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Editorial

Zimbabwe Votes

Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page A14

IT'S EASY TO SEE why Zimbabwe's Archbishop Pius Ncube calls for a "people power" uprising in his country. The parliamentary elections on Thursday have been rigged so comprehensively that it's unlikely President Robert Mugabe will be unseated no matter how much his 25 years in office have harmed his countrymen. At least 1 million of the 5.7 million names on Zimbabwe's voter rolls are thought to be fictitious; the ballot boxes are made of transparent plastic; the polling stations will be run by pro-Mugabe thugs from his security forces. The campaign, though less violent than some previously, has featured brutal intimidation. People have been told that districts that support the opposition will be denied food distributions, a potent threat in a country where one-third of the population is on the verge of hunger. The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been forced to defend himself against treason charges, and recently more than 200 of his supporters were arrested after attending his rallies. "I hope that people get so disillusioned that they really organize against the government and kick him out by a nonviolent, popular, mass uprising," Archbishop Ncube told a South African newspaper over the weekend.

If brave Zimbabweans can be that outspoken, the question is why other African leaders are not. South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has talked grandly of a new African determination to create fairer and more honest government, and this determination is cited by Africa boosters who want rich countries to come up with extra aid. Zimbabwe is a model not only of bad government but also of its consequences: Over the past five years, the economy has contracted by a third; inflation has hit three digits; and some 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated in search of work. Yet Mr. Mbeki refuses to criticize Mr. Mugabe publicly, even though he has the power to switch off his northern neighbor's electricity. To the contrary, Mr. Mbeki has announced that he is confident Zimbabwe's elections will be fair.


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This refusal to recognize an obvious problem, analogous to Mr. Mbeki's earlier refusal to acknowledge the threat to his people from the AIDS virus, should not be politely ignored by Western donors, notably the British government. The British are leading the international charge for expanded aid for Africa this year; they want assistance to double immediately and eventually to triple. In making the case for this expansion, the British are happy to present the democratic leaders of South Africa and Nigeria as evidence that democracy is taking root on the continent and that Africans are doing their part to tackle their own problems. But Mr. Mbeki's position on Zimbabwe makes it hard to take him seriously as a force for broader political reform in Africa. If Britain wants other donors to accept the idea that Africa deserves more aid, it should tell South Africa's leader to make good on his rhetoric about good governance by condemning a fraudulent vote in Zimbabwe.


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