16 June 2008

Robert Mugabe: Idiot of the Week?

An "Idiot of the Week" distinction probably trivializes the rottenness of Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, but since that isn't my country, perhaps a more distant perspective is in order. Mugabe is battling to keep his job in a runoff election with a "pro-western" opposition party, but he's let his supporters know, according to this story, that he isn't really interested in giving up power even if he loses the runoff. Having waged revolutionary warfare to take over from the white rulers of "Rhodesia," Mugabe says he isn't impressed by a mere "X" on a ballot, especially compared to the power of the gun. He imagines himself besieged by Anglo-American neo-imperialism, and tells the country that anyone who is against him is with them. Predictably enough, the Bush administration and Gordon Brown's government in Britain oblige Mugabe by pretty openly rooting for the opposition. Governments should be more mindful of international etiquette, but as an individual I can go further than diplomats would dare. Should Mugabe rig the vote, steal the election or defy the results, someone in Zimbabwe ought to kill him. There's absolutely no call for foreign intervention, but if no one in that country is willing to take the step that may prove necessary to save it, then they all deserve what they get from Mugabe, and the rest of the world should respect their decision.

Mugabe assumes that the British want to get rid of him in part because he dares to take land away from the descendants of British settlers, but that's one thing I don't hold against him. If you work from an assumption that British colonial rule in that land was never legitimate, you can fairly ask whether the heirs of colonizers should be able to keep everything their ancestors seized by imperial force. You might want to find a better way to do it than Mugabe has, but it shouldn't be shunned as an absolutely forbidden thing or as inherently tyrannical.

The real problem with Mugabe is that, in his old age, he has come to see himself as an indispensable man. Nearly every revolutionary leader faces that temptation, since they see themselves as essential to the revolution in the first place and they tend to identify any dissent with counter-revolution. George Washington is rightly held up as the great exception, since he could have been President for life, or could have been a dictator or even a king without a constitution, but chose to retire after eight years in office. Of course, people can believe themselves indispensable yet still restrain themselves. Hugo Chavez, for instance, didn't put tanks in the streets of Caracas when his big referendum failed earlier this year. Or they can simply acknowledge reality, as Fidel Castro has in light of his failing health. Robert Mugabe's ego, amazing as it may sound, must be greater than those of any of these ambitious men, with far fewer accomplishments than any of them to justify it. We've had hints that the people of Zimbabwe are tired of his act, but if they really want to be rid of him, they'd better be prepared to do more than vote.


Anonymous said...

As a South African, I am stunned by the attitude of my government, in particular Thabo Mbeki’s attitude toward the vampire regime to our north. Walking hand in hand with one of the greatest tyrants of the modern age is indeed not cool, contrary to what the South African president may think.

Down here, our feeling is that Mbeki’s quite diplomacy toward Zim has been a dismal failure, as have his policies regarding AIDS and the power crisis of late. We all fear a full out war after June 27 if Tsvangirai wins the election - but even if he doesn’t Zimbabwe will go down in flames in much the same way as Nazi Germany did, and this entire region will suffer.

And in much the same way as the conflict ended in Europe with the death of the Fuhrer, the ONLY way to avoid conflict and “rivers of blood”, as Tendai Bhiti put it, is the death of the Vampire of Harare.

But that’s all wishful thinking. Other than that, we can only hold our breath and wait for Mbeki’s buddy to bury the rest of his people alive for even thinking of voting for the opposition MDC.

Samuel Wilson said...

Thanks for writing. I have to emphasize again that this is entirely up to the people of Zimbabwe. However objectionable or repulsive we find Mugabe in other countries, it's not anyone else's responsibility to deal with him. It may not be right for Mbeki to prop up Mugabe in any way, but it's be no more right for him to collude in the toppling of another government.