June 15, 2011 | World Defense Review

Beyond Mugabe’s Madness

Even by the ridiculously low procedural standards of Africa's club of presidents-for-life, last Friday's poll in Zimbabwe was a truly pathetic exercise. As Barry Bearak, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent noted Saturday in his dispatch, the voters faced a peculiar choice: “cast their ballots for President Robert Mugabe, the only candidate left in the presidential runoff, or be beaten up and perhaps killed.” In a devilish twist on conventional get-out-the-vote efforts, thousands of voters across the southern African country were kidnapped at dusk by armed thugs from the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and forced to attend campaign rallies, known as pungwe (“all-night vigil”) sessions, and made to chant pro-Mugabe slogans and sing the despot's praises until dawn when they were led off to vote “correctly.” The recalcitrant were beaten up or worse. Even Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who won the first round in the presidential election in March only to drop out of the race less than a week before the second round after the regime-directed campaign of violence which I documented in last week's column, had to counsel his supporters, “If possible we ask you not to vote today, but if you must vote for Mr. Mugabe because of threats on your life today, then do so.”

Of course the “fresh mandate” that Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for twenty-eight years, claimed as a result of the lopsided vote – according to Chief Election Officer Lovemore Sekeramayi, an appointee of the incumbent president, he won 85.5 percent of the vote – will enjoy little international credibility except perhaps with neighboring South Africa's lame duck president, Thabo Mbeki, whose ambassador to the United Nations, Dumisano Kumalo, spent last Friday derailing an emerging Security Council consensus to declare the runoff illegitimate. Fortunately, other world leaders have better tuned ethical compasses and overall finer diplomatic sensibility than the dithering South African chief:

  •     Shortly after Tsvangirai was forced to pull out of the run-off, Senator John McCain declared that the ZANU-PF regime had “lost all legitimacy” and called on the international community to “impose sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies and thereby hasten the end of that regime.” The Republican presidential candidate offered specific suggestions: “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.”
  •     Likewise reacting to the MDC's decision to withdraw, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed that since “conditions do not exist for free and fair elections right now in Zimbabwe,” any vote “held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy.” Ban also warned that “what happens in Zimbabwe has importance well beyond that country's borders,” since the situation in the country “represents the single greatest challenge to regional stability in Southern Africa today. The region's political and economic security is at stake, as is the very institution of elections in Africa.”
  •     Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga both dismissed the Zimbabwean dictator and called for outside intervention: “Mugabe is a shame to Africa and the African Union should take it soldiers to Zimbabwe to free the people in that country.” The Kenyan leader, himself the victim of electoral shenanigans earlier this year (see my January 17 column), said that his country would not recognize Mugabe as the legitimate president of Zimbabwe after his “win” over a boycotting opponent: “President Mugabe went ahead with the fake elections in which he competed against himself. That was a fake victory and we do not recognize it.”
  •     British Foreign Secretary David Milliband told reporters that “Mugabe has made, and his thugs have made, an election impossible and so now we face a critical crisis of legitimacy because it's clear that the only people with any shred of democratic legitimacy are the people who won the 29th of March first round, and that was the opposition.,” while his boss, Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quoted over the weekend characterizing the sham poll as “a new low” for the a regime. Queen Elizabeth II, acting on the advice of the foreign secretary, revoked the honorary knighthood Mugabe was awarded during a 1994 state visit to the United Kingdom. According to a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Her Majesty The Queen has approved that the appointment of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to be an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Civil Division of The Most Honourable Order of Bath be cancelled and annulled and that his name be removed from the Register of Honorary Members of that Order. This action has been taken as a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided.”
  •     The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement stating that “the government of Mr. Mugabe has deliberately chosen the path of violence in order to muzzle the Zimbabwean people and to prevent them from freely expressing their will at the polls.” Consequently, France would deem that “the vote is devoid of all legitimacy as will be any authority that would be derived from its results.”
  •     President George W. Bush condemned the Mugabe regime for holding “sham election that ignored the will of the people of Zimbabwe.” He also promised last Saturday that, “given the Mugabe regime's blatant disregard for the Zimbabwean people's democratic will and human rights,” he was “instructing the Secretaries of State and Treasury to develop sanctions against this illegitimate Government of Zimbabwe and those who support it” as well as “press for strong action by the United Nations, including an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel ban on regime officials.”

At least for now, notwithstanding his having himself hastily sworn on Sunday in for a sixth term, Mugabe stands isolated and a brief window of opportunity exists whereupon his long misrule might be brought to an end, especially if the heads of state and government currently meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the annual summit of the African Union (AU) somehow manage to summon among themselves the moral clarity and political resolve so woefully lacking in their designated point man for Zimbabwe, South Africa's Mbeki (for a discussion of possible actions, see the memo by Thomas Woods and Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation on “Africa Must Confront the Growing Crisis in Zimbabwe”). However, before the world sees the back of Mugabe, three major challenges must be confronted.

