Politics & Policy

Little Hope and Change There

Robert Mugabe is stealing the election in Zimbabwe. His Zanu thugs have successfully intimidated the electorate. In dreadful scenes of man-hunting, they have butchered at least 80 people, wounded and maimed hundreds, and displaced tens of thousands, many of them missing, presumed dead.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party, faced a truly difficult choice. In the first round of elections, he was evidently the winner. Refusing to concede, Mugabe preferred to unleash violence and bully his way into a run-off vote. To see the electoral process through, Tsvangirai concluded, would cost many innocent supporters their lives — and with no guarantee of a reasonably honest vote. His colleagues and helpers were targeted and imprisoned, their wives raped and murdered; the police were ordered not to respond. In this predicament, Tsvangirai decided to withdraw from the electoral process. Many are disappointed, and some are critical, to find that Mugabe has driven away the MDC and has the field to himself. Zimbabweans are pacific on the whole, but even so, civil war is a possibility.

Crowing, not in the least abashed to stand out in full public view as a criminal and a tyrant, Mugabe swears that Tsvangirai will “never, ever” hold office in Zimbabwe. He likes to proclaim a conspiracy theory that Britain is instigating all the trouble, and Tsvangirai is a traitor, an agent of “the white man,” who is withdrawing from the election only to avoid “humiliating defeat.” He declares that God appointed him to rule Zimbabwe until the day he dies (and as he is 84 this may not be too distant). He has plundered his country, wrecked its agriculture by robbing the white farmers and handed their land to Zanu thugs, ravaged its currency to the point of worthlessness, reduced the population virtually to starvation, and bull-dozed the houses of thousands who did not support him. It may be wondered whether the megalomania driving all this is sincere, or merely what he hopes is a convincing cover for so much violence.

In any case, the spectacle of this brutal man spouting nonsense while unleashing murder and mayhem is truly abysmal. Equally depressing is the world’s response. Tsvangirai has called on the United Nations, the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to intervene, to “stop the genocide” of his supporters. Nothing doing. The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, strikes poses while his foreign secretary waffles in an academic idiom about “a critical crisis of legitimacy.”  Shamefully, Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, hopes that Mugabe and Tsvangirai can meet in order to “find a solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe.” The challenges are real enough, but so are the fear and incompetence that paralyze so many of those who could and should take action, but instead find themselves passive accomplices in this human disaster.

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