The world is suddenly paying a measure of the attention that is necessary to the democratic crisis in Zimbabwe, where strongman President Robert Mugabe has used violence and intimidation to prevent the competitive election that would surely have forced him from office.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela is leading a chorus of condemnation for what Mandela describes as the “tragic failure” of Mugabe as a leader of his country and as an advocate for Africa.
Even President Bush, who has not exactly been a leader when it comes to addressing the concerns of southern Africa or promoting democracy (in Africa or the U.S.), has denounced Mugabe’s use of military, police and paramilitary thugs to impose a result that could not have been secured by the electorate.
Bush is right to be making noise now. And he may even be right to propose sanctions against the Mugabe government, although sanctions always seem to fall harder on innocent citizens than upon the dictators they are supposed to target.
But, as usual, even when Bush gets a foreign-policy issue, he does so after he might have been able to avert murder and mayhem.
The same goes for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who can barely be bothered to pay attention to African affairs.
And what of Barack Obama, who critics, including McCain, suggest is inexperienced and inept when it comes to scanning the globe for trouble-spots and responding to their challenges?
The likely Democratic nominee, far from having to play catch-up, is in the forefront.
Having rallied fellow Senators Joe Biden, D-Delaware; Chris Dodd, D-Connecticut; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin; Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska; John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, as co-sponsors — and working in conjunction with the late Tom Lantos, the California congressman who made human rights in Africa a priority during his tenure as chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs — the senator from Illinois moved last spring to get the Congress to pay attention to what was unfolding in Zimbabwe.
On June 26, 2007, Obama won unanimous Senate support for a resolution condemning Mugabe’s disregard for democratic processes and calling for U.S. action to prevent the degeneration of circumstances on the ground in Zimbabwe.
Obama’s resolution condemning violent acts by the Zimbabwe government, serves as a powerful reminder that some officials get it while others get lost.
Here’s the Obama resolution on Zimbabwe:
Whereas in 2005 the Government of Zimbabwe launched Operation Murambatsvina (“Operation Throw Out the Trash”) against citizens in major cities and suburbs throughout Zimbabwe, depriving over 700,000 people of their homes, businesses, and livelihoods;
Whereas on March 11, 2007, opposition party activists and members of civil society attempted to hold a peaceful prayer meeting to protest the economic and political crisis engulfing Zimbabwe, where inflation is running over 1,700 percent and unemployment stands at 80 percent and in response to President Robert Mugabe’s announcement that he intends to seek reelection in 2008 if nominated;
Whereas opposition activist Gift Tandare died on March 11, 2007, as a result of being shot by police while attempting to attend the prayer meeting and Itai Manyeruke died on March 12, 2007, as a result of police beatings and was found in a morgue by his family on March 20, 2007;
Whereas under the direction of President Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government, police officers, security forces, and youth militia brutally assaulted the peaceful demonstrators and arrested opposition leaders and hundreds of civilians;
Whereas Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangarai was brutally assaulted and suffered a fractured skull, lacerations, and major bruising; MDC member Sekai Holland, a 64-year old grandmother, suffered ruthless attacks at Highfield Police Station, which resulted in the breaking of her leg, knee, arm, and three ribs; fellow activist Grace Kwinje, age 33, also was brutally beaten, while part of one ear was ripped off; and Nelson Chamisa was badly injured by suspected state agents at Harare airport on March 18, 2007, when trying to board a plane for a meeting of European Union and Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States lawmakers in Brussels, Belgium;Whereas Zimbabwe’s foreign minister warned Western diplomats that the Government of Zimbabwe would expel them if they gave support to the opposition, and said Western diplomats had gone too far by offering food and water to jailed opposition activists;
Whereas victims of physical assault by the Government of Zimbabwe have been denied emergency medical transfer to hospitals in neighboring South Africa, where their wounds can be properly treated;
Whereas those incarcerated by the Government of Zimbabwe were denied access to legal representatives and lawyers appearing at the jails to meet with detained clients were themselves threatened and intimidated;Whereas at the time of Zimbabwe’s independence, President Robert Mugabe was hailed as a liberator and Zimbabwe showed bright prospects for democracy, economic development, domestic reconciliation, and prosperity;
