Airstrip One
by Emmanuel Goldstein

January 14, 2002

Back to Africa
The war drums are starting to beat

It may seem strange to take a break from the war in the Middle East, but there is another fight squaring up – this time in Africa. In Zimbabwe, a fight is developing, and it is one that doesn't concern us.


Mugabe's gone "bonkers in a big way" according to Bishop Tutu, the anti-apartheid veteran. It is hard to argue with this verdict, Mugabe really does seem to have lost the plot. The opposition was hopeful that they would overthrow Mugabe in the forthcoming election, and now Mugabe seems to agree. He has refused access to foreign election monitors, tried to close down the independent press and according to the (London) Sunday Telegraph – an admittedly unreliable source on foreign news – has recruited 100,000 thugs to stop free voting. It's not pleasant.


Furthermore, the Army has said that it will not back anyone who has not "fought in the liberation struggle", code for anyone not called Mugabe. This may be out of residual loyalty to a comrade in arms, perhaps purely obeying orders from their ultimate boss, but most likely out of a genuine desire to keep their lucrative diamond contracts in the Congo. The lower ranks are not nearly as keen on a bush war they barely remember or diamond deals that they never benefit from. Moreover, South Africa is not happy either. It is therefor unlikely that the military really could keep out a democratically elected government; however, the threat has been made and that is enough.


One of the fond ideas of the west is that the opposition will usher in an era of democracy. This is of course highly unlikely. The recent elections in neighbouring Zambia stand testament to this. Here elections were won by the government amid accusations of ballot rigging, and a previous president had been detained without trial. The governing party? The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, which shares more similarities with Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change than near-identical names. They are both pro-western, friendly to foreign investors and have a big input from Trade Unions. Replacing Mugabe will not in itself make Zimbabwe democratic.


In Britain, the right has also gone bonkers in a big way. Simon Heffer, Enoch Powell's biographer, wrote yesterday "Mugabe invites comparison with Hitler". To anyone but a holocaust denier this is patent nonsense. Mugabe has not invaded any of his neighbours and has not tried to exterminate a race of people. He is a ruthless and corrupt politician, no more and no less. The interventionist right has its own reasons for calling for tough measures on Mugabe. To many of the die-hard tradition on the right, Zimbabwe is the business of Britain; it was in the Empire. Is it, however, in Britain's interests to run its foreign policy on the basis that its flag flew over it thirty-seven years ago? It is about time that the right started thinking in terms of national interest rather than national glory.


The role of the European Union is crucial here. It is the European Union that has been pushing for its monitors to oversee the elections, and it has been the EU that has threatened sanctions. It is also the EU that has been holding sinister sounding "talks" with Zimbabwe. Eighteen months ago Britain prepared an invasion force under EU command to go into Zimbabwe. Connected?


The fact is that Zimbabwe is irrelevant to our national interests. Mugabe may believe that we are at war with him, but that is no reason to be at war. There are a large number of British passport holders in Zimbabwe, but the country has been out of our control for thirty-five years. If we have an influx of resourceful immigrants who will integrate in a generation, is that anything to worry about? The fate of Congo diamonds or Rhodesian tobacco is not going to affect us (although some British businesses don't agree), nor is the fate of a landlocked country in a continent of no concern to us. If South Africa goes in, as the American ex-Africa hand Chester Crocker suggests, so much the better, but unlike Britain South Africa has real strategic interests in the country. This needs to be resisted. Africa did not want us to stay, and it should deal with its own mess.

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