Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe recently cut short a month-long holiday in Malaysia and Singapore to stem wrangling within his ruling Zanu-PF party due to a vicious internal power struggle.
Party insiders say Mugabe, never known for admitting a crisis, is now seriously worried that growing rifts in the party could have a catastrophic effect on the March general election in which Zanu-PF is pitted against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). For the final, fatal collapse of the odious Mugabe regime, however, the MDC must withdraw from the election it cannot win.
The president stole the elections in 2000 and 2002 and has brutally suppressed the opposition from operating properly. He says he will live up to regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) election protocols, but no -one believes him, and with good reason. Without an MDC withdrawal the façade of democracy will remain and the international community will not intervene as it must.
As army officers, team captains, and political-party leaders know, nothing prevents infighting as well as a common enemy. So it would be of no surprise if Mugabe sincerely hopes that the MDC contests the election. Without an opposition to fight, Zanu-PF might well implode–the result of which may be civil war.
Boycotting the election will have two additional effects. First, it will force the international community to get off the fence when the reality of Zimbabwe’s dictatorship replaces the façade of democracy. Second, it will exacerbate the infighting within Zanu-PF, probably leading to a real power struggle.
As for the U.S., the State Department must make all aid, trade deals, and other largesse to the region dependent on their pressuring Mugabe to stand down–or hold fair elections, not the farces of 2000 and 2002. In the very short run they must demand that food aid be brought in. Mugabe no longer cares how the world sees him, but the presidents in the rest of the region, including South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, do. It is pressure applied to them that counts, and it can work. There is an entirely relevant historical precedent–the white Rhodesian Government of Ian Smith was brought to its knees by pressure from America, South Africa, and Britain. If those three countries work together again it could be achieved–but it has to be led by Mbeki. The big question is will Mbeki finally stand up to the man who supported him during the apartheid years by allowing ANC bases in Zimbabwe. America can, and it should, make it too uncomfortable for Mbeki not to.
–Roger Bate is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a director of the health advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria.