Should Mugabe go same route as Charles Taylor?

You can imagine someone in Soweto, Harare, Lilongwe or Lusaka asking you, in genuine bafflement: "Who is Radovan Karadzic? And where the hell is Bosnia-Herzegovina? And why should I care about any of this, anyway?"

You can imagine someone in Soweto, Harare, Lilongwe or Lusaka asking you, in genuine bafflement: "Who is Radovan Karadzic? And where the hell is Bosnia-Herzegovina? And why should I care about any of this, anyway?"

Your lesson of enlightenment could start with an extremist example of why Karadzic could be of relevance in African history.

You could compare him with Charles Taylor, formerly the leader of Liberia and a man, like Karadzic, now facing an international panel of judges on charges of crimes against humanity or genocide - anyway, crimes related to his responsibility for the deaths of thousands of unarmed and mostly innocent people.

If any of the people in your snap survey asks you: "You mean like Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Macias Nguema, Jean-Bedel Bokassa and ." don't be alarmed.

But if someone then chips in with "And Robert Mugabe?" you are bound, for your own sake, to pause before replying. If the questioner is a Zimbabwean in exile, you have to be very careful. He could be a confirmed political refugee, out to besmirch the wholesome name of an African leader who - some tend to believe - was once regarded as one of the titans of the struggle against colonialism, but is now regarded with loathing.

Karadzic was arrested a few days ago after evading his pursuers for more than 10 years. He was accused of ordering the killing of nearly 100000 people during the war that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia, a socialist country whose existence owed much to one man, Josip Tito.

Yugoslavia helped many Africans struggling against colonialism in the 50s and 60s. So, among some African leaders, its break-up after Tito's death and the demise of communism had a cataclysmic effect on world geopolitics. Of course, to many others, a man who, under any circumstances, kills thousands of people strictly on the basis of their ethnic origins is to be treated with a particular brand of loathing.

At the end of apartheid, South Africa went through a very dangerous period of ethnic killings, which ended only after the leaders agreed on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Desmond Tutu, and the total support of the new government.

I was in Nigeria shortly before the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was forced to let the world decide Charles Taylor's fate over his collusion with the rebels in Sierra Leone during their bloody civil war which featured the "blood diamonds".

Though Obasanjo had soiled himself politically by seeking, in vain, a third term of office, it is not improbable that his attempt to shelter Taylor may also have contributed to his notoriety and his failure to earn his people's sympathy, even after he had left the presidency.

Amin, Sese Seko and the others were fortunate to die in exile, probably because the international community had not yet instituted the legal machinery to pursue such brigands to the ends of the earth, literally.

For Zimbabwe, where calls for Mugabe to be similarly treated have become more and more vocal since the recent violence against the opposition, there will probably be much debate on the issue.

While some believe that in the spirit of reconciliation, all must be forgiven, others hold that a "softly, softly" approach to such atrocities could set a terrible precedent.

What, in the end, must be decided is whether, in pursuit of stability and peace, wanton disregard for human life should be forgiven, or punished with the ultimate sanction.

l Bill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.

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