Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has “gone bonkers in a big way,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the press agrees. Britain’s Independent says Mugabe, “fearing that a free and fair election might cost him the presidency, has launched the second stage of the liberation war. His aims are to obliterate all opposition to his rule and to retake the land that white foreigners seized more than 100 years ago. He is prepared to win at any cost—even the destruction of the country he claims to be liberating.” Six weeks before the March 9-10 presidential elections, there is little hope that anything can be done to curb Mugabe.
It had been hoped that the Southern African Development Community, which met last week in Malawi, would exert its influence on the president, but instead the SADC chose to simply accept his assurances that elections would be “free and fair.” Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette said the SADC had “shamelessly abdicated its duty to rein in a member gone berserk,” because regional leaders had “allowed their traditional solidarity with … Mugabe to colour their views on a crisis that is worsening daily and is set to destabilise the entire region.” The Financial Times concluded that the SADC’s compliance “suggests either that they are hopelessly gullible or that they do not understand what democratic behaviour entails.” Mondli Makhanya, a columnist for the Sunday Timesof Johannesburg, suggested that SADC has “lost all sense of purpose since apartheid died in 1994.” Makhanya continued:
But the SADC’s main problem is that it has not established its own platform of good governance on which to base peer judgments. In most countries in the region, democracy and respect for human rights play second fiddle to the comfort and power cravings of leaders. … Many … leaders in the region are either unelected or treat elections and their countries’ democratic institutions as necessary irritations. With democrats like these, how could the world and Zimbabwe’s people expect the regional body to take the lead in disciplining Mugabe?
Can anything be done to preserve the integrity of the March elections? Probably not. The United States and European Union have proposed “smart sanctions” that would freeze Mugabe’s U.S. and European assets, as well as those of his family and close associates, and would restrict their foreign travel, but as the Financial Times conceded, “Smart sanctions will do nothing to make the elections fair but they will at least register the disgust of the international community.” Still, an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald encouraged their enactment, noting, “Even if Mugabe is beyond influence, targeted sanctions would certainly affect the calculations of other ruling party officials now weighing their personal interests against those of the country.” A report in Britain’s Observer hinted that such concerns may be causing a crack in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF Party: Last week, so many ruling party MPs stayed away from parliament that legislation regulating trade unions and the press was stalled.
U.S. vs. Them, Week 2: The outcry against U.S. treatment of accused al-Qaida/Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay has grown shriller since last weekend. From South Africa, the Star declared that “human rights are being subjugated to political expediency,” while the Sunday Times claimed that if the United States fails to give U.N. inspectors full access to “Camp X-Ray,” it “will have become much like the many other countries it has branded rogue states. The world’s most advanced democracy will, by compromising on justice for the prisoners, have succumbed to the base instincts usually displayed by its enemies.” Dawnof Pakistan, which bizarrely described Cuba as “a remote Atlantic island,” said, “It is important for the world community to remind the US of one of the fundamentals of its own system of justice: that no one can be presumed guilty without being put through a proper trial. Surely, it is such a principle that separates a civilized society from a tyrannical one.” In Britain, papers across the political spectrum joined the condemnation. The liberal Observer reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair had warned President Bush that the treatment of the prisoners could become “a ‘political issue’ which will lead to widespread and damaging criticism of US policies in Afghanistan.” (The paper also characterized the conditions in London’s Belmarsh prison, where seven “Islamist suspects have been held without charge” for a month, as “barbaric.”) Meanwhile in the conservative Sunday Telegraph, BBC correspondent John Simpson suggested that the United States is in danger of losing the moral high ground it has occupied since Sept. 11: “After any war, the victors’ behaviour determines the future of the dispute. Generosity and forgiveness will eventually draw the poison; vengeance and harshness merely cause it to fester and spread.” Monday’s Telegraph came to America’s defense, reminding Britons, “Unless we have evidence that [the prisoners] have been wrongly arrested, we have no business interfering. America is a close ally, and a country with which we have an extradition treaty. We should be very sure of our ground before we start questioning the validity of its legal system.”
Margaret Thatcher, political heavyweight: According to the Sunday Telegraph, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., the desert home of London Bridge since 1969, has offered to display an 8-foot statue of Baroness Thatcher that has been languishing in the sculptor’s studio since its completion. The statue is ultimately destined for a vacant plinth in the Members’ Lobby of the House of Commons, but parliamentary rules dictate that it cannot take its place there until five years after Thatcher’s death. London’s National Portrait Gallery, which already owns 11 images of Britain’s first female prime minister (though according to the gallery’s Web site, only one—an unflattering and somewhat sexist cartoon by Gerald Scarfe—is currently on display), declined to exhibit the work, declaring it “too domineering,” and the foyer of a parliamentary office building was deemed unsuitable because the 2-ton statue might cause the floor to collapse onto the subway line below.
How to baht the system: European vending-machine operators are ready to “hit the panic button,” reports the Straits Timesof Singapore, because machines can’t differentiate between Thai 10-baht coins and 2-euro pieces. They’re the same size and weight and both have a silverish rim and a gold-colored center, but the Thai coin is worth about one-seventh of its European look-alike. A French company told the Straits Times it would stop accepting the 2-euro coins until the machines can tell the difference.