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Opinion: Zimbabwe's Election Puts Europe to the Test

While European governments should criticize the flawed elections in Zimbabwe, they should also examine their double standards, says Deutsche Welle's Johannes Beck.

Opinion

The first results have begun slowly trickling out of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. The Election Commission (ZEC) is counting with at an excessively leisurely pace. This nourishes the suspicion that the results are being manipulated behind the scenes in order to secure another term in office for President Robert Mugabe.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) sees itself as in the lead. As does the ruling ZANU-PF party. An independent review is not possible. Nevertheless it seems extremely unlikely that Mugabe would have managed convince a majority of Zimbabweans to re-elect him. He has managed to push the country's economy over the brink. Chaos, scarcity and hyperinflation of more than 100,000 percent each year don't create ideal election advertisements.

In the run-up to the elections, human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, complained of arbitrary arrests, one-sided media reports and government vote buying. A free and just election was impossible.

Deutsche Welle Johannes Beck

Johannes Beck

Only friendly states such as China, Russia, Iran and neighboring African countries were allowed to send election monitors. The involvement of Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries remains a frustration, as does the lack of criticism from democratic neighboring countries such as Mozambique. Joaquim Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, told Deutsche Welle that he has no right to question the intentions of other leaders. And Zimbabwe's president insists that this election was free, transparent and lawful.

Chissano's mindset is typical of the kind that allows African politicians to speaking out about the human rights abuses and poor governance of neighboring countries. This practice of looking the other way and holding one's tongue is a false understanding of African solidarity.

Growth and development require the ability to criticize and take criticism. There are some examples of this in Africa, such as the African Peer Review Mechanism. But, far too often, reflexes persist from the time of the common struggles against European colonial powers.

During conversations with Africans on this topic, one often hears that European governments have a double standard. They are only interested in democracy when it fits their interests, Africans say.

And this is where Africans are right. Zimbabwe's former colonial power, Great Britain, only brought up the subject of human rights after British farmers lost their land. There were very few protests from the West when, in the early 1980s, Robert Mugabe killed tens of thousands of opposition members in the Matebeleland region.

The discussions about Mugabe's participation in the EU-Africa summit held in Lisbon in December 2007 were also misguided. At the same time as they were condemning Mugabe, not a single European leader spoke out against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's summit attendance. At least there are still elections in Zimbabwe, something that the Libyan opposition can't even dream about.

European governments will likely criticize the elections in Zimbabwe as neither free nor fair, as they should. They should increase pressure and advocate for more democracy.

But Europeans must then live up to their own high standards, even when there aren't white farmers involved. Let's not forget that other African countries, such as Libya, Gambia and Ethiopia also have poor track records in the areas of democracy, human rights and freedom of speech.

Johannes Beck is the deputy head of DW-RADIO's Africa desk and heads the DW-RADIO Portuguese service (th)

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