It’s surely a curious thing why certain issues, and not others, become the main media focus at this or that time. I recently commented on what I saw as the total lack of perspective, and even some fabricated reports, over the attention given to the Tibetan protests in relation to the Olympics. Very few reports that I saw gave any serious presentation of the history beyond the era of European colonialism or the strength of the independence claims in international law. In amazing Big Brother scenes on TV reporting one often found oneself watching one thing on the video film and listening to a voice-over description of what was happening that simply did not relate at all to what one was seeing. We were being told to think that there was a mass uprising of the people when all we could see were either some monks who were often themselves violent, or race riots where some civilians were clearly turning on their neighbours of the”wrong” ethnicity. The real human rights issues of China — the legal system and corruption, and almost promiscuous use of the death penalty, the imprisonments and punishments against those attempting to speak out for rights and justice — did not seem to exist at that time.
But now the big international news media topic is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. One has to question what lies behind the choice and slant of news topics that come our way — all with one voice. Mugabe is a villain. No doubt. He has fallen from his liberation hero status to murderous criminal. But the media is completely silent about other murderous criminal rulers. Or worse, when they do have cause to refer to them they give the impression they are normal respectable members of the international community of national leaders.
Is it Mugabe’s lack of democratic credentials that are really the issue? Of course his last election, which he won with 85% of the vote, was a sham.
But President Mubarak of Egypt has won his last x number of elections by a more than 90% of the vote. (SMH article.) Mubarak also runs a criminal regime that keeps control through political bans and torture. Mubarak has banned the largest political party in Egypt. He offers an accommodating extra-judicial resort for western nations like the U.S. and Australia when even non-Egyptians are deemed in need of a bit of “softening up”. And he is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, a respectable leader who can talk with Israel and help keep those rambunctious Palestinians in line.
So he is a good leader worthy of $US21.3 billion aid for the 2007 fiscal year. There was, admittedly, a dutiful passing reference to “unease” about Mubarak’s “human rights record”, but it was decided that it would be “unfair” for a gentleman nation to notice such things when the culprit was “an important ally”. (See the America.Gov website article.)
So what is the difference between the sins of Mubarak and the sins of Mugabe that should qualify the latter for such flamboyant media coverage?
Mubarak wins election after election by more than 90% of the vote, the biggest political party is banned, and his government is notorious for torture, disappearances and dubious legal procedures to maintain power and keep control.
Mugabe, on the other hand, wins an election by a mere 85% of the vote, at least says the opposition if free to run against him, and winks and shrugs his shoulders when hooligan supporters do his dirty work for him, openly, in the streets and fields and private homes of citizens.
Methinks there are two differences of significance:
One: Mugabe’s violence is much less efficient than Mubarak’s. And the reason it is less efficient is that it is uncontrolled. It has no state police doing the dirty work of hooligans in an organized and “responsible” manner, dragging people off secretly in the night. All this broad daylight savagery is too exposed to cameras, for god’s sake! It makes good tv viewing and guaranteed audiences and therefore attracts lucrative advertizer funds to the media coffers.
Two: Mugabe has made an economic mess of his country! Now that is really unspeakable. Controlled and efficient violence is jolly good for business. That’s why countries like Egypt attract $1.3 billion of annual U.S. taxes for military aid. And why countries like China are great investment opportunities right now. (I’m not suggesting that Zimbabwe’s economic woes can be cured by organized state violence, but a bit of organized state-controlled violence would go a long way to opening up his country, if Mugabe were willing, to economic investment and advisers. He would have nothing to lose from allowing those in to his country if he had the greater personal security state controlled violence could bring.)
Zimbabwe, with its uncontrolled violence, is an opportunity lost:
Properly managed, Zimbabwe’s wide range of resources should enable it to support sustained economic growth. The country has an important percentage of the world’s known reserves of metallurgical-grade chromite. Other commercial mineral deposits include coal, platinum, asbestos, copper, nickel, gold, and iron ore. However, for the country to benefit from these mineral deposits, it must attract foreign direct investment. (U.S. Dept of State report)
Don’t think I’m opposing public outrage over Mugabe and the outrages against so many Zimbabweans. What pings me off is the media’s complicity in expressing their seeming political masters’ outraged comments without further digging and enquiry, and without due regard for evenly applied standards.
The media, and the political powers under whom they operate, know well the common decency and humanity of most people towards others. But the inconsistency of their targets smacks of self-interested manipulation.
And given the simple comparison of the cases of Mugabe and Mubarak, how can one escape the conclusion that if Mugabe was a lot more efficient with how he applied violence, and learned from Mubarak how to secure his power without such a public and economic mess, Mugabe would still be feted as the liberation hero he was in the beginning.