The White man in Africa was once seen as the quintessential symbol of tyranny and oppression. Having swarmed the once-named “Dark Continent” over a century ago, plundering its riches and destroying its people along the way, Africa underwent tremendous suffering at the hands of various European taskmasters.
In the world of politics however, what is old is new once more. There is a taskmaster set over millions of Africans, and this time, his pigment matches that of those he oppresses.
Robert Mugabe has held power in Zimbabwe, formerly British-colonial Rhodesia, since its inception as an independent state and the general elections of 1980. Having been held as a political prisoner, serving from 1964 onwards a ten year term for “subversive speech,” Mugabe also participated in the civil war in neighbouring Mozambique; he was branded a hero as a freedom fighter against British colonialism.
His fight today rages on against the forces of democracy – as horrid a cliché as this is, it is the truth. Indeed, Mugabe has resurrected the claims of Louis XIV and Charles I’s divine right to rule: “Only God who appointed me will remove me – not the MDC, not the British.”
The 2008 Presidential election in Zimbabwe is being contested by Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party and the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai. The election has been criticized by the United Nations, and African and world leaders alike as a violent sham; an election of which Saddam Hussein would be proud.
Mr. Tsvangirai won the first ballot of the elections in March, and a second ballot was to be held and still may be, on June 27. Since the March elections, the world media has reported several episodes of violence perpetrated by the military and bands of ZANU-PF supporters against those of the rival MDC. On June 23, Mr. Tsvangirai announced he was pulling out of the second ballot race, handing automatic victory to Mugabe, declaring that there would be no chance for a free and fair election. Mr. Tsvangirai and his supporters have been arrested on countless occasions, and the leader of the MDC has sought refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare.
Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon has called for a postponement of the poll due to the withdrawal of the MDC from the second round of the presidential elections. The world community now faces the prospect of another term of Mugabe rule, marked by perpetual murder, intimidation and the world’s highest inflation rate (currently estimated to run to 1 500 000% by the end of 2008).
Thousands of Zimbabweans have fled the country and countless more face shortages, hyperinflation, shrinking GDP, and continued corruption and dictatorship. The world community has few options.
First, they could leave Zimbabwe well alone. This is seen as a non-option; the world is now realizing that something must be done, whether by word or by economic sanctions, both of which are being considered.
In terms of words, the UN Security Council – the only arm of the UN that can authorize the use of force – has unanimously condemned violence against the MDC. This in itself is significant considering Zimbabwe’s fairly good ties to China, and who could have used its veto on the Council to defeat the motion of condemnation; it did not. South Africa has been a long ally as well, and President Thabo Mbeki could play a key role if he chooses to publicly condemn Mugabe, something which he has yet to do.
Economic sanctions can hurt the tyrant’s regime, but also the poor, depending on the nature of sanctions – they must be applied with care lest those who are already the worse for wear become further harmed. Further economic harm may turn more of the populace against Mugabe; but with inflation spiraling to near one million percent, how much more economic suffering can people face?
The final option is an armed invasion. Any force must be sponsored by the UN, with, ideally, a large contingent of troops from African states, to help “win over” (if possible) the population. The armed militias and military loyal to Mugabe must be disarmed and neutralized, and this would be the most troublesome aspect of any direct deposal of ZANU-PF. Civil war would not be out of the question, thus any attack may cause more trouble than already exists (see: Iraq, US Invasion of).
Mugabe has shown that he will not be defeated via “democratic” means; like Hitler before him, he will use the instruments of democracy to undermine and maintain his rule. Words will not move him unless it is from his allies. Economics will hurt, but with such a destroyed economy, it will only hurt those in power, which would be the aim, but may destabilize the poor. An armed attack may be the only means to overthrow the Sun King of Zimbabwe, but is inherently dangerous.
Mugabe may be right: maybe God’s Hand will be the only way to remove his grip from the scepter of power. If so, I will only pray: Let Thy Justice be done, O Lord.