Steve Chapman

Authoritarian rule, the exception in South America, remains the norm in Africa. The Human Rights Forum in Harare reported that human rights violations in Zimbabwe nearly doubled in the first half of 2007. But at a summit meeting of leaders from Europe and Africa in Lisbon, African leaders united in refusing to criticize President Robert Mugabe -- under whose rule average life expectancy has dropped from 62 years to 37.

Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor went on trial in The Hague for allegedly helping rebels who killed and maimed thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's civil war. He pleaded not guilty, but one of his former soldiers said, "If you start prosecuting war crimes, you'll prosecute every Liberian."

Nigeria had its first peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another, after an election with so much vote-rigging that the winner's victory margin, according to The Washington Post, "surprised even supporters of the ruling party."

Iraq's parliament took a month-long vacation in August even as U.S. troops were surging in an effort to provide lawmakers the security they needed to overcome their political stalemate. In Saudi Arabia, a young woman raped by seven men was sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes for her crime -- being in a car with a male who was not her relative. King Abdullah, under international pressure, granted a pardon.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf forgot a lesson most people learn young: Don't antagonize lawyers. His sacking of the country's chief justice sparked protests by attorneys, eventually moving the president to impose a state of emergency. Musharraf allowed opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return from exile abroad, but when asked when he would step down, he replied, unencouragingly, "When there is no turmoil in Pakistan."

That was the political story in many places around the world in 2007 -- enough turmoil to give authoritarian rulers an excuse to expand their control, but not enough to sweep them from power.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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