Whereas President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF government continue to turn away from the promises of liberation and use state power to deny the people of Zimbabwe the freedom and prosperity they fought for and deserve;
Whereas the staggering suffering brought about by the misrule of Zimbabwe has created a large-scale humanitarian crisis in which 3,500 people die each week from a combination of disease, hunger, neglect, and despair;
Whereas the Chairman of the African Union, President Alpha Oumar Konare, expressed “great concern” about Zimbabwe’s crisis and called for the need for the scrupulous respect for human rights and democratic principles in Zimbabwe;
Whereas the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Non-governmental Organizations stated that “We believe that the crisis has reached a point where Zimbabweans need to be strongly persuaded and directly assisted to find an urgent solution to the crisis that affects the entire region.”;
Whereas Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa, has urged southern Africa to take a new approach to Zimbabwe instead of the failed “quiet diplomacy”, which he likened to a “sinking Titanic,” and stated that “quiet diplomacy has failed to help solve the political chaos and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe”;
Whereas European Union and African, Caribbean, and Pacific lawmakers strongly condemned the latest attack on an opposition official in Zimbabwe and urged the government in Harare to cooperate with the political opposition to restore the rule of law; and
Whereas United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, warned that opposition to President Robert Mugabe had reached a tipping point because the people no longer feared the regime and believed they had nothing left to lose:
Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That– (1) it is the sense of Congress that–
(A) the state-sponsored violence taking place in Zimbabwe represents a serious violation of fundamental human rights and the rule of law and should be condemned by all responsible governments, civic organizations, religious leaders, and international bodies; and
(B) the Government of Zimbabwe has not lived up to its commitments as a signatory to the Constitutive Act of the African Union and African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights which enshrine commitment to human rights and good governance as foundational principles of African states; and
(A) condemns the Government of Zimbabwe’s violent suppression of political and human rights through its police force, security forces, and youth militia that deliberately inflict gross physical harm, intimidation, and abuse on those legitimately protesting the failing policies of the government;
(B) holds those individual police, security force members, and militia involved in abuse and torture responsible for the acts that they have committed;
(C) condemns the harassment and intimidation of lawyers attempting to carry out their professional obligations to their clients and repeated failure by police to comply promptly with court decisions;
(D) condemns the harassment of foreign officials, journalists, human rights workers, and others, including threatening their expulsion from the country if they continue to provide food and water to victims detained in prison and in police custody while in the hospital;
(E) commends United States Ambassador Christopher Dell and other United States Government officials and foreign officials for their support to political detainees and victims of torture and abuse while in police custody or in medical care centers and encourages them to continue providing such support;
(F) calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to cease immediately its violent campaign against fundamental human rights, to respect the courts and members of the legal profession, and to restore the rule of law while adhering to the principles embodied in an accountable democracy, including freedom of association and freedom of expression;
(G) calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to cease illegitimate interference in travel abroad by its citizens, especially for humanitarian purposes; and
(H) calls on the leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union to consult urgently with all Zimbabwe stakeholders to intervene with the Government of Zimbabwe while applying appropriate pressures to resolve the economic and political crisis.
As a first-term senator with little more than his conscience and his understanding of the world to guide him, Obama read the circumstance in Zimbabwe right — and he did so before the crisis spun out of control.
Imagine what might have been if George Bush and Condoleezza Rice had taken the situation in southern Africa as seriously as did Obama — and responded in so savvy and responsible a manner as the Illinoisan.
Imagine what someone who actually paid attention to the world — and recognized the responsible role that the United States can and should play in rallying world opinion to stand on the side of human rights — could accomplish as president.