We hear from the BBC today that Gordon Brown has said he will boycott Portugal's upcoming EU-AU summit if Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean leader, is allowed to attend. The decision is indisputably the right one, but is it for the right reasons?
Mugabe has been in power since the rather dubious elections of 1980. In the past 27 years he has pursued murderous campaigns against the Ndebele minority, his rivals Joshua Nkomo and ZAPU, the LGBT population, the White-African farmers, the Black-African poor, the opposition MDC, and now it would seem against anyone outside his own private inner circle. He has been the archetypal example of an African despot, and is picked out only because he's so bloody good at it. He has resisted crisis after crisis, and clung on to power with an awesome tenacity. He has conducted ethnic cleansing not with the clunking, military fist of Hussein or Milosovitch, which draws too much outside attention, but with the subtle weapons of starvation and evacuation. He has made it an easy necessity for the non-Shona to leave. Most crucially of all, he has played the diplomatic game with skill beyond any Western politician, realising that it is his own brethren in the African Union, Thabo Mbeki above all, who he needs to keep onside. Indeed the more the "Imperialist Oppressors" condemn him, the greater his standing seems to become.
So with reference to my last point will this ultimatum, though deserved, do more harm than good? I don't believe so. We are constantly berating our politicians for glad-handing dictators, the haunting picture of Rumsfeld and Saddam springs to mind. If the Prime Minister refused to attend a debate with Nick Griffin, no one would question it, and no sensible person would claim that doing so strengthened the BNP's assertion of a conspiracy against them. The same is true for the international stage. Indeed, this is the view the EU has taken up to now, banning Mugabe from entering the Union.
As to motives, I would be thrilled to think that this was the beginning of a sea-change, of a truly ethical foreign policy, based on soft rather than hard power. Britain has a duty to Zimbabwe, certainly a far greater one than we owe to Iraq or Afghanistan. And that is because Mugabe is a creation of specifically British intervention, of the campaign of political and economic warfare conducted by this country against Rhodesia, after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. This makes a pure mockery of any claim, either that soft power doesn't work, or that post-independence a colony should be beyond the scope of interest. The African Union was calling for an invasion of Smith's Rhodesia in 1965 to help the oppressed and disenfranchised, so why is that call not there now? British warships were dispatched to blockade Beira in neighbouring Mozambique, why not now? And massive pressure was put on South Africa to cut off Rhodesia's oil, with eventual success. That the same weapons have not been touched when it comes to Zimbabwe is ludicrous. This appears to be the beginning.
And that's what's made me think. Call me cynical, but I don't think this is anything to do with ethics. I don't think it's to do with the simple disruption Mugabe would cause at the summit. I don't even think it's because Gordon knows the political death that would await if he were tricked, as Jack Straw was, into shaking hands with him.
This isn't for people like me, this is for the Tories, those Mail/Express reading types who yell for recolonisation. Not to get their votes, that'll never happen, but to make them put more pressure on Cameron. This is inviting Thatcher to Downing Street, but on the world stage. The Tories have lost the economy, they've lost law and order, they've lost 'Mummy', and now to top it all Gordon is defender of the Empire.
Speaking up for the weak and oppressed, and hitting the Tories where it hurts at the same time.
Get in there Gordon!