THE conviction for genocide of the exiled former dictator of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam by the Ethiopian court, is an occasion that deserves celebration by all patriotic Africans.
Anyone familiar with the sordid history of Ethiopia and the manner in which Mengistu seized power in 1974 from Emperor Haile Selassie and ruthlessly executed him will not have any sympathy for Mengistu.
Anyone who is aware of the thousands of people massacred and executed during Mengistu's chequered years in power would celebrate the court's verdict. So too would the millions in Eritrea who lost friends and relatives durin their bloody war of liberation against Mengistu's Ethiopia.
Mengistu presided over an undemocratic regime, whose driving fuel was the desire to reproduce itself at any cost. Thus, whilst millions of people went hungry, Mengistu spent millions of United States dollars acquiring sophisticated arms and pitting the Russians and the Americans against each other.
Many of us still remember the images of starvation that became synonymous with Ethiopia in 1984. It was a famine in which many historians, including Martin Meredith, described as "the biggest disaster of the 20th century."
It was a famine which gave rise to Bob Girdolf's first band aid concerts in the 1980s. Such was the kind of suffering authored by Mengistu.
During the same year, in 1984, whilst millions of Ethiopisans were dying, Mengistu was constructing his new convention hall, "The Great Hall of the People", with a sitting capacity of 3 500 delegates with the help of North Korean constructors. Moreover, the 10 years celebration of the 1974 "revolution" gobbled US$150 million while millions were starving. It is a tale of grandeur and affluence amid poverty that many who are familiar wit dictators will testify.
The way Mengistu decimated the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party, the Tigray's People's Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front was with such primitive ruthlessness that has few competing stories on the continent.
For instance, in August 1980, Mengistu's army began an offensive in central Tigray that lasted for seven months. The basis of this campaign was a scorched earth approach in which the army destroyed grain stores and houses, burnt crops and pastures, killed livestock and displaced over 80 000 farmers. Some will remember how he ordered famine areas to be closed to visitors, tourists and donor representatives, particularly in Wollo an Tigray.
Many will remember how Mengistu's own informal militias, the equivalent of our own Green Bombers, known as kebeles, massacred thousands of people during the Red Terror campaigns against so-called reactionaries.
There is no doubt that Mengistu committed crimes against humanity as defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. He committed heinous crimes on a widespread basis against innocent civilians intentionally and unlawfully. There are even those who have written graphically about the way he personally executed emperor Haile Selassie and desecrated the remains of the poor emperor. Quite clearly, under Article 25 and Article 28 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Mengistu would be liable.
The decision in 1991 by the Zimbabwe government to provide refuge at first instance to Mengistu was abhorrent and unacceptable. It is an insult to the millions of Ethiopians who suffered under Mengistu. It is an insult to the millions massacred in the Orgaden, in Harar, in Addis Abbaba, in Asmara and in Wallo. It is also an insult to the millions of Africans who have suffered abuse at the hands of dictators.
These include the thousands of Tutsis massacred in July 1994, the thousands of poor peasants whose limbs were redecorated in Sierra Leonne and Liberia. It is an insult to the millions of South Africans who either suffered or perished under apartheid. It is an insult to those who lost relatives and parents during Gukurahundi and those who were brutally assaulted and murdered in the madness that characterised this country between 2000 and 2005.
The Zimbabwe government's decision to refuse to hand over Mengistu back to the Ethiopian government to face the music following his conviction betrays the inner fear of the regime to international law. The precedent of Slobodan Milosevic and more recently, Charles Taylor, cannot be a comforting one to the regime. That is why the tyrants in Zimbabwe are refusing to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as well as the United Nations Convention Against Torture. How the regime can refuse to ratify as pure and self-justified a cause as the Convention Against Torture is a reflection of the bloodied hands of this regime.
To the majority of Zimbabweans, Mengistu is an unwelcome guest who has overstretched the natural benignty of the average Zimbabwean. Zimbabweans believe Mengistu is persona non grata. There are allegations that he has been a military and security advisor to Robert Mugabe and that his advice was critical during Operation Murambatsvina. That is not surprising. The way that cruel operation was carried out by this regime bears many resemblances to Mengistu's Red Terror. Further, the Zanu PF militia, the Green Bombers have more than a passing resemblance to the kebeles.
In our view, the period in which dictators can mess up their people irrespective of international law is long gone by. The days in which dictators would consort in a boys' club and luxuriously look after themselves are over. Mr Mengistu may be safe in Harare for now, but for how long?Hon Tendai Biti, MP is the Secretary-General of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai