easily 60 years with proper care.

Maybe we should have a rule that we only supply used weapons (recycled) to peoples in Z resisting genocide?
6.30.2005 5:02pm
grahamc (mail):
Amazing how its the lack of guns that gets the US right wing moving. Send guns and it will create just another vicious civil war like the DRC that kills and maims millions for no eventual long term gain.

Be nice if the US could invade countries like Zimbabwe where it is needed instead of using lies and idiot pretexts to invade places like Iraq. The death toll from such an invasion would be low because it is another weak regime waiting to crumble, and since it is a basically peaceful population, the US may even be able to handle the aftermath.
6.30.2005 6:19pm
Hal O'Brien (mail) (www):
So, um... Why should we think the experience of Zimbabwe would be any different with guns for more of the citizenry than the experience of Iraq was with guns for most of the citizenry?

Note this article from the Christian Science Monitor, from March 2003 (or just before the US invasion).

A well-armed citizenry does not freedom make. Nor does overwhelming armament vis-a-vis the citizenry prevent regime change (cf. the various Eastern European collapses of the 1990s). The dirty little secret of politics is that all governments rule with at least the implicit consent of the governed.
6.30.2005 10:49pm
And it's amazing how the left wing feels that invading countries is justified as long as it's not Iraq.

There is more than one possible result when the citizenry is armed. Yes, a civil war is possible, but not until there is a sufficiently sized and organized rebellion. I don't know much about the situation in Zimbabwe, but it seems that this is not the case. Therefore, I believe armed citizens will more likely act as a deterrent to government abuse/genocide than to foment war.
6.30.2005 11:00pm
There are US communities looking into frequency hopping/spread spectrum technology with Self-forming/Self-healing capabilities in the ISM band. I should know, because I helped build out and test a 65 sq mile town a year ago. Because it is ISM, the FCC limitations make the whole thing far too expensive. 1 Watt at 2.4 MHz in an urban environment goes only so far.

However, the same equipment can be modulated to another frequency if one is available. Some cities own frequency bands. Also, there is no FCC in Africa.

I kinda of agree with the HAM radio being the better way to handle the issue in Zimbabwe. For certain, I think mass communication between civilians and rebels would do more good than a ship load of firearms. Mugabe's police are capable enough to pick off a few armed men, but it is always a tougher issue with organized resistance. There is also the power of anti government propaganda.
6.30.2005 11:48pm
thebokononist (mail) (www):
Somewhat related,

I was just in Victoria Falls and while Zambia is no paradise, the dichotomy between the Zimbabawean and Zambian sides of the border is truly astounding. In Zambia, five star luxury hotels line the Zambezi river while the Zimbabwe side is mostly dominated by shantytowns. Speaks a thousand words, indeed.
7.1.2005 11:09am
I've actually spent a lot of time in Zim 1998-2001. First a lot of weapons are said to be left over from the war which ended in 1980, but ammo purchase is very strictly regulated. You have to show a lisence for the particular weapon to buy a very limited supply of ammo per year for that gun. According to people in Zim who know about such things the country is essentially disarmed.

The Zim side of Vic Falls has plenty of 5 star accommodation. I stayed in one about 5 years ago and the grandest of them all is a magnificent colonial era hotel whose name escapes me just now. And yes there are shantytowns and poor people too - more so now than ever since Mugabe has pretty well killed the tourist trade.

I know a man who put up a lot of the cell towers in Zim. The coverage isn't complete but is reasonable. I recall getting a text mesage through on an expired 'pay as you go' cellphone - you could still text users of the same service - and it got us out of a mess...a car with three wheels about 20ks from the nearest town. I am not knowledgeable about organizing resistance by cell phones but I think they could be used in Zim with the present set up.

I don't think many white farmers shot it out with 'war vets' taking over thier farms. It is made very clear when you have to go and you go - the whole system is stacked against you. I've sat and drank with people who's farms were confiscated that very day...thier courage and calmness still touch my heart.
7.1.2005 12:43pm