via Zim needs our support — Mbeki November 10, 2013 The Standard from International New York Times
President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, has certainly kept a ruthless hold on Zimbabwe. The implementation of his land reform programme, which sought to redress an odious system imposed under white minority rule, was marked by appalling human rights abuses and precipitous economic decline. So too was the presidential election campaign of 2008, when violence and intimidation culminated in the forced withdrawal of the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the runoff even though he had won the first round of elections that year.
What angers many Africans, however, is that Mugabe’s overwhelming re-election this past July has done so little to change attitudes in the West. Britain and the United States insist the election was rigged but offer no convincing evidence to show that flaws on voting day amounted to systematic tampering that would have changed the outcome. The African Union and Southern African Development Community observers declared the election valid.
Nor would Mugabe’s victory have surprised anyone who saw the findings of a Freedom House survey last year that found that support for Tsvangirai had fallen steeply among those Zimbabweans polled, to 20% from 38% following his lackluster stint as prime minister in a unity government formed after the disputed 2008 election.
In fact, some analysts say the identification of the opposition with western nations imposing harsh restrictions on Zimbabwe hurt Tsvangirai’s chances and did no harm to the ruling party’s electoral prospects.
Belgium, which has been a lone voice in calling for the lifting of sanctions and recently persuaded the European Union to allow trading with the main Zimbabwean diamond mining company, estimates that they cost Zimbabwe US$400 million a year in lost revenue.
China, an increasingly assertive presence in Africa, has been quick to step into the breach left by banned western businesses. Chinese firms are taking an ever bigger role in the gold, coal and diamond-mining sector.
The broader message this sends to many Africans is that the European Union and the United States, in pursuing a rigid policy that carries a high cost to ordinary Zimbabweans, is not ready to engage the continent on equal terms. Nor do they forget that the same western powers once favoured a policy of “constructive engagement” with apartheid South Africa and imposed only limited sanctions on its racist government.
“The Zimbabweans have been in the frontline in terms of defending our right as Africans to determine our future,” Mbeki said in the same speech, “and they are paying a price for that.
“I think it is our responsibility as African intellectuals to join them, the Zimbabweans, to say, No!”
Mugabe, who will turn 90 in February, will not be in power forever. With its current policies, the West is effectively surrendering a chance to influence Zimbabwe’s future, and ensure that he is not succeeded by an even more radical authoritarian ruler.