Mugabe's Dictatorship Erodes Gracefully or by Force, Zimbabwe Leader Must Go

By Rotberg, Robert I. | The Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Mugabe's Dictatorship Erodes Gracefully or by Force, Zimbabwe Leader Must Go


Rotberg, Robert I., The Christian Science Monitor


You can take advantage of your people only so long. Eventually they rise up in protest. That is what is happening now in Zimbabwe, where the tide of discontent runs high.

The protesting Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions is saying "enough is enough." It sponsors successful stay-aways from work. Other urban dwellers have taken to the streets in militant protest. Squatters are occupying white-owned farms. A fledgling opposition party is forming. And mutiny is the much-feared talk of the Army.

President Robert Mugabe, in power for 18 years, must go. That's the message of the streets in Zimbabwe, as well as of the diplomatic corridors. It's time Mr. Mugabe heeded the call, and spared his people more turmoil. His strong-arm rule is the triggering complaint. He has governed Zimbabwe coercively since independence in 1980, running roughshod over intimidated opposition parties and his own Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). Elected overwhelmingly and regularly, he first foisted state-dominated socialism on Zimbabwe. More recently, he has vacillated between opening up to market forces and maintaining the core of centralized control. State domination, widespread corruption, the failure to sell off state controlled enterprises, and Mugabe' s own oft-voiced disdain for the private sector, has resulted in GDP annual growth increases that lag behind population increases, steadily falling standards of living, inflation approaching 50 percent this year, and unemployment approaching 50 percent. Zimbabwe's dollar has fallen a third against the United States dollar since November 1997. Zimbabwe's workers might have understood why prices of imported fuel had to increase 67 percent along with the costs of bread, cooking oil, the staple maize meal, and bus fares - up 100 percent. But not when they learned that Mugabe was building expensive mansions for his young second wife, that the mayor of Harare, the country' s capital, was constructing a $1.5 million house when luxury houses in the city cost a mere $130,000, that the city of Harare could not pay for a $685,000 water pump and so the city suffered serious shortages of water, and that the president had sent the Zimbabwean Army to fight an expensive war in the distant Congo. No one in Zimbabwe can understand why its troops have been sent to defend President Laurent Kabila's continued dictatorship in the Congo at a time when Zimbabwe is desperately short of cash, and the Congo has none to offer. …

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