World Must End Mugabe Mayhem

May 30, 2005
Robert I. Rotberg

The Toronto Star

Tyranny and corruption in Zimbabwe needs to be stopped so that ordinary people can go about rebuilding their shattered lives in peace, Dictatorial despotism spirals Zimbabwe ever downward. Zimbabweans struggle to survive, some even starving. U. S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rightly labels Zimbabwe an outpost of tyranny, along with North Korea and Iran.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, and other heads of the European Union, concur. It is past time that the globe's major leaders, working in concert with democratic Africa, do something more than talk.

Like Pol Pot in yesterday's Cambodia, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe is determined to run his country into the ground.

The U.N. World Food Program and local observers report that fully half of Zimbabwe's 11 million people are now seriously hungry. Because Mugabe has plundered all of Zimbabwe's assets, there are hardly any supplies of the corn on which everyone subsists. Nor is there any cooking oil, sugar, flour, or milk, except on the black market.

Getting to and from work is impossible because of shortages of diesel for buses, much less petrol for private cars and trucks. Long queues stretch for hundreds of metres behind bus stops or gas stations.

As indications of Zimbabwe's plight, inflation has this month soared to 350 per cent per year and the country's currency, once on par with the U. S. dollar, and only a few months ago trading at Z$6,000 to $1.00 U.S., now trades at 25,000 Zimbabwe dollars to $1.00 U.S. The government lacks funds to print new currency, so paper dollars crumble.

According to a recent study, the income purchasing power of average Zimbabweans has regressed to 1953 levels.

About 80 per cent of all Zimbabwean adults are unemployed. Nearly 3 million have fled to neighbouring South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana, desperate for work and food.

Seven years ago, Zimbabwe was one of Africa's richest countries, with an economy well balanced between the export of agricultural crops (maize, tobacco, sugar, and cotton) and the export of gold, ferrochrome, platinum, and copper. It manufactured local consumption, boasted excellent school systems, a good university, well-managed hospitals, and a responsive bureaucracy.

It drew upon the largest pool of university graduates, per capita, in Africa.

All that is long gone, entirely thanks to Mugabe's cruelty and greed.

Angered by opposition to his illegal and budget-draining dispatch of 14,000 Zimbabwean troops into the Congo in 1998, and subsequently infuriated by the loss of a constitutional referendum and near defeat for his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party in parliamentary elections, Mugabe mercilessly attacked his new African opponents and their supposed white allies.

Mugabe ordered thuggish, so-called war veterans to invade and commandeer the country's 4,000 white farms, ostensibly to take back land stolen from Africans years before.

But, instead of giving that restored land to landless smallholders, nearly all of the 4,000 farms - the backbone of Zimbabwe's agricultural prosperity - were delivered to Mugabe's political cronies, his second wife, and other family members.

This land grab might have served to right an historic injustice. Instead, it drove Zimbabwe headlong into penury and hunger. It also threw 400,000 African labourers out of work, crippled the banking sector, caused food scarcities, and sent Mugabe rushing to Libya and China for help.

What little that remained, Mugabe and his close associates stole. This month Mugabe's wife is completing a monstrous mansion, her third, in Harare, and other regime fat cats are spending lavishly on land and houses.

Much of Mugabe's own wealth is stashed in the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man. He also owns large properties in Britain.

No one dares cross Mugabe. His Central Intelligence Organization, army, and police remain loyal. They, too, feed at the trough of public corruption while other Zimbabweans cannot find food.

Indeed, until this month Mugabe even denied that there were food shortages. He has finally agreed to import food, if funds can be borrowed, and not very graciously to accept food donations from the United Nations.

Mugabe's continued rule is based on intimidation and fraud. Having rigged the 2000 parliamentary election, he shamelessly inflated poll counts to give himself a strong victory in the 2002 presidential vote over Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Earlier this year, he greatly distorted the results of another parliamentary contest. Many local and foreign observers cried foul, and President George Bush and Blair denounced Mugabe's theft.

Ottawa, Washington, London, and Brussels need to act boldly.

Together they should persuade South Africa, the power in southern Africa, to chastise Mugabe publicly and to enact the kinds of smart sanctions that might force Zimbabwe's military and political elite to push Mugabe to retire.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has claimed for five years that quiet diplomacy would work, and merely wrings his hands. But Mugabe continues to wreak havoc on his people.

Europe and the U. S. have frozen bank accounts and denied visas to Mugabe and his ilk. South Africa and the African Union could do likewise, easily ending Mugabe's ability to leave Zimbabwe and spend his stolen millions.

They could refuse air, road, and rail passage to the country's top 100 miscreants, many of whom shop in Johannesburg while compelling their poorer countrymen to do without. They could deny that same group access to medical treatment in South Africa, refuse them transit facilities, and generally label Mugabe and his associates, especially his generals, pariahs.

The object of this pressure should be new national elections, run by the United Nations and observed by outsiders.

If such sanctions on the elite produce too little change, South Africa could always slow rail traffic into Zimbabwe, a tactic used against Prime Minister Ian Smith in Rhodesia.

Or South Africa could stop electric power flowing to Zimbabwe off the grid that Pretoria controls. Unthinkable, too, South Africa could easily rid Zimbabwe of Mugabe by force. There would be minimal opposition, and no need to occupy a country that Tsvangirai legitimately should run.

However it is done, tyranny in Zimbabwe needs to be ended so that ordinary Zimbabweans can go about rebuilding their shattered lives in peace.

Dictators who abuse their people mercilessly, not only in the Middle East, deserve to be pushed out.

Robert I. Rotberg is director of the Belfer Center's program on intrastate conflict in Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and president of the World Peace Foundation.

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