Scandal in Africa

With his ruthless seizure of power in the June 27 runoff election in Zimbabwe, following a well-organized campaign to intimidate and murder members of the opposition, Robert Mugabe joined Myanmar’s military junta at the top of the list of the world’s most despised dictators. Both the Burmese generals and Mugabe’s inner circle have enriched themselves while reducing their people to near starvation. They have jailed, tortured, and killed supporters of democracy, and shrugged off years of international condemnation. Moreover, unlike Myanmar’s secretive regime, Mugabe and the cabal that supports him have seemed to enjoy flaunting their contempt for democracy and their easy embrace of violence.

That cabal is led by hard-line members of the Zimbabwean military and a handful of cabinet officials who served alongside Mugabe in the independence war of the 1970s. They include the commander in chief of Zimbabwe’s armed forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, and Emerson Mnangagwa, an heir apparent to Mugabe who, as minister of national security in 1983, allegedly oversaw the massacre of thousands of political opponents in Matabeleland. “He is a man with the capacity to be more vicious than Mugabe,” I was told by University of Zimbabwe political analyst John Makumbe.

Mnangagwa was one of the principal orchestrators of the campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition launched in April—known as CIBD, or Coercion, Intimidation, Beating, and Displacement. (According to recent reports, over a hundred opposition supporters have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced.) And Mugabe, after initially conceding defeat in private and considering resignation or negotiation, quickly embraced the hard-liners’ position. “We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X,” Mugabe declared in the midst of his bloody campaign last month, rejecting any pretense of a legitimate election. “How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?”

The dictator’s spokesman, George Charamba, told the press that Western governments who criticized Zimbabwe’s election could “go hang a thousand times. They have no basis, they have no claim on Zimbabwe politics at all.” That kind of thumb-in-the-eye defiance has intensified the world’s sense of impotence and prompted a hard look at the question: Is there anything that can be done now to get rid of Robert Mugabe?

The days following Mugabe’s ghastly recoronation ceremony saw the first test of international resolve. Leaders from Gordon Brown of Great Britain to Kenya’s new prime minister Raila Odinga assailed the state-sponsored violence that forced Morgan Tsvangirai to take refuge in the Dutch embassy and withdraw from the race, leaving Mugabe the sole candidate. “What is happening in Zimbabwe is a shame and an embarrassment to Africa in the eyes of the international community and should be denounced,” Odinga said, in perhaps the strongest words of condemnation ever uttered against Mugabe by a fellow African leader.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela broke with Thabo Mbeki’s long and shameful silence on the issue to condemn, during a major public …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

One-Week Access — $4.99

Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.