LILONGWE, Malawi - As leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized nations meet in Scotland, African countries will press them to get involved in the fight against poverty. But when the Western nations asked African leaders to take action against Zimbabwe's forced uprooting of its poorest citizens, they were told to mind their own business.
When the Group of 8 foreign ministers urged African leaders in June to confront the demolition of shanties in Zimbabwe, a campaign that has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, South Africa, Zimbabwe's southern neighbor, had a ready and caustic response.
"I am really irritated by this kgokgo approach," said Bheki Khumalo, President Thabo Mbeki's spokesman, using a Sotho word that implies scaring a small child into submission. "South Africa refuses to accept the notion that because suddenly we're going to a G-8 summit, we must be reminded that we must look good and appease the G-8 leaders. We will do things because we believe they are correct and right."
Some Westerners who have watched events in Zimbabwe might find that response astonishing. They blame President Robert G. Mugabe for turning once-prosperous Zimbabwe into a slow-motion train wreck of a nation, penniless, malnourished and cursed with one of the lowest life expectancies on earth - 33 years.
With mass hunger looming, some Western leaders see Mr. Mugabe's decision to force hundreds of thousands of people into rural areas by razing their homes and businesses as brutal punishment of his opponents and as a pre-emptive strike against civil unrest. Not long ago, President Bush condemned human rights abuses by Mr. Mugabe's government. And to the Group of 8 ministers - Sherpas for the July meeting in Scotland - there is little correct or right in standing by as a catastrophe unfolds.
Yet that is clearly not the way that many African leaders, Mr. Mbeki foremost among them, have chosen to see it. Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia are among those that have praised Mr. Mugabe's economic policies in recent months, or stopped protesters from criticizing them. The African Union, the organization created five years ago to promote continent-wide economic, political and human-rights standards, responded to the Group of 8's recent demand by calling Zimbabwe's crisis an internal matter.
Mr. Mbeki, who has long argued that "quiet diplomacy" is needed to solve Zimbabwe's problems, has been silent on the mass evictions since they began in mid-May. In a brief interview in June, Mr. Khumalo, his spokesman, refused to be drawn into a discussion of Mr. Mugabe. But he said he was puzzled by the West's focus on Zimbabwe as a fix-it project for African rulers. And he added that Western leaders, who have their own long list of neglected tragedies, could be seen as hypocritical in lecturing Africans.
That points to an easily forgotten truth: if the West has put colonialism behind it, Africa has not. Many problems that colonial rule created still exist, even though - with the exception of South Africa - most of the continent has been free for at least a quarter century. Bearing a grudge over that legacy is not merely understandable. As Zimbabwe has shown, it can also be exploited with telling effect.
Outsiders may see Zimbabwe's fiscal and political collapse as a direct result of Mr. Mugabe's strongman rule and quasi-Marxist economics. But within the country, Mr. Mugabe has cast the crisis as Western punishment for his heroic seizure of the nation's best farmland from the whites who had long controlled almost all of it. Weathering the problems, he has said, is a necessary step toward the independence that Zimbabwe won in name 25 years ago, but which has yet to be fully achieved.
In parliamentary elections in March, Mr. Mugabe's opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, laid the blame for the nation's crisis at the president's feet. Mr. Mugabe labeled the opposition a tool of white colonialists and called the election "the anti-Blair campaign" - in effect, calling a vote for his critics a vote for a return to British rule.
Zimbabwe's neighbors may not share such fervent views. But they must still include them in any calculations about how to address Zimbabwe's woes, for the evils against which Mr. Mugabe says he is waging war are their problems, too.
Land is but the best example. Before Mr. Mugabe began taking over commercial farms in 2000, 70 percent of Zimbabwe's most productive farmland was owned by whites. Agriculture is in tatters today, but only a tiny sliver of land remains under white control.
Mr. Mbeki is hard put to challenge Mr. Mugabe's management of the land problem, however chaotic: better than 80 percent of South Africa's arable land remains under white ownership today, more than 10 years after white rule ended. And just like Zimbabwe, South Africa faces problems with the urban poor - a series of spontaneous riots in townships and shantytowns took place this year, by mobs angry that the government has yet to deliver promised utilities and jobs.
Nigeria, another major player in sub-Saharan Africa, also has difficulty challenging Zimbabwe's mass uprooting of its citizens: in 1990, a previous Nigerian government ousted 300,000 slum-dwellers in one fell swoop to vacate land for offices and shops.
Not all Africans subscribe to the kid-gloves approach to Zimbabwe's problems. South Africa's trade-union movement, a shaky part of Mr. Mbeki's governing coalition, has lately vigorously criticized both Mr. Mugabe and South Africa's silence on its troubles.
But for now, such criticism is isolated. The most vocal demands that Africa fix Zimbabwe's crisis - from Westerners - are doomed to failure by virtue of their origin, said Peter Kagwanja, the director of the southern Africa project of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington.
"Mugabe is simply telling them, 'You're pawns of the whites,' " said Mr. Kagwanja, who is based in Pretoria. "It's the same card he played in Zimbabwe against the M.D.C.," the Movement for Democratic Change, during the recent elections.