April 14, 2008

Autumn for the Patriarch

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In 1980, revolutionary independence leader Robert Mugabe became the leader of Zimbabwe. The man who had led the guerilla movement against the white-minority regime assumed power amidst high hopes. Since 1965, Mugabe has been a key figure in the struggle for majority rule in the former Southern Rhodesia. He has remained President up until this past election and as of now, the results of the March 29 election remain unannounced and the future of the country remains in a delicate balance, largely due to Mr. Mugabe’s actions. You could say that it’s not over until the fat lady sings, but for the good of his country and his legacy, Mr. Mugabe should give up the fight to retain the Presidency and allow Zimbabwe a future.
Though there are many stories of disappointment and dashed hopes among Africa’s post-independence states, none offers such a stark example as Zimbabwe. Coming into office at a time of great optimism and promise, Mugabe has caused only disappointment and frustration during his twenty eight years in office. This year Zimbabwe has a 100,000% annual inflation rate. According to Mr. Mugabe the economic collapse is the fault of “British imperialists” and those who want his policies to fail. But the economic crisis began in 2000, when Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party began a land redistribution campaign. They claimed that 70% of the arable land in the country was held by the 1% minority white population. Unfortunately, instead of giving land to the many landless peasants, they distributed the land among ZANU-PF loyalists, and Mr. Mugabe’s other lackeys. In the short time since land reform, agricultural mismanagement has turned Zimbabwe from a food exporter to an importer. Land reform, which had the promise to build a more equalitarian society, was instead used as a political tool. This overt political maneuvering has greatly damaged Zimbabwe, though Mr. Mugabe continues to live among delusions. It is clear that economic promise was squandered on nepotism and corruption and the least Mr. Mugabe can do is accept the damage he has done and step down.
In previous elections, ZANU-PF and the government have harassed and even imprisoned members and supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested and tried twice for treason, in both 2002 and 2003 on trumped up charges. He was acquitted both times. Many observers in the 2002 election accused the government of rigging the elections for Mr. Mugabe. Since then, the economic and political situation has only worsened, and Mr. Mugabe, once the liberator of Zimbabwe, has instead become her tormentor. His repression of free democratic expression has greatly damaged the future of democracy and good governance in Zimbabwe. As President, he has betrayed his people and their hopes for his own personal desire for power.
There was hope leading into this March’s election. The government allowed open campaigning by the MDC and other opposition parties. Dissent had even grown within the ZANU-PF, with the former Finance Minister and current Politburo member Simba Makoni running as an independent. Elections also passed rather openly and peacefully, something rare for Zimbabwe as of late. But with all the ballots in on March 3rd, the Electoral Commission failed to release results of the Presidential race. From its own count, the MDC claimed victory in both the presidential and parliamentary polls. Only on April 3rd did they announce that the MDC gained a plurality of seats in Parliament, a major loss for the ZANU-PF. The government is has conflicting responses–while one newspaper states that Mr. Mugabe would be ready for the run-off required if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, at the same time, police have raided MDC offices The one thing that remains clear is that nothing is clear. And in this uncertainty lies the balance of Zimbabwe’s future.
As a disillusioned ZANU-PF farmer said to the BBC :
“People are praying for change- we need some change, no matter where it comes from. The change will come from the people who are angry, not hungry but angry- very angry…I will cry when we lose because I have been with ZANU-PF for the whole of my life, but I am not going to vote. I will vote for God and I will pray so the voters will choose the right leader. My feeling is that I’ve been voting and voting and voting, only to find I’ve been duped. I’ve been voting for nothing, now I’m going to pray for something.”
As events continue to unfold, we can only hope that responsible and just parties will prevail and that Zimbabwe will have the opportunity to realize the future that it deserves. As for Mr. Mugabe, we can only let him pray to history for a legacy as a liberator, rather than a tormentor of an independent Zimbabwe. Though the choice is his alone, it is becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Mugabe’s ability to salvage his dignity decreases with every day he spends in office.