Apprehensively Awaiting Zimbabwe's Election
Sadly, Robert Mugabe's 22 years in power have left Zimbabwe ill-prepared to cope with any of the possible results of this week's elections.
by Jerome F. Winzig
Those of us in the United States takes for granted the gift George Washington bestowed on our country when he chose not to run for reelection after having served two terms as our first president. His example became a tradition that lasted for 151 years, until Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to a third term in 1940. Likewise, in South Africa Nelson Mandela stepped down in 1999 after a single term as the first president elected by all the people of South Africa.
Zimbabwe, however, has not been so blessed. Instead, after 22 years in power Robert Mugabe is still the only president the country has ever known, and at 78 is running for yet another term on March 9-10. His bid to remain in power is characterized by the same skullduggery he employed in his first election in 1980, when members of his party, ZANU-PF, prevented opposition supporters from campaigning in a third of the country. Last week, he had Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition candidate, arrested for treason.
Mugabe's ugly efforts to cling to power have had a devastating impact on his country. The average personal income in Zimbabwe has fallen by 50 percent since independence, and the decline has accelerated in recent years. Large numbers of skilled Zimbabweans have fled the country. Unemployment is at 60 percent and inflation at 116 percent.
Rural Zimbabwe is in shambles. Mugabe's much-touted campaign to seize land from white farmers is not designed to put land in the hands of black farmers. Mugabe's goons have little interest in working the land themselves when they can earn more money beating up on Mugabe's opposition. As a result, 500,000 rural Zimbabweans are now thought to be at risk of starvation.
Sadly, the upcoming election at the end of this week may be unable to undo the harm Mugabe has done to his country. It's true that Tsvangirai leads in the polls and ordinary Zimbabweans may very well risk their lives to vote for him in spite of the violent consequences they may endure if they do so. And it's also true that just three days ago, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled that a law passed by Mugabe's government to ban independent election observers and prevent millions of Zimbabweans who live abroad from voting.
However, it's likely Mugabe will still block the observers, many of whom have already withdrawn, and voter registration for the election is already closed. Furthermore, Zimbabwe's military leaders have declared they will not accept a Tsvangirai victory.
Even more tellingly, there are grave doubts whether Tsvangirai is capable of leading the country. He has been an effective union leader but has no experience in government and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is a tenuous coalition united mainly by their dislike of Mugabe. If Tsvangirai wins, he faces enormous challenges.
Then there is the videotape first broadcast by Australia's Special Broadcasting Services (SBS), showing Tsvangirai meeting with two lobbyists in Montreal, Canada. On the tape there is talk of another meeting Tsvangirai attended with the two lobbyists in London, discussion of a contract being signed, and money being exchanged to arrange for Mugabe's assassination. According to Mark Davis, an SBS reporter, what the tape reveals "is not a matter of speculation."
If the Montreal tape really does reveal a conspiracy to assassinate Mugabe, then it also reveals the depth of the damage Mugabe has inflicted on his country. By using illegal means and violence to undercut and destroy all those who oppose him, Mugabe has most likely made a peaceful transition of power impossible. By hounding and destroying his democratic opponents, Mugabe has made it almost impossible for others to develop the leadership skills needed to lead the country.
The consequences for Zimbabwe are dismal. If Mugabe wins a fraudulent election, the country may very well erupt in riots. If Zsvangirai wins, the army may prevent him from taking power. If Zsvangirai wins and takes office, he may not have the personal integrity or the necessary leadership qualities needed to do the job.
Zimbabwe will need our attention and our support -- and our prayers -- to recover from 22 years of Robert Mugabe's misguided rule.