The US ambassador to Zimbabwe, who has been at his post for only six months, deserves his nation’s congratulations for a recent fierce display of guts and integrity. The State Department and the US Foreign Service should be proud.
Our diplomat’s name is Jim McGee. He has been the US envoy to Zimbabwe since November, replacing Ambassador Chris Bell who moved from the frying pan into the fire as our new ambassador to Afghanistan.
McGee, who is African-American, is 59 years old and has had a distinguished career. He is from Chicago. He flew in the Vietnam War for which he received three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He has been posted over his long career in difficult posts in Nigeria and Pakistan. He has been ambassador to Swaziland and then Madagascar and the Comoros Islands before his new job in Zimbabwe.
As you know, Zimbabwe has been falling apart for years. President Robert Mugabe, the Marxist former schoolteacher, has practically destroyed the once rich and lovely country. He acts as if the land and its people are his personal belongings. Crazy Bob had held Zim in his gnarled fist for thirty years and has driven it into deprivation and misery.
He clearly lost the Zimbabwe presidential election in March but ballot box corruption has caused a run-off to be scheduled.
So Crazy Bob stepped up violence against the opposition –called The Movement for Democratic Change, as he faces that runoff.
He has been burning the houses of his opponents and killing and maiming men, women and children. According to Sarah Childress in the Wall St Journal, a rural farmhouse on property seized from a 4th generation white farmer by Mugabe, has been turned into a torture facility.
People are beaten there by Mugabe’s men, some using thick logs, one man had his ears hacked off.
Recently Ambassador McGee led a delegation of foreign diplomats, including the ambassadors from Japan, Britain, the Netherlands, Tanzania and the European Union to personally meet with some of the victims of Mugabe’s violence. at a local hospital where they were being treated for injuries. The diplomats arrived in a caravan of motor cars.
Mugabe was reportedly furious that the ambassadors would poke their collective noses in his business.
When the diplomats came out of the hospital, armed police closed the gates, preventing them from leaving. The police commander then confronted the diplomats, trying to intimidate them, though they all have “diplomatic immunity” from such episodes by international agreement.
Mugabe’s men paid special attention to Ambassador McGee, who was questioned for two hours.
The police then said they were taking McGee into custody.
“No you are not,” said McGee. He walked to the gates and pulled them open himself. He shook off the taken-aback police officials, got in his car and the caravan left and went to a 2nd hospital.
The diplomats were unmolested there –but the hospital staff was too frightened to talk with them.
Soon after, a policeman drove his car directly at the US ambassador but swerved away at the last minute.
South Africa is to the south of landlocked Zimbabwe, they share a border. As a columnist in a Johannesburg newspaper recently pointed out, if it was legal for a coalition of countries to knock the murderous dictator Saddam Hussein off his throne in Iraq, which it was, then why couldn’t the same be done, quite within international law, to the destructive Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Well it could. There certainly is precedent for it. Think of Nigeria sending in troops and putting down the illegal government in Sierra Leone ten years ago.
The African Union’s charter permits military intervention where “disorder” is rampant. Crazy Bob should be toppled before more Zimbabweans suffer and die.
As to the gusty stance of Ambassador Jim McGee against authoritarian abuse: This is unacceptable behavior by Zimbabwe. The US State Department has been raising Hell with Mugabe about it, though to no avail.
Fifteen years ago, when I was ambassador to the Seychelles, an island country of more than 100 islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa, an unknown person fired an AK 47 at our home, the official residence, from a distance of about 30 feet. One bullet went through my library wall.
The local guards dived for cover and were useless. The president of Seychelles, who had seized power in a coup some years before, was fearful of being overthrown himself and so had tight control of all weapons in the country. The only assault rifles belonged to his government. Not even rubber-band spear guns for fish were allowed. The situation was highly suspicious.
I got on a short wave radio in my bedroom closet, linked to the CIA station in Tanzania, with a quick link to the US.
This was late a night. Within the hour, the Secretary of State had been awakened, and had in turn awakened the Seychelles ambassador to the United Nations in New York to demand some answers.
Unlike what happened at the U.S, Embassy in Iran under Jimmy Carter, and in part because of that debacle, the US government, no matter its failings, tries very hard to protect its diplomats. It has a very short fuse over State aggression against diplomats in their host countries.