Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

Who Will Have the Courage to Save Zimbabwe?

| June 25, 2008

AFTER IDI Amin terrorized and killed his own Ugandans throughout the 1970s, President Julius Nyerere of neighboring Tanzania finally sent his army across the border to end the mayhem and restore stability. Who will now do the same for beleaguered Zimbabwe? Who will remove despotic Robert Mugabe from his besmirched and exposed presidency?

Presidential contender Morgan Tsvangirai's courageous decision to boycott Zimbabwe's runoff election on Friday - after Mugabe's thugs broke up yet another opposition rally by swinging iron bars and sticks at potential Tsvangirai voters - compels the African Union, the UN Security Council, and major powers finally to act. Tsvangirai said that he and his supporters were facing war, not an election, and they would "not be part of that war." Serious UN sanctions are a first step.

Second, since South Africa shows no appetite for an intervention and Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zambia - Zimbabwe's neighbors -are unlikely to act militarily without South African agreement, an Africa stained by Zimbabwe's tyranny should: demand that Friday's poll be postponed until Africans can patrol the country and oversee a free and fair real election; demand compulsory mediation by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who pacified Kenya earlier this year; denouncedespotism in Zimbabwe; and ban all Zimbabwean aircraft from flying over neighboring airspaces, thus effectively keeping Mugabe and his henchmen bottled up inside their decaying country. Neighboring countries could also squeeze land-locked Zimbabwe's electricity supplies and slow rail traffic.

Time is short. Mugabe is clearly still intent on ratifying his usurpation of power on Friday. Tsvangirai officially led Mugabe in the initial presidential poll in March. In recent weeks Mugabe's military have unleashed a relentless wave of intimidation against Tsvangirai's Movement for a Democratic Change and its supporters, killing 86, maiming at least 10,000, and assaulting thousands more. Tsvangirai was detained seven times before Sunday and his key deputy was imprisoned last week without trial on a bogus treason charge. Yesterday, the house of another key deputy was trashed and his elderly relatives assaulted.

Unless Africa and the UN act courageously, Mugabe will get away with his brazen attempt to cling brutally to power and impoverish his own people despite broad global contempt.

Mugabe has also refused to summon Parliament, which is dominated by the Movement for Democratic Change and was elected overwhelmingly in March. As a result, many of Mugabe's cabinet ministers and other loyalists remain in office, drawing salaries, despite having lost their seats. Several times, Mugabe and close associates have publicly declared that the the Movement and Tsvangirai would never be allowed to take office or govern. "Only God will remove me," Mugabe defiantly declared Monday.

Conditions in Zimbabwe, where more than 80 percent of adults are unemployed and nearly everyone is hungry; where there are startling shortages of staple corn, wheat and bread, sugar, oil, milk, and gasoline; and where brutality is always around the next corner are even more horrific today than they were in Uganda in 1979, when Nyerere invaded. Famously, Mugabe told a BBC interviewer in 1999 that he was "no Idi Amin."

Mugabe's men have also continued to use food as a political weapon, first stopping the supply of grain by international relief agencies and last week physically stealing relief shipments to give to their own supporters. Mugabe's thugs have also harassed British and American diplomats at roadblocks, in one case threatening to burn them alive in their cars.

Zimbabwe's inflation now exceeds 160,000 percent a year. One US dollar buys 4 million Zimbabwe dollars at the unofficial street rate. Mugabe and his close associates exploit differences between official and unofficial exchange rates to prosper while ordinary Zimbabweans go hungry or are attacked.

Zimbabwe is in shambles. The United States and Britain would doubtless like to act unilaterally, but dare not. Only Africans and the UN have unquestioned moral authority. Which African leaders will now emulate Nyerere's profile of courage in Zimbabwe's dire time of need?

This article was also featured in the International Herald Tribune. Please see

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For Academic Citation: Robert I. Rotberg.“Who Will Have the Courage to Save Zimbabwe?.” The Boston Globe, June 25, 2008.

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