When I visited Zimbabwe two years ago, Robert Mugabe was still at his apogee. The nonagenarian seemed capable of immortality, and the world had given up waiting for him to die. Now, to great surprise, he is gone, overthrown by his own inner circle, in a move not obviously guided by idealism. The succession was a bone of contention, but you also detect rapacity and impatience to get at the country’s untapped wealth. Rumors abound of valuable concessions sold to foreign investors. For better or worse, I suspect Zimbabwe will now change quickly. And so my thoughts turn back to when I saw the country preserved in aspic.

On the drive from Bulawayo to Harare, I formed the bizarre impression that this was a land of decaying fences. Barbed wire, chain-link, post, picket, and mesh extended everywhere to the horizon. But the...


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