Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Malaysia and Zimbabwe: Alike or Not So Alike?

Written by johnleemk on 5:02:25 am Mar 27, 2007.

After I wrote about Migratory Patterns: Structural Problems and Lack of Opportunities, tanstaafl noted that to some, the present state of affairs in Malaysia is reminiscent of that in Zimbabwe in the early 1990s:

Someone related to me a comment he heard recently .... "Malaysia is approximately in the same position today Zimbabwe was 15 years ago". The comment was made on the basis of certain political and social assumptions which I'm sure you are well aware of.

A moment's though and consideration of where Zimbabwe is today gave me shivers. Let's hope I'm not in the same position the white Zimbabweans were when the sh*t hits the fan.

To be entirely honest, I would not go overboard in comparing our country to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was wracked with civil wars and convoluted unilateral declarations of independence at the same time as we were going through our own independence and scarring events like May 13.

Furthermore, there was significant political repression of the blacks by the whites before and after independence. This went beyond mere economic discrimination or even ketuanan mat salleh. This was outright apartheid, with much of the black population forbidden to even vote.

Zimbabwe fifteen years ago, of course, was not anything like this. But the historical background of the country have led to its present state, and it's not unreasonable to assume that if they had had a less troubled history, they might not have been plagued with reactionarists like Mugabe.

There are, of course, striking parallels between Malaysia and Zimbabwe. The racial divide was and is very present in both countries. A lot of simmering discontent remained in both lands, although I'm not sure if comparing the discontent of the Malays here to the discontent of the blacks there would be reasonable.

The most obvious parallel, and I think the reason most responsible for incessant comparisons between Malaysia and Zimbabwe, is that both countries were afflicted by political strongmen who held on to power for decades. In Malaysia's case, it was Mahathir. In Zimbabwe's case, it was Mugabe. And (perhaps not coincidentally), both are good friends.

Still, we would be wise to heed the lessons of Zimbabwe. When the blacks finally rose up against the whites, they confiscated white property and basically all but drove them out of the country. Similar things have happened in Africa with countries where a substantial economically-powerful Indian minority once resided.

The lesson is clear. We have to be on guard for any attempts to slowly disenfranchise any of us of our rights as Malaysians. This applies to both political and economic rights.

We all have the right to be treated equally and fairly by our government. At the same time, we all have the right to similar levels of opportunities for self-advancement. But robbing Peter to pay Paul should never be an option. Turning political problems such as these into a zero-sum issue effectively ensures an outcome such as the one seen in Zimbabwe — and that is one country we do not want to model ourselves after.

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