Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Mugabe Problem

Robert Mugabe will be elected President of Zimbabwe by default now that Morgan Tsvangirai has determined that he cannot compete in an election which is undemocratic and shaped by murder, rape and starvation.

The fact that Mugabe can remain in office is a testament to the weakness of the United Nations and the failure of the modern world to cope with a dictator who does not hesitate to use any means at his disposal to stay in power. Sanctions, which have been in force for some time, are not working. Mugabe has no concerns that his people are starving and being forced to leave the country. He has no concerns that his country is an economic basket case, despite being blessed with superb farming conditions and a great many natural resources.

Armed intervention aimed at regime change is the only unequivocal answer to this situation. Yet the war in Iraq and the struggle with the Taliban in Afghanistan have soured the appetitive for such action amongst the liberal democracies of the world. Britain, Canada and the US are at troop critical levels and could only make token contributions to an armed intervention. Other democracies – Germany, Spain, Italy and France in particular – appear hesitant to engage in combat in foreign lands unless their own sovereignty is directly threatened.

Most disturbing has been the response of the African states, especially South Africa. Mbeki, President of South Africa, has a personal debt to Mugabe – the latter paid for Mbeki to receive his education. But this is not an excuse for pretending that Mugabe is a hero and a liberator when he is clearly a despot. The Mugabe of today bears no relation to the liberation leader Mbeki once admired. There is nothing colonial or racist about wishing the end of a dictator who has destroyed his country and inflicted misery on his people and intends to continue to do so.

In the last few days some African leaders have made clear that a Presidential election could no longer be regarded as free and fair. In particular, Nelson Mendella’s coded message this week is helpful. There was also a move to bring about a coalition government, based on a commitment that no war crimes prosecution would follow and that no charges would ever be pursued against Mugabe, including those relating to the murder of a large number of Matabelie since he came to power. Mugabe rejected this option, making clear that only God could remove him from office. He may still be forced to negotiate, but don’t hold your breath waiting for change.
If a military response is not possible, then there are three things that need to happen. First, the world should refuse to recognize the outcome of the Presidential “run off” election and only accept the result of the first ballot and declare that Morgan Tsvangiari is the elected President of Zimbabwe.

Second, the United Nations and the African states should work for the creation of a coalition government and use the effective veto of refusing to supply the essential electricity from South Africa to Zimbabwe until the country agrees. This will require a pardon for Mugabe and all of those currently in power, but it may be sufficient to force change. Replacing the existing government with the opposition is not likely to be effective – one of the lessons of Iraq. Balancing some of the more moderate members of Zanu PF and the skills of the MDC is what is needed. It may take an African peace keeping force to enable this to happen.

Third, there needs to be a massive response from the world community to rebuilding of the Zimbabwe economy. It has rich farm land and substantial resources – farming needs to be pursued with vigour and the infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. Only when it is will the three million or more exiles begin to return to work for the future of the country. The security and development of the region as a whole depends on this effort.

None of this is likely to happen. Once Mugabe confirms himself in power, he will work for the elimination of all opposition by whatever means he deems appropriate. He will refuse to permit any return of foreign aid organizations to the country, since he blames them for enabling the opposition to flourish. The country will fall into further decline and the need for a military intervention and regime change will become more and more obvious each day that passes.

What the world is likely to do is precisely what it has done for the last five years – nothing. What ever happened to our concern for human rights?

Published by the Edmonton Journal, July 2008

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