- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. policymakers have been paying increasing attention to destabilizing influences around the world. Greater interest is being shown in developments in less prominent countries, such as Zimbabwe, and legislative action is being proposed to counteract destruction by aging and despotic leaders whose actions affect neighboring countries.

The "Zimbabwe Democratic and Economic Recovery Act of 2001" unanimously passed the Senate on Aug. 1 and gained increasing support in the House despite the attempts of a Washington-based lobbying team hired by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe for $7 million to derail it. The act passed the House in a 396-to-11 vote on Dec. 4 with full support of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The bill reflects growing concern over the collapse of law and order and the blatant transgression of human rights in Zimbabwe. If violence continues and free and fair presidential elections are not held early next year as scheduled, the act would authorize the U.S. government to impose travel restrictions and to freeze the external accounts of those responsible for the breakdown of the rule of law and for politically motivated violence.

Conversely, if the country's ruling party, ZANU-PF, creates conditions for fair elections and it introduces an equitable and transparent land reform program, the act would provide $26 million for land purchases, and it would promote investment and reduce some of Zimbabwe's debt.

Economic and government mismanagement have led the once popular Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF increasingly to lose voter support. Seventy-five percent of the population now lives in poverty and the country is on the brink of famine. The economic decay has been driven partly by Zimbabwe's military support for the Congo governments' war against rebel groups. This support is being provided in exchange for vast mineral and timber concessions to Zimbabwe's political and military leaders, and has depleted Zimbabwe's foreign currency reserves and jeopardized critical imports, especially fuel and food.

To retain power, Mr. Mugabe tried to install himself as lifelong president last year but his ambitions were thwarted in a constitutional referendum. Subsequently, the loss of support for the ruling party resulted in the opposition Movement for Democratic Reform (MDC) winning 57 out of 120 seats in parliamentary elections, despite widespread voter intimidation by ZANU-PF. In his continuing efforts to retain power, Mr. Mugabe has obtained economic support and arms from Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya in exchange for numerous properties in Zimbabwe, including a 32-room "Operations Headquarters." Following Col. Gadhafi's announcement at the June meeting of the Organization of African Unity that "all 'whites' should be driven off the land in Zimbabwe and South Africa," there has been an influx of Libyans into Zimbabwe.

The extent of the ZANU PF's violent intimidation became clear on Oct. 30 when a U.S. District Court ruled that ZANU-PF is liable for murdering and torturing its political opponents in the runup to elections. The five Zimbabwean plaintiffs in the case had requested a hearing in the U.S. to seek justice for their murdered relatives. ZANU-PF has also been accused of attempting to assassinate the leader of the opposition party and of bombing the MDC offices.

The commercial agricultural sector has come under increasing attack because of ZANU-PF's contention that the predominantly white farming community is financing the opposition. Government-sponsored occupations of farms started ostensibly to provide land for landless black people even though thousands of acres of land purchased under internationally sponsored "resettlement" programs remain unoccupied. Land seizures and harassment of farmers and their employees have continued despite the Abuja (Nigeria) accord in early September in which the Zimbabwe government agreed to stop land occupations. Last week ZANU-PF banned about 25 percent of Zimbabwe's 4,000 commercial farmers from planting crops and ordered them to leave their homes within three months.

Initially, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court ruled these land seizures to be unconstitutional. Mr. Mugabe recently replaced the chief justice of this court, and last week it ruled that the government should continue to "redistribute" white farms to black Zimbabweans. This ruling has serious consequences for the country. Apart from being the bedrock of Zimbabwe's economy, the commercial agricultural sector employs about 320,000 people, who together with their families number almost 2 million. Zimbabwe is on the brink of famine because of ZANU-PF's policy of land seizures and planting restrictions and because of the depletion of foreign currency.

Since Zimbabwe is centrally located in southern Africa, increasing chaos within its borders is affecting the region as a whole. Botswana's President Festus Mogae recently criticized Mr. Mugabe and his government for failing to deal with land resettlement peacefully, and for dragging the entire southern Africa economy down with his violent approach. One effect is the 40 percent drop in value of the South African currency since June.

To promote peace and stability in southern Africa, it is important that the U.S. send a clear message to Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF that America will not tolerate violent suppression of the rights of Zimbabweans. The Zimbabwe Democratic and Economic Recovery Act will provide the kind of signal needed.

Urs P. Kreuter is an adjunct fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a professor at Texas A&M University and grew up in Zimbabwe.

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