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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Does Africa need lessons in democracy?
UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has vowed to increase pressure on Zimbabwe to hold free and fair elections, and criticised its president, Robert Mugabe.
As this is a hot topic at this weeks EU-Africa summit, what do you think? Is the West justified in its criticism?
B.O.Osah, Nigerian in Germany
It is so easy to be carried away by sensational events only to forget fundamental issues. Is it vengeance against former colonialists or is it really white farmers only that fell victim to this move? Perhaps we could agree that land redistribution per se may not solve the social, economic and political problem of Zimbabwe. I am sure you will come up with a fairer and sustainable solution.
Gillian Guy, UK
It's about time Zimbabwe stopped harping on about what a rough deal it had under British rule, ask the people who were there during British rule and they will tell you that it was an up and coming country, not the downwardly spiralling dictatorship, spouting racist and anti-British propaganda it is now
The British Government should back right off and let the UN deal with Mugabe, they should not just shout slogans but should actively redirect all efforts in a way which Mugabe cannot manipulate them for his own purposes.
It is hard to understand how a man who fought so hard to bring democracy to Zimbabwe can also be doing so much damage to his own people.
Sue, South Africa
The problem in Zimbabwe is really due to the economic pressures in the country. As a Zimbabwean I know what the solution is, it is best for us Africans to be taught i.e. show how to run our countries. The truth is as soon as Zimbabwe gets a new president, the president will just be the same as the present one, corrupt! It will be a vicious circle. We definitely need to understand the term democracy...trust me it's the only way, besides our families who are suffering, they have the power to change the current system.
Corruption is the bane of a continent that is so rich in human and natural resources. It is sad that most African leaders are despots; nutrition, education etc. are not priorities - only personal gain is important to these folks.
The sickening situation in Zimbabwe calls for the international community help in vanquishing the forces of evil prevailing in once the most promising African nation. The more this time bomb is allowed to tick the more human abuses will mature.
When British Asians were driven out of Uganda during Idi Amin's rule, their property was shared among Ugandans who had no prior ideas on how to run the businesses. What happened thereafter is that the economy of Uganda collapsed. Is Mr Robert Mugabe sure this will not happen to his country?
Mark Nielson, Zimbabwe
It's sad and shocking to read that, while ordinary Africans are looking for support in their struggle against the excesses of repressive, corrupt governments, some of the contributors below are prepared to defend the oppressors rather than the oppressed - as long as the oppressors aren't white.
Despite what Mugabe and the war veterans appear on the surface to be trying to achieve, the sad reality of the situation is that the "average" Zimbabwean who needs it most stands to end up losing from this short sighted and corrupt fiasco. After the dust settles on this issue; once existing and future foreign investors have been scared away, once hard working black farm labourers and their families have been displaced from their homes, once white Zimbabweans who are a vital source of employment have been ostracised, Mugabe will have proven once again that he has never had any real commitment to bettering the lives of the majority of this beautiful, promising and once peaceful country.
Kenya, United States
The whites in Zimbabwe have until now tried to be apolitical. The farm invasions and the racist attacks on whites by Mugabe supporters have forced them to get down off the fence. They are now real Africans and real Zimbabweans.
Lessons are more or less useless. Mugabe and similar African leaders such as Arap Moi are following a time-proven and even logical policy which is underlined by a (often justifiable) belief that loss of power is equivalent to personal (and tribal etc.) annihilation. The West should establish a consortium between banks, NGOs and governments that would scrutinise corrupt politicians and have the power to seize their assets and/or personal freedom should they abuse their power too egregiously. Aid should stop (why does UK continue delivering military spares to Zimbabwe? This is plain silly). And, on the contrary, good behaviour should be rewarded.
Ndabeni Madadeni, Zimbabwe
I am not sure if democracy is the beginning and end of everything desirable. It has been proven time and again that well-defined property rights, economic freedoms, and a strong judicial system for complaints and redress goes a long way in making a country prosperous. This one man/party feature of many African countries occurs because of the lack of all the above features. Get them in place and in time such "Dictatorships" will disappear.
We need no lessons.
