Observing the election observers.

Observing the election observers.

Observing the election observers.

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 15 2002 2:25 PM

Observing the Observers

When President Robert Mugabe declared Wednesday that he had won another six-year term as leader of Zimbabwe, taking the disputed elections with 56.2 percent of the vote, attention immediately shifted to the pronouncements of election observers and politicians. South Africa's Mail & Guardian described the differing attitudes: "Opening up an ugly North/South, white/black divide, Europe and the United States were quick … to slam the conduct of Zimbabwe's elections while President Robert Mugabe's fellow African leaders rushed to show support." An unnamed political analyst told the Mail & Guardian, "Most—not all—but most African leaders do not have an interest in pushing too hard on the issue of free and fair elections because then someone might ask for their own re-election to be fair also." The paper also noted that two years ago the Organization of African Unity "voted to ban from the organisation's meetings leaders who seized power in a coup, but not through fraudulent elections." A commentator in the Daily Telegraph said Mugabe "will surely use the split to his advantage—the blacks against the whites just the way he likes it."

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Although the rulers' club stuck together, Africa's independent press spoke out against Mugabe. The Monitor of Uganda roared: "What happened in Zimbabwe played into the hands of people who stereotype Africans negatively. For example there was the sheer incompetence. In Uganda, at least to our credit, even botched and stolen elections are executed relatively efficiently." The editorial saved its strongest criticisms for the failure of Africa's leaders to express outrage at the conduct of the elections:

People like Mugabe might not be bothered much by international public opinion. However, they are made more intransigent by the knowledge that their peers will back them, or play mum, in their political skullduggery. If Mugabe knew that other African leaders … would criticize his excesses, he would moderate his behaviour. He would still steal the vote, but not so brazenly. And the collective embarrassment to Africa would be less.

Still, there is little doubt that Africans will pay the price for the election chaos. The Daily News reported that Zimbabwe faces "massive food shortages" and an annual inflation rate of 116 percent. What's more, "Economic relations with the outside world have more or less been frozen by a Go-To-Hell policy which has alienated countries whose aid and co-operation go back to the days of the liberation struggle." The Telegraph claimed that the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy will be felt across Southern Africa. "It is dampening trade, deterring foreign investment and raising the spectre of large-scale refugee movement across Zimbabwe's borders." A Times op-ed said South Africa would pay for its timidity: "Pretoria likes to blame South Africa's failure to draw investment on the mischievous antics of currency speculators and malicious distortions by racist journalists. There can be no question, though, that the violation of law in Zimbabwe and the unwillingness of African governments generally to condemn Harare's excesses is a big factor in damaging investor confidence."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.