Neither free nor fair It now seems clear beyond reasonable doubt that last weekend's Zimbabwean presidential election was far from being “free and fair”. Although the most important judgement – that of the Commonwealth observers – has not yet been delivered, almost all other reporting of events before and during the election has testified to vote–rigging and intimidation of opposition voters. One of the most important assessments was that made by the observer team from Norway – a country which even President Mugabe cannot accuse of a colonial past or close association with Britain and other EU “oppressors”. The Norwegians said on Tuesday that the election “failed to meet key broadly accepted criteria and was conducted in an environment of strong polarisation, political violence and an election administration with severe shortcomings.”

The voice of South Africa now becomes of the greatest importance. President Mbeki, together with his Australian and Nigerian counterparts, will shortly have the responsibility for delivering the definitive Commonwealth judgement on the election. If it is negative then sanctions against Zimbabwe and possibly suspension from the Commonwealth should follow. If, however, it fails to accept the conclusions of almost all most independent observers it will do a serious disservice to the Commonwealth and, more importantly, to Africa. The Presidents of Nigeria and South Africa have recently taken the lead in an ambitious plan for the economic and social regeneration of Africa which will need substantial and sustained support from the United States and EU countries. If they fail to condemn the lawlessness of Mugabe's rule and his denial of democratic values it will send a negative message about Africa's own commitment to finding its way to a better future.


Nation building
Macedonia, the Balkan state almost torn apart by internal conflict last year, was promised £592 million (US$515m) at a pledging conference held earlier this week in Brussels. The money, intended for reconstruction and economic development, was pledged by forty countries under the auspices of the European Union and the World Bank. Support of this kind was the carrot which the EU used to impose a peace settlement between the Macedonian government and its restless ethnic Albanian minority.

This funding is the latest instance of the kind of help which the EU has been giving to assist post–war reconstruction and economic and political stability in the Balkans over the past six years. Bosnia–Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia have all benefitted from such assistance and although much remains to be done, slow and steady progress is being achieved in a region which has always had the potential to disrupt European peace. Apart from money, this work requires infinite patience on the part of EU officials who are attempting nothing less than the gradual integration of traditionally disputatious and feuding states into a stable relationship with mainstream Europe. The task is supported by the presence of NATO forces in which European personnel are taking an increasingly important role as the United States scales down its contribution. The term “nation–building” is being used a lot in relation to Afghanistan's needs. What has been done in the Balkans in recent years provides a good example of what can be achieved by steady application of money and principle.