As an African, I am happy to see that the West is beginning to question its easy tolerance of misrule, human rights violations and autocracy in Africa. Chester Crocker is quite right to point out that for too long, "diplomats of East and West, international civil servants and nongovernmental groups" colluded in legitimizing autocracy and misrule in Africa, behaving "as if it would be unfair, impolite or downright dangerous to expect African systems of governance to meet universal norms" {"Supporting Africa's Winners," op-ed, May 24}.

How do we proceed, now that we are quite properly raising the question of democracy in Africa? The suggestions in Mr. Crocker's piece are worrying, all the more because they are so familiar.

First, Mr. Crocker suggests that the way to proceed is to support the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and the World Bank that "are vital to the liberation of market forces, which, in turn, represent building blocks of a pluralist democracy." This is a dangerous confusion. These programs have contributed a great deal to autocratic rule in Africa. As was the case in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Brazil and Argentina, they have to come after political liberalization, not before. The programs engender so much hardship and conflict that they can only be implemented with a great deal of consultation and consensus or a great deal of coercion. Implementing them in Africa's autocratic systems has meant more coercion.

Second, it is worrying to hear in these times echoes of the old paternalistic quibbles: vigorous support of democracy in Africa will hurt Africans (it is not hurting European, but that's different); we do not want "to create chaos and greater misery by pulling the economic plug on political grounds." It is a short walk from here to the customary accommodation with tyranny and an easy escape from the one important contribution the West can make to democracy in Africa namely, taking Africans seriously enough to treat them like everyone else. CLAUDE AKE Guest Research Fellow, The Brookings Institution Washington

With his return to academia, Chester Crocker seems to have lost touch with reality, as evidenced by his recent op-ed article "Supporting Africa's Winners."

According to Mr. Crocker, "no African state experienced the totalitarian Marxism of Stalin," and those Marxist leaders who did exist "tended toward the Yves St. Laurent variety." This is an unbelievable description of the Marxist Mengistu regime in Ethiopia.

From the moment Haile Mariam Mengistu came to power after overthrowing Haile Selassie to date, his brutal regime has emulated that of Stalin's. Initially, there was the wholesale slaughter of professionals, intellectuals, students and Social Democrats in the months following the revolution. This was followed by assassinations, executions and purges of the military officer corp of those who disagreed with Col. Mengistu's policies of total war in Eritrea. More recently, there has been the forced relocation -- accompanied by starvation and death -- of peasant farmers from traditionally fertile areas to barren sections of the country.

Today the Mengistu regime continues to use withholding of food as a weapon against the helpless civilian populations of Eritrea and Tigray. One wonders where Mr. Crocker, as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1981 to 1989, has been for the past 10 years while Col. Mengistu's atrocities have been documented by humanitarian agencies and foreign governments alike with representation in Ethiopia.

Mr. Crocker's main thesis, that democracy in Africa is developing, may be true, but it is certainly not due to American foreign policy. In Ethiopia, the advent of democracy will come about as a result of the tremendous sacrifices made by the Eritreans and the Tigrayans who have fought the Mengistu regime in the absence of any noticeable support from Western democracies. In other countries, age is simply catching up with dictators who have been in power for decades.

One hopes that the Bush administration will recognize the same urgent needs and devote the same resources to the development of democracy in Africa as it has to Eastern Europe. MARTIN R. GANZGLASS Washington