08/01/2012 08:32 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian Aid to Zimbabwe Won't Help Democracy

By reducing foreign aid to Zimbabwe, Canada is said to be threatening chances for democracy in that country after the next election, expected in 2013.

As well as Canada cutting aid to Zimbabwe -- none of which supposedly goes to government agencies, but to non-governmental aid groups -- a dozen other countries are having their aid from Canada cut. (In 2009 aid had been boosted).

Some $380 million is being cut to CIDA for aid to countries like Benin, Niger, Zambia, Cambodia, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mozambique and, of course, Zimbabwe. About 15 per cent of CIDA's 2,000 employees are to be laid off.

There's concern that cutting aid to Zimbabwe will hurt prospects for greater democracy if elections are held next year, after a new constitution has been devised.

The concern seems misguided.

Canada has always maintained close and cordial relations with Zimbabwe, but this relationship hasn't advanced democracy in that country.

President Robert Mugabe lost the 2008 election but refused to surrender power to Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but finally agreed to a sort of coalition which seems perpetually on the verge of collapse.

Mugabe is 88, and supposedly in frail health, but fixing elections and ensuring that his party ZANU-PF always emerges triumphant, is an adrenaline kick for him -- especially since the security forces support him, and reap benefits accordingly.

After the disputed 2008 elections, Tsvangirai and those who favoured him were jailed, maligned, beaten up and Lord knows what. Even South Africa, blindly supportive of Mugabe, was appalled at what the old tyrant was prepared to do to hold on to power.

The following year, aid groups reported that half the country's 12 million people were starving and needed food aid, which arrived in droves. Today, it's claimed only 10 per cent of the people suffer from dire hunger.

When Mugabe won power in 1980 from the white Ian Smith regime, which had declared unilateral independence for Rhodesia, Zimbabwe had a self-sufficient, self-sustaining economy that was a breadbasket country that fed neighboring countries.

All that change under Mugabe who, initially when he won power, publicly thanked Ian Smith for making Zimbabwe an economic show-piece.

Ever since, white farmers have been driven out of the country, or harassed and persecuted, had their holdings confiscated, or taken over by former "fighters" for the revolution. And everyone has suffered.

Except the Mugabe inner-corps who plunder the economy.

When the Commonwealth members were ready to move against Mugabe a dozen years ago, then-PM Jean Chretien short-circuited sanctions or criticism, by supporting Mugabe and urging patience for change.

Some change. More of the same.

The opposition in Zimbabwe is astonishingly brave. They risk and endure imprisonment and worse, but still they oppose Mugabe in the name of democracy.

First, Mugabe neutralized his wartime ally, Joshua Nkomo, whose ZAPU did most of the fighting while Mugabe did most of the manipulating. Once Nkomo was sidelined, he went after the white settlers -- who often sided with black targets of Mugabe's tyranny.

As one Zimbabwean white has remarked: "Mugabe has unified our once-divided country, since all decent people want him gone."

Hostility to Mugabe crosses racial lines and if the MDC wins to 2013 election (presuming one is held) there's a real chance that democracy and racial harmony will thrive.

With or without Canadian aid.