Thursday, 5 June 2008

Zimbabwe: what will it take for Africa to intervene?

Today's news that British and American diplomats have been attacked by Robert Mugabe's thugs and yesterday's that opposition leader Morgan Tsangvirai was detained indicates just how desperate the mad tyrant is to maintain his hold on power in Zimbabwe.

This is a man who has run his country into the ground, is starving his own people, kills, tortures and beats political opponents and now attacks foreign diplomats.

It is a shame that the Bush/Blair misadventure in Iraq has given such a bad name to the idea of liberal intervention (the idea that humanitarian abuses can justify the use of military force to topple a tyrant). It seems to me that Zimbabwe ought to be a prime candidate for such intervention.

However, it's highly unlikely that such intervention will take place. Firstly, it would have to be done under the auspices of the UN and there is no sign that it is willing to get involved in such a way. Secondly, if such military action did take place, it could not be led by western powers such as Britain or the USA, otherwise there would be an uproar from African nations, with justifiable accusations of colonialism.

Any action would have to be led by African nations themselves, following the example of Tanzania's removal of Idi Amin from power in Uganda. African countries should realise that regimes like Mugabe's reinforce the (inaccurate) image of Africa as a whole as a 'basket case'. It is in their interest to remove Mugabe from power as soon as possible. However, many other African countries still bizarrely see Mugabe as a hero, for his role in ending British colonial rue in his country.

Now, maybe the run-off election later this month will succeed in removing Mugabe. Maybe, but I'm not confident, given the brutality his regime has shown in suppressing opposition to him. But if Mugabe is not removed by peaceful means, the question then arises: what will it actually take for other African countries to take action?

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