"Frankly obscene," Australia's foreign minister said.
Australia's Stephen Smith was referring to Zimbabwean dictator RobertMugabe's appearance at a U.N. food conference earlier this month.
Yes, a dictator who uses starvation to scatter and kill his own peoplemaking an appearance at an international conference devoted to raising food andfeeding the hungry is an obscenity -- though I add, without cynicism, that thesituation isn't all that unusual. Petty tyrants, terrorist enablers and tribalkillers cluster about the wine and cheese smorgasbords of internationalcommunity fetes and summits.
At these forums, they blame the United States for, well, virtuallyanything and everything. Anti-Americanism -- or in Mugabe's case, a worn-out'60s-style "anti-imperialist" pitch aimed at Great Britain -- provide mediacamouflage for their hideous genocides and cruel depredations.
Mugabe, a classic Marxist rebel leader, plays this game quite well.Toppling Southern Rhodesia's white dictatorship made him a cult hero. Theleft-leaning internationalists gave Mugabe's mass murder in Zimbabwe's Matebeleland a pass. That brutal campaign of the early 1980s, conducted against hisformer anti-colonial allies, included imported North Koreanmercenary-advisers.
But his obscenities are catching up with him.
His greatest obscenity is his war on his own impoverished nation.Mugabe's tyranny has savaged Zimbabwe, making the country yet another tragicexample of a nation brutalized by its own government. Zimbabwe is blessed withrich farmland and ought to be an agricultural breadbasket. It was, untilMugabe's "land redistribution" and "farm policies" turned it into a starvingbasket case.
Once a major regional food producer, today a substantial number ofZimbabweans go hungry or flee. Since 2000, an estimated 3 million Zimbabweanshave escaped to neighboring nations, with South Africa a preferred destination.
Zimbabwe's economy is a string of obscene numbers. In late 2007, theZimbabwean government said the annual inflation rate was 7,600 percent. The IMFforecast predicted 100,000 percent. A 2008 estimate said 200,000 percent. Thesestatistical differences are meaningless -- the currency is a fraud, another formof governmental theft.
In early 2008, Zimbabwe's estimated unemployment rate ran from 50 percentto 80 percent. Whatever the number, Zimbabwe's once flourishing tourist industryhas all but disappeared. In 1999, 1.4 million tourists visited Zimbabwe. In2007, only a handful came. Commercial agriculture jobs once boosted Zimbabwe'seconomy. Since 2000, Zimbabwe has lost between 250,000 and 400,000 agriculturaljobs.
Mugabe's latest trail of obscenities involves election theft, violentintimidation and more murder. Under Mugabe, elections have been little more thanwindow dressing for his cult control of the nation. His use of the police,military and loyal militias like the Zimbabwe National Liberation War VeteransAssociation has kept opponents intimidated and citizens terrorized.
However, his obscene economy and brutal arrogance has led to a loss ofgrassroots support in his own once-plaint political organization, the ZANU-PF.
Zimbabwe's March 29 presidential election confirmed this. Electionobservers believe that if the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, did not win the March vote outright, he cameclose. The MDC claimed victory. Under any circumstances, Mugabe's electoralwindow dressing fell, and with it fell the last media facade masking histyranny.
Mugabe has manufactured a run-off election, scheduled for June 27,pitting him against Tsvangirai. The "war veterans" are out with their clubs andknives. The MDC claims at least 40 of its supporters have been killed sinceMarch 29. Moreover, they allege that Mugabe is plotting to assassinateTsvangirai. Mugabe's police have repeatedly detained and harassedTsvangirai.
Nobel Prize winner former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa hascalled for international peacekeepers to ensure the elections are fair and safe.It may not matter. This week, Mugabe said he will ignore the election results.Yet the political heat on Mugabe is increasing -- primarily from Europe and theUnited States. The real disappointment is South Africa President Thabo Mbeki.Mbeki was supposed to help "mediate" Zimbabwe's political crisis, but hismediation has been a biased farce in favor ofMugabe.
Why? "Old radical solidarity" is one possible reason. Mbeki's memories ofanti-colonial struggle produce a soft spot for Mugabe. Pray that it's blarney,but this kind of embedded, selfish bitterness from the political past does scarthe present and damage the future. True or not, Mugabe continues to kill andsteal, with obscene impunity.