Zimbabwe: Africa’s Political Basket Case
Mugabe’s Failed State
The Stench Of Vote Rigging Is Everywhere But Mugabe Appears Unperturbed
An Essay By Michael D. Roberts
Maybe Zimbabwe will go the way of Kenya and chalk up a new African nation in crisis and chaos. And if sketchy reports coming from Harare are anything to go by it looks a vintage Robert Mugabe all over again. There are reports of controlled, state-sponsored violence in the countryside and other provocations around the country mainly by Mugabe’s loyal ZANU-PF members who have everything to lose if the 85-year old president should have to demit office.
In fact, this election is by far the most crucial in Mugabe’s political career since any loss of power will undoubtedly provoke a wave of political revenge by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) no matter what it says to the contrary. And Mr. Mugabe’s cronies, close inner circle, and members of his ruling ZANU-PF know that their very class interests are at stake and that the octogenarian president’s retention of political power is in their best interests.
Until recently, Mr. Mugabe had always been able to stifle political opposition. His ZANU-PF party had still dominated what is virtually a one party state occupying 147 out of the country's 150 parliamentary seats. But growing discontent over the country's failing economy with inflation and unemployment soaring to record levels are starting to threaten his authority.
Already the ZANU-PF must be having some anxious moments since the writing was on the proverbial political wall when it lost the parliamentary elections to the MDC. That caused Mr. Mugabe to convene a hasty session of the party’s Politburo who spun the yarn about a pending recount. When that did not work Mr. Mugabe had his henchmen arrest about seven members of Zimbabwe’s Election Commission accusing them of rigging the elections for the MDC.
Meanwhile, the wily Mr. Mugabe fell back on a tried and tested tactic: white farms and black destituteness. To date, some 60 white farmers and at least two black farmers are said to have been evicted from their land in this new round of tensions. Four foreign journalists have also been arrested, including New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak.
The Zimbabwean military has released the names of 200 high-ranking officers who it said were leading gangs of thugs in the guise of war veterans in attacks on government opponents. Unemployed youths are reportedly being recruited to join government-backed gangs. Correspondingly, armed gangs are said to be hunting down opponents of ZANU-PF, burning houses and beating people.
We have seen these political chess moves and shenanigans before – when President Mugabe wants to cling to power at all costs. While all this is going on the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission is yet to release the vote count for the presidential elections even as ZANU-PF is saying that Mr. Mugabe is ready for a new run off.
Nobody in the world should be surprised by Mr. Mugabe’s antics. After all the rigging of elections in Zimbabwe are now routine and standard operating procedures for ZANU-PF. For example, in 2002 amid great fanfare and lofty talk about transparency and fairness some of the MDC’s supporters were abducted, beaten, intimidated, threatened and murdered. Anybody who dared to even suggest that Mr. Mugabe was literally getting away with murder was arrested.
Then like now electoral roles and registers were padded with phantom names and the ZEC kept changing and making up the rules at it went along to suppress voter turnout in areas where the MDC was perceived as too strong and popular. Local journalists were kidnapped and killed for writing articles critical of the electoral process and of the conduct of the president. Government food aid to drought-stricken areas was used as a means of buying votes.
It is the same playbook that Mr. Mugabe uses today and now like then the situation is tense and thousands of people are fleeing the country for fear of reprisals by the security forces that remain fanatically loyal to the president and ZANU-PF.
Perhaps the only page left in his playbook that’s not been used yet is the internal ethnic cleansing that he used in May 2005. Back then Mr. Mugabe ordered the demolition of shanty towns in “Operation Murambatsvina,” which means “clear out the trash” in Shona. Poor residents were loaded onto trucks and driven into the countryside where they were dumped without any means of livelihood or even basic sanitation.