Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Our Guilt Gives Mugabe a Green Light: Zimbabwe's Dictator Gets Away with Murder by Playing on Our Past

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Our Guilt Gives Mugabe a Green Light: Zimbabwe's Dictator Gets Away with Murder by Playing on Our Past

Article excerpt

If a truly free and fair presidential election were held in Zimbabwe tomorrow, I doubt that Robert Mugabe would win even 20 per cent of the popular vote. In two recent tests of public opinion -- a constitutional referendum in February 2000 and a general election four months later -- Mugabe and his government lost.

After the referendum, he admitted defeat and then proceeded to launch a ferocious assault on the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In the run-up to the general election, MDC candidates and supporters were systematically murdered, kidnapped and tortured; commercial farms throughout the country were torched; and although the government claimed to have won 62 seats to the MDC's 57, the results in 37 constituencies were challenged because of quite outrageous irregularities. One monitor described to me how he and colleagues had had to chase a police Land Rover over miles of open bushel as its occupants -- senior police officers -- attempted to abscond with two full ballot boxes.

While he retains the loyalty of old hard-line stalwarts of the ruling party such as the foreign minister, Stan Mudenge and the vice-president, Simon Muzenda, Mugabe has had to buy off the generals and police chiefs, and they in turn have had to buy off their forces... and the money is starting to run out. Meanwhile, the economy has become dysfunctional and, as a direct result of the violent, 18-month campaign against white farmers, a countrywide famine looms. This in a country that only five years ago was the breadbasket of Central Africa.

And yet here he is, about to become president for a fourth term, and we will probably see him back on the global stage later this year, attending conferences, going on trade missions and generally convincing the west that it is the responsibility of western countries, as former colonial oppressors, to contribute foreign aid, famine relief and diplomatic recognition to save his beleaguered country.

African despots such as Mugabe have been running rings around western politicians for years. For more than two decades, Mugabe has systematically manipulated world leaders and those of neighbouring African countries. When Jack Straw emerged from the talks in Abuja, Nigeria, last September proclaiming "a major breakthrough" and reassuring us that Mugabe had agreed to stop the illegal land invasions by his so-called "war veterans" and hold free and fair elections, the only people who believed it were the delegates and their government ministries. Within a week, Zimbabweans were witnessing an escalation of land invasions. In the months following the signing of the Abuja Accord, Mugabe has introduced draconian laws to crush press freedom and punish any form of dissent, making it clear that neither independent international monitors nor unapproved foreign journalists will be allowed to attend the presidential election in March. …

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