As Zimbabwe Goes

By Gevisser, Mark | The Nation, April 8, 2002 | Go to article overview
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As Zimbabwe Goes


Gevisser, Mark, The Nation


On March 10 the citizens of a small African country went to the polls to cast their votes for an incumbent with a reputation as one of the continent's most unreconstructed tyrants, a man who used every form of trickery in the book to secure his re-election. Zimbabwe? No. I refer to the equatorial Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), which held its presidential election on the very same weekend as Zimbabwe's. Military strongman Denis Sassou-Nguesso was re-elected by a 90 percent landslide after his major opponent pulled out of the race the day before the elections, citing irregularities and urging his supporters to boycott. One such irregularity was Sassou-Nguesso's refusal to establish an independent election body to oversee the voting.

Observing the results in Zimbabwe and Congo, the respected Kenyan publisher Barrack Muluka has written in the East African Standard that "the continent of Africa abounds with miscarried and defrauded electoral history" and that the vote in Africa, when it happens at all, "can only be described as electoral fiction." Wondering why the West barely noted the Congo results, Muluka asks: "Is it possible for Tony Blair to admit that his concern over Zimbabwe arises first and last out of the fact that Mugabe has been messing up with the White population in that country?" Muluka concludes that he is as sickened by the hypocrisy of the West as he is by "the autocracy of the Mugabes of the world."

Zambia's recent elections were disputed, and Madagascar is in the throes of civil unrest because the incumbent there, Didier Ratsiraka, refuses to leave office after having been voted out. With a few shining exceptions (Senegal, South Africa, Botswana and, perhaps, Nigeria and Ghana), Muluka is right. Why, then, the fuss over Zimbabwe? Muluka provides part of the answer: The fact that there is a sizable white settler population in Zimbabwe and a steady diet, for the international media, of dead white farmers means there's a human interest dimension to the Zimbabwean story that poor Congo can't match. Did you know, for example, that 10,000 Congolese were killed in the civil war that brought Sassou-Nguesso to power in 1997 and that his ensuing repression displaced nearly a third of the country's 3 million citizens?

But Afrophobia aside, there are other, more honorable reasons for the world's current obsession with Zimbabwe's tragic descent into chaos. When Mugabe came to power in 1980, he was to many Western Afrophiles a shining light, a vision of reconciliation (he urged whites to stay and work with him) and a mark of the triumph of pragmatism over ideology (he was, in a nutshell, anti-Soviet). The generation now making policy in the West marched against Rhodesia and then marched for the brave new world Mugabe symbolized.

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