Ground Zimbabwe's Jet-Setting Despots
Ground Zimbabwe's Jet-Setting Despots
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Ground Zimbabwe's Jet-Setting Despots

The most closely watched foreign politician in Zimbabwe these days is not some high official in Africa or the former colonial power, Great Britain. It is Slobodan Milosevic, ex-president of Serbia, now awaiting trial by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Milosevic's fate gives hope to Zimbabweans that their own president, Robert Mugabe, will one day answer for his deeds -- that dictators can be overthrown without bloodshed and that civil society can prevail over a despot.

Just as Comrade Slobo thought the whole world was anti-Serbian, so too does Comrade Bob accuse the whole world of being anti-Zimbabwean. And just as with Milosevic, Mugabe's excesses -- human rights violations, lack of rule of law, economic decline and state-sponsored terrorism -- threaten to plunge his country into civil war.

Mugabe, who has been in office for 21 years, has so far paid no heed to criticism coming from the United Nations human rights commissioner ("deeply concerned") or the (former British) Commonwealth ("concerned that problems continue"), or to the straightforward words from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about "totalitarian methods."

When groups of citizens gathered here Aug. 4 to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe, Mugabe's minister of information, Jonathan Moyo, called the participants "mercenaries" and "a bunch of sellouts." When the judiciary tries to oppose the most outrageous actions by authorities, be it violating the law on airwaves, rigging elections or unlawfully occupying farms, the government ignores the Supreme Court rulings. It has even forced the chief justice to resign and packed the Supreme Court with three new judges.

When the local press writes stories that are unwelcome, the printing or editorial offices are bombed and journalists are tortured. Foreign journalists who are too critical get expelled, or their accreditation is not renewed; there is now screening of journalist visa applicants.

Is there any way to get Mugabe to change course and spare his country more suffering? There is one certain way to at least show him clearly that he is persona non grata in democratic company, and here again the example of Yugoslavia is relevant. What's needed are targeted sanctions aimed at Mugabe and his close circle of collaborators in the government and in the ruling ZANU-PF party.

The International Crisis Group proposed in two reports last year that other nations "isolate senior government and ZANU-PF leaders by declining to receive them abroad; stop visa issuance to senior officials." In our report issued last month we enlarged this recommendation: "impose travel restrictions on most senior and responsible Zimbabwean government officials and their families and request endorsement by the U.N. Security Council."

The Zimbabwe Democracy Act, which was passed by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 2 and is now going to the House, orders implementation of "travel and economic sanctions" against those responsible for the deliberate breakdown of the rule of law, politically motivated violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe, "and their associates and families."

As in Serbia, the targeted sanctions would be more effective if adopted by more countries than just the United States -- say, the European Union and, if possible, the Commonwealth, or at least some of its member states.

The sanctions should cover travel and stay permits for extended family members (the only exceptions should be for openly estranged family members). No more shopping sprees at Harrod's for Grace Mugabe, the young wife of the 77-year-old leader, no more lovely escapades for Comrade Moyo to his house in Johannesburg, no more dreams of finishing at a school in Switzerland for the daughter of Solomon Mujuru, ZANU-PF Politburo member. Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa would have to remove his son Kangai from that school in the United States.

If the comrades who wage war on their own people don't hear the voices of international organizations or their own public opinion, they might listen to the voices of their sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, suddenly angry because they are unwelcome abroad or because they have lost a precious fellowship or a chance to get a prestigious diploma from a foreign academy.

There are far too many Zimbabweans who, because of the policies of Mugabe and his coterie, are losing much more -- their lives, health or livelihood. A simple travel ban would not cure all the ills of Zimbabwe, but it would be a step in the right direction.

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