Other parts of the world are not immune however. AllAfrica.com has devoted half of it's front page to Zimbabwe for the last week. South African papers are churning out analysis' of the Zimbabwe situation 10 a minute.
3 months ago, the only thing I knew about Zimbabwe was the name of it's capital, and even that was not extraordinary, as I had, in my wild youth, learnt all the capitals of all countries (my teacher insisted this made for good teatime conversation). But now, I can tell offhand the number of people killed in the Ndebele conflict back in `82, and I can tell by how much this amount differs from the number quoted in Focus, the heated debates and catfights in soc.culture.zimbabwe to thank.
Mugabe, the current president of Zimbawe did not directly cheat during the elections. There was no reported case of votes being added to the boxes, or any other real rigging. There is no evidence of this, and even the South African papers which have been unanimous in crying out for Mugabe's burning at the stake do not claim this. What there was was a gentler cheating; Mugabe made it difficult for the opposition to vote by reducing the number of polling stations in their strongholds, and made it easier for his supporters to vote by increasing the number of ballot boxes in his controlled areas. In the pre-election days, there was also a deliberate radicalization of the population by state controlled media: the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai was declared to be a stooge of Britain, and was said to be sponsored by foreign countries and the commercial farmers.
Various young people banded together to physically attack all members of the opposition, whom they regarded as traitors to their cause.
And their cause is the redistribution of land. 73% of all arable farming land in Zimbawe is owned by 4500 white farmers.The rest of the 12 million people in the country live in abject poverty on the remaining 27%.
The redistribution is 20 years overdue. After the Mugabe controlled Zanu army won the civil war, rather than simply running over the land and taking what they pleased, Mugabe embraced the former white rulers and urged them to stay on in Zimbabwe. He furthermore signed an agreement with Britain, which said that Britain would compensate the farmers who have the land taken from them and given to the indigenous people. Over the past 20 years, Britain has either cited human rights violations or said that Mugabe was giving the land to his friends to explain why they would not fund the land redistribution.
And it came as a huge shock to Britain then, when landless and poor blacks decided to seize the land 2 years ago. There was a huge outcry, particularly when 2 farmers died. The Zimbabwean goverment had not discouraged the land settlements, so the case was brought to the high court. The court ruled the squatting illegal. Two of the five high court justices were white (two black, one asian), and Mugabe made them both step down after a while.
Britain was outraged, and the BBC started a heated attack on Mugabe and his "fascist" policies. According to British papers, Mugabe had driven the country to ruin as there was 100% inflation, and the economy was slipping down.
Under the fomer white-only government, education of the blacks was not a priority. After Mugabe, a former teacher, took over, he increased the literacy rate of the country to 80%, one of the highest in Africa. The per capita income of Zimbabwe stayed constant over his years of rule in the 80s, good going when compared to other African countries where per capita income had in some cases fallen by 200% over the same period. Zimbabwe had the next biggest economy to South Africa in southern Africa till 2 years ago.
In the last 2 years however, Zimbabwe has been in serious economic decline. The commercial farmers stopped producing as a result of the land resettling. Zimbabwe hardly had any exports left, so the economy was bound to decline. Foreign investment in Zimbabwe disappeared, and the world bank and IMF refused to support any new loans. It appeared that the bad press combined with the land takeover led to Zimbabwe's economic problems, and not any direct bad policies of the government. But most papers would prefer not to mention all this. They'd much rather Mugabe was a bad leader.
The Congo had it's presidential elections at the same time as Zimbabwe: last week. Zimbabwe's was perhaps more interesting because it was fraudulent? Well, in the Congo, the main opposition candidate withdrew from the race, and there was only one candidate, a confirmed coupist. He went through exactly the same trickery that marked Mugabe's relection. He won 90% of the vote, a very unrealistic result.
Or Madagascar. We sometimes hear a bit about the standoff in Madagscar, but that's about it. Where were the foreign election observers? What do they have to say about the situation there? What about the "targeted" sanctions?
Maybe it is because white farmers were not affected in that country? I don't know.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition candidate is an angel apparently. He does everything right, and would be an excellent leader, if we are to go by the BBC. But what exactly is the difference between his policy and Mugabe's. Well, if you look really hard, there is almost no difference.
And he was filmed by an Australian reporter discussing about assasinating Mugabe. But neither CNN nor BBC wants to run the footage. Also, Morgan somehow has also come into huge sums of money. He can affort to hire the PR firm that took Bloomberg into the office of Mayor of New York, in a campaign that cost more than 100 million dollars. Tsvangirai is accused by Mugabe of being the local face of foreign powers. Is he?
And back to Africa. Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa control the 2 most powerful countries on the African continent. They are not dependent on Zimbabwe or Mugabe in any way, and are democratically elected presidents. Obasanjo even spent a few years in prison for his democratic views. Yet these leaders refuse to condemn Mugabe. Their election observers observed a free and fair election, in contrast to the Danish team. The SADC also observed a free and fair election.
President Bush didn't though, as he announced that America is not going to recognize the government of Zimbabwe.
There is a wide black-white divide on this issue; the white Commonwealth wanted to remove Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth before the elections. The black Commonwealth voted against this, and in the aftermath, Mbeki asked all "white supremacists" who were uncomfortable with the decisions of the Commonwealth to leave it. He was referring to Britain.
In conclusion, the Zimbabwe issue is a lot more complex than the "Mugabe is a horrible, horrible man" potrayed by South African and British papers. It is mostly about land. And not just the land in Zimbabwe, but that in South Africa, Kenya and Namibia. And it is a hypocritical issue, with attention being drawn to the election, and the real issues that bother the British government are glossed over: the land issue and the 10 dead white farmers.