Zimbabwe President Accused of "Increasingly Irrational" Behavior

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - Relations between Britain and its former southern African colony Zimbabwe have hit a low point, with a British minister Thursday accusing President Robert Mugabe of "increasingly irrational" behavior.

Peter Hain, foreign office minister responsible for Africa, told the BBC that Britain, the United States and all donor countries were finding that it was "almost impossible to have a sensible dialogue with the Zimbabwean government."

Mugabe has ignored a High Court ruling ordering squatters to evacuate the more than 20 percent of Zimbabwe's white-owned commercial farms, which they have occupied in the past six weeks.

Rather than allow police to enforce the law, Mugabe has encouraged land seizures, and in a television interview this week, he threatened white farmers with "very, very, very severe" violence if they used force in a bid to reclaim their property.

Hain said Mugabe and his government were "effectively lifting two fingers to the courts" and that the resulting harm to production on the farms would further damage the country's economy, which was already "going down the plughole."

The wholesale land grab began in mid-February, days after voters in a referendum rejected a new constitution that would have strengthened Mugabe's grip on power and allow the confiscation of white-owned farms.

It was the president's first defeat in 20 years, and observers saw it as a no-confidence vote ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for April. He is accustomed to winning more than 90 percent of the vote.

Mugabe has now postponed the election, saying voter lists need to be brought up to date first.

Hain said he hoped the decision to delay the poll "does not become an excuse for a long-term postponement because that would be unconstitutional."

Some politicians in Britain are calling for Zimbabwe to be suspended from membership of the Commonwealth, a grouping of former British colonies. The Commonwealth suspended Pakistan after last October's military coup.

But Hain said the grouping's rules did not yet permit the kind of action called for in Zimbabwe's case.

Britain was applying other measure to pressure the county, including a suspension of some development aid, "because we have no guarantee that that would be properly spent."

The World Bank, citing similar concerns, "are not providing her with the support that she wants," he added.

Britain announced recently it had contingency plans to evacuate 20,000 Zimbabweans who hold UK passports should it become necessary. There are some 75,000 whites remaining in the country of 12 million people.

Relations between Zimbabwe and Britain have deteriorated since last year, when the International Monetary Fund cut off aid because of Zimbabwe's involvement in the civil war in Congo. Mugabe accused Britain of being behind the decision.

He later said British-owned banks were to blame for a crippling fuel shortage in the country.

Mugabe has regularly insulted the British government, which he sees as the source of all his country's economic woes. He routinely refers to it as "the gay government of the gay United gay Kingdom."

Relations hit a new low earlier this month when Zimbabwe customs officials confiscated and then broke open diplomatic crates headed for the British High Commission in Harare.

Despite the violation of international protocols, the government said the search was justified. The consignment could have contained weapons because Britain supported "'subversive" elements in the country, it charged.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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