By Peter Fabricius
TWO pictures in the Kuala Lumpur papers last week told an interesting story. On Friday the Star carried a picture of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe seated on the right side of former M
alaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in a group portrait of the participants in the Perdana Global Peace Forum, which Mahathir had organised.
Mugabe’s prominent position in the line-up suggested he was going to make a big speech. No doubt he would use the platform to launch one of his usual tirades against his old foes, George Bush and Tony Blair.
The Star questioned Mahathir about the presence of Mugabe, “who is known for human rights violations”. Mahathir explained that he had not called “only like-minded people. If they have anything to say about how good it is for us to be a dictator, it is not for us to accept”.
The next day the New Straits Times carried a photograph showing Mugabe sitting glumly all by himself in an armchair at the conference centre. The organisers of the forum explained that Mugabe’s scheduled Friday lunchtime address to the forum had been cancelled — because it had become apparent that the audience would be too small. Malaysians, it seemed, did not want to hear what Mugabe had to say.
Mohamad was a friend to Mugabe in the past, because they shared a dislike of the West. Some time ago Mugabe adopted a “Look East” policy to try to compensate for his isolation by the West. He looked first to China, which had supported Zanu during the liberation struggle. He seems to have got some help from the Chinese but not nearly as much as he wanted. They are no doubt too savvy to waste much investment in a dying concern. One could also see Mugabe’s flirtation with Libyan Brother Leader Muammar Gadaffi as part of the Look East initiative, in a broad sense.
Gadaffi, another old enemy of the West, agreed to some investments in return for oil, including some farms. The fact is that all these old friends of Bob are moving on and do not really have the time or money to waste on someone who is increasingly being exposed for what he really is –— a monstrously extended ego who is prepared to destroy his whole country to save himself.
Mahathir, for all his faults, did great things for Malaysia. There was a logic to his criticism of Western institutions such as the IMF and the global currency speculators like George Soros, whom he felt were hurting his country.
China has of course embraced the spirit of capitalism with furious enthusiasm, even if it calls it “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. The Chinese may have applauded Mugabe’s seizure of white farms back in 2000 but they can see now that he never really intended to develop them for his landless peasants. Even Gadaffi has moved on.
Since his flirtation with Mugabe, he has publicly abandoned his nuclear weapons programme and begun courting Western investment.
Like the black intellectuals and journalists who applauded Mugabe back in 2000 as a great liberator of the land, one by one Mugabe’s supporters have seen through him and dropped him. It may have suited Mahathir to support Mugabe as an ally against the West. But ordinary Malaysians, it was evident this week, have little time for him. The tedious old anti-British colonialism drum that Mugabe beats may yet still resonate in Africa but not much in the East. A Malaysian academic put it in perspective last week when he said that; “Of course the British developed Malaysia for their own good. But they also enriched us.” The East accepts that the past is past and looks to the future. And Mugabe, more than most, is yesterday’s man. —The Cape Times.