Written in response to a stirring article by Morgan Tsvangirai in The Age ('Stand up and be counted', 6/5 2008).

CCed Friday, 9 May 2008, to:

Dear Sir/Madame,

Mr Tsvangirai asks Australia to act and to act 'immediately' ('Stand up and be counted', The Age 6 May 2008). But are we listening?

Reading between the lines of Mr Tsvangirai's dignified, restrained and diplomatic tone, one can't help but hear the voice of desperation, frustration and exasperation with the international community.

Though Mr Tsvangirai's request needs no further support, lest Mr Rudd has any doubt, let us address two questions: Why Australia? and Why now?

Why Australia? First, Australia is a much loved international beacon of democracy, transparency and human rights. We are not perfect, and have our own progress to make, but all should remember that it is not to our great sporting obsessions or beach culture that immigrants flock, it is to our freedoms.

Second, though Australia may have gained it by luck, we are amongst the wealthiest, longest-living and best educated countries in the world.

The United Nation's Human Development Index puts only Iceland and Norway ahead of us in this hard to fake index of standard of living.

Zimbabwe is in a fight for last place.

Indeed, the comparison between Australia and Zimbabwe is stark and arresting. Life expectancy at birth: 80 and 37 years respectively; HIV prevalence: 0.1% and 18%. Perhaps most striking, the total malnourishment rate for Zimbabwe stands at: 45%, Australia: 'not applicable'.

Third, Australia is a particular friend to Mr Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change. Mr Tsvangirai has been more than once a guest in Australia, most recently late in 2007 as a guest of the Australian Human Rights Centre.

It is not without reason that Mr Tsvangirai would write exclusively for a leading Australian broadsheet.

In one session that I attended at the University of NSW, Mr Tsvangirai graciously took questions from an audience largely unable to begin to comprehend the kind of life he and his fellow democrats endure back in Zimbabwe.

The talk then was of cautious optimism. The mood was one of hope. How different the reality we now know.

There are pressures of modern life in Australia, but we would all do well to realise that we stand at the very pinnacle of global development. We are rich in all senses of the word.

The question is, have we become too selfish to care?

Why now? It is true that Australia has no shortage of good causes to champion in the international community. The war in Afghanistan and the humanitarian crisis in Burma come quickly to mind.

Both are present and pressing.

However, these are the tip of the international iceberg of despots, corruption, famine, disease, malnutrition and despair that cover our broken planet. All require our thoughts and attention. Nevertheless, each will have its `time' for our concerted action.

For Zimbabwe, that time is now.

After 24 years of sham `democracy', Mugabe's Zimbabwe is accelerating towards catastrophe. And yet, despite the brutal methods of Mugabe's regime, a majority of Zimbabweans voted courageously for change. This mood presents a once in a generation window of opportunity.

Mr Tsvangirai is right to claim that international inaction on Zimbabwe will only embolden other regimes who abuse democratic processes to their gain.

Of the dozen or so elections slated for 2008 only a handful make it to the top 50 in Transparency International's (TI) rating of open and just institutional structures.

Indeed, the electoral roll-call of 2008 reads as a who's who of muddy governance: Georgia and Serbia rank equal 79th, Armenia and Lebanon rank equal 99th, whilst Pakistan, Russia and Iran cluster just above Zimbabwe at 150 on the TI listing.

And to the near future? Australia need only look to the next few months to see the harvest they are sowing with inaction on Zimbabwe.

What will we say when Sierra Leone vote in May (ranked equal to Zimbabwe by TI)? Or when Iraq stumbles towards another electoral round in October (second to last by rank at 178)?

If Rudd is serious about his rhetoric of 'middle power' in the international sphere then the stage is set.

The spotlight has found Australia, Mr Rudd.

The microphone is open.

Dr Simon Angus Dept. Economics, Monash University

Leviathan: sangus/ZimbabweElections (last edited 2010-02-05 10:04:00 by sangus)