- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

The recent fraudulent election in Zimbabwe that kept dictatorial President Robert Mugabe in power is a metaphor of what has befallen some two dozen countries located between the Sahara and the Zambezi River since they tumbled into independence.
President George Bush said the U.S. will not recognize the blatantly flawed election and the 54-member British-led Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe's participation for a year.
Mr. Mugabe's zealous supporters used goon-style tactics to intimidate opposition voters and expelled foreign election observers. They also confiscated prosperous white-owned farms, killing at least a hundred black workers, thus crippling the economy's most productive sector.
As Africa-born George B. N. Ayittey, an economist at American University, has pointed out, Mr. Mugabe's strong-arm tactics have virtually destroyed democracy and the economy. At independence, the per capita income was $950; today it is $530. Only 40 percent of its 12.5 million people are employed, and Zimbabwe is importing food to avoid starvation.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. In 1980 when first elected, Mr. Mugabe vowed to make Zimbabwe a one-party Marxist-Leninist state. And after the election he boasted that his seizures of white-owned farms would proceed with even "greater speed and strength."
These developments are both ironic and tragic. When the former Rhodesia received its independence, the future was promising. Compared to nearby states, the country was prosperous and relations between the white settlers and the native population were good.
Predictably, responses to Mr. Mugabe's "reelection" have run along racial lines. The U.S. and the European states have suspended aid, but African leaders have been reluctant to fault Mr. Mugabe. South African President Thabo Mbeki said the West's vocal interest in the election was merely a smoke screen for neocolonialism.
In fact, current problems in Zimbabwe and elsewhere are not the result of colonialism, old or new. Most of Africa's wounds are self-inflicted, caused by the failure of indigenous leaders to take care of their own, to govern fairly and justly. For most of these leaders a "loyal opposition" and a free press are alien concepts, impossible to emulate.
In March 1990, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa put it straight: "God's children in Africa suffer because there is less freedom in their countries than during colonial times there is totalitarianism and despotism nearly everywhere."
Since 1955, domestic wars and violent coups in Nigeria, Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and elsewhere have killed as many as 5 million people and produced more than 6 million refugees. Indigenous slavery, stamped out by the colonial powers, has returned in some places, notably Sudan.
Add to this economic disasters resulting from corrupt and megalomaniac leaders, like the Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko, who pocketed billions from U.S. and World Bank aid. Instead of encouraging productive enterprise, says Mr. Ayittey, most African leaders "badger the international community" for more aid.
Recently, World Bank President James Wolfensohn again urged wealthy nations to give more aid to alleviate Third World poverty, which he called a "breeding ground" for terrorism. Mr. Wolfensohn was wrong on two counts. Poverty does not cause terrorism. And economic aid to tropical Africa may have, as Mr. Ayittey suggests, done more harm than good. This poses a dilemma for the U.S. which provides a substantial chunk of the $12 billion in aid earmarked for sub-Sahara Africa. President Bush has urged recipient states to root out corruption, adhere to the rule of law, and foster sound economic enterprise.
A big order.
At a recent meeting in Nigeria, Africa leaders declared they will reform, observe democratic principles, root out corruption, and guarantee press freedom. Nice words, but if the past in prelude, little will change in the near term.
Even if significant reforms were made, aid and loans may not be the best approach. The past four decades suggest that trade and corporate investment, not grant aid, has been the surest path to economic development, e.g., Taiwan and South Korea.
Africa also suffers from more immediate needs malnutrition and disease typical of pre-industrial societies, including the world's most grievous AIDS plague. On these matters there is less ambiguity. True to America's humanitarian tradition, Mr. Bush has called for emergency aid for schools, health care, and immunization.

Ernest W. Lefever, author of three books on tropical Africa, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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