Friday, September 21, 2007

Sympathy for the devil

People always say that if you live long enough, you'll see everything at least once. Today is one of those days, for today, I have come to defend the honor of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.

OK, perhaps "defend" is a strong word, but I've been following the recent brouhaha surrounding Robert Mugabe's presence, or lack thereof, at a summit of European and African leaders to be held in Lisbon this December. British prime minister Gordon Brown has spared absolutely no effort to inform the press that he intends to boycott the summit if Robert Mugabe attends. Mugabe, whose dislike of the UK knows few boundaries, has gamely shrugged off Brown's threat as political grandstanding. Sadly, Mugabe is absolutely right.

Gordon Brown's decision to treat Robert Mugabe like a radioactive leper is, of course, quite fair. Mugabe is a horrible man, and he's managed to completely destroy Zimbabwe during the nearly 30 years he's been in power. However, I have yet to be able to find a single good reason that Mugabe has been subjected to a level of disgust and scrutiny that the United Kingdom has yet to apply to some of the world's even more notorious dictators. I have been searching in vain, for example, for any boycott threats Brown has made to yesterday's featured dictator, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, or the truly infamous Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

My own opinion of Robert Mugabe has been quite clear. However it much it pains me to do so, though, I will be the first to admit that the UK's rhetoric on Mugabe has become somewhat ... overheated. It would be one thing, I suppose, if Mugabe's notoriety for violence were at issue, but it's not. In fact, when the Mugabe regime carried out the bloody gukurahundi, Zimbabwe's official relations with the United Kingdom were quite good, still basking in the post-colonial glow that claimed Zimbabwe would be the country that proved blacks and whites could live together in harmony on African soil.

While the low level war conducted against one of Zimbabwe's largest ethnic groups for political reasons does not appear to have overly troubled the United Kingdom, Mugabe's utterly scandalous comments about homosexuality appear to have done more damage to Anglo-Zimbabwean relations than the apparently more trivial murder of 30,000 Ndebele in Matabeleland. Yet this can't be the only explanation for Britain's stance on Mugabe either, since no other African dictator has gone on the record to express an even vaguely dissimilar view of homosexuality. Could it have been policy of forcing white farmers off the land? It's possible, but Mugabe and Britain worked as parters on this project before things went sour, and even then, Britain's tone regarding Mugabe wasn't even half as poisonous then as it is today. So what, then?

I'd also love to chalk it up to the sour relationships that develop between former colonies and their former colonial masters, but the theory falls apart when comparing official British government rhetoric about Mugabe to that of Omar al-Bashir. Considering Sudan's rather notorious involvement in Darfur, you'd think that his responsibility in the rape, murder and displacement of millions would generate just a bit more opprobrium than Mugabe ran into for having Morgan Tsvangvirai beat up in prison. Mugabe jailed him, but you can bet that al-Bashir or Obiang Nguema would have ordered Tsvangirai to be shot.

After, Mugabe might be an intractable dictator, but at least since the end of the gukurahundi anyway, he has not been a mass murderer. I wish the entire world would snub Robert Mugabe, but I also wish they'd extend the exact same rhetoric, and the exact same treatment, to dictators who make Robert Mugabe look like a creampuff. Consistency may or may not be the hobgoblin of small minds, it can serve as a checkpoint for keeping things in perspective. Mugabe cannot be compared to the likes of Saddam Hussein, Than Shwe, or Pol Pot, because he's simply not brutal enough. Bad, yes, the worst, no.

So there you have it: a defense, however, weak of Robert Mugabe. I hope I don't ever have to do that ever again.

UPDATE: Comrade Bob may be an asshole, but does he have to make me look like an asshole for sticking up for him one time? No sooner had I finished this post when I learned that Mugabe is withholding water from the city of Bulawayo to punish them for voting against ZANU-PF. Thanks for nothing, Bob.