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Martin LeFevre: The Lessons of Mugabe

Meditations (Spirituality) - From Martin LeFevre in California

The Lessons of Mugabe

The failure of the so-called international community, including African leaders, to stand up to Robert Mugabe, shows how inadequate the 20th century international framework is in a 21st century global society.

A few days before a campaign of state-sponsored terrorism compelled opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai to pull out of the runoff election in Zimbabwe, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda rhetorically asked Mugabe: “Why do you even call for elections? Why don’t you just say, I’m not going anywhere?”

Kagame, who was elected in 2003, led a mostly Tutsi guerilla force from neighboring Burundi that finally halted the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The Clinton Administration, which actively blocked Security Council action, and the United Nations, which spinelessly hid behind bureaucratic procedures as the genocide was occurring, were criminally negligent in their duty to stop the Rwandan genocide.

The inability to recognize evil, and the underestimation of a regime in the grip of it, is the greatest failing of gifted and potentially good world leaders. Such blindness and weakness not only robs them of their decency, it destroys the possibility they have to make a real difference in their countries, and in the world.

Last October, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete told the Financial Times of London: "Mugabe is there. He is president; he has been elected…if Tanzania said, 'You are hopeless! A murderer! A violator of basic human rights!' does that remove Mugabe from office? It doesn't." Instead, Kikwete insists, international powers should throw their weight behind regional diplomatic efforts, which “will pay dividends over time.”

The “softly, softly” approach of backroom negotiations with Mugabe, advocated by President Kikwete (who presently chairs the African Union) and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, has not just utterly failed; it has enabled Mugabe. The Catholic tyrant now says, “Only God will remove me from power.” He’ll soon get his wish, and meet his master in hell.

Canada’s Romeo Dallaire was commander of UN peacekeeping forces during the genocide Rwanda, an experience that seared his soul and stained the human spirit. After being hamstrung by American, European, and UN politics, he said, “We watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.”

Since Rwanda, the world has stood by and watched carnage in the Congo, “slow-motion genocide” in Darfur, and now, strangulation of the people of Zimbabwe. Dallaire’s indictment of the ‘international community’ rings even truer today, especially where Africa is concerned, as weakness and ineffectiveness in the face of evil have become the accepted norm.

What is to be done? Evil grows when it is not confronted. But the devil, being the world’s biggest coward, shrinks when people, especially national and international leaders, stand up to it. And make no mistake, the devil exists, and is man-made.

At a lesser level, the Mugabe mess intensifies already pressing political questions. What does national sovereignty mean in a global society? Can the sovereignty of humanity be given meaning and form?

More specifically, when do national leaders forfeit their right to call the shots in their countries? Is the line drawn at genocide, as in Rwanda, or ethnic cleansing, as in Darfur? What about refusal of international aid after a natural disaster, as in Burma? Finally, what is the level of suffering and slaughter that makes international response not merely a moral choice, but a moral imperative?

You know the international/multilateral system is on its last legs when no less than the Great Underminer, George Bush Junior, absurdly says, “One of the things that I will leave behind is a multilateralism to deal with tyrants, so problems can be solved diplomatically.”

Expecting change to come from ‘the great powers,’ or from within the UN system, is not merely naïve; it has become foolish. A new body is needed to breathe life into moribund international institutions, stiffen the spine of national leaders, and hold them accountable to humanity as a whole.

All peoples are faced with a collapsing international order, utterly lacking in moral compass and genuine leadership. A new component in the world’s political organization can and must be formed, and step into the vacuum.

A non-power-holding Global Council of world citizens in East Africa (specifically Tanzania), the evolutionary birthplace of humankind, is not some utopian dream, but a practical and urgent necessity. With Barack Obama as the US President, it’s also quite possible.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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