The Responsibility to Protect
For almost all of the 20th Century, a basic dictum of international
diplomacy was “non interference in the internal affairs of other
Even today, Mugabe angrily denounces all attempts to even discuss the
in Zimbabwe at international gatherings as “interference in our
affairs.” At the SADC summit last month he stormed out of that
flew home 24 hours early when leaders insisted that the Zimbabwe
be discussed in a closed session.
Today in Darfur the international community faces a fresh challenge –
Sudanese government is flatly refusing to allow more effective UN
surveillance of the situation in Darfur and is continuing to try to
subjugate the people of Darfur by means of armed force using both State
resources and informal armed forces. The international media is still
allowed into the Sudan and so we can see for ourselves the effects of
situation on the ordinary men and women of the western region of Sudan.
can see the refugee camps, the fresh graves; hear the stories of those
lives and rights are being abused by a dictatorial Islamic regime.
In recent times the issue of non-interference in the internal affairs
sovereign States has come under scrutiny. People are questioning the
and saying that where a government is threatening the fundamental human
political rights of its people, the international community has the
responsibility to act in solidarity with the poor and defenseless. So
we are seeing really tough talk at the UN about Darfur and we are also
seeing more and more prominent people from all walks of life saying
international community has the responsibility to interfere.
In southern Africa we have been there as well – both the Rhodesian and
African governments used the dictate to argue that outsiders had no
interfere. But eventually, the gravity of the crisis and the threat to
stability of the region persuaded those with power to take action. In
cases the international community appointed a “point man” to take
responsibility for coordinating and directing the resolution of the
In both cases they were successful. Henry Kissenger was the point man
Rhodesia and Margaret Thatcher the point “man” for South Africa.
What happened after their intervention was critical, but it was their
unsung) actions that actually broke the logjam and made all else
If you had told me that South Africa would go through the process that
to the 1994 elections without serious violence and upheaval – I would
said you were nuts. But it happened and the key element was a carefully
planned and executed political action backed by the threat of the use
power. Such threats are only credible when they are real and can be
up by action if needed.
Today it is 30 years since Henry Kissenger flew into South Africa and
talks with a team of Ministers led by Ian Smith at Union Buildings in
Pretoria. He came with a plan agreed by key African leaders and the
of the global community at the time. He arrived when Rhodesia was in
throes of an armed struggle with the armies of Zanla and Zipra who were
demanding one-man one vote (democracy). 150 000 men were under arms and
ordinary population of the country was being brutalized by all sides.
economy was in dire straights and there was no end in sight for the
conflict. There were fears the conflict might spread into South Africa
itself. Smith was totally in charge and even the South Africans were
taking him on politically.
Kissenger persuaded the South Africans that there was no future for
under Smith. That backing the Smith government was not only a waste of
African resources but was having a negative impact on the survival and
prosperity of South Africa itself. He was well prepared and the US had
its considerable intelligence capacity to ensure that he could argue
case with some force and conviction.
Kissenger sympathized with Smith – recognised his courage and
and even his love of the country he led. But he also understood that he
never going to win and that if the final defeat came any way other than
through negotiation, it would be a disaster. He presented his plan to
Rhodesian team and after they had debated it amongst themselves for a
they rejected it. At that point the President of South Africa came in
said to the Rhodesian delegation that if they walked out of that room
without an agreement, he would cut off their essential supplies and all
future support would cease. Smith went on to call it the “Great
but in fact what those two foreign leaders did that day was to rescue
country from itself and open the way to a new beginning.
The Rhodesians flew home and Smith went on television 30 years ago on
23rd September 1976 to say they had agreed to a transition to real
democracy. It took 3 more years but when Zimbabwe was born on the 18th
1980, Henry Kissenger was, in a very real sense, its father.
Today the international media are banned from Zimbabwe and unless
has the courage and the equipment to film something clandestinely – the
world cannot see what is happening here. That does not excuse leaders.
should not require pictures to make decisions on situations like Darfur
Zimbabwe. Unfortunately very often that is the case – but it should not
so. They know what is happening – they have other resources, reports,
intelligence and their diplomats.
The crisis in Darfur is serious, but it does not compare to the
Zimbabwe where a criminal class is in power, is terrified of its past
fighting to stay in control at any cost. The consequences are there for
to see – GDP down by half, exports by two thirds, life expectancy by
a decade, elections a sham, the media totally controlled and all forms
opposition ruthlessly put down by armed force and violence. We are a
to regional stability and prosperity; our economic and political
are drowning the social and economic systems of our neighbors. Our
leadership is unrepentant – even of genocide and the mass destruction
homes and livelihoods. They are guilty of the theft of national assets
income on a scale that has not been seen in recent years in the rest of
Like Burma and North Korea they have built up a military State that is
and willing to maintain itself on what remains and can continue to do
indefinitely. The only recourse of its beleaguered and embattled
is flight or a form of national “house arrest”.
The Zimbabwe situation is one that is wide open to international
intervention. The failure by African leaders, the South African
in particular, demands that the international community itself takes a
look at what is going on and what can be done to get things back on
Unlike Darfur, Iraq, Burma and North Korea – Zimbabwe is vulnerable to
international action. It is a small country with limited resources –
them really strategic, it is land locked and its neighbors hold the key
the survival of the regime.
This is a problem that can be fixed. For the sake of its people, the
international community has an obligation to interfere. It does not
military intervention of any sort, just coordinated and concerted
the leaders of democracies in Africa and abroad.
Bulawayo, 2nd October 2006