Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Zimbabwe On the Precipice

It appears as if the long, nightmarish rule of Robert Mugabe over Zimbabwe is finally at an end. Since assuming power 28 years ago, Mugabe has ruined a country once held up as a model of what post-colonial Africa might be. A country that once was referred to as the "breadbasket of Africa" is now a food importer. The economy has contracted by 40-50% since 2000. Inflation is at an incomprehensible 2,000%, if not higher. Over 3 million people are "missing". An "urban reclamation" program has made thousands of urban poor homeless, removing them from the cities and evicting them into the countryside. Entire towns have been destroyed. The list of misery goes on and on.

But, if the results from the election are as anticipated, Mugabe's reign of destruction may be over. But now is an all-important moment. Will he step down? Will Mugabe and his party accept the results and accept exile into the political minority? If he refuses, or tries to sabotage the election results or the process, violence could easily erupt. Already, there are ominous rumblings from Mugabe's party:

[Mugabe's] government immediately rejected the MDC victory claim as "mischievous."

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told Sky television: "President Mugabe is going nowhere. We are not going to be pressurized into anything."

The government has warned that victory claims before an official result would be regarded as a coup d'etat.

Matonga said in a telephone interview with Sky: "No-one is panicking around President Mugabe. The army is very solidly behind our president, the police force as well."

He added: "We are not going to be rushed by anybody. They can make statements left right and centre, but they are merely wasting their time."

Certainly, the international community needs to move quickly to inform Mugabe that it will not tolerate any subversion of the democratic process. But Zimbabwe and Mugabe have proven remarkably immune to international pressure in the past.

More importantly, the West, and in particular the UK and the rest of the British Commonwealth, needs to put pressure on those actors that do seem to have some influence over Zimbabwe: other African states. In the past, African states have been reluctant to sanction, condemn, censure, or even criticize Mugabe, largely due to his Mandela-like stature as a leading figure in the decolonization and independent movement. Now, however, the stakes are different. Allowing Mugabe to subvert and destroy the democratic process can simply not be allowed if Africa is to have any hope. The West must immediately tell Zimbabwe's African allies, especially South Africa and the African Union, that if there is any hint of interference or obstruction from Mugabe or his party they will be expected to intervene to ensure the peaceful transition of power. The AU should know that the funding and supplies it receives from Western states will be stopped, and South Africa should be told that its economic and political ties will be severely damaged unless they are willing to take a meaningful stand and action.

If the results are as predicted, Robert Mugabe must not be permitted to remain in power one second longer than is necessary. And while the West may not be able to ensure that he steps down, other states in Africa can. And they must.

1 comment:

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