Saving Zimbabwe is not colonialism

In one of his last actions as the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair visited Africa to defend his ‘thoroughly interventionist’ foreign policy towards the continent. At the end of his trip, at a press conference with South African President Thabo Mbeki, the PM admitted that when it came to the issue of Zimbabwe, only local pressure would do the job. “An African solution,” he said, “is needed to this African problem.” Yet as the BBC’s Sue Lloyd-Roberts demonstrated so vividly in a remarkable piece of TV journalism, Zimbabwe cannot any more be seen as an African problem — it is a humanitarian disaster.

The statistics alone are devastating: the average life expectancy for women in Zimbabwe is 34 years; for men, it is 37. Inflation rages at 8,000%, the shelves are empty of bread and maize in the hospitals and clinics, children die for lack of vitamins, food and medicine, while the ravages of AIDS are exacerbated by government indifference.

In the cramped townships now home to those supporters of the opposition whose homes Mugabe destroyed in a frenzy of destruction called ‘Clean Out the Filth’, there is no electricity or fresh running water and sewage spews out of the dilapidated buildings. The first cholera deaths were reported last week.

The time has come for PM Gordon Brown, who has already shown himself to be an African interventionist through his work at the UN in favour of the people of Darfur, finally to slay the ghosts of Britain’s colonialist past by thoroughly revising foreign policy towards Zimbabwe and to lead the way in co-ordinating an international response.

The time for ‘African solutions’ alone is now over. Despite his best efforts, President Mbeki has failed to help the people of Zimbabwe. At best, he has been ineffectual in his efforts to advise, cajole and persuade Robert Mugabe to reverse his unjust and brutal regime. At worst, Mbeki is complicit in his failing to lead the charge against a neighbour who is raping the country he leads. Britain needs to escape from its colonial guilt when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is the worst kind of racist dictator. Having targeted the whites for their apparent riches, Mugabe has enacted an awful Orwellian vision, with the once oppressed taking on the role of the oppressor and glorying in their totalitarian abilities.

Like Idi Amin before him in Uganda, Mugabe has rallied a country against its former colonial master only to destroy it through a dictatorial fervour. Enemies are tortured, the press is censored, the people are starving and meanwhile the world waits for South Africa to intervene. That time is now over.

Blair’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ is a long-forgotten memory, sacrificed upon an invasion undertaken without UN sanction. In its place, his successor, with his record on debt erosion and activism across Africa, is faced with a spiralling desperation that demands a response. While Mugabe may well brand Brown a ‘colonialist’ or ‘imperialist’ for any action he takes, the people of Zimbabwe look to us, and to others, to heed their cries and the voices of our own conscience.

As someone who went on countless marches to campaign for the ending of Ian Smith’s UDI and apartheid, I am deeply ashamed by what Sue Lloyd-Roberts reported last week. We now all know. We cannot look the other way on Zimbabwe. Enough is enough. — The Guardian