The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, May 03, 2002  

Robert Mugabe, the "Pol Pot" of Africa

For months now, the media have directed our collective attention to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, old news if ever we saw it, pushing more tragic stories into the buried "News Briefs" sections of newspapers and off television completely.

Case in point: The complete lack of interest in the goings on in Zimbabwe under the lunatic leadership of the demented Robert Mugabe.

Today, though, at least one newspaper is paying attention. The Christian Science Monitor is carrying an informative news article about the situation in Zimbabe and has published a thought-provoking essay on Mugabe's sadism by Robert I. Rotberg, director of Harvard University's Program on Intrastate Conflict and president of the World Peace Foundation, entitled "A Cry Against the Pol Pot of Africa."

Most readers are likely unaware that Mugabe stole the country's presidential election in March. He did it the old-fashioned way, with stuffed ballot boxes, invalid ballots, and votes from the deceased. Sadly, Mugabe is ignoring, indeed fostering, the complete destruction of Zimbabwe as a nation. Corruption, violence, crime, poverty, and impending starvation are not items high on his agenda.

However, Mugabe conceded last week that more than 7 million Zimbabweans, including 5 million children, are at risk of starvation, Rotberg reports. "What he did not say was that he and his administration are directly responsible for the wave of acute hunger, and for the chaos that is continuing to destroy a once-rich nation," Rotberg continues.

"Like Cambodia's vicious Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge chief, Mugabe has not seemed to care that Zimbabwe is sliding rapidly from weakness to failure, that the tide of human misery is eroding the very foundations of the state (as in Cambodia), and that new outrages occur daily," adds Rotberg.

Mugabe's regime is a veritable reign of terror, with farms confiscated by thugs carrying weapons and Asian manufacturers and merchants threatened with property confiscation and much worse. In addition, of the 1,100 poll-watchers assembled by the Movement for Democratic Change to monitor the March election, 400 have seen their homes torched and nearly 100 MDC candidates and functionaries are believed to be have been killed by Mugabe's personal hit squads.

Why the wanton destruction? "The purpose of the regime's renewed attacks on the commercial farming community is to punish probable supporters of the MDC, to turn productive properties over to black supporters of Mugabe as spoils of war, and to spread terror," says Rotberg.

Since the majority of the confiscated farm land sits untended, Mugabe's strategy "has destroyed food production, dried up investment, greatly reduced the planting of new crops, and created food shortages for years to come."

Mugabe enjoys watching his opponents squirm (and starve and die) and couldn't care less what the rest of the world -- which isn't paying attention anyway -- thinks about his regime.

"Although the British Commonwealth, the European Union, individual European nations, Senegal, and the United States refused to recognize the election results, condemned his theft, and imposed sanctions, many African nations accepted the faked count," Rotberg reports. More important, "South Africa, the regional power and Zimbabwe's neighbor, has refused to condemn Mugabe's actions," he adds.

Zimbabe is fast turning into an economic basket-case. But the weak economy pales in significance to the very real prospects of mass starvation. This is a country led by a crazed despot who has delayed food air offered by the World Food Program, the U.S., and other donor nations. Mugabe considers food a weapon, something to be withheld from his political opponents as part of a multi-pronged strategy to silence -- apparently forever -- his opponents and critics.

Rotberg believes "only renewed pressure on South Africa...can save the people of Zimbabwe from the fate of their Cambodian cousins." It is a painful truth that South Africa under its past white oligarchy would not have stood for such instability in the region. Pressure would have been brought to bear on the Mugabe mafia and economic and food aid would have been provided. We certainly do not advocate reverting to that tragic past, but the unwillingness of African leaders to stand up to this third-rate thug is a disgrace.

Although we agree that South Africa must take a more active -- and more honorable -- role in this emerging catastrophe, there is much more that the U.S. and Europe, in particular, could do. But with all eyes on the juvenile antics of Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat, in a region where deaths are counted in the dozens, we're not expecting the media -- or our elected officials -- to take even a sideways glance at this horrific crisis anytime soon.

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