Zimabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe combines the worst aspects of Cold War
and War on Terror tyranny.
Think of Mugabe as an African Slobodan Milosevic. When the Cold War closed
down, Milosevic morphed from Yugoslav communist to Serb fascist. As time passed
in southern Africa, shape-shifting Mugabe adjusted his schtick, moving from
Marx-spouting revolutionary to kleptocrat tribal dictator. Both thugs are ethnic
cleansers and cynical thieves who murder rivals, silence the press and brutally
intimidate domestic opposition.
There is a major difference: Milosevic is under arrest, while Mugabe
continues to destroy a once wealthy nation, while hiding behind a slick PR
campaign that co-opts and corrupts classic "human rights" themes.
Mugabe can give Milosevic and, for that matter, Russia's Vladimir Putin
lessons in rigging elections. On March 31, Mugabe stole his third election in
five years, making Zimbabwe the world's current leader in charade
Mugabe and his thugs tried to steal the last one quietly. As elections
approached, Mugabe began denying foreign reporters entry visas. He imposed a law
that made "unauthorized demonstrations" a felony punishable by up to 20 years in
jail a law aimed at his democratic opponents in The Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC). And then there's the food weapon. Mugabe's government controls
Zimbabwe's food supplies. Cooperate, and you get your loaf of bread. Oppose
Mugabe, and food's denied.
Ah, but those pesky priests who won't shut up. Mugabe has had to threaten
church leaders he deems responsible for "encouraging" street protests. Catholic
Bishop Pius Ncube a major domestic critic of Mugabe and his dictatorship has
been a special target.
Ncube predicted last week's election would be rigged, and Ncube was right.
The "final tally" gave Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front
(ZANU-PF) 74 seats and the MDC 40
There's no question Mugabe committed mass fraud and the MDC has refused
to accept the results.
Mugabe may get away with it, breaking the democratic pulse surging through
Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, and testing the Bush
administration's "pro-democracy" doctrine. The man is ruthless, and in the past
ruthless has worked. Though Mugabe's ethnic cleansing of the Mdebele in 1980
brought extensive criticism, criticism never became international opposition to
his regime. Whenever international outrage builds, Mugabe trots out two themes
that have been political trumps for too many African tyrants, "combating
colonialism" and "fighting racism." This mantra stymies a fossil segment of the
"human rights Left" a crowd that railed against Milosevic.
Mugabe also appears to have another hole card South Africa's Thabo Mbeki
has not played pro-democracy Poland to the Zimbabwe democrats' would-be Ukraine.
In fact, Mbeki looks increasingly weak, ineffectual and churlish a man who
knows he stands in Nelson Mandela's shadow and resents it. Mbeki declared
Zimbabwe's elections "free and fair" before the vote. A few commentators
conclude this is Mbeki and Mugabe acting out a senescent form of "freedom
fighter" solidarity, and it may be just that, another mid-20th century political
relic thwarting 21st century democratic change.
Still, international criticism is mounting if Kyrgyzstan can rally for
freedom, why not Zimbabwe?
What can be done to support the democrats? Any effective military action or
political-economic sanctions regimen requires South African cooperation, and
Mbeki looks like he's been bought off.
The priests, however, haven't been co-opted. Pope John Paul II's death has
kept Mugabe's electoral fraud out of the news cycle, but there is a "John Paul"
option that could benefit peaceful change throughout sub-Sahran Africa. The
Polish pope inspired Eastern European resistance to communism and inspired
billions with his spiritual and moral leadership. An African pope could do the
same for African democrats.
There are signals that this could happen. French Cardinal Bernard Panafieu,
when asked about electing a "Third World" pope, replied, "Everything is
An African pope would change the political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa,
and put dictators like Mugabe under insistent global scrutiny the first step
to putting them all in jail.
Bay, a nationally syndicated columnist based in Texas, specializes in
military and foreign affairs.