The problems Zimbabwe is facing are historical and can be traced back to the colonial rule by the British in this country. The reaction of the British government, press and public is more to do with the fact that now the whites are at the receiving end. Look at yourselves first because you are worse than Mugabe.
We live in a global family and so we as humans need each other. Mr Mugabe is wrong. What he is doing is taking food out of his people's mouths. Who is going to manage or control those farms so that they can be productive and feed people. Are they going to be turned into productive farms or what. African nations know what democracy is.
The age of colonialism is surely over. It is only fair that if it is not possible for a person from Zimbabwe to come to the UK and buy land and settle here then a person from the UK should not be able to go to Zimbabwe and buy land and settle there. I hope the white settlers of Zimbabwe will return to their own countries; unwelcome settlers in this country are detained and removed, bound and gagged.
How can a country responsible for colonialism come back and lecture African leaders about democracy.
The British are responsible for more suffering in Africa than all the African Dictators put together.
Effort should be made to protect justice - equality for all - not democracy. Modern day democracy is laced with hypocrisy, injustice, deprivation, neglect, thievery and sheer arrogance. Democracy should come from within, not trusted, enforced or from afar. It should ensure equity, not divide and conquer.
African leaders are totally right! People's health, nutrition, and education should be a priority over human rights and good government. Human rights will come with improved education.
The absence of interest in African issues throughout the entire Danish press makes it hard for the people of my country to comprehend the seriousness of the situations like the current trouble in Zimbabwe. We get plenty of coverage from the traditional hotspots in Europe and the Middle East, but where are the foreign correspondents, when we need them to land in Harare.
Mugabe has gone too far this time. The dictator of twenty years has now singled out a small hard working minority to pin all the country's problems on that he had a hand in creating. This is no different than the racism that blacks and immigrants face in the U.S. and Europe and is justifiably criticised. But because the victims here are whites, everyone remains mute. These are people who were born in the country and are citizens of Zimbabwe, why should they be treated like second class citizens. Zimbabwe should be put under sanctions and its foreign assets seized to pay for any land that Mugabe's cronies decide to take over.
I think the western world is taking the easy way out in proposing a solution to the numerous African problems. Africans could hold democratic elections today, but the only thing we will end up with are quasi one-party states and dictators. If the west want a true democracy in Africa, they should help Africa educate its people, provide better health care and sufficient food for all, and a true democracy will follow in due time.
It does not matter what colour a farmer is, throughout the world commercial farmers own large tracts of the MOST FERTILE land, this is what provides the nations with food. Subsistence farming has never been proved to sustain a nation. With time the balance will change and black people will take to farming.
Nigel Gaylard, UK (ex Zimbabwe)
Zimbabwe got what it wanted years ago; independence from Britain. I find it quite ironic that this far down the line Mr Mugabe wants Britain to compensate the farmers whose land he wishes to confiscate to line the pockets of his own hangers-on.
As a former officer in the Rhodesian Army circa 1974-75 I am somewhat familiar with the problems in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has done an excellent job of following in the footsteps of oh so may other Black African Dictators who were initially elected Prime Minister/President at the outset of independent home rule and rapidly descended into the quagmire of "one man, one vote,"
who decided that the president business was really quite alright and that he would be staying on for a while and is next seen as "president for life".
Yes if there is democracy and good
governance in Africa I think food
won't continue to be an issue.
It is true that it is hard to accept that .6% of Zimbabweans (whether they are white or black ) would own 75% of the land but isn't it surprising that Mugabe has waited for more than twenty years to try to address this issue? Isn't it irresponsible for a head of state to so brazenly refuse to make law and order prevail in his own country and threaten to wreak havoc if the rule of law was to be enforced?
How can we explain the fact that after Zimbabwe became independent with the help of the European countries (whether we like it our not the victory of the Zapu and Zanu was made possible because of foreign support) Mugabe's first action was to impose a single party rule, thus denying the war veterans he is so hypocritically using today, the possibility to control their own future?
Issa Oumar Basse, Senegalese in the USA
Democracy can only come from an educated leadership who care more for their country than for their wallets. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the like in Africa (yet). I don't think this is something that can be "taught" cause it will always be the morons who pick up guns, overthrow governments (who probably do need overthrowing) and then create the same government they overthrew but in a different shade of colour.
