None would begrudge the heads of African nations for their failure to criticize one another if behind closed doors they could gather the will and imagination to resolve the most flagrant leadership lapses on their vast turf. This weekend South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki described as “normal” the collapse of fair elections in Zimbabwe. Mbeki made his comment at a meeting of African leaders designed to end the electoral stalemate in Zimbabwe — and perhaps set the country on the right track. Mbeki has long spared Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictatorial president, the lash of public criticism. Yet why not at least lash Mugabe in private? After, Zimbabwe’s current plight — including its broken electoral process — is neither nor healthy under any definition.
Mugabe chose not to attend the meeting, a clear snub to Mbeki, whose country is the regional powerhouse in southern Africa. Imagine what praise Mbeki might have heaped on Mugabe had he merely attended the meeting!
Some of the same flair theater without pragmatism was also displayed this weekend in Kenya, where Odinga and Kibaki continue to struggle to forge a workable governing coalition (though reports of a new “compromise deal” say details were revealed today). To be sure, such coalitions are very difficult to create from the soup of intensely-rivalrous politics. Yet the continued uncertainty over the specifics of Kenya’s political settlement surely can’t help the country’s once-booming economy get back to “normal.”
Closed-door deals aren’t helping in Cameroon either, where President Paul Biya — in power since the early 1980s — seems to be winning over members of the country’s weak Parliament in a bid to permit Biya to for what he calls his “third term,” but what would actually be “only” his third term since he allowed “contested” elections. But since these are Zimbabwe-style elections, they are really not elections at all