- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

On the world's poorest continent, two African futures are dueling. South African President Thabo Mbeki and others speak of an African Renaissance, a growing prosperity founded on democracy and the rule of law, and want it backed by greater development aid. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's tyrannical President Robert Mugabe is destroying one of the continent's more promising countries as he clings to power. For Africa's sake, its leaders' discouraging acceptance of Mr. Mugabe's tyranny cannot go unchallenged.

Zimbabwe's presidential election in March was a sham. The independent press was terrorized and ballots were corrupted. Political opponents were murdered. Human rights groups in Zimbabwe have documented ongoing, government-sanctioned torture.

Today, some 6 million Zimbabweans, half the country, face a famine made mostly by Mr. Mugabe. His regime blames drought, but reservoirs are near full. Its "land reform" policy of evicting several thousand commercial farmers, besides hammering the economy, has slashed maize production. While begging for food aid, the Mugabe government is arresting evicted farmers for tending to their crops.

Mr. Mugabe's regime is now frustrating food aid efforts. Catholic church officials in Zimbabwe have reported that so-called "war veterans," shock troops that spearhead land seizures, blocked food aid deliveries to hungry children. Twenty-seven died of malnutrition-related illness. Their crime: living in a political opposition stronghold. A high-level government official was bold enough to say of food aid, "You cannot vote for the MDC (opposition) and expect ZANU-PF (ruling party) to help you."

Ominously, Mugabe allies are now farm owners. The government's land scheme is simply a patronage program for supporters, including Libyan interests who have given the Mugabe regime key aid. Even the "war veterans" are being discarded, losing their just-seized land to generals and other apparatchiks. Besides shredding the rule of law, land reform has darkened food security prospects, with once productive agricultural land now in non-farming hands.

Mr. Mugabe is all the more notorious for attacking institutions few other African countries have enjoyed. He has savaged an independent press and judiciary, an educated middle class, an organized civil society, and productive commercial farmers, hallmarks of Zimbabwe and key to its relative prosperity. While Africa has suffered many tyrants, it is hard to recall one having to do more damage to his country's potential in order to cling to power. In killing Zimbabwe's present, Mr. Mugabe is killing its future.

Have African leaders spoken out against this tyrant who stole an election, plunders, and whose legacy is shaping up to be the death by famine of tens of thousands? Hardly. Countering other international observers, most African delegations whitewashed Mr. Mugabe's "re-election." Mr. Mugabe was well-received at the July launching of the African Union, a group headed by Mr. Mbeki and supposedly committed to good governance.

How to explain African leaders' acceptance of Mr. Mugabe? His long life in politics has won him loyalties. More importantly, some see themselves in Mr. Mugabe. While Zimbabwe's president is a case apart, too many African leaders brook no dissent. Journalists and political activists are jailed and worse through much of the continent.

This is not to fate Africa, or even Zimbabwe, to tyranny. Several African heads of state have distinguished themselves by standing down recently. Though battered, democracy is still a force in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe is being driven to new depths by everyday Zimbabweans rejecting his misrule. The United States should give them greater support by following the European Union's lead in targeting the assets of Mr. Mugabe and his lieutenants.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development pushed by Mr. Mbeki and other African leaders proposes that development aid be increased considerably in return for better governance by Africans. This is a serious proposal. Yet observers cannot help but discount Africans' credibility as reformers when they countenance Mr. Mugabe's destruction of the very institutions this aid would develop. By speaking out against the Mugabe regime, as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has, African governments would bolster their aid case.

Some Africans call it unfair to judge them by their Zimbabwe policy. In some sense, maybe it is. But I wonder if these leaders realize how their silence comforts and emboldens Mr. Mugabe, while demoralizing the brave Zimbabweans challenging his tyranny? Or how it hurts a Zimbabwean mother who cannot feed her child? Who now is being unfair?


Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa.


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