If Mugabe were white, there would be more ouitrage

Nicholas Kristof:


When the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith oppressed Zimbabweans in the 1970s, African countries rallied against it. Eventually, even the white racist government in South Africa demanded change and threatened to cut off electricity supplies if it didn’t happen.

Yet South African President Thabo Mbeki continues to make excuses for Mr. Mugabe — who is more brutal than Ian Smith ever was — out of misplaced deference for a common history in the liberation struggle. Zimbabweans suffered so much for so many decades from white racism that the last thing they need is excuses for Mr. Mugabe’s brutality because of his skin color.


When I grew up in the 1970s, a central truth was that Ian Smith was evil and Mr. Mugabe heroic. So it was jolting on my last visit to Zimbabwe, in 2005, to see how many Zimbabweans looked back on oppressive white rule with nostalgia. They offered a refrain: “Back then, at least parents could feed their children.”

Africa’s rulers often complain, with justice, that the West’s perceptions of the continent are disproportionately shaped by buffoons and tyrants rather than by the increasing number of democratically elected presidents presiding over 6 percent growth rates. But as long as African presidents mollycoddle Mr. Mugabe, they are branding Africa with his image.


The solution is for leaders at the African Union summit this week to give Mr. Mugabe a clear choice.

One option would be for him to “retire” honorably — “for health reasons” after some face-saving claims of heart trouble — at a lovely estate in South Africa, taking top aides with him. He would be received respectfully and awarded a $5 million bank account to assure his comfort for the remainder of his days.

The other alternative is that he could dig in his heels and cling to power. African leaders should make clear that in that case, they will back an indictment of him and his aides in the International Criminal Court. Led by the Southern African Development Community, the world will also impose sanctions against Mr. Mugabe’s circle and cut off all military supplies and spare parts. Mozambique, South Africa and Congo will also cut off the electricity they provide to Zimbabwe.


In a 1987 essay in Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mugabe called on the U.S. to impose sanctions on white-ruled South Africa for engaging in a “vicious and ugly civil war” against its own people. Mr. Mugabe demanded that the world “accept the value of sanctions as a means of raising the cost” of brutal misrule.

If only Mr. Mugabe were a white racist! Then the regional powers might stand up to him. For the sake of Zimbabweans, we should be just as resolute in confronting African tyrants who are black as in confronting those who are white.

I don't think he will take the deal. He could have had that after the first election and chose to pass mainly because the thugs around him want to stay in power. It is they who have pushed this runoff fiasco and they who have insisted that Mugabe be reelected so they can stay in power. There are reports that Mugabe will leave shortly after the election anyway and hand the office to one of his cronies so that the thugocracy stays in place. There is no reason to be optimistic about Zimbabwe reacting to diplomatic means.


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