Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Endgame in Zimbabwe [updated]

Not surprisingly in a country with 70% unemployment and an annual inflation rate of 100,000 percent, President Robert Mugabe hasn’t received many votes in his race for an eighth four-year term. Although that hasn’t stopped him from remaining in office in the past, this time the vote-rigging, intimidation, beatings, arrests, threats and megalomaniac pomp apparently won’t be enough to save his throne. Even the possibility of calling out the troops and staging a coup is a shaky bet when the soldiers are as hungry as everyone else.

The way power is slipping through the fingers of one of the world’s longest-sinning autocrats is fascinating to watch, and the opposition seems to be playing its cards very cleverly. They haven’t declared themselves the winners or announced any vote totals, thus avoiding giving Mugabe an excuse to declare martial law as if he were defending the democratic process rather than making a farce of it.

Recent events in neighboring Kenya have shown that stealing elections can have deadly consequences, so one doesn’t want to succumb to anticipatory optimism. However, unlike the Kenyan situation, there’s apparently no real ethnic split—everyones hates the Mugabe regime, generating a nicely uniform, equal-opportunity repudiation.

If the long-suffering residents of that country can manage to throw off this creep once and for all without provoking or resorting to bloodshed, it’ll be a spectacular show of restraint and sophistication and merit applause from the entire world.

[UPDATE— I stand corrected: unemployment in Zimbabwe is actually 90%, deaths from AIDS-related causes number 4,000 per month, 4 million people are close to starvation and life expectancy is under 36 years. That didn’t stop Mugabe from staging an opulent birthday celebration last month surrounded by toadies and sycophants who are now reported to be feeling mighty nervous. The top guy may be allowed to slip away quietly to prevent violence—but they won’t.]

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