This blog posting is part of a series Amnesty USA is publishing to coincide with the U.S.-Africa Summit occurring August 4-6th, 2014. We are utilizing the series to highlight human rights concerns on the continent we feel critically need to be addressed during the summit discussions.
Contributed by Dr. Rowly Brucken, Zimbabwe Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA
President Mugabe of Zimbabwe was not invited to the U.S.-Africa summit this week, as he is currently subject to U.S. sanctions. But let’s imagine he was invited, and what he could have contributed to several events on just the first day:
8:30-noon: Civil Society Forum. President Mugabe does not like Zimbabwean civil society, especially when it comes to tolerating human right defenders. His security forces have repeatedly beaten and jailed members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise for peacefully demonstrating in Harare and Bulawayo. He has harassed lawyers Beatrice Mtetwa and Arnold Tsunga, condemned Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, and tortured Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko.
President Mugabe does not like Zimbabwean civil society, especially when it comes to tolerating human right defenders.
12:30-2:00: Investing in Health Working Luncheon. Bon appetite, President Mugabe! While eating a specially prepared and fancy lunch, he may have explained how his nation’s health care system went from being one of the best in Africa to one that suffers from acute shortages of trained doctors, medical equipment, and medicine. Cholera, once eradicated, has made periodic and tragic reappearances thanks to crumbling urban sanitation infrastructure.
Zimbabwe has the world’s 5th highest HIV/AIDS infection rate, while preventable diseases such as typhoid and malaria continue to kill vulnerable children. Perhaps his attendance could have convinced him to spend more on health care so that life expectancy, which is 55 years for both men and women (and which places Zimbabwe 200th in the world) might improve.
2:15-3:45: Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate. Once the breadbasket of southern Africa, exporting maize to feed its neighbors, Zimbabwe now depends on food imports from the United Nations and donor countries to feed its own population.
Following the defeat of a government-sponsored constitutional referendum in 2000, President Mugabe unleashed party supporters on commercial farmers under the guise of “land reform.” Farms were invaded and occupied, workers violently dispelled, without due process of law or transparency. Many farms became prized possessions of party officials and their allies.
When one farmer sued and won at the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Tribunal, President Mugabe convinced his neighbors to disband the court in 2011. Perhaps President Mugabe would try to blame global warming for January’s announcement that 2.2 million of his fellow countrymen faced food insecurity, but the problem is tragically man-made in this case.
I suppose it is not hard to see why President Mugabe was not invited to the summit. There is much more. His repression of independent newspapers and refusal to license private radio and television stations, his manipulation of elections though maintenance of an outdated voting roll and questionable polling practices, the closing off of the Marange diamond fields to human rights monitors, and absolute impunity for officials who commit human rights abuses on behalf of the government.
So while the world press covers this gathering of African leaders, let us also be mindful of those omitted, including the voice of Zimbabweans who continue to suffer so much.