Mad Bob won't change his spots


Used well, democracy guarantees peace, liberty and prosperity. Used arrogantly and wrongly, democracy can be dangerous and backfire to become a handmaiden of the worst kind of dictatorship. This is what we are seeing in neighbouring Zimbabwe today.

Testimonies to the flagrant disregard of the principles of democracy by Robert Gabriel Mugabe, president and persecutor of Zimbabwe, have been catalogued in atlases and history books.

President Mugabe is an example of how a single twerp can cause instability around an entire region and get away with it.

His people are starving and dying, his country has no functioning economy or government. What does he say to his people and fellow leaders on the continent and around the world? Burn with your hatred of Zimbabwe.

For me, insistence on a government of national unity (GNU) in Zimbabwe is making a mockery of any democratic process.

In a region not known for its improving democratic processes or governance, the declarations that Mugabe's election was legitimate are only symptoms of a larger malady.

The nations that are willing to overlook the obviously flawed electoral process in Zimbabwe have little credibility left on the subject of democracy and legitimate governance.

Everything was there for everyone to see. The illegitimacy of Uncle Bob's re-election could be traced to long before polling day last March.

Let us recap: Thousands of arrests and about 100 politically motivated assassinations marked the months leading up to the election, as Mugabe sought to consolidate his power and prevent any truly organised opposition from functioning.

New legislation prevented opposition political rallies and private voter education, and independent journalists were intimidated and driven from the country.

Everybody knows that President Mugabe has sacrificed economic wisdom for political expediency in his desperate quest to stay in power through a government of national unity.

Any insistence on a GNU is not only a blow for the country; but it also dashes confidence in elections for the whole SADC region and our continent.

After the forced government of national unity in Kenya, and now possibly in Zimbabwe, elections in Africa may become a farce with losers refusing to relinquish power in exchange for a power-sharing deal or GNU.

Zimbabwe's power-sharing will not work because the strongman refuses to release or share control of the state's security forces and other key levers of power.

His intransigence comes as no surprise. After three decades of tyrannical rule that transformed one of Africa's most promising economies into a disaster zone in which the annual inflation rate runs at millions, at least a third of the population has fled the country and its 95 percent unemployment.

Under the terms of the deal, which is supposed to end the debate about Mugabe's brazen theft of the recent presidential election and several others before this one, his party is supposed to control 15 ministries, Tsvangirai's MDC 13 and a splinter opposition party three.

The mistake our former president Thabo Mbeki made was that he did not specify to the Zimbabwean leaders how the powers were to be divided between Mugabe, who retains the role of president, and Tsvangirai, who becomes prime minister.

So why are we surprised that negotiations for the composition of a government of national unity have been bogged down because the strongman insists on retaining authority over both the powerful security and information portfolios in the new cabinet?

Those are the same tools that the autocrat has used to intimidate the general populace, brutalise political opponents and maintain his iron grip on power.

If any power-sharing or credible government of national unity is to be successful, it is essential that Tsvangirai gains control of either the army or the police, preferably the latter. That would help quell the violence that has killed hundreds and driven tens of thousands from their homes.

It would also enable relief workers to start delivering food to the estimated 2-million Zimbabweans who are in danger of starvation - a number that is expected to more than double by the end of the year.

One of the most important challenges facing Mugabe's successor will be to reverse the disastrous agricultural policies that seized the country's white-owned corporate farms and handed them over to Mugabe's cronies.

Those policies transformed Zimbabwe from being Southern Africa's breadbasket into a land of famine and desperation within the course of a decade.

Mugabe will not yield control of the army. Even if he did, his generals would not submit to Tsvangirai's authority, despite his pledge that they will not face criminal charges for the murder, rape and torture of Mugabe's political opponents.

But an agreement to give Tsvangirai control over the police and to order the army to steer clear of domestic politics would be a major breakthrough.

So why are our former president and our leaders within the 14-nation Southern Africa Development Community tolerating Uncle Bob's antics?

The answer is that they are beholden to the dynamics of international relations, which state that despite President Mugabe's erosion of state sovereignty, they still have to respect the internal and external sovereignty of their neighbour.

Therefore, military intervention, armed conflict, cross-border raids, propaganda, isolation, severe economic sanctions, coercion and the violent removal of Uncle Bob and his cohorts are the only remaining options.

All members of the Southern African Development Community have armies. Why are we paying for these armies if not to use them in times of need?

The need is now. The SADC must please send a force in to remove him from power and install a caretaker government excluding all the current politicians to prepare for fresh elections.

President Mugabe has contravened every single principle and value that decent people should believe in. Ridding the world of Uncle Bob would be an act of humanity.

For me, it is leaving him in power as the leader of a purported government of national unity or power-sharing arrangement that is inhumane.

Yes, there are consequences to removing him by force. If he is removed by force, people will die. But every region, every country, should be prepared to live with the consequences of an armed invasion, even the unintended ones.

A government of national unity in Zimbabwe will be a damp squib.

Either President Mugabe must be forced to go peacefully, or once and for all, through bloodshed.

  • Rich Mkhondo, writer, author and former editor and foreign correspondent, is an independent marketing communications and public relations strategist.




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