The Common Good
July-August 2002

Foreign Relations

by Ed Spivey Jr. | July-August 2002

Some readers have complained that this column has become too personal, too focused on
my being a great father, an award-winning art director, and a god-like figure to the rest
of ...

Some readers have complained that this column has become too personal, too focused on my being a great father, an award-winning art director, and a god-like figure to the rest of the staff. In response to this concern, I have decided to look beyond my personal preoccupations and devote this entire column to commentary on international events, and the surprising way these events remind me of my own life. Such as when Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe recently stole the election and then wondered why foreign observers were "making such a big deal about it." Coincidentally, these were the exact words my daughter used when she came in after curfew.

In fairness to Mugabe, he simply wanted to spare his people the trauma Americans suffered after our own disputed presidential election, a time of acrimony and mistrust that turned brother against brother, sister against sister, and first cousin against third cousin twice removed (that one got ugly). Mercifully, Americans have the attention span of one of those squirrels that carefully buries nuts in the yard and then says to himself, seconds later, "Whoa! Somebody buried some nuts here! Well, too bad for them, 'cause it's finders keepers!" So Americans pretty much forgot about that election, unless they weren't Republicans from Florida.

But in Mugabe's case, he simply cancelled the recount, declared himself the winner, and jailed his opponent for treason. Had our own George W. Bush done the same thing, it might have spared Al W. Gore the sad spectacle of having to disguise himself with a beard before going into hiding.

Mugabe wisely reasoned that a recount would have taken up valuable resources from his cash-strapped country, resources that could better serve the needs of his people by being directly deposited into his secret Swiss bank accounts. (Or is it Swedish bank accounts? I'm always confused about that, which probably explains why, when I recently wired millions of dollars overseas, I got back a nice note pointing out that, while they appreciated my amusing postscript, their hills were not, in fact, alive with the sound of music, since that's Austria.)

BUT WHY WOULD I associate Robert Mugabe with my youngest daughter and her curfew violation? I know it's unfair to compare a brutal dictator to a teen-ager, since many brutal dictators go on to live decent and productive lives. And to be honest, it must be said that there are clear differences between the two. For example, unlike Zimbabwe's president, my daughter would never hire armed thugs to get her way, since she seems to do just fine without them.

The bottom line here is that when Mugabe comes home late he doesn't have to explain why. Whereas, I have LOTS of questions for my daughter. Fortunately for her, she had a good excuse: "I was having too much fun to come home."

THIS IS ONLY one of the annoyances of sharing a home with a ruthless dictator...excuse me, a delightful teen-ager. Sadly, even our pets suffer the consequences.

For example, all of our food is tested on animals. Some think this cruel, but it's the only way my daughter feels safe consuming the meals we prepare for her. At our home, the nightly ritual of suspicion and investigation begins with saying grace—which the cat respects by quietly licking her stomach until we're done—then she reaches up and pulls the tablecloth half-way down onto my daughter's lap, quickly reviewing the evening's fare. Unfortunately, the cat is almost always disappointed, since we're basically vegetarian (except for bacon. Mmmmmm, bacon...).

Our daughter watches warily as she feeds the feline small portions of the food groups. Only after the cat has survived each course will she consider eating what's on her plate, an obstinacy similar, I'm sure, to Robert Mugabe's own refusal to hold free and fair elections. Let's face it, in Zimbabwe the "balanced diet" of justice is just not being served at the "dinner table" of his authoritarianism. Plus, the "loud belch" of his 22-year-long dictatorship is embarrassing to the dinner guests.

Whether Mugabe has a cat, however, is unknown—he seems more like a big-dog kind of guy—and it's probably none of my business, except to observe that I wouldn't want to meow distractingly during an important meeting to discuss Zimbabwe's principle export, which, and I'm guessing here, is definitely NOT democracy.

Ed Spivey Jr. is not international relations adviser for

Sojourners. He's just the art director.
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