I can't believe I missed this while writing my ode to Economist obituaries a couple days ago. Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), passed away at the end of November. In case you've never heard of him, he was most famous (or infamous) for declaring independence from the crown in 1965 and turning his nation into a pariah state in an attempt to maintain white minority rule. I knew that Smith was getting up there in years and I was positive that he'd be memorialized in Economist upon his passing. I was correct, and his obituary is a masterpiece. Smith was one of the last remaining vestiges of the old British Empire, and his obituary pays homage to that while still condemning his misrule.
The obituary does not delve into speculation, nor should it, but it is interesting to think about how Zimbabwe would be today had it dismantled its de facto apartheid regime in 1965 as Britain wanted instead of waging a disastrous war in defense of a lost cause. Would it be like today's South Africa but with a one generation head start on democracy and racial and tribal reconciliation? Would it still be the basket case that it is today? The history of governance in post-colonial Africa is bleak enough that it's foolish to assume that Zimbabwe would definitely be in better shape today had Smith been willing to dismantle minority rule, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine how Zimbabwe could be in worse shape than it is today.