Despotic leaders replace grand expectations with hate and violence.

WASHINGTON – Western cameras capture only a thimbleful of Africa’s oceans of suffering. Yet they are busy bringing out more images of misery and death than their audience can comprehend. There is genocide in Sudan, killing and mutilation in Congo, starvation in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and murder in Uganda.

Where, old Africa hands like myself ask, are the hopeful and kind people of yesteryear? Where are the people who took back their land from colonialism, expecting to build great civilizations, to end subsistence farming, to see industry flourish and education transform expectations from the humble to the magnificent?

Gone, it appears, to the Kalashnikov and the land mine, the dictator and the fool, who have more often than not marched their countries and their people to destitution and violence, while ignoring the ravages of disease and hunger.

Their tools are tribal hatred, racial hatred, superhuman indifference and monumental self-aggrandizement. Amin, Banda, Mobutu, Taylor and a string of other strongmen have come, destroyed and gone. They have left little behind that anyone can build on.

We call them failed states, but they are beyond that. They are uncountries. They are places where abused people squat on eroded land, hoping for the generosity of others to feed them and the mercy of God to protect them.

How does it all start? When did Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe, who came to power looking wise and profound, begin his journey south, taking with him a once-prosperous and harmonious country that seemed immune to the ills that spread from his northern border to East and West Africa, and as far as the Sahara Desert?

Maybe it was the moment when he decided that legal process was an affront to his presidential authority and his stature as the man who ended colonialism in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), my homeland.

From wise leader and protector of a small jewel of a country, Mugabe became incensed – and maybe insane – about the slow rate at which farms owned by whites were being turned over to landless Africans. He encouraged gangs of thugs to destroy the farms, uproot the farmers and drive off their workers.

As the pace picked up, so did the brutality and insanity. The infrastructure of the farms was destroyed, animals – both livestock and pets – were mutilated and left to die, and many farmers and their workers were murdered.

Most of those taking over the farms had neither the inclination nor the resources to farm. Now the farms lie derelict, subject to severe soil erosion.

The very best farms were given to Mugabe’s cronies. Now after all the horror, all the bloodshed, Zimbabwe, once a net exporter of corn and other cereal crops, faces annual starvation and needs world food aid to keep its people alive.

AIDS is ravaging the country, foreign currency reserves are all but dried up, and Mugabe is building himself a retirement palace.

But Mugabe has one export left. He has sent a delegation of “land resettlement experts” to his neighbor Namibia to get the whole business of catastrophe started there.

Already the president of Namibia – a vast desert country in the southwest of Africa, with a sparse population and huge mineral wealth – has a campaign to drive out his commercial (white) farmers in the name of agrarian justice.

Some land redistribution has been going on with proper compensation. But the Namibian president, Sam Nujoma, has felt outclassed by Mugabe, and less of an African patriot. Now he has upped his rhetoric against the farmers and has imported Zimbabwean thugs to affect land seizure – so he can take his place as an African despot.

Not only is Namibia hugely rich in diamonds, tungsten, iron, uranium and other metals, but it also has a population of less than 2 million people in a land area half the size of California.

In good years, when it rains, Namibia can feed itself. In bad years, it must import food. The Bushmen and some European sailors called Namibia (formerly Southwest Africa) “the land that God hated.” But God packed it with mineral wealth as no other part of the world; and there is plenty of land for everyone to farm, if they can deal with the adversity of the climate.

One would think that Nujoma would concentrate on exploitation of the mineral wealth and the welfare of the 22 percent of the population who are HIV-positive rather than try to emulate Mugabe’s disasters. But he plans to go ahead and, in due course, we will send photographers there to capture all the horrors of human starvation: Distended bellies, stick limbs, sunken cheeks and dulled eyes – sad specters waiting in the dirt for death.

What in God’s name motivates African “leaders”?

Llewellyn King is chairman and CEO of the King Publishing Co., publishers of White House Weekly and Energy Daily.


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