Mugabe's ZANU (PF) is facing the same problems as Kohl's CDU and Major's Conservative party - how do you avoid complacency, stagnation & sleaze after more than 15 years in power?
The time has come for comrade Mugabe to step down as Zimbabwe President for the sake of prosperity. He cannot go on denying any longer the fact that his country's masses want an ever-lasting economic and political change. It's time for him to learn from the likes of the Honorable's Nelson Mandela and Ketumile Masire who stepped down when their time arrived.
The honourable Mr. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, like Malcom-X is one of the presidents who have managed to go his own way without dancing to the tune of any western countries. The western world is jealous of Mugabe because they had interests of gaining diamonds in the DR Congo. If the countries like USA sent troops to Iraq which is in another continent, why is it wrong for Mr Mugabe to help his friends in the DR Congo. The western world should stop bullying small African nations simply because they are poor.
Who failed whom? If we talk of democracy in the 21st Century, what was the legacy of the colonial masters who now pontificate on the issue? And how come it is mainly Zimbabwean whites who have the right to a British visa? The chickens always go home to roost in the right nest - it is time we saw a black destiny in every decision we make. Mugabe may have his faults but sometimes the man has a point.
On the day that there were demonstrations in Zimbabwe there were also demonstrations in the UK, yet Robin Cook chose to harp on the demonstrations in far away Zimbabwe. The white people in Zimbabwe owning over 80% of fertile land - a colonial legacy - are British descendants. Britain is ready to give homes to 300 000 of them in case it becomes necessary. Why does Britain not offer residence and work permits to 300 000 African Zimbabweans, so that they would not need to fight for land on which to grow food to eat?
Who do we think we are telling them how to run their country?
And, given Phony Tony's track record in democracy (eg the devolution/London mayor processes), who is he to preach about democracy?
It is just like Mr Gaddaffi said: What Africa needs are waterpumps. If you are having a hard time feeding your kids and yourself, democracy might be a minor priority.
Zimbabwe has a big problem right now and it has nothing to do with whether or not we are aware of the definition of democracy. Maybe we have the solution to our own problems this time. Everyone in this country turned up to register to vote in the forthcoming elections, and we are all going to vote against tyranny. It is not time for lessons, it is time for action.
It not fair for the UK to always blow out of proportion any problems experienced in developing countries.
Dan Tesh, Australia
In the late 1980s it was estimated that the sum total of funds sitting in the Swiss bank accounts of Nigerian politicians was equivalent to the entire external debt of that country. Similar situations for certain exist with other African countries. And yet these leaders cry - send more money!
It has been proven that financial assistance in the past has been largely misappropriated by the Government. Nothing will change whilst Mugabe retains control.
The "Food" will never reach the "peoples plates".
Mugabe has betrayed his own, and now he is acting like a despot. Not for much longer - Zimbabweans will take their land back.
I am an African and am saddened by the conduct of much of the leadership across the continent. If one were to be really honest, one would have to admit that our peoples of generally much worse off under 40 years of African leadership than they were under colonialism. The reason is very simple: corrupt leaders, operating in environments where the rule of law is absent, and the salutary effects of political competition which democracy brings is non-existent.
It is both short sighted and wrong to blame the West for all the ills of the third world. That would be too simplistic. How would nations be able to solve the problems for the future by passing the buck, so to speak, on past (colonial) administrations, without taking into account the problems that need to be solved in the present administration?
AH , UK ex Zimbabwe
The UK is to blame for the current situation in Zimbabwe. While I do not condone Mugabe's stance, it's amazing to think that there are 20000 British passport holders in the former colony and that the majority of them own the 4500 farms targeted for confiscation. The only reason the British government has reacted to this is because it affects white people. What about the aborigines in Australia? What is being done for them? Just remember us British opened the first concentration camps in South Africa and created many problems under the Empire and YES we are responsible for all of this.
I think the world community has a role to play in Africa. There is no reason why the world should stand aside and watch the callous disregard for the law and democracy that is going on Zimbabwe. Mugabe is one mad dog and he needs to get his shots once in a while, otherwise the rest of Zimbabwe and Southern Africa will catch rabies.
