Sunday, April 01, 2007

Does a country deserve the leaders it gets?

I am more than disheartened by the disasterous leadership shown in many African countries. African post-colonial history is littered with civil wars (Rwanda, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Angola, Sierra Leone), straight-forward madness (Idi Amin) as well as sheer ignorance (Yahya Jammeh, the president of The Gambia, is currently promoting a herbal remedy for AIDS/HIV!).

Right now Zimbabwe is being dragged further into the abyss of destruction by President Robert Mugabe. Since 1980 he has held onto power and, combining poor economic decisions with violent corruption, he has wasted the future of the country.

Mugabe, 83, has been Zimbabwe's only ruler since it achieved independence from Britain 27 years ago.

Mugabe, blames the West for his mess

Under his rule, the once-prosperous country now faces its worst crisis with inflation running at more than 1,700 percent, soaring joblessness, and regular food and fuel shortages.

In an effort to foster an African solution, an emergency meeting of southern African leaders was held last week in Tanzania.

The talks were called by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, after its attacks on opposition activists.

It is hard to see poor countries suffering from bad leadership that is intent on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In their mission to reject the European countries that colonised their land, many new African nations have rejected all that the West has to offer. So one can’t help but feel hopeful about Tanzania when it demonstrates willingness to accept resources from the European Union (EU) to assist the ongoing talks between the country's two major opposing political parties.

The EU has pledged 8m euros to help the process of dialogue because it had been impressed by Tanzania's resolve to seek internal solutions to internal problems. Tanzania's ruling party and the country's main opposition started a new round of talks in January 2007 in hope of finding a way out of their political impasse.

The closed-door negotiations started with talks between Yussuf Makamba, secretary-general of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party (CCM), and Seif Shariff Hamad, secretary-general of the opposition Civic United Front party (CUF).

Now a special committee with five members from each of the CCM and the CUF is continuing the talks.

Intra-party relations entered an impasse in the wake of the 2005 general elections in Zanzibar, where the CCM won the polls with a small margin.

The CUF has been boycotting the activities of the Zanzibar House of Representatives though the party's elected members have been sitting through sessions of the Zanzibar parliament.
The opposition party claims that the October 2005 elections had irregularities and had been rigged by the ruling party.

This is the third formal talk between these two parties that concluded their previous talks in October 2001 with a peace accord known as Muafaka.

Kikwete: Mediates and seeks better government

One of the fruits of this dialogue is the outcome from the SADC meeting. After the meeting, President Kikwete announced:

The leaders have expressed great concern over the worsening political situation in Zimbabwe. The situation is not good both ways and SADC has decided to act.

Kikwete revealed that SADC had appointed President Mbeki to mediate in Zimbabwe on its behalf, underlining that SADC now had become a player in the country's crisis.

Both the ruling ZANU-PF party and Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were urged to cooperate with the South African President.

But as SADC was now taking on responsibility, President Kikwete urged Western powers to stop their one-sided actions against the Mugabe regime. "Diplomatic relations between Zimbabwe, the EU and the US are not healthy," he said, urging the West to engage in communication with Zimbabwe instead of isolating it. SADC leaders made it clear they would prefer the US and EU to lift their sanctions against Zimbabwe, claiming these only fuelled the conflict and the economic crisis.

Tanzania is showing great maturity in continuing two-party talks to resolve differences with its own political process; great maturity in accepting resources from the West that will enable the process; and great maturity in taking diplomatic initiatives to foster better government in neighbouring countries.

If you are looking for a project that can make a real difference in one of the world’s poorest countries, lend your support to the School of St Jude in northern Tanzania and help educate the future leaders of the country. Visit the school website or use the ChipIn tool on this blog.

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