Austin Bay

"Frankly obscene," Australia's foreign minister said.

Australia's Stephen Smith was referring to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe's appearance at a U.N. food conference earlier this month.

Yes, a dictator who uses starvation to scatter and kill his own people making an appearance at an international conference devoted to raising food and feeding the hungry is an obscenity -- though I add, without cynicism, that the situation isn't all that unusual. Petty tyrants, terrorist enablers and tribal killers cluster about the wine and cheese smorgasbords of international community fetes and summits.

At these forums, they blame the United States for, well, virtually anything and everything. Anti-Americanism -- or in Mugabe's case, a worn-out '60s-style "anti-imperialist" pitch aimed at Great Britain -- provide media camouflage for their hideous genocides and cruel depredations.

Mugabe, a classic Marxist rebel leader, plays this game quite well. Toppling Southern Rhodesia's white dictatorship made him a cult hero. The left-leaning internationalists gave Mugabe's mass murder in Zimbabwe's Matebele land a pass. That brutal campaign of the early 1980s, conducted against his former anti-colonial allies, included imported North Korean mercenary-advisers.

But his obscenities are catching up with him.

His greatest obscenity is his war on his own impoverished nation. Mugabe's tyranny has savaged Zimbabwe, making the country yet another tragic example of a nation brutalized by its own government. Zimbabwe is blessed with rich farmland and ought to be an agricultural breadbasket. It was, until Mugabe's "land redistribution" and "farm policies" turned it into a starving basket case.

Once a major regional food producer, today a substantial number of Zimbabweans go hungry or flee. Since 2000, an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have escaped to neighboring nations, with South Africa a preferred destination.

Zimbabwe's economy is a string of obscene numbers. In late 2007, the Zimbabwean government said the annual inflation rate was 7,600 percent. The IMF forecast predicted 100,000 percent. A 2008 estimate said 200,000 percent. These statistical differences are meaningless -- the currency is a fraud, another form of governmental theft.

In early 2008, Zimbabwe's estimated unemployment rate ran from 50 percent to 80 percent. Whatever the number, Zimbabwe's once flourishing tourist industry has all but disappeared. In 1999, 1.4 million tourists visited Zimbabwe. In 2007, only a handful came. Commercial agriculture jobs once boosted Zimbabwe's economy. Since 2000, Zimbabwe has lost between 250,000 and 400,000 agricultural jobs.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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