A Lesson in Democracy and Leadership

Be nice to America…
Or we will have to bring democracy to your country!

-on a bumper sticker I saw the other day

As the election wrangling continues in Zimbabwe, many are thinking out loud about what Robert Mugabe will do when (and if) he finally steps down from the presidency.

The folks at Foreign Policy in Focus have already thought about the road most journeyed by most former African dictators:

In 2002, Boston University established the lyrical-sounding Presidents in Residence program for former African leaders. The idea was to lure the dictatorially inclined away from their countries so that a new generation of democratic leaders could take their place. As a spokesperson for the program put it more tactfully, "The vision is that having a very respectable position, which honors the individual and his achievements, will be seen as an enticement to those in power, or perhaps newly out of power but contemplating a return, that there is an appropriate civil course for them to pursue." Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was the first recipient of the fellowship.

What better way out of the current fracas in Zimbabwe than to bring Robert Mugabe to Boston for a little academic R and R. Mugabe was part of the great generation of African leaders who guided their countries to independence. But now he has become an obstacle. At 84, he presides over a country that has fallen into economic ruin. As the world awaits the outcome of the recent elections - the opposition claims to have won a parliamentary majority while the ruling party demands a recount and a presidential runoff - it would be the perfect time for the West to reach out to Mugabe. After all, as Heidi Holland has argued in The New York Times, isolation has certainly not worked.

But, I also loved their suggestion that this so-called “academic R & R” shouldn’t just be for African leaders. There should also be a reverse invitation for “Northern politicians of dubious democratic credentials for a year of exposure to what colonialism and neo-liberalism have wrought.”

And George W. Bush should be on the top of the list.

As Patrick Quirk points out in a recent article, 'Bush and the United States need some serious brushing up on the democracy front. For all its talk of promoting democracy abroad, and particularly in Zimbabwe, the Bush administration has done a poor job of it at home: permitting only selective access to outside election observers, cutting funds for civic education, and keeping the United States at the bottom of the list of democracies in terms of voter turnout. "U.S. citizens deserve the same attention to democratic process as the U.S. government claims to offer the world's dispossessed," Quirk concludes.'

New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff said today in his article that he should use the occasion of this week being the 14th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide to take a stand on the Darfur question as a way to save his legacy. While Kristoff made really good suggestion, his third point was the most feasible:

3. Right before or after this summer’s G-8 summit, President Bush should convene an international conference on Sudan, inviting among others Mr. Sarkozy, Gordon Brown of Britain, Hu Jintao of China, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Sudanese leaders themselves. The conference should be convened in Kigali, Rwanda, so that participants can reflect on the historical resonance of genocide.

One aim would be to pressure China to suspend arms transfers to Sudan until it seriously pursues peace in Darfur (we’ll get further by treating China as important rather than as evil). Such an arms suspension would be the single best way to induce Sudan to make concessions needed to achieve peace. The conference would also focus on supporting the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur with helicopters, training and equipment.

I suggest the President go even further than this, but taking a real stand on the Beijing Olympics. And, no, I don't mean being a no-show at the opening ceremonies, even though it wouldn't be the worst idea. What President Bush should really do is put pressure on business that are sponsoring this year's Olympics.

Hurt China where she will really feel it, and shame big business for supporting a regime that is financing human rights abuses in Tibet, Burma and Sudan.

In today's LA Times, there is a report that Olympic sponsors are starting to feel the heat from the recent pro-Tibet protests in San Francisco, London and Paris.

Mr Bush, if you want to have a better legacy and not end up like Mugabe, maybe this is the footprint you need to leave behind.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home