walter chari.jpgBy Walter Chari

A very significant story passed quietly through the media last week: Belgium – a founding member of the European Union and host of the bloc’s headquarters, as well as those of major international organisations such as NATO – marked one full year without a substantive government.

April 26 was the milestone, after the country on March 29 broke Iraq’s record of the country that has gone the longest without a government.

This follows last year’s inconclusive elections.

Interestingly, major global media houses, think tanks, international relations experts and the European Union itself have not found this to be significant.

This is despite the fact that this country will from July to December this year be the president of the EU.

The people of Belgium have tried to pressure their politicians into reaching an agreement for the formation of a coalition government, including proposing a sex boycott to force parliamentarians to do the logical thing and agree on working together.

Asked by journalists on Belgium’s lack of government a year after holding elections, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy called the political impasse “extremely pitiful”, but did nothing more than make this rather obvious remark.

The lack of a substantive government or coalition has by far outstripped the world record set by Iraq which took 249 days to do such – something that was kind of expected considering the politics of imposition that the US has pursued in that country since former president George W Bush and ex-British prime minister Tony Blair led an invasion.

The two biggest parties in Belgium, the N-VA nationalists of Bart De Wever in Flanders and the PS Walloon Socialists of Elio DiRupo in Wallonia, still have not found a way of reaching a compromise.

An electoral dispute following April 2010 elections and the subsequent negotiations since June 2010 have floundered over something as politically uncouth as linguistic (read tribal) divisions.

The parties representing the six million Flemish want more autonomy in line with their wealth and the 4,5 million French-speakers want to keep the country as it is.

So why have the “champions of democracy” in America and Europe been so silent when one of their own has gone for more than one year now without being able to form a government?

The BBC, France24, CNN and Sky News were last week – as they still are now – preoccupied with illegal bombing of Libya by NATO and did not find it newsworthy to report that Belgium could not form a government after one year of talking.

Let us rewind to 2008 when the three main political parties in Zimbabwe were negotiating after elections failed to produce an outright winner.

All the lenses of Western media houses were trained on Zimbabwe and they took it upon themselves to give blow-by-blow accounts (many of them way off the mark) of what was taking place in the country.

Think tanks and analysts consistently dished out their “expert advice” on what was best for Zimbabwe and its people.

Why is this “expert advice” glaringly lacking in the case of Belgium?

Why are the Western media studiously ignoring the embarrassing situation that is characterising Belgium?

Why have there been no threats of unilateral and United Nations Security Council sanctions to prod the Belgians into doing something as politically elementary as forming a government that can represent the interests of its people?

The most that has come out of the European Union are occasional and lame communiqués encouraging the belligerent parties to resolve their differences and form a coalition government.

Or is Belgium abusing its position as the host of the EU headquarters to ensure that it does not get any censure – or worse – from the bloc?

Belgium is a part of the EU that has imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe, citing political governance issues; will Brussels sanction itself if it believes that this is the standard measure to be applied in such situations?

Such examples of Western duplicity should jolt the public conscience, but unfortunately memories are short.

Belgium is left to resolve its own domestic affairs without any interference from the European Union, the US and a highly compromised United Nations but Zimbabweans are not given the opportunity to do the same.

It is clear that the West only recognises sovereignty when the concept applies to one of their own.

When it comes to Africa and the rest of the developing world, the rules are quickly changed and the internationally recognised concept of state sovereignty suddenly no longer applies.

If what is happening in Belgium happens elsewhere in the world, it immediately becomes a matter of “human rights” necessitating the intervention of benevolent Western democracies.

More than 50 000 Belgians marched up and down their streets in January this year demanding that the parties set aside their differences and form a coalition government in what they called the “chips revolution” (after Belgium’s renowned national dish) but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

What does this say about the Western media together with their political leaders when it comes to how they cover African issues?

No African country – or any nation from anywhere in the world for that matter – has tried to influence developments in Belgium by interfering in its internal affairs but the same cannot be expected if the tables were turned.

Zimbabwe resolved its government issues with well-intentioned assistance from the Southern Africa Development Community and the West has taken it upon itself to rubbish this agreement at every turn.

They agitate for an end to Zimbabwe’s coalition government and are trying to push the country into an election in which they have a vested interest.

But seeing from the way “paragons of democracy” like Belgium cannot even manage their own politics, Zimbabwe would do well to ensure the West has nothing to do with its own elections.

Disclaimer:

Opinions carried in this article are those of the author and not necessarily represent those of the ZBC. This article also appeared in the Southern Times.