First, while Mugabe is certainly the one individual most culpable not only for the hijacking of the Zimbabwean people's democratic aspirations, but for their material ruination by the world's highest inflation rate, he is not alone. While it does not require much to demonize the 84-year-old Mugabe, the truth is that his campaigns of terror – from Operation Gukurahundi (“the early rain washes away the chaff”) in the early 1980s when the ZANU-PF regime massacred tens of thousands of members of the Ndebele minority to Operation Murambatsvina (“clear out trash”) in 2005 which, according to the United Nations, affected at least 2.4 million people whose homes were destroyed or were otherwise displaced to the recent Operation Makavhoterapapi (“where did you put your vote?”) targeting supporters of the MDC – were not carried out by him alone. The history of the Zimbabwean regime since independence is an all-too-long catalogue of progressively worsening crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses perpetrated against millions of people by literally thousands of judges, government officials, military and police officers, ZANU-PF cadres, and others acting at Mugabe's behest. Even if miraculously Mugabe could somehow be made to disappear, whether figuratively or literally, from the political stage, these accomplices would still be around and need to be dealt with.

Second, as I noted two months ago, “while the responsibility for this tragedy reposes primarily with the Mugabe regime, some of the blame must be shared by its enablers abroad,” not least of whom are those African leaders who have for years doggedly taken a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to Zimbabwe's downward spiral. While leaders like Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga and Batswana President Ian Khama have stepped forward to denounce the violence and repression in Zimbabwe, they have been outnumbered – and politically overwhelmed, at least within Africa – by the likes of South African President Mbeki continue to, in the words of an op-ed published Sunday by the Daily Nation in Nairobi, to “act as though there is something to defend in Mr. Mugabe's maniacal and barbaric actions.” Decrying “the failure of African leaders to utterly reject Mr. Mugabe and force him off the political map,” the author of the commentary, Makau W. Mutua, a native Kenyan who is currently dean of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo Law School, directed his indignation at Mbeki:

    Why has President Thabo Mbeki, who runs Africa's most powerful country, been acting like a scared pupil when faced with the evil Mugabe? How can he turn a blind eye to the destruction of the country next door when Zimbabweans themselves sacrificed so that South Africans could be free of apartheid? Is this not alone enough reason for him to cut off Mr. Mugabe's political neck? What about the place of South Africa as a global leader in democratic renaissance? If Mr. Mbeki cannot clean up the mess in his own backyard, how can South Africa give hope to Africa and the world?

The points raised by Professor Mutua (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a fellow-contributor along with me to a new volume, edited by our colleague Professor Jeremy Levitt of Florida International University, in Oxford-based Hart Publishing's prestigious Studies in International Law series, Africa: Mapping New Boundaries in International Law) are particularly salient:

    [T]he silence and inaction by Africans suggests that either they accept the despot's actions or that they are too weak to act like a free people who are ready to govern their continent. Both are totally unacceptable in the 21st century. Mr. Mugabe is an affront to all humanity, but most of all to the people of Zimbabwe and Africa. By failing to terminate his psychotic leadership, Africans are tacitly admitting that they are less than human. That somehow it is OK for them to be brutalized, pillaged, raped, and killed like animals. Africans must say no more – and act decisively to throw Mr. Mugabe out.

Until African leaders take the six steps that Professor Mutua outlines, not only will removing Mugabe will be difficult, but it will be well-nigh impossible to take the AU as a whole seriously. The Constitutive Act of the AU declares that the organization will “function in accordance with…respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law and good governance;… respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities; condemnation and rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments.” Notwithstanding this high-minded proclamation as well as the judgment of its own election monitors that “the election process fell short of the accepted AU standards,” Mugabe was walked into the regional organization's annual summit on Monday and was allowed to take his place as Zimbabwe's head of state.

Third, once Mugabe and his accomplices are forced from power, the tasks which Zimbabweans will face in rebuilding their country after ZANU-PF's nearly three decades of misrule will be more than daunting. Life was hard enough in the 1980s when inflation averaged around 10 percent; this year the official annual inflation rate soared above 165,000 percent before the country's chief statistician stopped calculating it (independent economists estimate that the figure is currently at least 2 million percent). Life expectancy at birth was around 63 years in 1990; today it is slightly less than 40 years. Four out five Zimbabweans are unemployed. Not surprisingly, millions of Zimbabweans have fled abroad, not just to escape violence and political repression, but to simply find enough to eat: to cite just one example, the price of a loaf of bread as voters were corralled to the polls last Friday was 150 times that of the same loaf when they cast their ballots on March 29. Of those Zimbabweans who have not fled their country, some one million currently subsist on food aid from the United States alone. The international community needs to prepare for the eventual political transition in Harare by developing a contingency plan to quickly and generously help the long-suffering Zimbabweans back on their feet, not only for humanitarian reasons, but also to ensure the stability of the government that inherits the disaster that will be the legacy of Mugabe's megalomaniacal thirst for power.

— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as well as Vice President of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.

Dr. Pham is the author of over two hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).

In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.

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