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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On the Latest “Victory” for Robert Mugabe

I’ve been stuck on what I want to say about Zimbabwe for a few days now. When Robin left a comment noting that “the thugs won” I realized that at that moment there wasn’t much more for me to say. The thugs--Robert Mugabe and his goons--won through a program consisting of violence and terrorism. They did it with not precisely the complicity of other regional leaders, but certainly with folks like Thabo Mkebi making excuses and providing some cover and legitimacy.

Of course, even those African leaders are finding it harder to excuse the behavior of their old comrade. Sadly, any turn to overt criticism and something other than “quiet diplomacy” will be coming too late to support the change that the people of Zimbabwe deserve. Politics as usual in post-colonial Africa has betrayed the trust between the government and the governed. Democracy has not failed them; this turn of events has proven conclusively that there simply is no democracy in Zimbabwe.

The election was a sham. “Quiet diplomacy” is a lie. The people of Zimbabwe are paying. They are paying sometimes with their lives, with their health, and with a future that seems now to be irretrievably broken. The Mugabe apologists are speaking for one of the most brutal regimes in the world today and for a leader who has proven himself adept only at bullying his way to power. They should be ashamed.

In a country where the media is truly controlled by the government, where the demand for fair elections is met with murder, where the leader threatens a new civil war if the opposition party wins in fair elections, there can be no democracy. This isn’t just whiny progressives childishly complaining when they don’t get their way; this is a brutal government grinding its citizens into the dust.

The US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, has been an unwavering voice of support for the citizens of Zimbabwe. We back home should be proud of him and the job he is doing.

... James McGee, the US ambassador in Harare, said 30,000 potential opposition supporters had been displaced from their homes as part of brutal tactics by the Mugabe government to swing the run-off in his favour.

Mr McGee, who was speaking by telephone from Harare, said the conditions ahead of the poll were the worst he had ever witnessed, while another western diplomat said Zanu-PF was determined to secure an election victory “at any cost”.

“It’s very, very obvious that there is political intimidation, there’s thuggery, there’s outright theft, murder, happening here in Zimbabwe,” Mr McGee said. “In my long diplomatic career, I have never seen anything comparable to this.”

Consider this: Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who won the original election (although apparently not be enough) and recently dropped out of the new round of voting, has been harassed and arrested throughout the campaigning process. That stands as some of the more tender oppression in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Amazingly, this doesn’t even touch on the mismanagement of the government that has left Zimbabwe’s schools, health care, infrastructure, and economy in ruins. Failed governments don’t often fail more dramatically than this one.

What remains for us to decide after reading through this recounting of vile governance is to find a way to effectively support the people of Zimbabwe in their hope for a good government. And, I believe, that means supporting Tsvangirai’s call for an African solution.

We have always maintained that the Zimbabwean problem is an African problem that requires an African solution. To this end, I am asking the African Union and SADC to lead an expanded initiative, supported by the United Nations, to manage the transitional process. We are proposing that the AU facilitation team, comprising eminent Africans, set up a transitional period which takes into account the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The African Union team would lead in the constituting and character of the transitional period. The transitional period would allow the country to heal. As the MDC, we have always said we will be magnanimous in our victory. Genuine and honest dialogue amongst Zimbabweans is the only way forward. The MDC is a people’s project; we value our county and our people.

I want to emphasize that the basis of any settlement must recognize the fundamental principle of democracy, that is, the respect for the will of the people to choose their own leadership. Over and above this, the Zimbabwe political solution must recognize the following – stability, inclusivity, acceptability, and credibility. The sum total of all this is legitimacy. A negotiated political settlement which allows the country to begin a national healing and the process of a) economic reconstruction; b) provision of humanitarian assistance and c) democratization would be in the best interest of the country.

For the sake of legitimacy throughout the governments of the region and for the sake of the legitimacy of any government that would be placed after any removal of Mugabe, this eloquent call for basic freedoms, good government, and the restoration of democracy seems right on. I wonder, though, how quickly surrounding nations will be to not only criticize Mugabe, but to use their own diplomatic levers as an effective lever to force Mugabe to negotiate the transfer of power? So far, none of the nations that make up the SADC or the AU has shown that kind of initiative or will in relation to Zimbabwe’s ongoing problems. And the UN is as toothless as an old lion--all roar, no bite.

There is no practical way for Western nations to take a direct part unless we are asked by the MDC--and even then it would be a risk. Mugabe plays the race card with brilliance and any belief that a new government is just a stooge for Western powers (specifically either the UK or the US) could lead to a weak new government. The best role we could play would simply be to extend our offers of knowledge, help, and friendship to the MDC and the citizens of Zimbabwe along with a promise to help them limp out of their economic crisis once a new and truly representative government is in place.

The people of Zimbabwe deserve better than Robert Mugabe; the SADC and AU have the opportunity to help make that “better” happen. To that end, I think Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times has a series of good suggestions that could do a good deal to help salvage Zimbabwe. As he says, though, the need to act is urgent. I urge you to read his piece--it’s an honest (and, in terms of Thabo Mbeki, blistering) look at the situation. It doesn’t read particularly hopeful, but it is unflinching about the prospects.

A last “must read” in this opening salvo is Counterterrorism Blog’s “Africa’s Shame and Zimbabwe’s Greater Threat. It answers the question of why we should care about the future of a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It leads to a longer post on another site.

More links follow in the extended entry.

Read the Rest...

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