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July 30, 2003

A New Opportunity in Zimbabwe?

Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe attended President Mugabe's address to parliament yesterday, and the reaction couldn't be more mixed. Predictably, many are saying that the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) essentially gave in to Mugabe by ending their boycotts of the addresses--giving Mugabe another dose of legitimacy when they could be applying more pressure to what could be a crumbling regime. Others insist that the move is designed to bring the MDC closer to real talks with Mugabe concerning the economic climate of the country.

Count me among the latter.

Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis. Not only has this year's inflation rate of 364% (predicted by some to go as high as 700% by the beginning of next year) destroyed bank savings and investment, but the continuation of disastrous farm policies continues to make feeding the citizens of the country a matter of international charitable donations.

Growing dissent has led to even more strong-arm tactics from Mugabe's government led the Lawyers Committed for Human Rights to release a statement that contained this little nugget:

The Lawyers Committee is concerned that the SADC communiqué fails to fully acknowledge the severity of the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, and the obstacle that these systematic violations place in the way of any resolution of the political, humanitarian and economic crises that increasingly threaten the country and the surrounding region.

Looking at the situation, what's most amazing is that Mugabe has survived these decades without being overthrown. But keep in mind that Liberia lasted for some 133 years under the same essential governmental system before their first coup--and from there the situation deteriorated to what we see today.

As much as everyone would like to see Mugabe gone, a revolution right now that toppled the government would lead to another unstable government in Africa. It would lead to a government incapable of meeting its people's needs and ripe for the same sort of thugocracy that Mugabe already has in place. In other words, it could quite possibly lead to a Zimbabwe that saw coup after coup replacing one bad government with another, one "President for Life" with another, and further impoverishing the citizens.

What is far more desirable is a move towards liberalization of the government that leads to real elections (not the kind overseen by dictator-apologist Jimmy Carter) and a stronger rule of law. If South Africa and Western countries tie food and economic aid to certain governmental behaviors, both short term and long term, it may still be possible to save not only the political structure, but the country's economy.

It's a slender hope, but the MDC's move might signal that Mugabe has opened up to reforms. He's not fool--and for a time, he was the hope for post-colonial Africa. He appeared, at first, to be a moderate who would work to unite the country regardless of racial or tribal make-up. He may realize that his only opportunity to save both himself and his country is in compromise and reform.

As I said, it's a slender hope, and he's mislead his opponents before, but the alternative right now is to see Zimbabwe dissolve into the kind of mess that we see in Liberia.

Read about the MDC attending Mugabe's address.
Read about Zimbabwe's economic crisis.
Read the LCHR news release.

Posted by zombyboy at July 30, 2003 06:35 PM
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