What Can the World Do About Zimbabwe?

9 years ago

This week, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be facing off in a runoff ballot intended to determine who will be that country's president for the next five years. Instead, because of widespread violence against his supporters, Tsvangirai is holed up in the Dutch embassy, asking the United Nations and other international bodies to send armed peacekeepers to force a new election.

The Mugabe government has announced that it will hold the election anyway. The United Nations has issued a statement condemning the violence. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has echoed the need for international action, saying this week that the government of Zimbabwe "cannot be considered legitimate" in the absence of real run-off. But what really can and should be done to stop Zimbabwe's escalating political, social and economic crises?

Those crises have been in the making for a long time, to be sure. In a 2006 interview with me for the Online Journalism Review, constitutional law professor Adrien Wing describe the tragic results of Mugabe's decision to stay in power since leading the nation to independence in 1980:

I was involved in that movement to help get Zimbabwe independence
when it was Rhodesia, and we were all very hopeful that Robert Mugabe,
the head of one of the movements, ZANU was going to be a great leader,
a great socialist. Well, he's been in power since 1980, right? So he's
basically a president for life and he's turned into a very repressive
person, who doesn't believe in freedom of speech, who imprisons people
all the time, terrorizes people, throws journalists in jail, believes
homosexuality is a sin, et cetera, and arrests people who exhibit any
talk about homosexuality. And so there you have a kind of classic
example of someone who started out, what many people thought he would
be good, thought he would be in favor of human rights and freedom of
speech, especially since he had been victimized by the British, by the
white Rhodesians in the liberation struggle.

On the other hand,
Nelson Mandela, who spent all those years in jail, he became the first
president of a democratic South Africa and he only stayed in one term,
one five year term, and he was a very conciliatory individual, where he
did not retaliate militarily against those who had been in favor of
Apartheid. And so that whole culture, legal culture we call it, that
developed in South Africa under his leadership was totally different
from the legal culture that developed in Zimbabwe under 30 years almost
of dictatorship by Robert Mugabe.

Under Mugabe's regime, inflation has escalated beyond calculation, institutions are crumbling, and the notion of the rule of law has taken on a sinister ring as military authorities are generally held to be responsible for the widespread murder and torture of opposition supporters. The Association of Concerned African Scholars argues that other African nations have a duty to act:

Will there be any interventions from South Africa, from SADC, from
the African Union, the United Nations, or any combination of these? By
doing nothing, the regional powers are only prolonging the suffering of
the Zimbabwean people and exposing the brave opposition politicians and
their activists to a one-sided war, a David and Goliath struggle....

Writing in the Washington Post, Gayle Smith highlights a strategy that would have African nations applying diplomatic pressure and a peacekeeping force to push Mugabe to resign, combined with financial incentives to aid the country's economic recovery.

Some bloggers feel strongly that the US should not lead the international response to the crisis. However, Dr. Dawg says that a post-Mugabe government will fail unless Western governments finally make good on unfulfilled promises to support land reform. BannedinDC is sympathetic, but insists that the crisis is not America's problem.

Meanwhile, Olivia reports that Mugabe's latest commercial, which paints Tsvangirai as a puppet of the US and Britain, is available on YouTube. A leading member of Tsvangirai's party, Movement for Democratic Change, has his own YouTube channel.

Writing from Uganda, BlogHer community member KaiteyKat sees little cause for optimism:

It is all too easy to revert to cynicism here. Especially when it comes to Mugabe and Zimbabwe, who this week said, "only God" could remove him from office.


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