Pity the continentThis essay is part of a (more or less) weekly feature on this blog that presents interesting stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, Israel, Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
When they read news stories about Africa (particularly the continent's misleaders), many Americans throw their hands up in despair and exclaim, "A pox on all their houses." Many wonder why the US should continue to send huge sums of money to countries that are only going to spit on them in return.
As a resolute Africaphile, I'm not prone to this kind of cynicism. And I'm informed enough to realize that foreign aid by governments is not some humane charity but a way of advancing the donor country's perceived interests. But every once in a while, it's easy to understand such isolationist rage.
The Christian Science Monitor had revealing piece on why most African leaders have bent over backwards to avoid criticizing Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
Many African heads of state are also dictators or at least have autocratic tendencies. So it's no shock when birds of a feather flock together.
But the more disturbing fact is that some of Mugabe's most ardent apologists are the democratically-elected presidents. The highly educated ones. The former 'freedom fighters.' The supposed beacons of the continent. The ones who should know better.
Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe by his own hand. It's not surprising that he should blame everyone but himself. It's not surprising that he blames Tony Blair, George W. Bush and John Howard for everything INCLUDING the bad weather. But it's shameful that the 'best and the brightest' of African leaders are going along with the thug's smokescreen.
As The Monitor article pointed out:
At a March 28 conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, South African President Thabo Mbeki called for African unity above all.
"The fight against Zimbabwe is a fight against us all. Today it is Zimbabwe; tomorrow it will be South Africa, it will be Mozambique, it will be Angola, it will be any other African country. And any government that is perceived to be strong and to be resistant to imperialists would be made a target and would be undermined. So let us not allow any point of weakness in the solidarity of SADC, because that weakness will also be transferred to the rest of Africa."
At the end of the conference, African leaders threw their unanimous support behind Zimbabwe's Mugabe and called on Mr. Mbeki (not the West) to mediate between Mugabe and the political opposition. Leaders who had been critical of Mugabe before the conference, including Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, fell silent.
This is something I would expect from Bob himself. But coming from an educated, widely-respected man like Thabo Mbeki, it leaves one speechless. Especially from someone like Mbeki who famously promised an African renaissance. If Mbeki and Mugabe embody that African renaissance, then I despair for the continent.
Zimbabwe is a place with 1700 percent yearly inflation. A place where not only the political opponents and journalists brutalized, but so are lawyers. Even bishops aren't safe.
The unpleasant fact is that a good chunk of the African 'elite' is more interested being anti-western than being pro-African. It's a sad example of egoism getting the better of both rationalism and humanity.
When Mugabe's regime razed townships in Harare creating at least 200,000 homeless, it wasn't Bush and Blair who suffered.
When Mugabe's regime seized control of international food aid for the purpose of punishing opponents, it wasn't Bush and Blair who suffered.
When Mugabe's insecurity forces torture whoever they feel like, it's not Bush and Blair who suffer.
When the ruling party's militias run rampage after attending torture training camps, it's not Bush and Blair who suffer.
That someone as educated and respected as Thabo Mbeki fails or refuses to see this is a sad commentary on the state of leadership on the continent. I'm not an Afro-pessimist but when I read comments like those from Mbeki, I wonder why I'm not. Is this the best Africa has to offer? Have all the Africans with real leadership skills fled to Europe and North America?
Via colonialism and neo-colonialism, western countries have clearly played a pernicious role in hindering the development of Africa. There can be no doubt about that. But it's about time the 'best and the brightest' realized that African leaders, even the 'good' ones, are also part of the problem.
The west is certainly the cause of some of Africa's problems, but not all of them. As long as the 'best and the brightest' on the continent continue to bury their head in the sand and refuse to accept their share of responsibility for putting their own house in order, Africa will remain a basket case.
Most ordinary Africans are industrious. In countries with virtually no social welfare programs, they have to be or else they die. If hard work were rewarded on the continent, Africa would be the most prosperous place in the world. But it's not rewarded. That's why so many Africans emigrate to the west.
Most ordinary Africans know how responsibility should be apportioned. Most ordinary Africans know that Blair and Bush are not responsible for all their problems. They are smarter than most people give them credit for. So I wonder when they will rise up against their self-delusional elites who are complicit in the continent's underdevelopment.
Update: The New York Times ran an editorial on Thursday on the same topic. Western critics claim that Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy needs time to bear fruit. But Mbeki has been engaging in this practice for some five years and the decline in Zimbabwe is only accelerating. It looks like Pres. Mbeki has as clearheaded a view on Zimbabwe as Pres. Bush does on Iraq.