On Saturday the Washington Post had an incredibly disturbing expose of the behind the scenes events surrounding Robert Mugabe’s decision to hold on to power and the ensuing reign of terror that his regime perpetrated in the lead up to the recent run-off elections. This article revealed that in fact after Morgan Tsvangirai’s unexpected show of support during the first round of elections that Mugabe was actually prepared to concede defeat. However, the military, lead by Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, responded that the choice was not Mugabe’s alone to make. The article then proceeds to describe the brutal campaign of violence that government supported militias unleashed on the country. Some opposition members died from crushed genitalia. Women were beat so viciously that whole sections of flesh were ripped from their bodies.
This most recent wave of violence is but one more example of the utter disregard this regime has shown towards its own people. For several years Mugabe has slowly bled this country – a country that had been considered the breadbasket of African just ten years ago. Independent estimates put the inflation rate at about 4 million percent. A loaf of bread costs 30 billion Zimbabwe dollars. Perhaps the only hope to reign in inflation in the country is the recent decision by the German company that prints the Zimbabwe currency, to no longer provide new bills to the country’s government. If one were to buy a soda from a vending machine, it would literally require billions of coins (retailers did away with soda machines several years ago for obvious reasons). The ridiculousness of the economic situation and the number of zeros required for even the most minor transactions could provide much material for late night comedians if it were not already so tragic.
The crisis began several years ago when Mugabe’s decided to expropriate white owned farms and turned them over to cronies who knew very little about farming. This was was the beginning of a series of government decision that contributed to an economic collapse that has left nearly all Zimbabweans living in poverty. Unemployment is at least 80% and a third of the population has fled the country. There has rarely been such a stark example of what a difference governance makes. While there have been many tragedies recently ranging from the cyclone in Burma to the earthquake in China, the fact that this disaster is entirely man made makes it even more tragic.
Unfortunately, despite the strongly worded condemnations from the US, other Western democracies, and many African nations and some targeted sanctions, Mugabe and the military seem increasingly unlikely to give up power, especially after their sham election confirmed the foregone conclusion that Mugabe would once again be elected president. What I found particularly interesting about the recent sham election is that it happened at all. The most recent campaign of terror in Zimbabwe has made it clear to the international community that the gloves have come off and just about all pretense of a democratic process was removed. Yet, rather than just maintain power through brute force, the military and Mugabe decided to still go through the motions, which leads me to believe that they still see some value from international legitimacy. The most important source of that international legitimacy right now comes from Thabo Mbecki in South Africa, who has continued to insist that his powers of persuasion will be more effective than a confrontational approach.
It’s time now to play hardball with South Africa. The G8 summit is coming up this week in Japan. Zimbabwe will certainly be on the agenda. The G8 is likely to vigorously protest the results of the recent run-off election. These protests must also be accompanied by increased sanctions on the Mugabe regime and the Zimbabwe military, which increasingly seems to be calling the shots. The G8 must also make it clear to South Africa that it must step up to the plate. The time for persuasive conversations are over. South Africa has the economic leverage in terms of its oil supplies and other energy and trade links to play a critical role in the resolution of this crisis. Maximum pressure must be placed both on Zimbabwe and on South Africa – the one country that seems to have the most leverage with Zimbabwe- to redo the second round elections in a manner that meets international standards.
In the US there is broad bipartisan agreement that much more must be done. Our two presidential candidates, for example, both call for more dramatic action. John McCain said,
I believe the international community must act to impose sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies and thereby hasten the end of that regime. We should consider expelling Mugabe’s diplomats from Washington and explore options with our friends in Africa and beyond, including suspending Zimbabwe’s participation in regional organizations as long a Mugabe clings to power. The results of the March 29 election must form the basis of a post-Mugabe resolution in Zimbabwe.
Barack Obama said,
Not only do I think that the United Nations needs to continue to apply as much pressure as possible on the Mugabe government, but in particular other African nations, including South Africa, I think have to be much more forceful in condemning the extraordinary violence that’s been taking place there
It’s time that we use this bipartisan consensus and the broad international support for more dramatic action to put maximum pressure both on the regime in Zimbabwe and also on South Africa. Lack of action by South Africa should be regarded by the international community as direct support for the regime’s brutal actions. There should be consequences for such support.