- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

Zimbabwe is a glaring example of how much damage a corrupt, hate-mongering leader can wreak on a country. Robert Mugabe, the country's president-by-fraud, has been seizing white-owned farms just as a drought threatens to bring full-blown famine.
Despite the drought, Zimbabwe's reservoirs for irrigation are full. But the land seizures have caused such severe disruption in farming that southern Africa's former breadbasket is now in a food crisis. Since February 2000, 2,900 white farmers have been forced to surrender their land. Most have resisted, and police have arrested nearly 200.
The clumsy land-grab is causing widespread problems for blacks and whites alike, said a white Zimbabwean farmer, who has been ordered off her family's land, along with the more than 300 employees and their family members living there. Such seizures have led to fatal clashes, while Mr. Mugabe's family and cabinet members take over the best farms. "The peasants are getting nothing but a kick in the butt," she said. "What you read about the homeless and jobless people is true."
President Bush is mulling ways of ridding Zimbabwe of its Mugabe blight. The White House is currently working with the European Union to try step up its so-called smart sanctions on Mr. Mugabe by imposing a joint freeze on his assets and those of his associates.
But the administration is reticent about imposing more comprehensive sanctions that could further devastate already ailing Zimbabweans. "A trade embargo is a blunt instrument that could, in fact, affect the general population … What we're trying to do is influence the policy-makers at the top," said the State Department's Walter H. Kansteiner on Tuesday. The United States and other countries have been giving Zimbabweans food aid through non-governmental organizations.
The administration has wisely reached out to civil society groups to try to strengthen Zimbabwe's democratic institutions. And while the White House has lobbied African countries to voice collective condemnation of Mr. Mugabe, it must step up these efforts, focusing specifically on the region's economic powers, South Africa and Nigeria. South Africa's back-door efforts to urge better behavior from the Mugabe cabal have clearly been ineffectual.
But convincing South Africa and Nigeria to lead the charge is tricky, which is probably why the White House has had little luck. Mr. Mugabe is still an icon of Africa's liberation efforts, due to his fight against Zimbabwe's apartheid rule in the 1960s. He won democratic elections in 1980 but has been largely accused of rigging Zimbabwe's last election earlier this year. He also has some vocal supporters, such as Namibia's leader Sam Nujoma, who could be a Mugabe in the making, Libya's economically powerful Moammar Gadhafi, and the Congo's Laurent Kabila, who is propped up by Mr. Mugabe.
Zimbabwe is to South Africa what Mexico is to America. Strife in Zimbabwe resonates in South Africa, particularly through waves of immigrants. While some distinguished South Africans have publicly rebuked Mr. Mugabe, such as Nobel Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African President Thabo Mbeki has been more muted, fearing a backlash or political upheaval.
Mr. Mugabe is literally starving his people and is keen to strike relationships with other budding despots. African leaders realize what a threat he is. Whether they will push Mr. Mugabe to strike an agreement with white farmers and hold democratic elections remains in doubt.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide