via Commonwealth’s member states should act on Robert Mugabe’s ruthless rule in Zimbabwe | Herald Sun ALAN HOWE HERALD SUN
YOU could do worse than be born in Zimbabwe. But not much worse. Zimbabweans die young, the UN estimating their average lifespan about 46 years, among the lowest on earth.
The rate of HIV infection is astronomical and perhaps 84,000 of its 12 million people will die from the disease this year. Infant mortality is rampant.
President Robert Mugabe brazenly rigs election to stay in power while his henchmen bludgeon and murder political opponents.
The standard of living in this luckless southern African nation whose beautiful undulating countryside could almost be in Victoria’s northeast, has evaporated. According to the International Monetary Fund, gross annual domestic product per person has plunged to $559, the second lowest in the world.
It is a country blessed with extraordinary natural resources, and at least two of the world’s greatest tourist attractions – Victoria Falls and the nearby Hwange National Park.
But its hotels are mostly empty. It has gold and huge platinum reserves. The Marange diamond field, found seven years ago, is the biggest discovery anywhere on earth for a century – not that its diamonds do much to improve the lot of locals.
In June, former mines minister Edward Chindori Chininga published a report into the corruption and theft that accounts for the nation hardly benefiting from Marange. The following week he was dead in an inexplicable car accident. Unlikely car accidents are a common cause of death for outspoken Zimbabweans.
The country was long a Commonwealth of Nations member and English is widely spoken there. It is proud a cricketing nation with Test status, one of only 10.
So why is the international community – but particularly the Commonwealth – paralysed when it comes to dealing with this wicked one-man gerontocracy?
The Commonwealth has 54 member states, including powerful and influential nations such as India, Canada, UK and Australia – covering more than 20 per cent of the globe and accounting for a third of the world’s population.
A boastful, but contemptibly weak organisation, it meets every two years, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conferences. Julia Gillard hosted the last, in Perth; another is due in Sri Lanka within weeks.
These are the most humiliating assemblies of world powers, held while real opportunities to help the poorest countries slide by with the canapes and security guards.
Having been suspended by the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe won’t be at Sri Lanka. But Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Lesotho can attend. According to the UN, you won’t find poorer countries anywhere. But – like Zimbabwe – the fate of these nations won’t be discussed.
What there will be is the traditional restatement of perhaps the Commonwealth’s most important document, ironically called the Harare Declaration and formulated in that city in 1991.
From the chaos of Zimbabwe’s capital, the declaration perversely announced that the Commonwealth believes in peace, order and prosperity, individual liberty, raised living standards, human dignity, democracy and that intolerance and prejudice are unacceptable.
That’s a joke. Gay-hating Robert Mugabe doesn’t believe in any of that. But in that blighted country is a man who does, a fellow we would rather was its leader. A coincidence that, because his people also want him to lead them.
Indeed, a majority of them voted for him at last month’s elections. He is Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, a man who has been constantly harassed, arrested, falsely charged with treason, severely beaten and tortured by Mugabe’s “special” forces.
When the journalist Edward Chikombo got out pictures of Tsvangirai’s injuries – including a fractured skull – Chikombo was abducted and murdered. Two years later, Tsvangirai was seriously injured in a car crash that killed his wife Susan, but we know how unsafe that country’s roads are.
Despite all that, the grieving father of seven talks in the manner of Nelson Mandela: “Let bygones be bygones,” he said as he tried to unify the country after the farcically corrupted polls. “Let us embrace our opponents, even though some of them are unrepentant. In this Zimbabwe, there are no losers. There is space for everyone. I don’t want to become a prisoner of bitterness and despair.”
It’s time for a new Coalition of the Willing to bowl Bobby out. That could be done for a fraction of the cost of the failures in Afghanistan. I doubt you’d lose a life. Mugabe’s cowardly lackeys won’t fight an organised force.
So let’s hope the Prime Minister elected by Australia in 19 days is more than willing.
Alan Howe is Herald Sun executive editor