Time to take the gloves off Mugabe

We don't expect that the Jamaican government last Friday sent an independence message to Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe continues to squat in the country's presidency and to thumb his nose at his own people and the international community, says The Jamaican Gleaner in an editorial.

But being silent on Zimbabwe, we continue to insist, is not good enough. It is important, we feel, for Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (Caricom) partners to tell Mugabe that enough is enough. But more than that, it is important that this region become actively engaged in the promotion and protection of democracy in the southern African nation.

Robert Mugabe, the former guerilla leader, who helped to overthrow white minority rule in the former Rhodesia, has held power for the 28 years of Zimbabwe’s independence. He once commanded admiration for his part in the liberation struggle, especially among people of African descent in the Caribbean and the Americas.

We in Jamaica felt a special connection with Zimbabwe. Indeed, the late Michael Manley, then Jamaica’s prime minister, made critical interventions at the 1979 Commonwealth Summit that nudged concessions out of Margaret Thatcher to place British pressure on Ian Smith’s illegal white, racist government to secure Zimbabwe’s independence. Bob Marley performed at the independence celebrations.

But Robert Mugabe has squandered the hope of Zimbabwe’s independence and, now 84, has grown old and despotic. He was initially forced to embrace elements of democracy in Zimbabwe, but as he consolidated power, increasingly shed the pretence of abiding by governance based on the will of the people and their right to vote for the government of their choice.

Any serious political challenge was met with repressive violence and accusations that Mugabe’s opponents were colluding with foreign powers in an effort to reinstitute colonial rule. Racist rhetoric substituted for policy and as the response for economic failures – such as the fact that more than half of Zimbabwe’s workforce is without jobs, that the country’s inflation is over 100,000 per cent, or that life expectancy has tumbled to under 40.

Zimbabweans have grown weary of Mugabe, so in elections three weeks ago, they braved the intimidation of the state and his party, Zanu-PF, and gave the majority of the parliamentary seats to the opposition, led by Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in the race for the presidency, but perhaps not sufficient for an outright victory, which would necessitate a run-off.

The problem, though, is that after all this time, the election authorities are yet to report the outcome of the presidential vote and Mugabe appears to be attempting to find a way, if not to steal the election at the first round, to intimidate Zimbabweans to vote for him in the next. We must have none of it!

Jamaica and CARICOM must speak out – but not only to Mugabe. It is time that this region tell Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, Zimbabwe’s neighbour and southern Africa’s power, to end the dithering.

Mbeki, mandated by the regional economic group, ANC, to negotiate between Zimbabwe’s political forces, has long engaged in so-called quiet diplomacy, but with little success from the intransigent Mugabe. Tsvangirai is rightfully frustrated.

But failing to be firm, Mbeki is abetting Mugabe’s undemocratic conduct – and should be told.

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