Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies and repression are responsible for widespread
poverty, sickness and violence that have gripped Zimbabwe, and while his
rule appears to be coming to an end, Zimbabwe’s story provides a somber
lesson for the rest of the world. For too long, world leaders and
international institutions have temporized with African dictators and
accepted flawed elections as sources of incumbents’ legitimacy.
In the March 2008 poll, despite what was widely seen as a flawed electoral
process, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change gained a majority of
the parliamentary seats in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe refused to relinquish power,
The African Union and the Southern African Development Community did not
call for him to go. Instead, they pushed for a power-sharing compromise
between Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the MDC. Mr. Mugabe was to stay on as
president and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was to become the new prime
minister. The Cabinet seats were to be shared on an equitable basis.
However, even those generous terms were not enough for Mr. Mugabe, who
demanded that the MDC relinquish its claim for sole control of the powerful
Home Affairs Ministry, which supervises Zimbabwe’s police force and
electoral machinery. Mr. Tsvangirai has rightly rejected this new demand.
Over the years, the highly politicized police force has emerged as Mr.
Mugabe’s favorite tool against opponents, while Mr. Mugabe’s control over
the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has enabled him to rig successive
Unfortunately, Africa’s democratic awakening, which has seen the demise of
many one-party dictatorships and military regimes since 1990, is, in many
ways, only skin deep. In many countries, elections are either rigged in
favor of the incumbents or ignored if their outcomes are unfavorable to the
Take Kenya’s presidential elections in December 2007. Prior to the vote, the
opposition candidate Raila Odinga led the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, in all
opinion polls. Some had him 15 to 19 percentage points ahead. With half of
the 210 constituencies reporting, Mr. Odinga had a commanding lead. The
Electoral Commission of Kenya abruptly stopped the count. When the counting
resumed, Mr. Kibaki surged past Mr.Odinga. An hour later he was sworn in to
his second term at a hastily arranged State House ceremony.
According to the chief European Union monitor Alexander Lambsdorff, the
tallying process "lacked credibility." In the ensuing violence, as enraged
Kenyans took to the streets 1,000 people died and 600,000 were displaced.
In a compromise through a combined diplomatic effort of Kofi Annan,
Condoleezza Rice and others, a new position of the prime minister was
created for Mr. Odinga, leaving Mr. Kibaki as president. Mr. Kibaki and his
henchmen subverted democracy, but Western countries, grateful for an end to
violence, quickly resumed their aid payments to Kenya.
Umaru Yar’Adua, the chosen successor of Olusegun Obasanjo, won the Nigerian
presidency in an election marred by fraud. Mr. Obasanjo himself came to
power in a poll where, according to the EU observers, the "minimum standards
for democratic elections [had] not been met." After losing the 2005
election, Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, ordered his troops
to shoot anti-government protesters in Addis Ababa, killing 200. Yet, the
West rewarded Nigeria with debt forgiveness and Ethiopia with large amounts
of foreign aid.
Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has so far benefited from an analogous situation.
He unleashed a wave of violence after losing the first round of presidential
elections in March 2008 to Mr. Tsvangirai. Amnesty International estimates
180 people were killed and 9,000 injured, forcing Mr. Tsvangirai out of the
subsequent runoff, and ensuring that Mr. Mugabe was installed in his sixth
term as president of Zimbabwe.
It is perhaps understandable that many of Mr. Mugabe’s fellow African
leaders who came to power in similarly nefarious ways refrained from
criticizing him and called for a power-sharing compromise instead.
Unfortunately that does not explain why the South African government, which
has the democratic credentials to speak out and act, has cosseted Mr. Mugabe
behind the veil of so-called "quiet diplomacy."
True democracy is about more than periodic elections. It is about freedom to
hold and promote different opinions unmolested by the agents of the state.
It is about vibrant civil society, free media and independent courts. It is
about having every vote counted in a transparent and credible way. It is
about a government resigning when the voters say so. Unfortunately, in many
parts of Africa, we seem to be witnessing not a triumph of true democracy,
but the triumph of incumbentocracy.
Tony Leon, a member of the South African Parliament, was leader of the
opposition from 1999 to 2007. He is a visiting fellow at the Cato
Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. Marian Tupy is a
policy analyst at the same Center.