THE SIMILARITIES ARE SO THE SAME, THE MODUS OPERANDI EERIE SIMILAR- THE ROLE PLAYERS FROM THE SAME SICK HEATHEN-BIRTH....AND THE END- THE SAME PARADOX! IT IS NOW ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.....ONLY A MATTER OF TIME.
by Peter Beinart of TNR from Cape Time.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has a big idea. And, while it's virtually unknown in the United States, in South Africa it has attained what University of the Witwatersrand political scientist Tom Lodge calls "almost liturgical status." The idea is that, under Mbeki's leadership, South Africa is ushering in a continentwide "African Renaissance." This renaissance, in Mbeki's vision, is about genuine modernization, in contrast to the artificial, failed modernization that characterized the first decades of African independence. It means assimilating Western technology--not just importing it, but integrating it with traditional African values so it no longer feels alien. And, even more importantly, it means assimilating democratic values--giving substance to the veneer of parliamentary democracy that has characterized despotic postcolonial African government. Just as Africans must make the Internet their own, he argues, they must internalize democracy as well. It is time, Mbeki announced in 1998, to "put behind us the notions of democracy and human rights as peculiarly Western."
Coming from the democratically elected leader of Africa's most powerful country, those are important words. They implicitly repudiate the relativistic nonsense that African dictators and their Western sycophants have long peddled to justify the continent's tyrannies. And they form the moral foundation for a kind of grand bargain: Africa's leaders will demand democracy across the continent, and the United States and Europe will reward them by substantially boosting foreign aid. The outlines of such a bargain began taking shape in 2001, when Mbeki helped create something called the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). In June 2002, it was endorsed by the G-8 economic powers. In July, it won the endorsement of the African Union. Just as Mbeki hoped, Africa seemed to be embarking on a new partnership with the world.
There's just one problem: Mbeki himself. His behavior is betraying his vision. And with his blessing, Zimbabwe is turning his African Renaissance into an ugly joke.
In the last two years, Robert Mugabe has put his country on the fast lane to hell. And Mbeki's government has cheered him on. Mugabe's campaign of terror began in June 2000, after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change came from nowhere to claim close to half of the contested seats in parliament. Mugabe responded with a two-pronged strategy aimed at securing victory in the presidential elections due in 2002. First, he whipped up racial hatred by sending government goons to chase white farmers off their land. Second, he began plotting to rig the vote. And Pretoria helpfully facilitated both. In December, after months of continuous, often violent, land invasions, a delegation from the Southern African Development Community--of which South Africa is the most powerful member--lauded Zimbabwe's "improved atmosphere of calm and stability." Not long afterward, as Lodge notes in Politics in South Africa: From Mandela to Mbeki, the leader of an African National Congress (ANC) delegation to Zimbabwe announced that he was "deeply satisfied" by Mugabe's opposition to allowing foreign monitors to observe the upcoming presidential vote.
Mugabe eventually relented, allowing select foreign delegations to observe the campaign. What they found, in the words of University of London Professor Stephen Chan, author of Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, was "a massive and sustained program of brutalities and persecutions, of beatings and murders, of coercion and threats." The head of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an alliance of local civic groups, said, "There is no way these elections could be described as substantially free and fair." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the election "was won by intimidation and not by votes." But the South African government's monitoring team disagreed, calling the vote "legitimate."
After the election, things went from bad to worse. By late 2002, Mugabe's land invasions had replaced many white farmers with corrupt party cronies. And, even where needy black farmers did get land, the government failed to give them the seeds, fertilizer, and equipment to produce crops. As a result, in the last year farm production has fallen 50 percent, and the country's economy has contracted by more than one-tenth. Zimbabwe, once a major agricultural exporter, has begun importing grain. But the government is denying it to people who voted for the opposition. Current estimates suggest that half the country faces starvation.
In response to these atrocities, the United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed sanctions. South Africa, by contrast, has announced plans to increase economic cooperation with its neighbor to the north. In October, Mbeki said, "We are not going to act on the Zimbabwe question with a view to punishment." He followed that up in December by calling Mugabe's party, Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), "our ally and fellow liberation movement." And, at the ANC's national conference that month, ZANU-PF came to say thank you. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the speaker of Zimbabwe's parliament and a close Mugabe ally, told cheering ANC delegates, "On numerous occasions, you have sought to clarify the position in Zimbabwe in response to our detractors." Indeed, to Mbeki and the ANC's enduring discredit, it has.
The simplistic explanation of Mbeki's behavior is that he is a would-be Mugabe himself, plotting to impose authoritarian, demagogic rule in South Africa. The truth is more complicated: Mbeki has actually pursued an aggressively free-market economic policy, one that has brought him into conflict with longtime ANC allies in the labor movement and the South African Communist Party. His refusal to condemn Mugabe, like his earlier flirtation with Afrocentric AIDS quackery, more likely stems from a fear of being seen as insufficiently radical by the ANC's militant political base.
But, whatever the reason, Mbeki's pro-Mugabe policy is making a mockery of his vision for the continent. The European Union, the likely source of much of the NEPAD aid Mbeki hopes to procure, has already implied that it considers Zimbabwe a test of African leaders' seriousness about democracy. If the West does not substantially aid Mbeki's grand compact, left-leaning critics will undoubtedly attack U.S. and European leaders as cynics who talk big about Africa's future but don't follow through when it counts. And that's partially true. But what about the grandiose cynic in Pretoria? Morgan Tsavangirai, the Zimbabwean opposition leader now potentially facing the death penalty for treason, recently said, "You know this is the saddest thing about Africa, all these flowery declarations and all without commitment. ... The declarations are not worth the paper they're written on." Looks like the true African Renaissance will have to wait.