10th March 2002

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Mugabe's friends kick C'wealth in the teeth

When a culturally, geographically and politically diverse organisation of over 50 nations such as the Commonwealth does not have the stomach to stand up against one man who traduces the fundamental values enunciated by that organisation, it shows convenient political indigestion.

The sheer spineless behaviour of the majority of Commonwealth leaders that met in Coolum, Australia last week is not so much an indictment on the organisation but the mainly African leaders who refused to confront the Zimbabwe issue and condemn Robert Mugabe for the power hungry dictator he is.

In one of those typically diplomatic statements that try to encompass everything but say nothing, the Commonwealth Heads of Government said:

"Heads of Government recognised that as stated in the Abuja Agreement, land is at the core of the crisis in Zimbabwe and cannot be separated from other issues of concern to the Commonwealth."

Why does the statement only mention land one issue but totally ignore to name the "other issues of concern to the Commonwealth"? The statement accepts that there are other issues and we don't know how many-that concerns the entire Commonwealth.

Yet all those issues are put aside without mention to cater to the alleged murderous actions of one man who has over stayed his welcome by the people of Zimbabwe but does not know when to leave the stage gracefully.

Remember that the Abuja Agreement brokered by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo was an accord reached by African countries. But to virtually thrust that Abuja Agreement which Mugabe has now morally and verbally discarded but Africa clings on to with a frenetic disregard, on the Commonwealth and make Commonwealth heads accept such a tepid response is to take a huge leap backward.

There is no doubt that land is a fundamental question in Zimbabwe as it has been in most of the countries that were British colonies. But these issues were tackled in the post-colonial period in more civilised ways, though the former colonial power might consider nationalisation hardly Queensbury rules.

We in our own country know how foreign owned lands were taken over through negotiation and discussion and payment of compensation. Whatever the after effects of that nationalisation which started in 1972 with the breakup of local ownership of property, the nationalisation of foreign owned plantations followed.

Certainly it is unthinkable that five per cent of the population should own 75 per cent or more of the arable land while the majority struggle to exist as farm workers or in some other occupations.

But the answer to that is not to loot, plunder and kill. While the large land owners are white, some of them are also citizens of Zimbabwe and have the same rights as other citizens.

If the moral and political objectives in overthrowing white minority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe were not merely to bring majority rule but also to bring justice, equality and freedom.

If such purpose is now being defeated, not because the majority of Zimbabweans want mob rule or demanded the forcible occupation of land, the killing of their owners and the destruction of well-run farms, but because one man believes that he has descended from the heavens and has the divine right to rule in his own muddle-headed way.

If other African leaders try to cover the sins of such a man who has increasingly betrayed his people and reduced them to virtual penury, then those African leaders are desperate to cover their own moral nudity with the fig leaf of a Commonwealth statement.

No objective observer of the Zimbabwean imbroglio will deny that the equitable distribution of land is a critical issue. But what apologists for Mugabe should not try to hide is that it was under Mugabe's exhortations that the war veterans first launched their spree of land grabbing and killings.

The last elections showed Mugabe that he was not the beloved of his people; that he was not as invincible as he thought. The rise of the opposition and the strengthening of its parliamentary position were an early signal that he might well be defeated at the next presidential poll.

Since then began the slide to chaos and dictatorship that is increasingly becoming a dirty blot on the African political scene.

The irony is this. It was at the 1991 summit in the Zimbabwe capital that Commonwealth heads came up with the Harare Declaration that committed Commonwealth members to pursue democracy as the preferred form of governance and to adhere to the fundamental principles of democracy such as the rule of law, media freedom and pluralism.

At that meeting nine countries were represented by military leaders. When the leaders met again in New Zealand four years later, no military dictators were present at the summit. Nigeria which was still under military rule was suspended from the Commonwealth.

African leaders who now try to abandon their moral responsibilities to fulfil the objectives of that Declaration and bring their recalcitrant colleague to heel, must remember that those nine military men who represented their countries all came from Africa.

Today instead of moving forward to strength the democratic framework which they solemnly undertook to preserve and cherish as the favoured political option, it is being sacrificed to safeguard the reputation and future of a leader who is a disgrace not just to Africa but to the whole world.

Those who must most answer for taking Africa back to the days of dictatorship is South African President Thabo Mbeki who has been guilty of weak leadership from the time he took charge of the Commonwealth chairmanship since the Durban summit in 1999.

Had we but had a Nelson Mandela at the head of the Commonwealth, he would have rallied the African leaders round him to condemn Mugabe for disgracing Africa. Mandela's departure has been a tremendous blow to Africa.

The danger is that other African countries might slip back into their old political behavioural patterns. May be some leaders are already contemplating this and so are going soft on Mugabe. If Mbeki and other leaders had accepted proposals to strengthen the Commonwealth by acting more forcefully against those who trample on its principles, then there would have been objective grounds on which to act against Mugabe. In the absence of such definitive rules, African leaders in particular have made this a way of escape.

If the Commonwealth does not decide soon that it is not only military leaders but also other dictators out of uniform who are not welcome in the organisation, the political achievement of the past decade might soon slip away.

Every tin pot dictator with delusions of grandeur will kick the Commonwealth in the teeth because it has no bite.

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