- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2008



The following is the second of two columns on Robert Mugabe:

When the summit meeting of African Union leaders assembled, the world’s question was on how it would deal with Robert Mugabe’s relentless, brutal re-election as Zimbabwe’s President. As the summit began, the UN’s deputy secretary-general, Asha Rosa Mgivo, said: “This is a moment of truth for regional leaders.” Mr. Mugabe, she continued, has created “the single greatest challenge to regional stability in southern Africa.”

A few African heads of states agreed with her, notably Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who said of his reigning colleagues: “They should suspend (Mugabe) and send peace forces to Zimbabwe to ensure free and fair elections.” This heretic was ignored, and the unscathed Mr. Mugabe, “Africa’s Hitler,” was asked only to consider forming a power-sharing unity government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. And the United States, as of this writing, is pushing the U.N. Security Council to impose garden-variety sanctions on Mr. Mugabe’s swashbuckling government.

Even if those sanctions were not vetoed by China, Russia and South Africa (which has disgraced itself through President Thabo Mbeki’s appeasing “mediation”), Mr. Mugabe’s total control of Zimbabwe’s military, judiciary and his hordes of thugs will not be affected. As for the likelihood of the dictator’s “good faith” efforts to work with a unity government, the BBC reported on July 4 that he has already taken care of the annoyance in the first election (May 26) that gave the Movement for Democratic Change control of the parliament. This was only a 10-seat majority for the MDC; and ominously, as the African Union leaders were meeting, the members of the legislature had not yet been seated.

That fragile majority is now broken. The BBC disclosed that the obstructive 10 MDC members are now in prison or otherwise charged and unavailable to take their seats. This will require of course, bi-elections, which - as in the runoff - will be supervised by poll watchers with clubs and some other forms of Mugabe-style electioneering likely to cause the demise of unpatriotic voters. The MDC, understandably, has many conditions before negotiating for a “unity” government.

But what of the people of Zimbabwe in the wake of their liberator’s smiling return from the African Union summit? There has been little world press attention on the millions who have not been able to flee from what Mr. Mugabe is fond of calling “the Zimbabwean way” of governing. Due to a July 2 report from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, by the United Nations’ IRIN news service, we have some sense of the result of the African Union’s (and the United Nation’s) utter failure to be of any use to these people. Chamunorwa Shamhu, an employee of one of the few nongovernmental organizations the Liberator allows to function in Zimbabwe, says of his colleagues: “This is no joke, people have been operating like zombies. People are listless, dejected, have no interest in their work.” This heavy pall is not limited to that workplace.

IRIN News adds: “Psychologist Paddington Japajana said people appeared to have symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition associated with horrific experiences.

“The condition manifests itself,” Mr. Japajana said, “through profound sadness, fear, depression, apprehension, failure to concentrate, failure to participate in usual activities.” Also quoted is Sharon Dube, “who has two children and is a junior at an advertising agency.” (Even in a wasteland like Zimbabwe, there apparently is always a place for an advertising agency.) Mrs. Dube, whose existence is of no interest to Mr. Mugabe - or, for that matter, to Mr. Mbeki - says: “My children are growing up and they need to eat, but my earnings are not able to sustain them. I have all along had led a pretty decent life, but as things stand (in recent years), if the hardships continue, the only option left to me would be prostitution.” Also revealing of the world’s abandonment of what leaders running for office like to call “the ordinary people,” there are messages received by Jonathan Clayton, a Times of London reporter who had been jailed in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, for sneaking into the country to cover the first round of elections.

Text messages he now regularly gets from released former cellmates include: “I am begging you Mr. Jonathan pliz (sic) help us … We cannot stay in this country any longer, it is a mad place now.” In the June 30 Times of London, Mr. Clayton writes: “My cellmates all had a naive belief that the outside world would not stand by and watch President Mugabe cheat his way back to power. They desperately sought reassurance. I never said what I truly believed that once again Mr. Mugabe would get away with murder.” But elsewhere, life goes on. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican of California, says of sportsman George W. Bush’s attending the opening of China’s Genocide Olympics: “A president … promoting democracy and human rights loses credibility (attending) ceremonies of the Olympics in a country that is the world’s worst human-rights abuser.” Not quite the worst - there are a number of ardent competitors for this title. Mr. Mugabe may yet win that gold medal while Zimbabwe’s people wholly drop out of the news.

Nat Hentoff’s column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.



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