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Bush should use Zimbabwe as lab for his global policy



Published: Sat, February 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One of the six countries Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently labeled as "outposts of tyranny" will be having a democratic election next month and the world will be watching to see if the Bush's administrations actions will match its words.

After all, Rice took her criticism of Zimbabwe, Cuba, North Korea, Burma, Iran and Belarus a step further by saying, "We cannot rest until every person living in a 'fear society' has fully won their freedom."

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose iron-fisted rule has brought the once rich African nation to its economic knees, wasted little time in thumbing his nose at the new secretary of state, saying, "The white man is the slave master to her."

If the Bush administration is to have any credibility with its foreign policy goal of spreading freedom through democracy around the world, it must become actively engaged in Zimbabwe's election.

The president should lend the United States' support to South Africa, which is attempting to ensure fair elections by sending a top-level mission to the country for a pre-election assessment.

Mugabe, who set March 31 as the date for key parliamentary elections, and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party have been in power since the country's independence in 1980. While the president and his henchmen have consolidated power, largely by clamping down on opposition parties and crushing dissent, the country has suffered. His policy of nationalizing white-owned farms and handing them over to inexperienced black operators has resulted in the destruction of a key component of the country's economy.

Africanization initiatives

That policy and other so-called Africanization initiatives have triggered an exodus of educated, experienced workers. And yet, Mugabe has been able to not only remain in power, but to tighten his grip on the nation's treasury.

Political and human rights are non-existent, and the once wealthy nation has been reduced to a state of ruin, desolation and isolation.

Against this backdrop, next month's parliamentary elections will be a joke shared by the Bush administration's "outposts of tyranny" unless the world community steps in and ensures that the opposition parties are free to campaign and that the restrictions Mugabe and his thugs placed on voters in the past are lifted.

The Southern African Development Community had wanted to send in a team to assess whether the electoral guidelines it had developed were in place in Zimbabwe, but this week Mugabe told the SADC the team would only be permitted to be a part of the regional bloc's poll observer team.

In other words, in the weeks leading up to the election there will be nothing to stop the president and his ruling party from so intimidating the voters that only his supporters show up at the polls.

As the historic election in Iraq demonstrated, turnout depends on how safe people feel on election day. The assurances given by the Bush administration that the insurgents would not disrupt the voting, and the actions taken by American troops to secure the polling places, contributed to the success of Iraq's election.

The people of Zimbabwe, whose lives have been destroyed by a megalomaniac, deserve no less.

If nothing else, Mugabe's reaching out to the rulers of Iran should be a red flag for the Bush administration.




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