US is wrong on Zimbabwe

OPINION – U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson said that Secretary Clinton will be encouraging South Africa to press Robert Mugabe to fully implement the global political agreement he signed with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"And we will also seek to work with South Africa and the regional states to ensure that the GPA is fully implemented, and that that country is able to return to democratic rule, and its people allowed to have some opportunity for economic progress," said Carson.

The Obama administration’s faith in dictators never ceases to amaze me. Robert Mugabe signed on to Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement for one reason and one reason only: to sustain his grip on power. Last year, Zimbabwe was on the verge of total implosion.

South Africa’s ruling ANC, which still lionizes Mugabe as a conquering hero, threw the thuggish ruler a lifeline by sponsoring a new unity government between the rightfully elected Movement for Democratic Change and the reigning ZANU-PF.

The Bush administration was adamant that Mugabe had to go. Obama’s State Department, on the other hand, threw tepid support behind the agreement, followed up with 70 million in foreign aid — all while paying the usual lip service on the importance of democracy. In fact, their rhetoric on Zimbabwe’s sham 2008 election sounds an awful lot like their rhetoric on Iran’s sham 2009 election.

At the time of independence, Zimbabwe was the second-wealthiest African nation, with a GDP equivalent to South Korea’s. It boasted the largest black middle class in Africa, the best education system on the continent, top-tier phone, road, and sanitation services, and was well-funded by boisterous agricultural, mining, and tourism industries.

After 30 years of tyrannical Mugabe rule, Zimbabwe now sits second on Foreign Policy’s failed state index — surpassed only by Somalia. It used to be that you could visit Rhodesia and see the ruins of Zimbabwe. Now it’s the other way around.

Considering Zimbabwe’s tragic history, the United States has an obligation to do the right thing here — namely, pressure South Africa to help purge the nation of its ruinous government. That obligation stems from the failed foreign policy of another dictator-friendly U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, who was instrumental in Mugabe’s rise to power.

If Secretary Clinton wants to prove the administration is committed to Africa (it claims it is), then fixing Zimbabwe needs to be a top priority.

That means serious policy that helps end Mugabe’s rule, restores the agricultural sector by returning European farms to their rightful owners, and encourages the hundreds of thousands of educated, skilled Zimbabwe/Rhodesian exiles — who were chased from their homes by Mugabe’s cronies — to return home.

Throwing lukewarm support behind the rightful victors in Zimbabwe’s ’08 elections and pledges of tens of million dollars in aid simply exacerbates the nation’s woes, while validating concerns that the Obama administration isn’t serious about the proliferation of healthy democracies.

In April 1979, 64 percent of the black citizens of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) lined up at the polls to vote in the first democratic election in the history of that southern African nation. Two-thirds of them supported Abel Muzorewa, a bishop in the United Methodist Church. He was the first black prime minister of a country only 4 percent white.

Muzorewa’s victory put an end to the 14-year political odyssey of outgoing prime minister Ian Smith, the stubborn World War II veteran who had infamously announced in 1976, "I do not believe in black majority rule–not in a thousand years." Fortunately for the country’s blacks, majority rule came sooner than Smith had in mind.

Less than a year after Muzorewa’s victory, however, in February 1980, another election was held in Zimbabwe. This time, Robert Mugabe, the Marxist who had fought a seven-year guerrilla war against Rhodesia’s white-led government, won 64 percent of the vote, after a campaign marked by widespread intimidation, outright violence, and Mugabe’s threat to continue the civil war if he lost.

Mugabe became prime minister and was toasted by the international community and media as a new sort of African leader. "I find that I am fascinated by his intelligence, by his dedication. The only thing that frustrates me about Robert Mugabe is that he is so damned incorruptible," Andrew Young, Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, had gushed to the Times of London in 1978. The rest, as they say, is history.

That second election is

widely known and cited: 1980 is the famous year Zimbabwe won its independence from Great Britain and power was transferred from an obstinate white ruler to a liberation hero. But the circumstances of the first election, and the story of the man who won it, have been lost to the past. As the Mugabe regime–responsible for the torture and murder of thousands, starvation, genocide, the world’s highest inflation and lowest life expectancy–teeters on the brink of disaster after 27 years of authoritarian rule, it is instructive to go back and examine what happened in those crucial intervening months.

To understand the genesis of that oft-forgotten 1979 election, it is necessary to revisit Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, when the British colony joined the United States as the only territory in history to separate successfully from the British Empire without its consent.

Five years earlier, in a speech to the South African parliament, British prime minister Harold Macmillan had warned that the "wind of change" was blowing through Africa. "Whether we like it or not," Macmillan said, "this growth of national consciousness is a political fact."

Rhodesian whites would not stand for the British policy of "No Independence Before Majority African Rule," however, and in 1964 they overwhelmingly elected Smith premier.

When the Rhodesian government reached an impasse with the British over conditions for autonomy, Smith, widely supported by the country’s whites, declared Rhodesia independent. And so, on November 11, 1965, the sun abruptly set on another outpost of the British Empire