Tuesday, July 01, 2008


African Leaders Share Interest in Ignoring Democracy

Like most Guardian reading left of centre people, I have been infuriated by Mugabe's flagrant and rapacious misrule and hoped that the MDC leader's refusual to stand against the man would shame the African Union into denunciations of an empty and shameful victory. Alas, he seems to have been accepted as a legitimate ruler and Mbeki's pusillanimous appeasement as the correct mode of dealing with a problem which has brought the name of Africa into such disrepute. Why have they not cared about the fate of ordinary Zimbabweans?

To some extent Mugabe's insistence the problems of his country are caused by western colonialists-absurd thought they are- still have some purchase with African leaders. Few bother to strike notes on this outdated drum but they kind of like to hear the old tunes, defiantly hammered out by someone else. There is a valid argument that the regimes in post colonial countries are still relatively new to democracy or even the idea that government should be directed to the betterment of a country's citizens. There is also a powerful argument that western dominated world trade practices discriminate against Africa. But nevertheless too many African nations continue to be ruled by leaders motivated by self rather than society, by personal power rather than democracy.

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been in power for longer than Mugabe; has been regularly returned by unlikely majorities of 90%, and makes life impossible for any political opponent he has not already banned. Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Sudan and Congo are included in this roll of dishonour. I was intrigued to read in Simon Tisdall's Guardian piece today that the state controlled Herald in Harare, dismissed criticisms of the recent elections 'because some of their countries had a worse record'.

This suggests that democratic standards do matter to such countries, even if adherence to them has to be fabricated for appearance sake. Most of these bad regimes feel democracy is sufficiently important to pay lip service to before they they go on to ignore its strictures in power. Indeed in 2007 the African Union passed its Charter on Democracy which outlawed 'illegal means of maintaining power'. So far the African Union's meeting in Egypt has suggested it is a gathering of people with a collective vested interest in vote-rigging, corruption and btutal repression.

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