As if we needed any more evidence that Robert Mugabe will not leave office without a fight: yesterday, Mugabe’s security officers harassed a fact-finding group including the American, British and Japanese ambassadors attempting to interview people in hospitals who had been tortured by the Mugabe regime. Read this short account of the bravery of our men in Harare:
Kevin Stirr, the U.S. Embassy’s democracy and governance officer, was asked by a security agent what the group had been doing. “Looking at people who have been beaten,” he said. The Central Intelligence Organisation agent replied: “We are going to beat you thoroughly, too”, before turning away and returning to his car. Mr Stirr pulled open the door and shouted at him.
The two agents in the vehicle tried to flee, but James McGee, the U.S. Ambassador, stood in their path. When they tried to push him away with the car, he sat heavily on the bonnet. He went on to take photographs of the agents, who were trying to hide their faces.
Zimbabwean agents threatened to beat an American embassy officer and tried to run over the U.S. Ambassador with their car? If Mugabe is acting this way with Western diplomats, one can only imagine what he has in store for his own people.
In the aftermath of tomorrow’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe, one possible outcome may be a massive influx of refugees into neighboring countries fleeing political violence. There is no chance that Robert Mugabe will accept any result other than victory for him and his ZANU-PF party. Though Mugabe has executed all the usual vote-rigging tactics in anticipation of the election, sentiment against him runs so strong that manipulation of the election could likely result in violence.
Zimbabwe’s small community of Jews — numbering no more than 300 — is particularly vulnerable, as most of them are elderly. Due to the massive inflation of the past 8 years, their savings have disappeared, and many depend on families abroad or on Jewish philanthropy. (Peter Godwin’s recently-published memoir, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, is a searing account of one Jewish family’s struggle to survive in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.) Mugabe is prone to anti-Semitic outbursts, and has long expressed support for Palestinian terrorist organizations. Though they are numerically small and represent no threat whatsoever to his regime, the Jewish community of Zimbabwe would be an easy group for Mugabe to scapegoat as he sinks to even further levels of desperation.
Claudia Braude has a piece in this week’s Forward reporting from Harare on the state of the Zimbabwean Jewish community. She writes that contingency plans are being drawn up by an African Jewish organization to help Zimbabwe’s Jews emigrate should they find themselves in physical danger following the election. In the 1980′s and 1990′s, the Israeli government sponsored a series of heroic missions to rescue Ethiopian Jews wishing to flee oppression and make Aliyah. Perhaps the time has finally arrived for another Operation Moses.
The feckless response of the British government to the barbaric treatment of one of its citizens, Gillian Gibbons—imprisoned by the Sudanese government for allowing her classroom of seven-year-olds to name a stuffed animal “Muhammed”—is not the type of “diplomacy” that ought become a matter of course when dealing with religious fascists and tyrants. To its credit, the British government is acting quite differently—under great pressure from its craven, European allies—in response to the scheduled appearance of Robert Mugabe at an upcoming European/African Union summit in Lisbon which starts this Saturday.
Mrs. Gibbons has become a literal hostage of the Sudanese regime; her very life is in the hands of Islamist tyrants. Likewise the European Union has become, (wittingly, to its shame) the hostage of the African Union, many of whose member states—namely those belonging to the Southern African Development Community regional group—are making their presence at this weekend’s conference conditional upon Mugabe’s presence. Not only are SADC’s members threatening to boycott the conference if Mugabe is not invited, they are simultaneously demanding that the Zimbabwe crisis itself not be on the conference agenda. The Executive Secretary of SADC stated that “SADC will not go to Lisbon to discuss Zimbabwe because the summit is not about Zimbabwe, but about relations between the EU and Africa,” he said. Mugabe has duly thanked the members of SADC, telling a crowd in Harare last week, “I want to express our gratitude to our fellow members of SADC for their support of Zimbabwe in its assertion to defend its sovereignty against the onslaught that has come from Britain and its allies.”
