There’s a lot of bad news coming out of Zimbabwe, but that’s not news.
There’s been bad news screaming out of there for the last few years now:
skyrocketing inflation, extensive election fraud, disastrous land reform,
AIDS, the arrests of judges and foreign diplomats, various violent human
rights abuses. The source of the problem is easy to spot, but the solution
is not: President Mugabe is little more than a dictator in president’s
clothing, but even if he were removed, Zimbabwe’s deep troubles would remain.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe is the only president Zimbabwe has ever had.
He’s been such since December 31, 1987. There are, however, three men
from the president’s inner circle who’d each like to fill Mugabe’s shoes
with his own clay feet: Gen. Vitalis Zvinavashe, head of the armed
forces; Sydney Sekeramayi, the defense minister; and John Landa Nkomo, the
minister of special affairs. None of these men, nor anyone else for
that matter, is likely strong enough to pull Zimbabwe out of the ethos of
pathos Mugabe has wrought the last 15 years. Zimbabwe doesn’t just
need regime change; it needs culture change.
An unwanted international spotlight fell on Mugabe recently when he arrived
in Paris for a two-day Franco-African summit. Because of past abuses,
the EU had banned Mugabe and 70 other members of Zimbabwe’s government from
traveling to an EU country, barred the sale of weapons to Zimbabwe and froze
the country’s assets held in EU countries. Despite the travel ban,
France President Jacques Chirac wangled Mugabe in.
In Paris Mugabe’s limousines motorcaded past protestors chanting “Mugabe,
murderer.” The Zimbabwean president stayed at the opulent Plaza-Athénée
hotel, where he and his entourage took up 33 rooms. While her husband
met with Chirac and the other summiteers, Grace Mugabe, cloaked in security
guards, cruised the City of Light for the choicest of shops. Back in
Zimbabwe, however, there was optimism that once the three coup-capable mice
would play while the fat cat was away. But that didn’t happen.
At the end of the summit, the not-so-duly elected 78-year-old president trekked
to Thailand to attend a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. The Harare
Globetrotter eventually landed safely back in the Zimbabwean capital to resume
leading his country further into the ground. It looks like death just
might defeat the aging Mugabe before an election (five years away) or coup
(probably never) will. And Zimbabweans have much to fear from him in
the next few years, if the recent past is any indication.
Two separate marches for peace by Zimbabwean women a couple of weeks ago
were violently broken up by police. A total of 88 women were arrested.
And if the police are too busy to enforce fidelity in the streets, youth
gangs, known as “green bombers,” take up the slack, using kidnapping and
torture. Yes, torture.
The woman on the street isn’t the only one who must live in fear in Zimbabwe,
of course. High Court Judge Benjamin Paradza was recently arrested
on what are probably trumped-up charges. Mugabe’s main political rival,
Morgan Tsvangirai, is on trial for planning Mugabe’s assignation. When
a United States diplomat was wrongly arrested recently, State Department
spokesman Richard Boucher noted that this was the third time in a year that
one of our diplomats there was “detained, robbed, threatened or interfered
The government’s stealing of farms from white farmers and giving the land
to black subsistence farmers, known euphemistically as “land reform,” is
continuing to stifle much needed food production. Inflation has climbed
from 32% in 1998 to about 200% today. Support from the International
Monetary Fund has been suspended. The economy is “growing” at –6.5%.
About 60% of the population lives below the poverty line. Life expectancy
for the 11 million Zimbabweans has dropped sharply to 36.5 years. The
whole country is going to hell and Robert Mugabe is driving the bus.
Few of these huge problems, however, will be mitigated by Mugabe’s exodus
from power. In fact, Zimbabwe’s worst problem is that it now has no
real sense of how a true democracy or capitalist economy works. Its
strongest sense, increasingly, is a sense of fear. And as a peaceful
and productive Zimbabwe morphs further into a chaotic and fallow Mugabwe,
we can only sit sadly by and watch. Nothing can be done and Mugabe
knows that better than anyone.
After all, Mugabe isn’t Saddam Hussein or Kim Jung Il or Osama bin Laden.
He’s doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction. He isn’t a danger to
you and me. He isn’t a threat to anyone at all except his
disloyal subjects. But he’s murder on them.
And will continue to be.
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