02 April 2008

Where are the thieves?

Oh my God. Apparently, Robert Mugabe did NOT steal last Saturday's election in Zimbabwe. Even his own handlers seem to admit as much and the old man is said to be looking for a way out that somehow saves face. Not only that, his Zanu-PF party appears to have lost the majority in parliament.

Granted, even a man as blind and venal as Robert Mugabe had to know he has completely destroyed that country--a once-prosperous beacon of hope in Africa--and he has no authority to repair it. It's hard to believe he didn't steal the election, though, as he's done it before and that's pretty standard for African democracies lately; witness Kenya. I'm just dumbfounded. And waiting for the other shoe to drop; perhaps later today or tomorrow the election commission will report that Mugabe won after all.

I would have to argue that Mugabe, who may at one time have just been prickly, has crossed over into the realm of evil. But even evil people may be perceptive enough to know when to cut bait, and if I was Mugabe I'd be running for cover. In no way do I envy Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader who seems to have won the presidency. He has one of the toughest jobs in Africa ahead of him, and that's saying something. How do you fix 100,000% inflation? I mean, really, how? Can you even conceive of that? The last place to suffer from inflation that high--and I mean, we've seen 1000% inflation in Zimbabwe for two years and Indonesia and other countries have seen bouts of it, but this is 100 times that--was Weimar Germany, and we all know how that turned out. It's cheaper to burn the Zimbabwean dollar for heat than it is to use it as currency.

And even if he gets the inflation under control, he has to deal with an utterly broken and destroyed economy. Once prosperous farms that employed thousands of workers have been broken up and given to Mugabe's cronies, and now sit fallow. The former workers have been reduced to subsistence farming on tiny plots of land, and no one who isn't part of Mugabe's personal clique has the money to reassemble a commercially viable farm. Unfortunately those are the last people you want buying up land.

Tsvangirai himself has been left to hang by the political leadership of the surrounding countries, ever since he was beaten to within an inch of his life and has skull smashed by Mugabe's police during a political rally a year ago. Mugabe was such a hero of the revolution that other leaders were loath to say anything against him; with him out of the picture how easy will it be for Tsvangirai to regain the confidence and support of his neighbors? He needs it, without question.

There's also the potential for violence. Fortunately, both Mugabe and Tsvangirai headed parties whose basis was in something other than ethnic identity. But Tsvangirai draws most of his support from urban areas, whereas Mugabe's support was strongest in the countryside. This is a split that could cause serious problems down the road if things don't start to improve soon. If life gets much worse for the countryside (it's already as bad as anywhere else in the world) might they rise against Tsvangirai's supporters? If things fail to improve quickly enough in the cities might Tsvangirai's supporters attack Zanu-PF members who appear well-off? And what is going to become of Mugabe's police force, one of the most brutal on the continent? They probably won't just waltz off into the sunset.

The list of problems is so long perhaps Mugabe just decided it was time to leave. By not stealing the election he at least gets credit for being a good democrat. It's never too early to start working on your legacy.

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