Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Will People NOT Do for Power?

Day of the Crocodile
Vanity Fair
September 2008
by Peter Godwin

This guy is NOT messing around - I remember hearing about Robert Mugabe off and on for most of my life. He has been in power for 28 years, since the time when the white-ruled British colony of Rhodesia was liberated and became the nation that we now know as Zimbabwe. The congregation that I served as Associate Pastor from 1993-2002 sponsored a married couple who were missionaries in Zimbabwe, and they used to visit our congregation periodically to give reports of their work there. By their accounts, Zimbabwe is a beautiful place populated by loving, generous people. It is country rich in natural resources, but since oil is not a major export by Zimbabwe their situation does not attract the attention of the Western world.

In recent years, Zimbabwe seemed relatively stable compared to the chaos of some other African countries, but this past spring when her people tried to hold democratic elections, Zimbabwe erupted into violence. People who supported Mugabe's opponent (from the opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change) were threatened, abducted, tortured, and many were even killed. Thousands more had their homes burned and are now displaced persons. International journalists were banned from Zimbabwe during the election process - the only way Godwin got in is that he grew up in Zimbabwe and still has close ties to the country. He even found himself arrested at one point. Mugabe's campaign of terror to ensure his total control of the country was known simply as "The Fear." Needless to say, with the opposition party prevented from campaigning and those who supported them prevented from voting, Mugabe won the "election" handily.

Godwin's article gives a sad and scary account of the election time, and the unspeakable suffering he saw when he visited the torture victims in Zimbabwe hospitals. Many of the patients leave before they are medically ready, with wounds still suppurating, because they are afraid to stay in any one place for too long, as their attackers may find them and finish what they started. However, Godwin also includes a lot of helpful background information about Zimbabwe and Mugabe himself. He believes that the West has been delusional about Mugabe for a long time. Because Mugabe broke (then Rhodesia) away from British rule, and because he was a player in the ending of apartheid in neighboring South Africa, he was seen as a strong leader for many years. Moreover, he was an anti-communist, which translates to "he is a great friend of the West." The conventional wisdom about Mugabe is that he was a great guy for a long time and then "lost it" sometime in the 1990s after his first wife died.

As Godwin traces the various military campaigns that Mugabe has waged within Zimbabwe throughout his reign, though, we see that Mugabe has always held on to power by brute force. More recent campaigns include titles such as "Operation Clear Out the SH**" and "Operation Who Did You Vote For?" just to put the few people who were able to vote for the other guy on notice. Unbelievable.

Once again, I am saddened and puzzled by our own country's relationship with some of these dictators. On the one hand, we say we want to promote democracy across the globe, that it is the best game in town (which I believe it is). In reality, though, we have this history of supporting and even building up total scuzzballs as long as it is in our own economic interests. Someone can be an axe long as they are not a Communist. What gives?

And what is our moral responsibility to Zimbabwe now? I am not one for sending the military in to clean up other peoples' problems, but it seems the UN should step in and help them get a fair election process going. It seems equally clear that we need to be a lot more selective about who we choose for our allies. Being a friend to a country should mean holding their leaders accountable for their behavior, but clearly that is not always the case. Very sad.

Reverent Reader


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