This week President Bush is touring Africa, a part of the world where both he and the United States remain remarkably popular. This is due, in part, to the massive aid his administration has designated for HIV-prevention, truly a monumental effort (especially in comparison to the dilatory record of his predecessor.) While political analysts will bicker for a long time over practically every aspect of the Bush legacy, his record on African issues is one that even Bush’s harshest critics can admire.
Bush has spoken out consistently against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Now, finally, he is denouncing Mugabe’s South African enablers, as well. Last week, in a White House speech that presaged his trip, Bush had some harsh words for Robert Mugabe, stating that the “discredited dictator” had “ruined” his country. This sort of rhetoric is par for the course, but what followed was unusual. “I was hoping that the South African government would have been more pro-active in its intercession to help the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
In 2003, visiting South Africa, Bush called President Thabo Mbeki his “point man” on Zimbabwe. Five years later, Zimbabwe has gone from a politically tumultuous state into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. As much as a third of the country’s population now lives as refugees in neighboring countries, life expectancy is the lowest on earth, and inflation hovers somewhere around 100,000%. Mbeki’s record on Zimbabwe has been nothing short of disastrous, and his certifying what is bound to be yet another stolen election next March is his latest poke in the eye to Zimbabwean democrats. In a rare outburst, the leader of the Zimbabwean opposition — which has been nothing but deferential to the South African government throughout its struggle against tyranny — criticized Mbeki and demanded that he stop his “quiet support for the dictatorship” of Mugabe. Though neither Zimbabwe nor South Africa is on Bush’s itinerary, perhaps the president can deliver a speech in his remaining days urging Africa’s leaders to end their support for one of the world’s longest-serving tyrants.