When Zimbabwe's most prominent gadfly, Archbishop Pius Ncube,
recently compared his country's president to Pol Pot, the Cambodian
dictator responsible for some 2 million deaths in the 1970s, it may
have been more than just a bit of hyperbole.
It points to the adoption by President Robert Mugabe - and other
African leaders - of some Asian models of government, observers say,
in which individual rights are often subverted for the good of the
masses, or the regime.
Take Zimbabwe's ongoing demolition of thousands of urban homes
and shops. It has left homeless up to 1.5 million, mostly city
dwellers, and forced many to seek rural refuge. It echoes, some
observers say, China's government-led 1966-76 Cultural Revolution,
when urbanized elites were stripped of status and forced to learn
peasant ideals while laboring on farms.
And Zimbabwe may not be alone. In Sudan, for instance, government-
abetted atrocities in Darfur, where 180,000 have been killed, can
also be seen through the lens of regime survival trumping individual
Indeed, as Asian economic power on the continent grows - and as
African leaders increasingly turn to Asia as a helpful model for
fighting poverty - they may also be taking their cues from certain
Asian governments' treatment of their citizens.
Yet this comes at an awkward time, given the focus on improving
Africa - and its governance - at this week's G-8 summit in Scotland.
In Africa, "We may be seeing ... an attempt to replicate some
models from the east" including "the Tiananmen model or the Pol Pot
model," says Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in
Pretoria, South Africa, referring to China's violent 1989 crackdown
on student democracy protesters in the name of national stability.
In Zimbabwe in recent weeks, this Asian paradigm may have spurred
"operation murambatsvina," or "drive out trash," in which thousands
of homes and shops have been destroyed, and many of the homeless
herded into crowded "transit camps." Most of the destruction has
occurred in urban areas - strongholds of the main opposition party,
the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
A United Nations envoy is in Zimbabwe assessing the situation.
She hasn't commented extensively but did reportedly extend her stay
to Friday to allow for further investigation. The African Union
hasn't condemned the operation; a spokesman reportedly said the
"internal" matter didn't merit AU action, but the group has sent an
official to Zimbabwe to survey the damage. …