09/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mbeki and the Butcher of Khartoum

The latest in the ugly marriage between black African leaders and Arab dictators is the African Union's announcement that it opposes the International Criminal Court's indictment of Omar al Bashir, the architect of the latest Sudanese genocide. Both Muamar Khadafy and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki say al Bashir should be given a free rein to continue doing what he has done over the last five years in Darfur, without the sword of justice hanging over his head as it did over Radovan Karadzic's since his indictment thirteen years ago.

I have no quarrel with Khadafy's attitude; after all in 2001 he urged all Middle Eastern Arabs to move to Africa claiming, "it's the only space we (Arabs) have." His support of al Bashir and opposition to any contemplated accusation of an Arab brother is understandable and fully expected. For four decades, Libya armed Sudanese Arabs against blacks in south Sudan and now Muslim blacks in Darfur, proving that in all matters Arab, blood is thicker than water. Many blacks including Mbeki are blind to or wish not to know this reality.

Mbeki's siding with the Butcher of Khartoum is painful and incomprehensible. That the African Union must be maintained as a viable organization should never necessitate a choice between what is just and legal, against what's politically expedient. The African Union should be an instrument of justice for all people of the African continent. What we have seen over the years is complete disregard of human rights in Africa, as dictator after dictator have ridden roughshod over their countrymen while others stand by the sidelines, with wide bemused grins.

Sadness weighs heavily on my heart as I look at many of these African rogues. It is even more painful and disappointing when one considers Mbeki who came onto the African stage with so much promise, so much hope for the poor of the continent. I judge Mbeki on a different scale, than, let's say, Arap Moi, the former Kenyan dictator, because Mbeki's of a purer pedigree and his tutorship was clean and democratic. He after all had Mandela's blessings.

Sadly, Mbeki's problem is not an uncommon one; it happens time and again when mere mortals try to fill the shoes of gods. After Mandela stepped down, many wondered if Mbeki had the character, intelligence and judgment to stand half as tall, half as upright as Mandela. Ten years have proved that Mbeki is a leader with feet of clay; a man of impaired judgment - one whose missteps include allowing himself to be hood winked by the likes of Khadafy.

The country he inherited could have been so much that it's not now. His neighbors to the north had so much potential that has been leached by the tides of time, raw ambition and hunger for power; and pathologic hesitation on Mbeki's part.

How, one wonders, could Mbeki be so blind as not to appreciate the horrors of AIDs among his own people? What illogical genius could have convinced him that Uganda's success against HIV/AIDS with their ABC strategy was an aberration, and the dying South Africans were fiction? Knowing that Mbeki was sacrificing his own brothers and sisters to some inexplicable delusion, we waited, as HIV/AIDS continued to claim more South African lives. Mbeki could have saved them; he opted not to.

Mbeki could have saved Zimbabwe's millions from the mad ambition of Robert Mugabe. He must have known that white farmers and the land they farmed, were used as pawns in Mugabe's diabolical political gambit -- a way to win votes and to remain in power -- no matter that Zimbabwe's economy was washed down the Zambezi. Youth must distinguish itself by forcefully restraining megalomaniacal old men.

By opting to do nothing, 3 million Zimbabweans are now in exile in South Africa, where hundreds were slaughtered by his own citizens out of fear that their livelihood was jeopardized by the immigrants. Prosperity needs champions; progress and human well-being need their own soldiers and committed advocates.

The disparity between South Africa's haves and have nots continues to be pronounced. There has been no restitution for those dispossessed by Apartheid. Mbeki has ignored lessons he should have learned from Zimbabwe and Kenya, that: land reform should be tackled head-on; in the open and as judiciously as possible. The danger is land distribution is used by politicians to reward their cronies or to win votes. Even as Mbeki vacates the presidency, South Africa finds itself on a perilous perch. Every attempt should be made to defuse the likely explosion of the landless against the landed in South Africa.

Mbeki's support of Al Bashir is but one failing among many; it was at first puzzling. It shouldn't have. Mbeki is one of those black Africans, who watched the torture and killing in Africa from the sidelines; more concerned with the war the ANC was waging against the apartheid regime, than on the Arab murder and genocide against blacks in the Sudan. He is not much different from many sub-Saharan black leaders who think of Arab leaders as benevolent and benign; Arabs who reward them by delivering presents to their palaces in their impoverished countries.

Arab regimes with all their corruption, racism and genocide of blacks, were regarded as legitimate members of the former Organization of African Unity. Now the African Union is allowing Arabs to take the helm. In the past the reason was, black support was bought with Arab money. Furthermore, many of the black leaders' hands were besmirched with black Africans' blood. Brutality, Arab racism, genocide, slavery were chapters of the same book; parts of the same side of the coin of injustice and totalitarianism. These men didn't see or appreciate pain and misery as the rest of us, ordinary mortals, do.

For decades, many of these black monsters have not represented most Africans. Except for Mbeki who was popularly elected by his countrymen; which is the reason Mbeki's attitude towards South Africa's AIDS sufferers, Darfur's genocide victims, the butcher of Khartoum's ICC indictment has puzzled me a lot. This is complicated by the fact that I have always believed that any disciple of Mandela's would be covered by the fine dust of wisdom and charity from Mandela's brush.

Unfortunately Mbeki has disappointed by being too insular, too unimaginative and too obstreperous.

Africa will be better served if Jacob Zuma, who will likely be the next president of South Africa, is less beholden to Arab dictators; more willing to fight injustice against Africans by Arabs.