David Miller: Better Off Without Mugabe
Why the Commonwealth is better off without Mugabe
Although the departure of Zimbabwe has caused a rift within the Commonwealth and cast a long shadow over the leader’s forum, the organisation should not mourn. Instead, it should accept the reality that it has followed the correct path in this case despite exposing a fault-line that runs throughout the organisation’s membership body. Unfortunately, the issue of Zimbabwe has split the Commonwealth along racial lines and it is distressing that this has occurred, as there is no need. This is not a case of black nations against white, nor those with a colonial past lining up against those who conquered. Instead, it is about a regime that has no respect for the political or human rights of its own citizens and one that is corrupt and it will go to any lengths to hold power.
The Commonwealth is an organisation that is struggling to find a role for itself within the international political system. It is often looked upon as a hangover from Britain’s colonial past. Placed among organisations such as the European Union, NATO and the United Nations, it is often unclear as what role the Commonwealth performs or whether there remains a need for it in the 21st Century. Yet the Commonwealth is important for two reasons. The one organisation transcends Continental borders and allows a significant number of African and Asian nations to interact with states such as Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It may be an outgrowth of colonialism but it remains an important instrument in trade and economic development for all of the countries involved. It promotes democracy and is not bound by regionalism. This sounds very idealistic but the Commonwealth is built upon the principles of democratic government and the rule of law and not under any circumstances can it move away from those values.
Mugabe’s actions are a direct threat to this. He uses the cries of colonialism and racism strictly to his advantage and while there is a need for land redistribution and more equality for all citizens in Zimbabwe, his tactics of enforced banishment and practices of handing the land to his cronies and supporters make a mockery of what he claims he is trying to achieve. The Zimbabweans are suffering due to Mugabe’s actions. Rampant inflation, declining foreign investment and food shortages have led to a severe drop in the living standards of the people there and have led to a thriving black market.
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth is not powerful enough to force change within Zimbabwe or Mugabe from power. Its moral authority will not be a strong enough deterrent. Mugabe may be 79 but he still has a firm grip on the country’s levers of powers and while the police and military remain under his control and states such as Nigeria and South Africa continue to offer support there is little incentive for him to step aside and enter into negotiations with opposition parties. It is likely that Mugabe will seek to hand power over to a trusted deputy who will allow him and his family to live in comfort after he retires and maintain the strict control of the Zanu-PF Party but that he will also hang on until at least 2007 when the next elections are scheduled. Therefore, this is a problem and an issue that will not be overcome for some time and it is one that will continue to haunt the Commonwealth.
Many are simply prepared to lay the blame for this crisis at Britain’s door and look towards the Colonial past as the root of all evils. Colonialism cannot be absolved from all blame but there comes a time when a country must stand on its own feet and accept responsibility for its course and the actions of its leadership. Mugabe and those who support him are responsible for Zimbabwe’s plight and there will be no resolution unless they are prepared to accept change. Therefore, why should the Commonwealth be sired with this problem and why should other nations be made to look as though they are racist and that they to blame? This is why I argue that the Commonwealth should not mourn the departure of Robert Mugabe.