- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

The tragedy of Africa, primarily south of the Sahara, has been its inability to produce democratic leadership in the last half-century since the decolonization movement exploded.

One can argue that Europe itself hasn't exactly been a model in producing democratic leadership V.I. Lenin, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Antonio Salazar but Europe has learned its lessons. Today with the dissolution of the Soviet empire, Europe is a collection of more-or-less peace-loving democracies.

Not so in Africa. Except for Nelson Mandela and the recently deceased Leopold Senghor of Senegal, what more-or-less democratic leaders has Africa produced? And now we see another African super-tyrant on the move Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who is ready to exterminate his opposition rather than surrender his despotic power.

It will not do any longer to blame the European powers for Africa's problems. Britain (except for Kenya and the Mau Mau), France (except for Algeria), Portugal (except for Mozambique and its West African holdings) gave up their colonial empires without too much struggle and bloodshed.

What have we seen since the scramble out of Africa began in the 1950s? Ethnic dictatorships, serfdom, kleptocracy, soaring infant mortality rates, tens of millions dying of AIDS and tens of millions already dead, no access to clean drinking water by 70 percent of Africans, child slavery, genocidal attacks on neighbors by Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and an 18-year civil war in Sudan which has taken 2 million lives. Remember Idi Amin, Emperor Boukassa, Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah? And now we have Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The list seems endless.

Much blame for the African disaster is supposedly due to the West, particularly America's "bungling," its refusal, regardless of what party is in the White House, to get involved and help a helpless Africa get to its feet. But is that a valid accusation? It is not.

Despite alliances with France and England, the U.S. supported sometimes covertly through the CIA, sometimes openly anti-colonial movements in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Cyprus among others. No post-colonial area got as much U.S. attention as sub-Saharan Africa going back to the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. White House state dinners, presidential and vice-presidential visits to Africa, support for AFL-CIO union activity in Africa, vocational training schemes, scholarships, and money, money, money. It's no secret where all the money went: either into Swiss bank accounts or phony socialist schemes, like "Ujamaa," in Julius Nyerere's Tanzania.

Here, almost a half-century since Africa's liberation began, and we have a new tyrant, Robert Mugabe. Having ruled Zimbabwe for 22 years and fearing defeat in presidential balloting next March, he has done everything to prevent a free and fair election. Laws passed by Zimbabwe's, or rather Mr. Mugabe's, parliament ban independent election monitors, restrict voting rights and make it a crime to criticize the president. Opposition supporters have been beaten, killed, imprisoned.

What are other African leaders doing about this crime against democracy? What can they do or say when, as the New York Times has pointed out, Angola condones maltreatment of journalists, Zambia refused to grant the opposition time on government radio during the country's own election last month? The Times quotes the International Crisis Group (ICG) as saying: "Many [African] governments are hesitant to penalize Mugabe this week for something for which they may be accused next week." In a special report (obtainable on the Web), the ICG states:

"The economic and political turmoil in South Africa's northern neighbor threatens the credibility of the embryonic New Partnership for African Development [NEPAD], an agenda for renewal crafted by [South Africa's President Thabo] Mbeki, Nigeria's President Obasanjo, Algeria's President Bouteflika, and Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, among others as a vehicle for a new relationship between Africa and the world.

"While NEPAD seeks to promote Africa's full integration into the world economy, the Zimbabwe crisis is further marginalizing the continent, producing a decline in investment, confidence in local currencies, and tourism. The regional southern African economy is threatened further by an influx of refugees from Zimbabwe."

And all this comes at a time when Sub-Saharan Africa's gross domestic product is about the same as that of Belgium, a country with one-forty-fifth the population of Africa as a whole, according to the World Bank. Africa's population has doubled since 1965 which, because of stagnant economies, means constantly rising unemployment and underemployment. Some 100 million people, more than a quarter of the continent's population, suffer from chronic food shortages.

Is there a solution to this ever-mounting human tragedy?

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