5 down 6 to go

It was quite an experience to watch the BBC backtrack on Monday morning as news came in on the Iraq elections. It now looks as if up to 68 per cent of the people voted and what was even more astonishing is that they were clearly enthusiastic about the experience. So much for the doomsayers.

In the Sunni areas where voting was lowest, the women led the way in a remarkable display of courage and commitment to their own freedom.

The Americans have been there before of course. First there was the way in which an American General, Marshal, took a shattered Europe after 5 years of war against a tyrannical government, which had at last overstepped the mark. Millions died in the conflict but it took the Americans to make the peace. Today, modern Europe is a child of American military intervention on the side of democracy and freedom.

Secondly, there was Japan. Ruled by another tyrannical regime Japan had fought a war against the rest of the world in an effort to secure its control over much of China and the Pacific Rim. Once beaten by force of arms - mainly American - it was another American General who took shattered Japan and put it back on its feet, in a way that created modern Japan, democratic, principled and dynamic. This was a remarkable story - of a General who insisted his men ate what was only available to every Japanese citizen. A man who recognized the value of Japanese culture and ensured that it was respected in the modern structures being established. A man, whose ideas remain at the heart of modern Japan 60 years later.

Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global effort by the Americans and the new Europeans to ensure that the fires of democracy and freedom set loose in the Soviet landscape was fed and nurtured until today much of the old empire is democratic and free.

The world has a very short memory but we need to keep this in mind when we find fault with what the US is doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lets be big enough to accept that what they have achieved in these two countries is remarkable. Especially when you understand how little they will get back in return. In military terms the effect of regime change in both countries has been a stunning story and the loss of such a small number of men and women in the exercise is a tribute to training and leadership.

But even more remarkable is the commitment to giving these liberated people the right to self-determination as quickly as possible and making the commitment to ensure the resulting government is self-sustaining. In the history of global conquest, these actions are absolutely unique. Both Britain and the US leadership deserve recognition for these achievements.

Now Condoleezza Rice turns the sights of the American administration to the other "tyrannies" in the world. Belarus, Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe. She talked of the test of freedom as being the ability of any citizen to walk to the town center and say in public what they think of their governments and not suffer any consequences. She committed her period as the most powerful woman on earth to eliminating these regimes and winning for their peoples the kind of simple freedoms that citizens in free countries take for granted.

Now that Iraq and Afghanistan are on their way to becoming democracies in which the rule of law and the respect for human and political freedoms are the norm, rather than the exception; surely we are next!

Zimbabwe is an easy case to deal with - no military conflicts, military intervention not required. Global consensus that change is needed to put the country back on the map. A powerful neighbor who is susceptible to pressure and committed to the same principles as they are - at least on paper. Regime change here would not be hard to secure by democratic means, all it requires is a bit of pressure in the right places.

There are signs that this is happening - the statement by the ANC that conditions in Zimbabwe are "not conducive to free and fair elections" and the accompanying threat that if this is not changed, and soon, they might not recognize the elections. That is tough talk. Then Cosatu coming back to Zimbabwe and also talking tough, throw us out this time - at your peril.

At stake is a great deal. Zimbabwe as the bad apple in the region is slowing down regional economies, inhibiting trade and other agreements with the developed countries and interfering with the proposed massive effort by the EU and the United States to turn Africa around and get us on track to achieve the Millennium goals by 2015. We stand in the way of progress and recovery and are being held to ransom by the whims of an aging group of old style nationalists who simply do not know when it is time to step down.

Zimbabwe is a test case for African leaders. Can they sort it out in a way that puts us back into the community of Nations and unlocks the international effort to help Africa meet its peoples needs? We are about to see if this is something they can do without US or European intervention.

A few years ago my son and I were driving through the bush in eastern Zambia some 100 kilometers from the Malawi border. We came across a small clearing with a few huts and three small children, two boys and a little girl. The boys were selling mushrooms and we stopped to buy some from them. While this was going on something caught my eye - the sight of the small girl pulling herself along the path on the ground in a frantic effort to get to the action. I took some chocolate cookies and walked down the path to where she was.

I do not know how old she was but she was paralyzed from the waist down and was filthy from pulling herself along the ground. But what caught my attention was her face - two intelligent and bright eyes looked at me, no sign of self-pity or pleading, just a steady look at this stranger from another planet. I gave her the cookies and sat with her on the ground for a minute - she spoke Chinyanga and I knew a little as well.

She haunted me for weeks afterwards - I contacted a Presbyterian Hospital in Malawi and asked them to go and see what they could do for her - offering to pay whatever it cost. I heard no more but I still remember that bright young face on a broken body with a spirit that would not lie down. I am in this fight for her and millions like her who need a better, brighter future. You might disagree, but I think that what Ms. Rice intends doing will help in that pursuit.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 31st January 2005.