Zimbabwe - Part I: Preparing for the Inevitable
Apr 24, 2012Posted by Dale Pfeiffer
Robert Gabriel Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, has been firmly in control of his country's affairs for 32 years. He is 88 years old and, since 2008, it has been rumored he suffers from prostate cancer. A recent trip to Singapore, at least the eighth in the past year, sparked speculation again he was dying and the long awaited and feared regime change was imminent. As before he defied those anticipating his demise. But we should be anticipating it. Life has its limits and his is near. The time to prepare for this is now.
Constitutionally Mugabe's death would put his Vice President in charge for three months until elections could be arranged. What kind of transition would occur is crucial. Mugabe is surrounded by long time cronies, many of whom probably would like to succeed him. There is also an active political opposition currently holding a majority in parliament and the Prime Minister's and cabinet posts. Transition could go in different directions.
Mugabe's rule has not been benign. His people have experienced periodic actions which could be considered terrorism on a scale exceeding what the world is currently decrying in Syria. In the early part of his rule he unleashed the army against the Ndebele tribe, suspecting they were about to take up arms against him. The result was the death of some 20,000 men, women and children, most innocent victims. From time to time suspected or real challengers to his rule experienced 'accidents'. Confronted in the mid-1990s with a movement by liberation war veterans who felt they were being denied just reward for their service, Mugabe first tried to assuage them by handing out cash payments, gutting the government's budget in the process and setting off an economic downward spiral. When that did not satisfy their grievances he encouraged them to invade the commercial farms owned and operated by the country's whites, resulting in many being killed, beaten and tortured. This destroyed one of the country's main economic assets which produced surpluses for home consumption and exports and jobs for about 350,000 farm laborers. It also all but wiped out an extensive well-developed agro-industrial capacity. This legacy has left many wounds - economic, political and human - which need to be healed.
Throughout Robert Mugabe pretended to be the democratic leader of his country, controlling and distorting the institutions of democracy to sustain his power. When an opposition arose in response to his arbitrary rule, economic mismanagement, and corruption, he resorted to manipulating the election process to win by fraud and intimidation. Eventually his weapon became violence. Opponents were threatened, jailed, beaten and murdered. He called upon the war veterans, by now most of who were jobless youths not even born at the time of the liberation fight, to carry out much of this terror. But he did not hesitate also to employ the police and military. Thousands suffered but in the end he could not defeat the opposition who managed in one instance to defeat a referendum he tabled to change the constitution to his advantage. They finally beat him in an election in 2008 for the presidency. His response was to refuse to concede his loss until his neighbors in southern Africa applied pressure to make him accept the result, which he did to a degree. He acceded only partly, letting his opponent become Prime Minister while he remained President. This forced marriage remains in place and a continual contest is in train whereby his side tries to thwart the opposition's efforts to deal with the country's problems.
The next act, if he survives physically, is planned to be another election no later than 2013, which again he and his supporters may try to steal with terror. If he dies, there could be an internal struggle among his supporters who know the benefits of power, particularly in terms of pocketing the country's treasure for themselves. This could also involve violence and terror. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a better outcome and a right to again have the chance to develop their country based on democratic principles and economic growth benefiting all, which is what was planned in 1980 when the war of liberation ended. Rhodesia was to evolve into Zimbabwe where peace and prosperity were to be for all its citizens and not to the benefit of a minority group, then white and now black.
The next blog will present some ideas for diplomatic and developmental interventions so that the transition can avoid violence and lay the groundwork for achieving what was intended in 1980. Subsequent blogs will focus on specific problem areas facing the Zimbabweans and the international community (including importantly neighboring countries) in managing this return to democracy and growth. Time is short.The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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