Timothy Scarnecchia, an associate professor of African Studies at Kent State University, presented a talk at the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs entitled “Zimbabwe as a ‘Race State’: The Troubled History of Racializing International Relations” on Friday, October 9th. Lunch was provided, Professor Scarnecchia spoke for half an hour and answered audience questions for another half hour after.
Scarnecchia has studied Zimbabwe extensively and published numerous works on the country’s development, most notably his 2008 book “The Urban Roots of Political Violence in Zimbabwe: Harare and Highfield, 1940-1964.” His other works include numerous articles published in African Studies journals such as Journal of Southern African Studies. He is currently working with professors and students at the University of Zimbabwe on a project surrounding Zimbabwean urban history.
Scarnecchia’s talk focused principally on the manner in which Zimbabwe’s position as a “race state” has affected its recent development and position. A race state is defined as an established state that is viewed primarily through the lense of race, often entailing an international image defined by a history of racial conflict and segregation. 20th century developments in Zimbabwe’s independence, economic challenges, shifts in political stability, and the manner in which Zimbabwe’s as a “race state” has affected its international position were the central topics that Scarnecchia covered in his talk. The way recent U.S. and British policy decisions have affected Zimbabwe’s development, political and economic status, and international condition were also featured in the talk.
Scarnecchia ultimately reflected on the manner in which these ongoing issues and challenges manifest themselves today. He spoke about the effects of the use of the U.S. dollar in Zimbabwe’s modern economy) and a subsequent lack of sufficient printed cash as factors in the country’s present economic struggles.
“There are ongoing economic issues that present serious challenges for many in Zimbabwe,” Scarnecchia said when asked what he hoped his audience took away from the talk. “There is the issue of lack of formal employment, the dollarization of the economy since 2009 that is currently resulting in severe liquidity problems, and the uncertainty of political stability given the question of succession in the ruling party.”
Middlebury Professor of African Studies Jacob Tropp invited Professor Scarnecchia to speak. “I was generally interested in having Scarnecchia come to campus to put in historical perspective Zimbabwe’s dire political situation,” Tropp said. “[I also hoped to put in perspective] …the status of Robert Mugabe’s long-running regime, particularly as the country faces important national elections in 2018.”
Scarnecchia said that he hopes that students who attended the talk gained broader understanding of Zimbabwe’s international image. “[I hope] mostly that students… look beyond the simple characterizations of Zimbabwean and African politics and realize that there is a long history of racially defining Zimbabwe in international relations,” he said. “The post-2000 occupations of white farmers and the violence in this period created a negative racial image of Zimbabwe in international relations, but with the defense of a racialized notion of sovereignty seen as a positive by many, for example in South Africa.”
Scarnecchia added that the lessons pertaining to Zimbabwe’s status as a race state can be extended to the United States as well. “I would say the best lesson of this race state’s history is to recognize that the USA is also fundamentally a ‘race state’ whose international relations are largely defined through a history of slavery, racial conflict, and a projection of our own racist history on other states,” he said. “Given that notion, students should be careful not to project misconceptions about what another state is or isn’t in relation to its own complex history of racial conflict and struggle. I also hope students at Middlebury will get involved in shaping a more realistic U.S. foreign policy toward Zimbabwe.”