“Harare Show,” The New Republic (editorial), 10 July 2008.
On June 27, Robert Mugabe got exactly what he wanted: another term as president of Zimbabwe. No matter that he had to chop, bully, and cheat his way to uncontested victory by forcing rival Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the race under the credible threat of violence; within days of the tainted tally, Mugabe was hanging out with fellow African leaders in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheik. There, the dictator’s spokesman offered the following–presumably sarcastic–reply to suggestions that it might be time for his boss to go: “With only five days in office, you expect him to retire?”
Witty! Except the humor may be lost on the beleaguered people of Zimbabwe, who are in their twenty-eighth year under Mugabe’s thumb and now face the prospect of remaining there a while longer.
What can other countries do to help? They could start by avoiding embarrassing spectacles of the sort that unfolded in Sharm El Sheik, where Mugabe was allowed to take part in an African Union summit, with all the legitimacy that confers. Some African countries–in particular Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia–have taken an admirably tough line on Mugabe, but too many others have stayed largely mum on the subject. Especially disgraceful has been South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has refused to so much as condemn Mugabe, let alone take active steps to undermine his rule.
As for the West, small signals of solidarity with the Zimbabwean people–like a recent pledge by a German company to stop printing the country’s currency–certainly can’t hurt. (Not that the money–which suffers from 1 million percent inflation–was worth much anyway, though perhaps Mugabe will now find it that much harder to pay his goons in the military and police forces. ) But, ultimately, a solution for Zimbabwe means empowering the rightful winners of the election, Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change. As The New York Sun has suggested, world leaders should officially recognize Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe’s president, then bar Mugabe’s representatives from the United Nations. And Tsvangirai, along with his shadow cabinet, should be invited to visit Washington for a high-profile meeting with President Bush. None of this, of course, is likely to force Mugabe from office immediately, but at least it would send a message to the African dictator that the world no longer acknowledges his rule. And that, yes, we expect him to retire.