The Christian Science Monitor has an editorial instructing us in what we already know: Zimbabwe is not Ukraine:
Viktor Yushchenko, who suffered near-fatal dioxin poisoning in his campaign to unseat Ukraine's corrupt and authoritarian president, had the support of masses of protesters. But those were healthy, well-fed masses. In Zimbabwe, half the country is on the verge of acute hunger, and the official HIV infection rate is 27 percent.
Mr. Yushchenko also had the backing of key institutions. The judiciary ruled in favor of a new election, and Ukraine's security forces refused to turn their guns on fellow citizens.
Zimbabwe's courts have yet to take up the opposition's legal challenges to the 2002 election, and its leader has been quite willing to allow violence against the opposition. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has been given a whitewash by election monitors and neighbors.
On Sunday, Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, demanded new, fair parliamentary elections. But he didn't say how this should happen. Can anyone blame him? President Bush frequently cites Ukraine as an example for the world. But for Zimbabwe, democratic change is not as easy as Ukraine made it look.
So we now have a minor tutorial on the features of Zimbabwe's failure but alas, the reasons are absent. Cataloging the symptoms of Zimbabwe's illness is all well and good but leaves the cause(s) hidden. When one looks at the state of affairs in many African nations the lingering effects of post-colonial malaise become apparent. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe has been allowed to starve his population in order to keep power. In Ukraine, where Leonid Kuchma ran a corrupt and vile regime, the levers of revolution were greased by western aid and advice. Why the dichotomy?
It may be that western nations are loathe to push for reform in places like Zimbabwe because of the fear that they would be branded as racists. Africa has suffered from western racism and neglect but Mugabe is not a product of racism but a practitioner of it. He has been able to ply western guilt to the clay from which he constructs his odious regime. He knows that leaders of developed nations would rather not engage him in a battle of wills so as not to look as if they are singling him out for punishment. Initiatives like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS have become tools that donor nations try to use as leverage against Mugabe's land grab only to find that the dictator has turned the tables on them.
The argument over aid to Zimbabwe takes much the same shape as did the old sanction regime against Saddam. Donor nations suspect that most of the aid will never get to the end users and the failure to stem the rampage of the disease will be looked on as just another half-hearted attempt by former colonial powers and rich industrialized countries. The same arguments vis-a-vis the people of Zimbabwe and the government of Zimbabwe have a familiar ring to them. But if donor nations withhold the aid, as they did in response to Mugabe's land grab, he can brand the move as political and racist. The response then is one of consternation and surrender.
But there is enough fault to go around. Zimbabwe's neighbors have failed it by acquiescing to Mugabe's latest election shell game. Until legitimate African governments decide that they will no longer stand for the actions of the spiritual children of Idi Amin, there is little that western nations can do.
Tsk-tsking from editorial desks does little to address the factors that chronically hold these countries back. Likewise, western nations would get more accomplished if they acted as if Africa matters. Just like they did in Ukraine.