- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

Many more black citizens of Zimbabwe — who have suffered for years under the dictatorial rule of Robert Mugabe — are now without hope of liberation. On July 22, London’s Daily Telegraph reported: “Armed riot police and youth militia of Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu PF Party are rounding up homeless people who have sought refuge in church compounds.”

They are among the more than 700,000 victims of Mr. Mugabe’s “Operation Restore Order,” that as the July 24 International Herald Tribune reports has bulldozed “shacks, workshops and market stalls across Zimbabwe’s urban center.” (Many of the now-homeless adults in such neighborhoods voted against Mr. Mugabe in the last government-rigged election.) Miloon Kothari, special rapporteur on adequate housing at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, told the June 11 New York Times that suicides are rising as the desperate displaced people “just have nowhere to go.”

A stinging 200-page U.N. report by Kajumulo Tibaijuka, an expert in rural economics from Tanzania, emphasizes that the Mugabe government’s “indifference to human suffering” has been caused by “a disastrous venture based on a set of colonial-era laws and policies that were [under white rule] used as a tool of segregation and social exclusion.” (But strangely, she does not target Mr. Mugabe directly as the cause of this suffering.)

Recently, on a liberal New York radio station, WBAI, I was describing how Mr. Mugabe has caused an unemployment rate of 70 percent, ruinous inflation, the pervasive decline of Zimbabwe’s once bountiful harvests and the savage punishment of dissenters inflicted by his merciless youth militia. A caller to the radio station identified himself as an American black pastor and a human-rights activist around the world.

He admonished me for not giving Mr. Mugabe credit for rescuing Zimbabwe from having been “a white-ruled plantation.” I told him the country still is a plantation — ruled by a black master.

Also scandalous in these crimes against the people of Zimbabwe is the silence of the African Union, formed five years ago to prove that the continent can take care of its own problems and protect economic, political and human rights.

A July 7 front-page story in the Financial Times began: “Kofi Annan yesterday urged African leaders to break their silence over actions by governments, such as Zimbabwe’s, that were undermining the continent’s credibility in the eyes of the world.” The U.N. secretary-general emphasized: “What is lacking on the continent is [a willingness] to comment on wrong policies in a neighboring country.” But in the same article, Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria and presently the chairman of the African Union, defiantly said he would “not be a part” of any public condemnation of Mr. Mugabe.

Moreover, as The New York Times reported on July 6: “Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia are among those [African nations] that have praised Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies in recent months,” or even more appallingly, “have stopped protesters from criticizing them.” Also insistently silent on the rampant ferocity of the Mugabe regime is Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, who has long claimed he is pursuing “quiet diplomacy” in his dealings with Mr. Mugabe.

His “diplomacy” is so quiet that its alleged results have not reached these black citizens in Harare described in the June 11 issue of The Economist, after the government obliterated their neighborhood: “A barefoot widow and her two children stand in the ruins of their shack, their meager belongings gathered under plastic sheets… they now sleep in the open with nothing to protect them from Harare’s bitter cold. With tears in her eyes and a broken voice, she shows a lease and receipts for rents she has paid. “I have nowhere to go,” she laments.” (Mr. Mugabe says the demolitions have ended, but the government has said that before. In any case, he is again responsible for ruthless crimes against his own people.)

They have also been abandoned by the justly venerated Nelson Mandela, who has marred his autumnal years by refusing to say a word in criticism of Mr. Mugabe. I asked an African, a longtime human-rights worker concerning the continent, why Mr. Mandela will not speak, when his condemnation of this horrifying injustice would, should he offer it, reverberate around the world.

The human-rights worker replied that Mr. Mandela still sees Mr. Mugabe “as a liberator of his nation in the long, bitter struggle on the continent in which so many, including Mandela, suffered so much. He will not condemn this man.” Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme of Cameroon, a consultant on international law, wrote in the July 15 New York Times: “What is at issue is an Africa where dictators kill, steal and usurp power yet are treated like heroes at meetings of the African Union.”

What will debt relief for (some of) these rulers do for the widow and her two children in Harare who have no place to go? Their condition cannot be reported in Zimbabwe’s two largest, independent and best-selling newspapers, the Daily News and the Sunday Daily News. Now silent, their licenses to publish remain denied by Mr. Mugabe.

Once again, the African Union, like the United Nations, has been useless.

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