It has been suggested that Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, may visit Jamaica during next year’s Cricket World Cup – perhaps in a private capacity.
But whether Mr. Mugabe wants to come to Jamaica as a private citizen or on a state visit, our Government should make it plain to him that he will not be welcome. And if he insists on coming, he must be told that he should expect no special courtesies.
That is not an easy position for us to take and at which we arrived at lightly. For Robert Mugabe used to be a hero to the Jamaican people and our country played an influential role in ending Zimbabwe’s guerrilla war against white minority rule and the country’s move to legitimate independence.
For those who may be ignorant of this once cherished relationship and of Mr. Mugabe prior to his descent into irrationality and vulgar authoritarianism, Mr. Mugabe led the bush war against white minority leader, Ian Smith, after the latter’s declaration of what was then Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain. Jamaicans by and large supported the freedom fighters and pushed intransigent British governments to take action against Smith’s racist administration.
At the 1979 Commonwealth Summit, the Jamaican Prime Minister, the late Michael Manley, was among those who laid out the moral and political argument to a resistant Margaret Thatcher for a credible British policy in Zimbabwe, ending halfway measures whose practical impact would be to maintain the white minority in ascendancy. Indeed, Bob Marley was the featured performer at the country’s independence in 1980.
But unlike the example of Nelson Mandela in neighbouring South Africa a decade and half later, Mr. Mugabe lacked the inclination and moral stature to lead the country he inherited into a state of healing and renewal. Mr. Mugabe has been consumed with personal power and self-aggrandisement.
His ZANU-PF party has sought to gain a monopoly on power, a grab it at first found relatively easy because of its command on popular support. More recently, Mr. Mugabe and his party have continued the erosion of democracy through the rigging of elections and attacks on the free press, which has been subject to repressive laws and its members to intimidation, beatings and arbitrary arrest.
In the process, Mr. Mugabe has led his country to economic and social ruin. At the start of the decade, in an attempt to divert attention from his own policy failures, Mr. Mugabe grabbed farms from white farmers in a crude land redistribution programme that led to a collapse of agriculture. Inflation has jumped beyond the 1,000 per cent mark, food shortages and hunger are rampant, and life expectancy in Zimbabwe has fallen to below 40 years.
Now, at 82, Mr. Mugabe wants to extend his current six-year term, which expires in 2008, by another two years – a move that would require a change in the country’s constitution. Apparently, Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF want the extra time to ensure that he can find a successor in his own image.
Jamaica must tell Mr. Mugabe that his actions and general behaviour are unacceptable and that unless he mends his ways he cannot be a guest in our country. If he comes, he should expect no warm welcome.