Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Africa's troubles

Confronted by all the cruelty and incompetence of political life in many parts of Africa, the reaction of the West tends to be shameful: We laugh, and when we are not amused, we indulge.

On one level, there is something irresistibly comical about His Excellency President-for-Life Idi Amin - as we reported yesterday - shouting genially to the Daily Telegraph's Africa correspondent of the 1970s: "Please tell the Queen I love her."

Or at least it is funny until you read on and learn that his henchmen were simultaneously knocking the brains out of political opponents with sledgehammers.

There is also something luridly risible about Robert Mugabe's murderous kleptocracy in Zimbabwe, though the victims of his misrule will not see the joke. ...

South of the Limpopo, there is President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, sitting up until all hours in his Cape Town office, reading quack reports on the internet by dubious American scientists denying the link between Aids and the HIV virus. This is quite a funny image until you think how many South Africans will die because of his willful obtuseness.

Ugandan or Zimbabwean victims of decades of misrule rightly point out that we created their tyrants, but that does not excuse us laughing when we should act, or at the very least be outraged. ...

Half of our own continent was enslaved by Communism when Idi Amin was inflicting his crimes on Uganda, which perhaps explains why we preferred to laugh about him and his excesses. Three decades on, the killing and repression is still routine, not just in Zimbabwe, but in Congo, Liberia, and too many other countries, and that really isn't funny at all.

--The Daily Telegraph, London