07/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Let's Stage a Non-Intervention

Irony can be cruel. Not as cruel however, as the consequences of well-meaning interventionists. While many now claim to be opposed to the war in Iraq, it never ceases to amaze me what short term memories people apparently have. Thus, the editorial in Monday's edition of The New York Times argues for China, Russia and South Africa to take more of a stand against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and "If they can't recognize that they have now shamefully betrayed Zimbabwe's people, President Bush and the rest of the world need to remind them." We have seen the volume rise steadily recently for intervention of various kinds in Zimbabwe, however if one looks back over the past recent history it becomes apparent that many of the issues at the forefront currently are because of western interference in some fashion.

Commentators such as Nicholas Kristof argue that Mugabe is worse than the white rulers because he is starving his own people and committing acts of barbarity. Others have gone as far as describing him as an "African Hitler". Increasingly shrill calls for intervention whether through sanctions or other forms, are being made. Indeed, when Arch bishop Desmond Tutu put this notion forward it was received warmly by western leaders and pundits alike.

However, this version of events as Brendan O'Neill, editor of the UK online publication Spiked points out is somewhat make-believe, ignoring the pivotal position of Western nations and financial institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund and the International Development Agency, to exercise harsh sanctions and rough diplomacy (as well as utilising the African Union and South Africa as police proxies, isolating Zimbabwe over the last decade).

Where once there was at least the formal recognition of the principle of national self determination and autonomy for nation states, we live in a time where it has become the increasingly popular -- in spite of the apparent fall out vis-à-vis Iraq -- to push for intervention in another nation's business. This is invariably done of course on the basis of "humanitarian" concerns. We have seen first hand however in Iraq how not only is it not possible to "impose" democracy and human rights from above - but that it actually accentuates the problems and makes the situation even worse. The well intentioned calls for intervention generally serves to heighten the stakes for all involved and with terms such as "good vs evil" banded around, makes it less likely that the people in the region are able to resolve the issues themselves.

It is also somewhat striking that amidst all the moral posturing and declarations of Mugabe's unacceptable behaviour, few seem to remark at the fact that US and British leaders are quite happy to be allies with Uganda and Rwanda whose authoritarianism and militarism is on a par with Mugabe's. Perhaps, we may also reflect that the very fact that Mugabe is able to point to western interference and bullying has ensured he can retain some element of popularity in Zimbabwe. Thomas Friedman argued recently that America's unpopularity was perhaps because it was prepared to step in and stand up for values when others, specifically South Africa, China and Russia would not. While many in the US and Europe feel morally superior by being able to lecture and point the finger, it seems further inspection demonstrates this is far more to do with attempting to rehabilitate some sense of "good vs evil" on the "Dark Continent" and has very little to do with empowering ordinary people to take control of their own lives. It is far easier for to grand stand on the international stage also, when domestically the resolution of problems seems to be somewhat elusive.

Rather than advocating further interventions, military or economic, we should perhaps recognise that the greatest benefit we could deliver is to stop meddling in the affairs of other nation states. After all, the dynamic of Western intervention has encouraged the opposition organisation Movement for Democratic Change to look to Western officials and radicals for their favour and flattery rather than to build a meaningful grassroots movement inside Zimbabwe. We should not forget, that it was Zimbabweans that overthrew the authoritarian regime of Ian Smith thirty years ago and there is no reason they can not do the same thing again. So, let us stage something different for a change -- a Non-Intervention -- and by doing so prevent the situation from spiraling further out of control and sending a clear signal that ultimately people are able to shape their own nations.