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Friday, 20 April 2007

Zimbabwe's ambassador to US says Ethiopia is worse

"Two hundred people were shot dead by police" in Ethiopia after its elections in 2005, Mapuranga said, "but that coverage was not seen" in the United States.

By Owen FletcherPrincetonian Staff Writer
Zimbabwe's government is not responsible for its political and economic problems, said Machivenyika Mapuranga, the country's ambassador to the United States, in a half-full lecture held yesterday in Frist 302. Mapuranga, whose country had an inflation rate of over 1,700 percent in February, spoke at length of Zimbabwe's colonial history and its difficult land reform process, both factors, he said, in its struggle for stability. Audience members who challenged Mapuranga to justify his government's policies in a question-and-answer session expressed frustration with his responses. "It was a propaganda speech," Daniel Scher '06 said after the event. Scher, who is from South Africa, criticized Mapuranga for "blaming everything on imperialism and conspiracy theories" instead of acknowledging his government's role in national problems. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, seen by many as a strong-handed authoritarian, was recently quoted in the international press as saying that "police have the right to bash" protestors in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has held power since 1980 and is criticized by the United States for suppressing freedom of expression before next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. Mapuranga noted that recent political protests in Zimbabwe have led to several police stations being burned down and a train being bombed. These events "obliged" the government "to suspend political gatherings for three months," he said.

But he insisted that the government has tolerated the existence of opposition parties, and that elections, held "religiously" every five years, have been fair. He criticized protestors for causing unrest and "trying to copy what happened somewhere in Eastern Europe, where there was an Orange Revolution." Whereas the opposition party has "decided to embark on a path of violence," Mapuranga said, Mugabe's government wants "to disavow violence." He noted repeatedly that Zimbabwe has "been a multiparty state since independence." Mapuranga blamed media bias for the negative portrayal of Zimbabwean political events in the United States, listing "far worse" examples of police violence in other African nations. "Two hundred people were shot dead by police" in Ethiopia after its elections in 2005, Mapuranga said, "but that coverage was not seen" in the United States. In contrast, Mapuranga said, the Western media gave extensive coverage to a recent protest in Zimbabwe when "one demonstrator was shot dead as the crowd surged in a menacing manner." Mapuranga also accused the United States and Britain of trying to "affect regime change" in his country, contrasting their antagonism with what he called "the solidarity of the rest of Africa" toward Zimbabwe. Russia and Eastern European nations have also supported Zimbabwe, he added. When asked to explain the cause of Zimbabwe's economic woes, Mapuranga blamed American and British economic sanctions. "The Zimbabwean economy ... was deeply imbedded in the Anglo-American economy," he explained. He added that Zimbabwe is now "looking to the East" for economic partnership. Mapuranga labeled advances in education as one of his government's greatest achievements. "Zimbabwe today has the highest literacy rate ... in Africa" at 94 percent, he said. Its 13 universities outnumber those of other African nations, he added. "Every country has its ups and downs," Mapuranga said. Chris Simpson '08 said the ambassador's talk might be "exactly what Mugabe would want you to hear." Opposition to the government has come from the media as well as religious and political groups in Zimbabwe, he noted. "But it's difficult to get an unbiased source" on events in the country, Simpson added. The talk, entitled "Zimbabwe, 27 Years of Independence: The Past, the Present, & the Future," was sponsored by the Princeton African Students Association and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.