Africa faces a major political test this week as Robert Mugabe attends the meeting of the African Union in Egypt.  The 53-nation organization has an opportunity to take a stand for the people that Mugabe has murdered and terrorized, but so far, it looks as though the AU won’t bother.  Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak didn’t even list Zimbabwe on the agenda:

On a continent where many leaders seized power by force and have held on to their office for decades, African leaders as a bloc remain reluctant to confront fellow rulers for alleged abuses in their home countries.

Mugabe seemed to be counting on that ambivalence. He has accused his critics among African leaders of following the lead of the United States, which announced new sanctions on Mugabe’s regime after Friday’s vote. Both England and France on Monday urged the African Union to take a tough line with Mugabe. …

African leaders were restrained in public comments Monday. In opening remarks, the African presidents cited an obscure series of clashes between Dijbouti and Eritrea several times more often than they mentioned problems in Zimbabwe.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the summit’s host, did not include Zimbabwe in the ranks of nations whose problems he said the African bloc must address. The African leaders made no immediate public statements on the validity of the Zimbabwe elections.

Over the last decades, the West has been repeatedly challenged to assist Africa with a series of catastrophes, from famines to epidemics to revolutions.  For the most part, the West has responded.  George Bush poured billions of dollars into AIDS treatment and prevention, and efforts to fight malaria, starvation, and the victims of the very leaders gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh.   South Africa in particular owes its current existence to global pressure from the West against the previous apartheid government.  Now, however, these nations can’t be bothered to address the oppression, terrorism, and murder perpetrated by one of their own.

If the AU doesn’t have the time to be bothered with Zimbabwe out of some strange love affair with Mugabe, then the West should make clear that the AU can expect no further assistance from the West on the rest of their issues.  Their welcoming of Mugabe after the violence perpetrated by his regime against his political opponents is the worst kind of appeasement — a cowardly failure to even acknowledge the evil he represents.  Why should we act to assist a group of nations in any capacity that refuses to police its own back yard?

The problems in Africa — famines, pestilence, revolution — all come from the root political failures of African governments.  Aid to these nations help perpetuate the failed political structures like those of not just Mugabe but across the entire continent.  Unless we have vital national security interests at stake, we should adopt a hands-off policy towards Africa and aid until such time as they adopt responsible governments.  The cessation of fawning over dictators like Mugabe would be one sign of that development.