How to get him out
Jun 26th 2008
From The Economist print edition
By forcing the opposition to abandon the election, Robert Mugabe has undermined his position
IT IS hard to believe that the horrors inflicted by Zimbabwe’s ruler on his own people could get worse. But even in the past week they have. The burning to death of a six-year-old boy because his father is an opposition politician, and the butchering of the young wife of the capital’s new opposition mayor, are part of a growing wave of violence that has persuaded Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, to withdraw from the presidential run-off that was due on June 27th. He rightly felt that, by standing in the election, he was risking the lives of too many thousands of his supporters.
Yet Robert Mugabe’s crimes are finally coming home to roost. He will claim to be re-elected president, by default. But he has lost one of the big things that have kept him in power to date: the grudging support of Africa. His brutality and fraudulence have become so plain for all to see that neighbours who once defended him are changing their tune. Just as he is poised to declare himself the winner, almost the entire continent-not to mention the rest of the world-has come to believe that he cannot be allowed to stay in office (see article).
He is, as a result, weaker; but he and his thugs are determined to hang on. He has the tyrant’s delusion that “only God”, as he puts it, can displace him. So Western and African countries, especially Zimbabwe’s neighbours, must act in concert to get rid of the ogre that has shamed an entire continent.
How to finish him off
The first and easiest act is to refuse to recognise any administration led by Mr Mugabe. The European Union, the United States and much of the rich world will ostracise him. Now is the time for Africa, especially the influential regional club of 14 countries known as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to follow suit. A swelling chorus of other African leaders has condemned the election as unfair. Even South Africa, whose spineless president, Thabo Mbeki, is still refusing to criticise Mr Mugabe outright, has begun to turn against him. Its likely next president, Jacob Zuma, is increasingly exasperated. Its trade unions have called for a blockade of Zimbabwe, symbolic at first but perhaps a harbinger of pressure to come. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s beacon of decency, in London this week to celebrate his 90th birthday, spoke out against the “tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe”.
South Africa remains the key. Its leaders have long had the power to bring Mr Mugabe to his knees, just as their white predecessors squeezed the life out of Rhodesia’s white-supremacist leader, Ian Smith, three decades ago, letting Mr Mugabe take over when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Mr Mbeki will argue that economic strangulation would hurt the hapless Zimbabwean masses more than the pampered elite around Mr Mugabe. In the short run, he is right. Humanitarian aid must continue to flow into Zimbabwe, though Mr Mugabe has made it hard-often impossible-for charitable outfits to ensure that their largesse goes directly to the right poor people. But South Africa, along with other countries in the SADC, should certainly join in imposing the targeted sanctions already enforced by the EU, the Americans and other governments against Mr Mugabe and 130-odd of his closest comrades, who are banned from visiting the penalising countries and have had their assets there frozen. Depriving Mr Mugabe’s cronies of trips to a decent country that works could have a salutary effect.
The African Union (AU), which embraces all 53 of Africa’s countries, should also be far more robustly involved. Unlike the SADC, which is often paralysed by its search for consensus, the AU’s rules provide for decisions, specifically including the imposition of sanctions on errant members, to be taken by a two-thirds majority. The union is holding its annual summit next week, in Egypt. It should call on its members not to recognise Mr Mugabe as president or his party as the government.
The United Nations, too, must be ready to help. South Africa has been disgracefully blocking discussion of Zimbabwe in the 15-strong Security Council, of which it is a current member (see article). But this week it was shamed into signing a unanimous statement deploring the Zimbabwean government’s violence. There have been calls for the UN to send peacekeepers and to oversee fresh elections: a nice idea that will not come to pass any time soon. At present, no such resolution in the Security Council would get the necessary support, especially from Russia and China (not to mention South Africa). Moreover, while the loss of life in such blighted places as Sudan’s Darfur province and Somalia is still many times higher than in Zimbabwe, the UN has proved unable to send anything like an adequate force to those places; getting the Security Council, and in particular China, to take action over Darfur was like pulling teeth. Yet there is every reason to start campaigning for the UN to take up the cause of Zimbabwe too. It should certainly help to manage a fresh election.
Why not send in the troops?
Some romantic spirits ask why Mr Mugabe cannot be ousted by force-by Western powers, if not the UN. It would be glorious if he were removed by any method at all. But it remains unthinkable for such an action to be taken without the co-operation-logistical, among other things-of the region’s leaders. Persuading them to collaborate in isolating Mr Mugabe is hard enough. Deploying an international force should not be ruled out in the future, especially if the violence spreads. But other methods, with Africans to the fore, must be tried first.
In any event, the rich world should spell out a generous and co-ordinated recovery plan to be acted on as soon as Mr Mugabe has gone and proper elections held that would presumably bring Mr Tsvangirai to power. Zimbabwe needs at least $10 billion to put it on the path to recovery. Yet it is a resource-rich country with a core of well-educated people, millions of whom have fled abroad and must be wooed back home. Mr Mugabe may cling to power for a while, but his grip is weaker. Zimbabwe needs help from the West. But most of all it needs its African neighbours to tell the tyrant unambiguously to go-and to snuff him out if he refuses. It can be done.