“Relations between the EU and Africa,” however, have everything to do with Zimbabwe. Considering the billions of dollars in aid money that Western governments give annually to African ones, the governance of African states is certainly pertinent to the nations forking over so much dough, indeed, “governance and human rights” are one of 5 topics that are on the conference agenda. So if the SADC states see fit to prop up, exalt, and equip a murderous dictator whose economic policies have gravely affected European businesses and who has violated the human rights of thousands of British subjects–to say nothing of those policies which have led to the deaths of untold thousands of Mugabe’s own people and created one of the largest refugee crises in the world–it’s difficult to see how this situation does not fit under the purview of the European Union’s relations with its African allies.
Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown showed some spine and stated that he would not attend the summit if Mugabe were to be there. Mugabe has confirmed his attendance for the weekend, and the European Union—by indulging the petty whims of African states—has demonstrated its favoritism for a tyrant over the leader of one of the world’s great democracies. Thus far, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is the only other European leader to follow Brown’s example. This is an encouraging sign, however minor, that at least some Europeans understand the importance of not caving into the demands of tyrants, or their enablers.
Update: Gibbons has been pardoned. Three cheers for that.
Last week James D. McGee, the new American ambassador to Zimbabwe, formally presented his diplomatic credentials to Robert Mugabe. This will not be an easy assignment, and Harare is a place where diplomats earn their chops. McGee’s predecessor, Christopher Dell, is the new Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan. Amidst all of Mugabe’s paranoid rantings about supposed British and American plots to overthrow him, Dell quipped on his way out that the Zimbabwean government was “doing regime change to itself.”
Welcoming McGee to Zimbabwe was Caesar Zvayi, the political editor of the Herald, the state newspaper. He begins his column by stating that McGee, who is black, “is one of our own, at least as far as skin color is concerned.” This is but the least of Zvayi’s offenses to reason (never mind prose style). He writes that Zimbabwe “hope[s] he will not shame the ancestors in whose loins he crossed the Atlantic to his adopted home” and that McGee “should never forget that he is descended from slave ancestors and those who enslaved his forebears are the same people trying to preserve ill-gotten colonial gains in Zimbabwe today.”
Zvayi’s piece really ought to be read in full, for there are not many countries left in the world in which the official newspapers contain such openly racialist propaganda.
It is truly a boon for observers of South African politics that the country’s president writes a several-thousand word message every week to his supporters. Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters are not the stuff of speech writers and consultants; he is a true intellectual, however fetid his ideas. Reading his letters reveals something quite ominous about the political future of South Africa.
This week, Mbeki lets the ANC’s Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe borrow his pen to write about Zimbabwe. Prompting this angry piece was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s threat to boycott an upcoming European Union/African Union summit if Mugabe were to attend. Both the EU and AU chose Mugabe over Brown, and this is a choice that obviously delights Mbeki and Motlanthe. In this letter Motlanthe carries Mbeki’s water, perhaps because what Motlanthe says is too egregious for the South African president to utter himself. Motlanthe uses the diplomatic row between Great Britain and Zimbabwe to launch into a tirade about British colonial history.
Motlanthe believes that Great Britain is trying to effect “regime change” in Harare, and indignantly asks why the British government did not advocate regime change for the white, rebel colony of Rhodesia, which preceded the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe. In so doing, Motlanthe ignores that the British government declared the colony’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence an act of treason. Britain used its international heft to impose strict United Nations sanctions on the white regime in Rhodesia for well over a decade, contributing to its downfall in 1980. Britain played no small part in bringing the Rhodesian government to its knees, discrediting the moderate black Bishop Abel Muzorewa (who had formed a coalition government with whites and won a democratic, multi-racial election in 1979). Were it not for Margaret Thatcher’s willingness to side with Jimmy Carter’s and Andrew Young’s diplomacy, Robert Mugabe might not have become president 27 years ago.