by Austin Bay
April 5, 2005
Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe combines the worst aspects ofCold War and War on Terror tyranny.
Think of Mugabe as an African Slobodan Milosevic. When the ColdWar closed down, Milosevic morphed from Yugoslav communist to Serb fascist.As time passed in southern Africa, shape-shifting Mugabe adjusted hisschtick, moving from Marx-spouting revolutionary to kleptocrat tribaldictator. Both thugs are ethnic cleansers and cynical thieves who murderrivals, silence the press and brutally intimidate domestic opposition.
There is a major difference: Milosevic is under arrest, whileMugabe continues to destroy a once wealthy nation, while hiding behind aslick PR campaign that co-opts and corrupts classic "human rights" themes.
Mugabe can give Milosevic -- and, for that matter, Russia'sVladimir Putin -- lessons in rigging elections. On March 31, Mugabe stolehis third election in five years, making Zimbabwe the world's current leaderin charade democracy.
Mugabe and his thugs tried to steal the last one quietly. Aselections approached, Mugabe began denying foreign reporters entry visas. Heimposed a law that made "unauthorized demonstrations" a felony punishable byup to 20 years in jail -- a law aimed at his democratic opponents in TheMovement for Democratic Change (MDC). And then there's the food weapon.Mugabe's government controls Zimbabwe's food supplies. Cooperate, and youget your loaf of bread. Oppose Mugabe, and food's denied.
Ah, but those pesky priests who won't shut up. Mugabe has had tothreaten church leaders he deems responsible for "encouraging" streetprotests. Catholic Bishop Pius Ncube -- a major domestic critic of Mugabeand his dictatorship -- has been a special target.
Ncube predicted last week's election would be rigged, and Ncubewas right. The "final tally" gave Mugabe's Zimbabwe African NationalUnion-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) 74 seats and the MDC 40
There's no question Mugabe committed mass fraud -- and the MDChas refused to accept the results.
Mugabe may get away with it, breaking the democratic pulsesurging through Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, andtesting the Bush administration's "pro-democracy" doctrine. The man isruthless, and in the past ruthless has worked. Though Mugabe's ethniccleansing of the Mdebele in 1980 brought extensive criticism, criticismnever became international opposition to his regime. Whenever internationaloutrage builds, Mugabe trots out two themes that have been political trumpsfor too many African tyrants, "combating colonialism" and "fighting racism."This mantra stymies a fossil segment of the "human rights Left" -- a crowdthat railed against Milosevic.
Mugabe also appears to have another hole card -- South Africa'sThabo Mbeki has not played pro-democracy Poland to the Zimbabwe democrats'would-be Ukraine. In fact, Mbeki looks increasingly weak, ineffectual andchurlish -- a man who knows he stands in Nelson Mandela's shadow and resentsit. Mbeki declared Zimbabwe's elections "free and fair" before the vote. Afew commentators conclude this is Mbeki and Mugabe acting out a senescentform of "freedom fighter" solidarity, and it may be just that, anothermid-20th century political relic thwarting 21st century democratic change.
Still, international criticism is mounting -- if Kyrgyzstan canrally for freedom, why not Zimbabwe?
What can be done to support the democrats? Any effectivemilitary action or political-economic sanctions regimen requires SouthAfrican cooperation, and Mbeki looks like he's been bought off.
The priests, however, haven't been co-opted. Pope John Paul II'sdeath has kept Mugabe's electoral fraud out of the news cycle, but there isa "John Paul" option that could benefit peaceful change throughoutsub-Sahran Africa. The Polish Pope Paul inspired Eastern European resistanceto communism and inspired billions with his spiritual and moral leadership.An African pope could do the same for African democrats.
There are signals that this could happen. French CardinalBernard Panafieu, when asked about electing a "Third World" pope, replied,"Everything is possible."
An African pope would change the political dynamics insub-Saharan Africa, and put dictators like Mugabe under insistent globalscrutiny -- the first step to putting them all in jail.