Day By Day

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Zimbabwe -- it's crunch time for democracy

In the matter of a few months democratic reform movements have spread across the globe, emerging in a number of unlikely spots, but so far only in Georgia, Ukraine and possibly Kyrgyzstan have they resulted in peaceful regime change. Elsewhere there have been threats of violence and some violent incidents, and in Belarus established authorities successfully suppressed democratic protests.

It seems that every week brings a new crisis. This week's is Zimbabwe where for a quarter of a century Robert [Mad Bobby] Mugabe has dominated the political scene. This Thursday Zimbabwe will have parliamentary elections. In the past Mugabe has used violence, intimidation, and outright fraud to maintain his control of the nation. Nobody expects this election to be any different.

Two things, however, have changed since the last major elections in 2000. First the economy has tanked. Mugabe's lunatic blend of socialism and racism has destroyed the agricultural sector to the point where Zimbabwe, once an exporter of grain, can no longer feed itself. There is widespread starvation and the government controls access to food. Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF is reportedly using this control to starve his political opponents. Supposedly only supporters of ZANU can eat. [I have previously blogged this subject see here, here and here.]

The second change has been the emergence of a democratic movement inspired by the people-power demonstrations in Ukraine and Lebanon. Opposition to Mugabe's lunatic reign have organized as the Movement for Democratic Change and have been holding mass demonstrations throughout the country. But Mugabe has begun to crack down. After Sunday's MDC protests in Harare, which attracted 20,000 people more than 200 demonstrators were arrested. There have been widespread threats of violence. Just yesterday Mugabe declared the opposition to be "traitors."

"All those who will vote for the MDC are traitors," state radio quoted Mugabe as saying to a ruling ZANU-PF party rally Monday at Mutoko, 90 miles northeast of Harare. Similar comments by the president in the past have encouraged ruling party and youth militia's to take violent action against opposition supporters and candidates.
Read the whole thing here.

Nobody expects Thursday's elections to be fair -- they never have been so in the past -- and they are unlikely to be decisive. Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube has called for massive non-violent protests if Mugabe wins through fraud. If this occurs, Mugabe will likely unleash massive violence against the protesters.

Mugabe rose to power as a revolutionary guerrilla, ruthlessly employing violence to take control. For a quarter of a century he has maintained control through violence and intimidation. There is no reason to believe that he will do otherwise now. In Zimbabwe, as earlier in Belorus, peaceful democratic reform may well have reached its limits.


Norm Geras over at Normblog has a firsthand account of electioneering in Zimbabwe. A taste:
[W]e are tired and [absolutely] fed up of living like this. When we vote on Thursday it will be for food, clean water, affordable schools for our children, hospitals which have drugs and leaders who will respect us and our universal rights of speech, movement and association. I have a picture in my head of a man on a horse trailing a yellow banner in the middle of this weeks revolution in Kyrgyzstan. That image from the other side of the world in a country whose name I cannot even pronounce, gives me hope.

Hope, Pandora's gift, is moving mountains around the world, but Mount Mugabe will not move easily. Read the whole thing here.

No comments: