Zimbabwe ambassador impressed with Selma

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 18, 2003

Dressed in a sensible linen suit and tie, Dr. Simbi Veke Mubako, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, is nevertheless feeling the effects of the humid Alabama summer.

The room &045;&045; the library of the now defunct East Perry High School &045;&045; is not air-conditioned. A battery of electric fans keeps the air circulating but does little to alleviate the oppressive heat.

Mubako is Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the United States. He was in Selma and Perry County Thursday to speak to the young people attending the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement’s summer camp.

Mubako frequently speaks to similar groups around the country in his position as ambassador. He diplomatically suggests that the average American’s knowledge of Zimbabwe is limited at best.

He likens Zimbabwe to Montana in size, with a population of roughly 13 million people.

In Zimbabwe, every citizen 18 or older is eligible to vote. Unlike their American counterparts, Zimbabwe’s citizens appear to take their right to vote seriously &045;&045; often posting voter turnouts of as high as 80 percent.

Mubako, who speaks four languages, is clearly proud of his country, its culture and its history. He calls its capital, Harare, &uot;one of the most beautiful cities in the world &045;&045; very clean.&uot; He notes that traveling through Montgomery earlier in the day reminded him of cities in his homeland, adding, &uot;All of Africa is not jungle.&uot;

Mubako points out another similarity between America and Zimbabwe. &uot;Like you,&uot; he says, &uot;we also were subject to British rule.&uot;

As a British colony, Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia. Under British rule, Africans were driven out of more than half the country, often at gunpoint, and forced to live on communal lands. Land was taken from its owners without compensation and given to Rhodesia’s soldiers, or to veterans of the world wars or to any white settlers.

Under British rule, Africans were excluded from the political process and not allowed to vote.

Under British rule, Africans were also excluded from the best schools and residential areas and other amenities, which were preserved for whites only.

While Zimbabwe finally won its independence from Britain in 1980, it continues to grapple with the legacy of colonial rule today. As part of its agreement to grant independence, Britain agreed to provide compensation for land that had been confiscated.

The United States, under President Carter, agreed to partially fund that compensation as a humanitarian gesture. &uot;But you never paid,&uot; Mubako says softly as the 20 or so young people in the room listen intently.

Mubako insists that, overall, Africans are favorably predisposed toward Americans. He notes that the recently signed trade bill allows African nations that are suffering from drought and famine to import foods from the United States duty free. He also notes that the United States has been generous in providing humanitarian aid to drought-stricken areas.

Still, Mubako acknowledges that diplomatic relations between Africa and America occasionally encounter areas of friction. &uot;You tend sometimes to want to give orders,&uot; he observes, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Mubako cites Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent remarks in which he criticized many African leaders &045;&045; including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Mubako points out that Mugabe was only recently elected head of an organization of African states &045;&045; &uot;which just shows how out of sync Mister Powell’s remarks are with current African thought,&uot; he says.

Mubako says that Zimbabwe is very interested in developing economic ties with America. He adds that his country’s economy is still largely agrarian based and in need of modern farming methods and equipment.

Mubako mops his forehead once again and smiles at his listeners. &uot;You have much to teach us,&uot; he says at last.

The room is silent except for the fans as they continue their futile battle with the Alabama humidity.