More Light on Zimbabwe

While American TV networks clamor to have cameras at the trial of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, journalists in Africa are wondering if they can cover anything at all about a pivotal election in Zimbabwe.

Were it to be held openly, the vote in March might see the political end of the increasingly authoritative president, Robert Mugabe.

He's so worried about foreign pressure being generated by coverage of his hard-ball tactics against a popular opposition that he's ramming through draconian security laws, including curbs on the press.

Under one measure, any journalist could be jailed for criticizing the president. Foreign journalists will not be allowed even to be accredited. Other restrictions represent just the latest blame-the-messenger tactic that's helping Mr. Mugabe stay in power and avoid blame for ruining the economy of a naturally rich nation.

The press in much of Africa, of course, is restricted, but Mugabe's actions are watched closely in case they are imitated in South Africa. If Zimbabwe falls into chaos or civil war, it could easily destabilize its neighbor. As it is, the Zimbabwe crisis has already contributed to a massive devaluation of the South African currency.

Helping Africa learn the value of conducting peaceful democratic transitions requires the basic element of maintaining a free press. Arresting or beating up journalists, as has occurred under Mugabe, is no way to promote democracy, let alone stability.

Zimbabwe should scrap its curbs on the press.

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