Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It should be obvious by now that despite all of the rumblings the U.S government is not really that concerned about human rights in Zimbabwe. For all of the talk about the humanitarian situation in Africa's two anti-western dictatorships, Zimbabwe and Sudan, there is never a peep over the equally abysmal records of the continent's dozens of pro-western tyrants. Robert Mugabe is one of the world's worst tyrants he has transformed, in the words of one angry Zimbabwean, the bread basket of Africa into a basket case. He has plundered the nation's resources on a massive scale at a time when his people are fleeing the country en masse and suffering from starvation, record inflation, and disease.

How has such a man stayed in power for nearly thirty years? Mugabe began his political life as the democratically elected leader of the freedom struggle against white minority rule and British colonialism. He was a hero to the masses disgusted with western imperialism and racism. As his popular support declined he resorted to a combination of terror, force, and pay offs to purchase the loyalty of corrupt cronies. To stay in power though he still requires a degree of popular support. He achieves that by pandering to ultra-nationalism. He flaunts his credentials as a hero of the revolution, blames all of the country's problems on western conspiracies, and portrays himself as the people's only defender against such aggression.

Africans know that for all of the talk about human rights the west is more interested in seeing a less hostile regime take power than they are in seeing an end to the abuses of ZANU-PF. They look to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Egypt, and Equatorial Guinea and see brutal regimes that stay in power with American and British support. On his merits as a leader Mugabe will only command the support of those he can buy or intimidate, but by portraying western pressure on his regime as a conflict between east and west he gains the support of that segment of the population that will flock around a leader who waves a flag and yells "us. vs. them". To be fair most Zimbabweans are not fooled by Mugabe's conspiracy theories and chauvinistic rhetoric, but enough are to help keep him in power.

Western confrontation with Zimbabwe has been a blessing for Mugabe. It has helped him partially legitimize his regime and perpetuate his rule. Westerners are undermining themselves by publicly confronting Zimbabwe. All of their talk has bolstered Mugabe's credibility at home without improving the situation on the ground. Quiet diplomacy is a better route for the west to play. The U.S can encourage other African leaders to publicly work against Mugabe, as they have been in increasing numbers, while pursuing a more passive public face. Leave public criticism to human rights groups and African leaders whose comments cannot be construed by Mugabe as an attack on Africa by the west.

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