Africa's Grand Bargain

All was not lost in Zimbabwe's rigged election last week.

Africa's two richest and most powerful nations, South Africa and Nigeria, decided to punish Zimbabwe on Tuesday for a flawed presidential vote. Their courageous stand will help renew a promise by leading industrialized nations to provide more aid, trade, and investment only if Africa shows better governance and democracy.

This grand bargain to uplift the world's poorest continent would have been in jeopardy if Thabo Mbeki, south Africa's president, and Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's president, had not agreed to suspend Zimbabwe from the 54-nation group of former British colonies known as the Commonwealth. Their endorsement of yet another type of diplomatic isolation of Zimbabwe shows solidarity with the West.

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The grand pact, known as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, was initiated by the two leaders. It is a model for all poverty-reducing efforts at this week's UN conference on development aid being held in Mexico (see opinion piece, page 9). Without the rule of law and fair elections in Africa, no amount of aid can help it.

Mr. Mbeki may still hope that, despite his joining the West in criticizing Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, he can work with his troubled neighbor to prevent more violence, keep the economy from collapsing, and find some political compromise.

Mbeki and other African leaders need to press Mr. Mugabe to stop his repression and to not take farmland from whites without just compensation. Many of the continent's other governments found little fault with the way Mugabe ran the election, despite overwhelming evidence of voter intimidation and manipulation of polls.

Zimbabwe's opposition says it will only join Mugabe in a unity government if he agrees to a new, better-run election. That's a fair deal. A strike this week by the country's trade unions protesting the government's tactics reflects widespread disgust with Mugabe.

But now that he's cornered by the international community with many types of isolation – including opprobrium from two of his African peers – he has lashed out by charging opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with trying to kill him. Such desperation by Mugabe should not be condoned by African leaders.

South Africa's leader, Mbeki, who has been inclined toward "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe, has now made himself heard. His stature in Africa and his stand on Zimbabwe's future bring hope for African economic renewal and greater democracy.

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