Zimbabwe: Burma, Zimbabwe and How Not to Rule

Burma is in the news. Zimbabwe too is. Both are for the wrong reasons. It’s one thing mismanaged nations have in common. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recently expressed concerns about Burma.

Millions of the nation’s people would starve if the international community doesn’t provide funds and other aids in time, the organisation said. As the delta area where much of its rice is planted will not be amenable as a result of the recent cyclone that hit the country, Burma will not be able to produce enough crops to feed itself, it added; all this concern for the country which leaders spurned international help when natural disaster struck a couple of weeks ago.

Students of Nigeria’s military history are familiar with Burma. That nation was a warfront during the Second World War. Many Nigerian soldiers fought and died there having been taken to Asia by the British colonial masters all for the sake of freedom for mankind. The current crops of Burmese military leaders were born during or immediately after this battle of all battles. The fundamental objectives of that war remain largely the basis of the current world order.

Issues such as fundamental human rights, freedom and so on were given firmer grounding in the UN and other institutions in the period after the war. Now, Burmese leaders are ruling their country as if they don’t belong to this time and age. In terms of fundamental human rights, basic freedom and all that citizens of any country are entitled to expect from their government, Burma has effectively returned to the pre-world war period. Thanks to its military junta.

This nation has a history of human rights abuses of immense proportion. Its leaders have consistently flouted all known rules on how to rule a nation. Atrocities committed against the people for several decades in the past are many. Those of the 1970s and 1980s were horrendous. They were yet to be fully investigated and redress made when an election took place in that country. Won by the country’s woman Nobel Prize winner, the military junta annulled it, placed their iron grip back on things and put the winner under house arrest. She is still there. Meanwhile, rule by terror continues.

Earlier in the year, violent protests broke out in Burma or Myanmar as its leaders prefer to call it. Here, expressing dissenting views of any kind amounts to a religious heresy. Even protestations of the mildest form give Burma’s leaders migraine. Jail houses were filled in a matter of days. This government cares nothing for its people. It’s the international community that does. The UN threatened more sanctions and sent in an envoy. Nigeria’s Ibrahim Gambari talked to the military leaders who behaved as if they were tin gods, gave off that they were inscrutable and that they were all in all, but they were not for nature soon exposed them for what they were.

Gambari continually held talks with them until something suddenly pulled the skirt off their waist and showed their shame for the world to see – a bunch of selfish leaders who used the instrument of power to hold their people in bondage and enrich themselves only. In the process, Burma’s leaders were shown to be unprepared for anything, not even to give basic help to their people in the face of the disaster caused by a cyclone. 

Then the leaders did something worse to their people. They refused to allow the much-needed aids at the right time and in the needed quantity; this while several nations stood at the door waiting with ships ready to deliver aids. Even a CNN reporter who was within Burma at the time of the disaster and who beamed the misery of the people to the world to see was ordered out.

The government for a while did the same to the UN. In the end, the US government openly expressed its frustration. At a meeting of some advanced nations that took place in Australia in June, US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said that Burma’s leadership should be held accountable for the unnecessary high death toll and hardship among its people because it refused assistance. Now, it’s the FAO that has come out to express worries over the welfare of the people as regard food rather than their rulers whose responsibility it is in the first place.

The West, in general, has been criticised for many things. It however cannot be faulted when it cries out against leaders that are causing their people to suffer unnecessarily. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is long known to have caused the discomfort his people are going through. Even before the current election crisis, four million of his people were fed through international food aids. After he compounded the food problem, Mugabe showed up in Rome at a summit organised by the World Food Programme, WFP, proffering reasons for the world food crisis and making recommendations on what should be done.

Back home, he had vowed that the opposition would never come to power, arranged to re-run the last election, created an unfavourable atmosphere for such by unleashing state terror on his people and denied opposition party the opportunity to campaign. The opposition has since withdrawn from the race leaving Mugabe to contest against himself. As things stand, Zimbabwe has no legitimate government. Once popular, Mugabe who has ruled since 1980 has distanced himself from the people with a combination of misrule and use of state terror.

At the moment, Zimbabwe’s economy is in shambles. The land he promised to redistribute to the masses is not getting to them but to his cronies. Inflation has gone beyond anything imaginable in any country. Intimidation, rape, torture and murder of opposition party members by Mugabe’s supporters occur on a regular basis. That’s how Mugabe is ruling his country while the rest of the world looks on.

It’s a shame that rulers in Burma, Zimbabwe as well as others like them are allowed to get away with what should amount to crime against humanity that they committed. But birds of the same feather flock together is the summary of the whole matter in especially the African continent. Mbeki can hardly put his South Africa in order. He has hounded his political rivals from pillar to post. Now he’s finding it impossible to speak out against the misrule in Zimbabwe.

Yoweri Museveni of Uganda called himself a liberator just like Mugabe and has muzzled out all oppositions. Nigeria’s ruling party has made a mockery of the ballot box and in the process denied the nation’s president the legitimacy he needs to take leaders such as Mugabe head-on. Kenya was a disgrace the last time it held an election.

This writer has never been averse to the international community moving in on terribly bad rulers and walking them out of power. Talking about any nation’s sovereignty becomes a mockery when leaders abandon their core responsibilities, dragging their nations to the abyss. More overt steps of opposition to bad leadership need to be taken.

If a leader is bad, he is bad and there should be no diplomatic necessities about it. The international community, especially through the UN, should put its foot down more decisively and ensure that leaders who abandon all civilised norms are walked out of office. After all, when the entire house collapses and human disaster occurs, it is the same international community that packs the rubbles, binds the wounds and stabilises a destabilised nation.

Ajibade, an author, wrote from Abuja.


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