- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2006

“We envision an Africa where peace is known by all, where freedom is shared by all, where opportunity is expanding for all, and most importantly, where responsibility is embraced by all. Because we stand together with Africa, America today is helping more people across the continent to build lives of hope and dignity than ever before in history.”

These are the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking Sept. 27 at a meeting of the Africa Society. What she envisions will never come to pass in Africa while dictators like the 82-year-old Robert Mugabe hold the reins of power in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is a country in southern Africa, in area slightly larger than Montana. Its people are brutalized by one of the worst dictatorships in Africa, if not in the world. Mr. Mugabe has been in power more than a quarter-century, thanks to rigged elections. In other words, there is no rule of law in Zimbabwe.

Because it is a small country, Zimbabwe falls below the international community’s radar screen. And because it is small, it receives little attention in the media and in international forums even though it suffers an annual inflation rate of 1,200 percent, which spells misery for its population of 12.7 million. Next year will be even worse, says the International Monetary Fund, predicting an inflation rate of 4,000 percent. Equally telling, Canada’s Fraser Institute has created an Economic Freedom of the World Index, which measures how a country’s policies support property rights, competition and personal choice. The lowest on the list of 130 countries (Hong Kong, Singapore and Chile head the list) is — right — Zimbabwe.

The Human Rights Forum in Zimbabwe has bravely spoken up: “Torture in Zimbabwe is both widespread and systemic, demanding both a national and international response.” Mr. Mugabe’s response to these accusations has been to accuse the U.S. and Britain of plotting to overthrow him.

As is inevitable in a dictatorship that has produced an economic disaster, public protest is not tolerated. According to on-the-scene reports, police and soldiers battered trade unionists during a protest march Sept. 13 in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. The brutal treatment got worse when the marchers were herded into a Harare police station.

“We were told to get into cells in pairs,” said Wellington Chibebe, secretary-general of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Trade Unions (CZTU), speaking from a hospital bed, thanks to beatings by Mr. Mugabe’s police. “They started beating us up all over the body with batons and a knobkerrie. [A short club with one knobbed end.]”

Mr. Mugabe has set up his own web page — https://mugabe.netfirms.com/main.htm — with this opening statement deriding democratic elections:

“Here I am on Election Day (yawn). I mean, what’s the point? Just to keep up pretenses for the foreign observers?

I think not. The next election is going to be ONLY Zanu-PF. No MDC, no foreigners and no boring rallys.[sic]”

The Mugabe regime has paid no attention to widespread international protests — the British Trades Union Congress, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the Congress of South African Unions, among others. And why should Mr. Mugabe care what anybody says? As in the fable of the timorous mice, who’s going to bell the imperious cat?

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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