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Chester Crocker comments on Zimbabwe - 2002-03-20

Chester Crocker, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Reagan Administrain reacts to the suspension of Zimbabwe by the Commonwealth. Mr. Crocker is now a professor at Georgetown University:

It's a welcome signal, because the Commonwealth is a very important institution in terms of issues of governance. It is an organization with a long history that includes peoples from all over the world who presumably share some interest in governance.

Given the reporting that suggested that everyone in Africa was turning a blind eye and that no one down there in Africa cared about what Mugabe and his cohorts have just done, I think this is interesting. And it is an important signal that indeed there is some African leadership, as well as concern in other parts of the world, for standards of democratic governance and practice. So I'm not sure I would use the word "surprise," but I think it is definitely conveying an impression which is somewhat different from some of the earlier reporting we had that suggested that this was only a matter of concern to No. 10 Downing Street or maybe Washington. So that is important.

There were comments in the days, I think, leading up to the elections, with some members of the Commonwealth and some African leaders suggesting that the Commonwealth was a very outdated Colonial, even racist, organization, and that this organization has taken this action at this time (is it significant?).

"I don't know who it is who would imagine that the Commonwealth is a racist organization. But suffice it to say that people don't like being kicked out of it, which tells you something. So I think it is an interesting signal, and obviously, against the backdrop of global developments and against the backdrop of African efforts to get African issues on the global agenda, including the idea of a Renaissance and the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) initiative of several of the key African presidents, this all has to be interpreted in that broader context, I think, of a signal that indeed the kind of thing that has just taken place in Zimbabwe is simply unacceptable".

What kind of an impact do you think this will have on President Robert Mugabe, both within Africa and outside the African continent?

"I don't want to be overdramatic about this. It is not that it is going to lead to the imminent change of power. But what it does is to make clear that there are certain lines that you just don't cross if you want to be seen as part of the world that cares about global standards of governance. He crossed that line and now his legitimacy is being progressively stripped away in various forums and in various ways by different institutions.

What that will mean is that this cannot go on, that sooner or later -- I can't predict to you when -- there will be a need for a broadening of the base of government and an outreach to the opposition. That includes an element of leveling the playing field".