Friday, September 15, 2006


The brief statement issued by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter Mackay, on Thursday to condemn the authoritarian government of President Robert Mugabe’s rampant human rights violations in Zimbabwe falls short in terms of its intended goal to show support for people in my home country.

MacKay’s statement followed this week’s arrest, detention and assault of dozens of Zimbabweans participating in a labour-organized peaceful demonstration against the government’s self-serving policies which have seen Zimbabwe’s economy plummet from being one of the top five in sub-Saharan Africa to be among the worst in just six years.

Six years in which hundreds have been killed, thousands have been tortured and jailed while millions have been forced into exile, including some Canadian-born white farmers whose properties were taken over or destroyed in an extra-constitutional land redistribution exercise authored and directed by Mugabe’s Zanu PF government.

And all Mr. MacKay can say is: "I am deeply troubled that the Government of Zimbabwehas once again denied its people their rights to freedom of expression and association as well as the right to peaceful assembly. Canada condemns the arrest of these peaceful demonstrators and calls for their immediate release. "Canada urges Zimbabwe to refrain from the use of intimidation, violence and repression and to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, and we have conveyed our concerns to Harare," he said.

Canadians out there may wonder what the fuss is all about. The fuss is that Canada and Zimbabwe have a history of suffering together and supporting each other in politics and business, so much that a run of the mill statement like this becomes really pretentious.

Canada and Zimbabwe were both British colonies, once upon a time. Canada was one of Zimbabwe’s strongest western backers during its fight for independence and when self-rule came in 1980, Canada and Zimbabwe shared the brotherhood of Commonwealth countries.

Not only that. Canada became one of Zimbabwe’s biggest investment sources and it still is. Now, here lies the problem that Mr. MacKay and others in government may not see yet, but will soon.

Mugabe’s Zanu PF government is prepared to stay in power forever with the backing of a well-oiled machinery of the army, the police, former freedom fighters, a Hitler Youth-type militia and an overzealous support base backs it in this.

This machinery demonstrated its capability to plunder in 2000 when they invaded farms, destroying Zimbabwe’s primary economic sector, agriculture. The same machinery will not blink if an order is given to go after mines, industry and other sectors.

Then, the ripple effect, both in human and economic terms, will be felt in the neighborhoods of Toronto because Canadians own companies in Zimbabwe and some work there.

Canada and other leading democracies, Britain and the US particularly, have both national and international obligations to intervene in Zimbabwe more directly and urgently than just to issue out lame statements.

Canada has joined other western countries to impose travel sanctions on Mugabe and Liberal MP, Keith Martin has proposed a Bill to arrest Mugabe whenever he comes this way.

With all due respect, Mugabe is not a mouse that goes for a piece of cheese on a trap. He will never come here. He goes to countries that are more welcoming to him, like Cuba where he is visiting right now as I write.

Mugabe is an intelligent man who uses a strong arm to oppress the people of Zimbabwe and he needs the same strong-arm treatment applied on him. Mr. MacKay could start by engaging Zimbabweans directly to get the accurate picture, not to rely on news reports.