An African tyrant

Robert Mugabe is not history's - nor even Africa's - worst tyrant, but he needs to go.

mugabe 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
mugabe 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
One cartoon can say it all. Sometimes only a cartoonist - in this case the Swiss-based illustrator Chappatte - can adequately encapsulate a phenomenon that is at once tragedy and farce. Chappatte's latest creation has Robert Mugabe on stage speaking into a microphone: "I beat the opposition" while, off to the side, his supporters do just that, literally. On Sunday, the 84-year-old Mugabe had himself sworn in for a sixth term as president after winning what The New York Times described as "a one-horse race." His opponent, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out of a run-off campaign and was given asylum in the Dutch Embassy in Harare. In the March general election, widely suspected of having been rigged in the president's favor, Tsvangirai won 48 percent to Mugabe's 43%. Mugabe's henchmen have been murdering, torturing, raping and imprisoning Tsvangirai's supporters. One six-year-old boy was burned to death because his father was a Tsvangirai ally. The wife of a MDC mayor was kidnapped and killed. To say this election was waged in an atmosphere of "intimidation" hardly does justice to the term. Mugabe's mantra that "only God" can remove him from office seems true enough given that he controls all the temporal sources of influence in Zimbabwe - the civil service, media and security apparatus. MUGABE STARTED out as a socialist fighter with the ZANU-PF against Rhodesia's white minority government and was imprisoned in the 1960s. Independence and majority rule came in 1980, when Mugabe became prime minister. Two years later, he turned against his political rival, Joshua Nkomo, accusing him of treason. Mugabe's North Korean-trained praetorian guard killed thousands of civilians in Nkomo's tribal area of Matabeleland, and the country became a one-party state: absolute power vested in the person of one brutal man. Mugabe continues to sees the world through the prism of "anti-colonialism" and socialism. This world view - compounded by the fact that he surrounds himself with obsequious lackeys - has led Zimbabwe to ruin. Inflation is 100,000 percent; only 20% of the population is employed; previously productive land has been confiscated and turned over to his supporters. The best those who oppose him can hope for is - in true totalitarian fashion - to be "reeducated." THE UNITED STATES has called for an arms embargo against Zimbabwe and is planning a series of unilateral sanctions beyond those already in place against Mugabe's closest enablers. Britain will support additional sanctions, while the EU has called for a power-sharing arrangement based on the March elections won by Tsvangirai. The African icon, Nelson Mandela, celebrating his 90th birthday in London's Hyde Park before 40,000 well-wishers, denounced the "tragic failure of leadership" in Zimbabwe. Mugabe has allies in the international community - South Africa (which announced it will recognize Mugabe but push for a negotiated settlement of the leadership crisis), China and Russia. They can be counted upon to keep the UN Security Council off Mugabe's back. Still, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, speaking after Mugabe's "victory," is urging a negotiated solution. Africa watchers argue that only South Africa can nudge Mugabe from the stage - perhaps when Thabo Mbeki is replaced by Jacob Zuma in the presidency. The 53-nation African Union, meeting today in Sharm e-Sheikh, says it is following developments in Zimbabwe "closely." Individual African leaders - Nigeria's and Zambia's for instance - have begun to speak out against Mugabe; as has the Pan-African Parliament. Truth be told, the AU has a lot on its plate: Darfur, tensions between Chad and Sudan, and between Djibouti and Eritrea; the stability of Kenya; fragmentation in the Ivory Coast, and trouble in Somalia and the Congo. The continent has a staggering 15 million people who are internally displaced. For instance, 500,000 Zimbabweans are displaced within their country because of government violence; two million others have fled to neighboring South Africa. So Africa may need to hear its friends elsewhere encouraging it on Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe is not history's - nor even Africa's - worst tyrant. He does, however, stand out as someone who took a country with extraordinary promise and has been steadily wrecking it before the eyes of the world. He needs to go.