June 26, 2008

Take action to save Zimbabwe - and seek an end to all dictators

This is an alert from a campaign to 'Save Zimbabwe from Mugabe'. You are asked to sign a petition, which will be publicised in the press in Southern Africa. The petition states:

"Petition to Thabo Mbeki and other leaders of Southern Africa:

"We call on you to hold an emergency meeting of Southern African leaders, to work by all means necessary for a legitimate Zimbabwean government that reflects the will of its people, and to decisively isolate those who stand in the way of a peaceful, democratic future for Zimbabwe."

Click here to sign up.

I travelled to Zimbabwe when I worked as a volunteer in nearby Malawi in the 1990s. At that time Zimbabwe was seen as a much more developed African nation. Certainly the far better infrastructure and shopping opportunities were striking. Development indices such as child survival and life expectancy showed the country was doing better than many in these regards too. Now the situation has changed dramatically as President Mugabe tries to hang on to power for power's sake.

Other governments are always reluctant to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, lest the same should happen to them.

The route being proposed by a growing number of nations for Zimbabwe is to refuse to recognise Robert Mugabe as the legitimate President of the country as he lost the first round of the Presidential election and the run-off election cannot be free and fair due to state-sponsored violence.

It struck me long ago with Iraq, when it was suffering under the sanctions regime which led to the deaths of many thousands of children, that such a route could have been followed. UNICEF suggested 500,000 children would not have died if health improvements prior to the sanctions regime had continued. See:

---extract from UNICEF press release
Ms. Bellamy [UNICEF Executive Director] noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998. As a partial explanation, she pointed to a March statement of the Security Council Panel on Humanitarian Issues which states: "Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war."

UNICEF called for better targeted sanctions and a more health conscious approach from the Iraqi regime, which used the resources it gained through the 'oil for food' programme as a political weapon of internal control.

Some argued that the 'oil for food' programme actually worsened the situation as it gave Saddam Hussein's regime great power through how it distributed the resources. During this period the north of Iraq was semi-autonomous, with a no-fly zone enforced by the US and UK. The elected authority there succeeded in reducing under-5 mortality rates from 90 deaths/1,000 live births in the period 1989-1994 to 72 deaths/1,000 live births in the period 1994-1999.

An argument for military intervention was that it would put an end to the unnecessary death toll brought about by the sanctions approach. How to evaluate whether the deaths, suffering and terror resulting from the invasion is better or worse is a difficult one.

Those in favour of military intervention asked what was the alternative. An alternative could have been to have stopped recognising Saddam Hussein and his government and instead dealt solely with the authorities in the semi-autonomous regions and a government in exile. The fact that the Iraqi government was repeatedly infringing on the no-fly zones demonstrates there would have been some level of conflict in any case in trying to isolate the government, but there may have been the possibility of strengthening more legitimate authorities.

The difficulty is, of course, that the government, whether legitimate or not, holds the levers of power. They have armed forces and police forces. They control who enters the country, unless geography and the political will of other nations undermines this. Pragmatism may suggest they have to be recognised and dealt with. An unwillingness of other governments to set a precedence where their own legitimacy may be questioned is also perhaps fundamental.

If Mugabe continues to call himself President and to govern, it will be interesting to see how the international communities refusal to recognise him will manifest itself. Perhaps a strategy for dealing with rogue regimes without necessarily going to war can be developed.

These questions come down to the willingness of nation states to act, either individually or collectively. The United Nations can provide legitimacy and strengthen alliances, but, as an institution, is limited in its ability to act.

George Monbiot argued in his book 'Age of Consent' for a democratised UN. The following extract is from his summary at:

---Quote begins

Let us start with the United Nations. In principle, it’s a good idea. In practice, it helps the strong to bully the weak, for three reasons. The first is that the permanent members of the Security Council have been granted absolute power. The second is that it is riddled with rotten boroughs: the tiny nations have the same vote as the very large ones. This is grossly unfair – every Tuvaluan, for example, is worth 100,000 Indians - and it also means that the strong nations have a powerful incentive to kick the small ones around. The third is that the dictatorships have the same voting rights as the democracies, and none of the attendant governments have any obligation to refer to their people before voting.

It seems to me that the answer here is not to junk the UN, but to democratise it. The first step is surely to scrap the Security Council and vest its powers in the UN General Assembly. The second is to weight the votes of the member states according to their country’s size and their degree of democratisation. Democracy rankings are already being developed by groups such as Democratic Audit. But we should begin to develop our own. Among the criteria we should investigate are the nation’s degree of economic democracy (the distribution of wealth) and the extent of public consultation before global voting takes place.

This weighting of votes has the double benefit of democratising global governance and encouraging national democratisation, as the quickest means by which a nation can enhance its power at the global level. It also means that the nations with the biggest votes – the largest and most democratic – are the hardest to bully and blackmail: vote-buying, in other words, becomes much more difficult.

---quote ends

There does seem to be a lot of merit in these proposals, which have not yet been submitted for inclusion in the Simultaneous Policy. Any Adopter may do so. In the case of Zimbabwe, the country's vote at a UN under this system would be radically cut if Robert Mugabe continues as President after Friday 27 June, having both symoblic and practical impact.

Monbiot also promotes an elected World Parliament, something governments, and many citizens, react to with horror as it undermines their sovereignty.

The Simultaneous Policy campaign is not about world government, it is about world governance, meaning rules-based systems to transform the competition between nations to constructive cooperation. That is not to say that the World Parliament proposal cannot be put forward for the consideration of Adopters (it has not been at the time of writing). It will be for Adopters to debate and vote.

The world has not yet worked out an effective way to deal with leaders who operate in their own interests rather than those of their people. The simple fact that the Simultaneous Policy campaign works by bringing people together to decide policies for addressing global problems and calls on leaders to implement those, may in itself play an important role in empowerment.

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