Friday, December 05, 2003

So the present meeting of the Commonwealth (former British colonies) in Abuja, Nigeria, is being dominated by the question of Zimbabwe. The Southern African state was suspended from the organization last year because of rigged presidential elections.

Although it's land "re-distrbution" policies (which seizes land owned by white farmers and gives it to high-ranking officials of the ruling party) has gotten more press in the west, its the least of most Zimbabweans' concerns compared to the government's horrific human rights' record. Church leaders in the country have accused Robert Mugabe's regime of running "re-education" camps and harassing those religious leaders who speak out. It also stands accused of using food aid as a political weapon. Its attacks on protest marches, its war (literally, not just figuratively) on what remains of a domestic free press and its banning of foreign journalists seem mild by comparison to these other things.

Whatever decision is taken on Zimbabwe's Commonwealth status is going to have no impact on the appalling conditions in the country. Suspending it hasn't changed anything. Southern African leaders' "softly softly" approach of flattering the rogue only massages his huge ego and hasn't changed anything either. Mugabe has said he would rather leave the Commonwealth than cede any of Zimbabwe's independence (ie: his absolute personal power).

Although I understand no one likes their neighbor to be criticized by outsiders, Southern African leaders vehement defense of Zimbabwe's apartheid state is shameful. They should be in the forefront of pressuring the dictatorship since it is their countries, not Britain or Australia, who are most directly impacted by Zimbabwe's collapse into chaos. How can these leaders demand the west do more to help suffering Africans (AIDS, peacekeeping interventions, malaria) if they serve as apologists for a brute like Mugabe whose causes a great deal of suffering for Africans?

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