The Nigerian Guardian Editorial on Mugabe’s Zimbabwe

    Zimbabwe: A tragic failure of leadership


IN a demonstration of utter contempt for the international community and indeed for the Zimbabwean people, President Robert Mugabe stood as the sole candidate in the country’s run-off presidential election which was held last Friday, June 27. Two days after the one-man race, 84-year old Robert Mugabe was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe for the sixth time.

The episode undoubtedly forebodes much worse for the country and its people in the months to come. At the personal level, it provides a vivid illustration of how a leader could fall from heroic heights into infamy and illustrates what Nelson Mandela has called a tragic “failure of leadership.” Robert Mugabe has demonstrated that his love for power is in inverse proportion to his disdain for rights of many of his people. This is a character flaw of tragic proportions, whose consequences are bound to affect the destiny of a whole nation.

The crisis began shortly after the general elections of March 29 when President Mugabe’s 28-year long rule was challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and by Mugabe’s former Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, who contested the presidency under a breakaway faction of the MDC. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission released the results for the legislative election, which the opposition won with a clear majority, within a week, as stipulated by law.

Expectations were high from both citizens and informed observers that the presidential election would follow the trend in the legislative election. This optimism was bolstered by the fact that he had allowed the opposition candidate to campaign across the country without any molestation. There was also the added fact that the severe hardship induced across the country by hyper-inflation and economic collapse would be blamed on the incumbent government and sway the election in favour of the opposition.

However, the Electoral Commission refused to release the result of the presidential election, thereby adding political uncertainty to a polity already teetering on the verge of economic collapse. Amidst this uncertainty, the ruling ZANU-PF party and its storm troopers across the country began to take certain measures that reinforced the impression that President Mugabe was determined to cling to power. It took the Electoral Commission five weeks and a ballot recount to release the results. As expected, Morgan Tsvangirai won a majority of the vote with 47.9 per cent against President Mugabe’s 43.2 per cent. This fell short of the 50 per cent plus one required by law. The situation
called for a run-off election which was fixed for June 27.

The series of events that unfolded in the period leading to the run-off demonstrated President Mugabe and his party’s determination to do whatever was necessary to ensure victory. They unleashed a campaign of terror and intimidation on opposition party stalwarts, supporters and sympathisers. The MDC’s Secretary General was charged with treason and is currently in detention. Security forces hounded opposition party members across the country, while ZANU-PF storm troopers unleashed terror across the countryside, reportedly killing and maiming innocent citizens.

Whereas the opposition had been allowed to campaign freely before the March election, this was no longer possible anywhere in the country. Its rallies were disrupted both by security forces and ZANU-PF activists. Its presidential candidate was arrested several times ahead of the run-off. By the time the party threw in the towel, well over 80 of its members had been killed. Morgan Tsvangirai was compelled by the level of violence to withdraw from the presidential contest, and to seek refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare. This gave Robert Mugabe the electoral certainty he so desired. ZANU-PF’s objective, as was made clear on its campaign posters, was to ensure that Robert Mugabe secured 100 per cent of the vote.

In the end, the election was held in an atmosphere of intense fear and intimidation, with voters going to the polls because of the fear that those who could not show the indelible pink mark on their fingers to demonstrate that they had voted would suffer violent retribution. Robert Mugabe got what he wanted and was immediately sworn into office.

How could an 84-year old man be so determined to cling to power? How could a hero of the liberation of Zimbabwe brutalise his own society in his twilight years with scant regard to the past and to his place in history? Power is of course the best, or is it worst, aphrodisiac, and those who get drunk on it are condemned to self destruction, with the danger, sadly, that in the process of self-destruction, they could indeed destroy a country as well. This is the tragedy of Zimbabwe.

The consensus of African and international opinion is that the run-off election was a farce and totally undemocratic. Beyond that however there is little agreement as to what could be done to redress the situation. Western countries have condemned it and have unwisely threatened to reinforce sanctions which have already impoverished Zimbabweans.

The African Union, which discussed the Zimbabwe election at its summit in Egypt, merely called for talks leading to a government. This call has been rejected by Morgan Tsvangirai.

There is now more despair in Zimbabwe. Western nations must back off from threats of more sanctions and African leaders must become vigorous in sincerely and genuinely pursing peace in Zimbabwe between government and the opposition. At 84, there is not much Robert Mugabe can give his country except to exacerbate the present crisis. Any solution will therefore have to follow channels that would ease him out of power to enable the country re-direct its energies towards improving the lot of the people of Zimbabwe

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