Roy Chapman, UK / Germany
Mugabe is not interested at all in democracy, his 'people' or his country. All he is bothered about is keeping his cushy number going and to hell with the rest of it. When he has finally bankrupted the country no doubt he will again be there with the begging bowl. Which will be quite a joke for a man who has grown rich while watching his people descend into poverty.
I can only agree wholeheartedly with what Marcus ter Haar has said. Africans do indeed know what democracy is, and are doing quite well at it. Mugabe should be aware that his people will not stand for his ways much longer - and similarly Mr Cook should be aware that they are a proud nation who definitely know their rights and do not need to be lectured to, that will only increase the animosity towards England. As all the others have stated too, "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones".
Andrew Brown, UK
Today Zimbabwe, tomorrow South Africa? Africa's "leaders" are nothing but egocentric elitists concerned with nothing but personal gain. When they ruin their nations, the rest of the world is blamed. It's tragic to see the African people suffer, but it seems that what we see today is a return to conditions that facilitated colonialism to begin with.
Democratic countries have two powerful ways to deal with inequities - a justice system that works and people who say enough is enough. Many African countries don't have either. We need to strongly support those African leaders who are committed to democracy and the rights of the individual. It's not an overnight event. As for the "gimme me more" mentality of some African leaders - it is beyond the pale that the West continues to pour money into countries where natural resources are diverted or misused by corrupt leaders. How about tying aid to reform and then actually following up to see if it is happening.
Ross Hargreaves, UK
Not only UK needs lessons but all the West┐The Western Democracy shouldn't be the Global model for the rest of the world. Third World needs a kind of democracy but it badly needs food and mercy. I strongly support Mugabe.
Of course Britain has the right to criticise, what's the alternative? To sit back and watch an escalation of human rights atrocities? In the long term, continual abuses of human rights will lead to coups and bloodshed. It's happened before and will happen again.
Even being as open minded as possible and accepting that western societies may not provide good examples and may even, to some extent be found culpable in any examination of the root cause of African political ineptitude.
However it must be said African politics and politicians seem to be the cause of many of the problems afflicting the Continent such as poverty, disease and war.
There is more democracy in Zimbabwe than the UK.
Just because there are small problems is no excuse to hit the country hard.
It is arrogance to assume that just because our democracy does not conform to British ideological democracy, that we are not democratic.
I shan't mention Stephen Lawrence and the lack of action of the British police to this day. Is that democracy?
Ray Marsh, Australia
Centuries ago, the Stuart's relinquished their divine right to rule England; it is amazing to hear from the Anglo-Saxon tribes of this world that they are the repository of all morals, all ethics, scruples, democracy & freedom & that they have the unique right to tell the rest of the world how to conduct themselves. Just as the innocent bystander had to tell the emperor that he had no clothes on, the British have to be told that they have no moral or ethical clothes to drape themselves with.
Poor governance and corruption are two of the main reasons why many Africans do not have food on their plates today after decades of assistance. The sooner democratic institutions & good governance are established the quicker ordinary Africans will see benefits from new investments and loans instead of these funds going to the Swiss bank accounts of despotic leaders such as Mugabe.
The question arises, are dictatorships or democratic governments more likely to supply the bread? Abuse of human rights leads to conflict, which does not help put bread on the table.
OUR government needs lessons.
You have to look no further than the UK to find ballot rigging and truth twisting. Therefore, who is Robin Cook to lecture anyone on fair elections and democracy?
Alex Sanger, UK
Africa knows what democracy is.
While Zimbabwe is embroiled in constitutional
and civil crisis, take the time to look
across it's borders. Namibia enjoys a democratic and
peaceful existence. Botswana similarly, boasting the oldest
democracy in Africa. NO attention needs to be brought to
South Africa. Leadership like Mugabes will not endure in Africa
much longer. Africans are beginning to see that they do not need
to accept despotic rule. It will become a common thing for
everyday Africans to stand up to and reject non democratic institutions.
The Zimbabwe crisis will teach many Africans elsewhere that Democracy
is not an impossible ideal. Africans know what democracy is and are
learning their rights, the future looks promising
03 Apr 00 | Africa
Mugabe faces rough ride
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