The impasse in Zimbabwe is unfolding under the glare of global media. The big outlets — the CNNs, the BBCs and the world’s major newspapers — are all looking for a dramatic resolution to Africa’s latest leadership drama. An aged Robert Mugabe, one a liberator of a long-oppressed people, today stands discredited around the world, having wrecked his legacy and the lives of millions of people. He refuses to leave office, insists on maintaining power by any means. His hold power stems not merely from the imposition of harsh rule; he also exploits powerful psychological symbols, which are newly described by my friend Daniel Morris in the Globe & Mail of Toronto.
That Mugabe deserves to be replaced by his chief domestic opponent is without doubt. More likely, he will be replaced by a leader of the military junta that actually runs Zimbabwe. Mugabe is too old and feeble to hold his shattered state together, even in its current dismal form. The Zimbabwean regime depends on a cabal of Mugabe loyalists operating in the shadows. One of them is likely, before long, to seize power, declare Mugabe history — and appeal for recognition and assistance from the international community.
Zimbabwe’s next strong man will do what others in African have long done: say they need time to stage legitimate elections. Perhaps they will need 18 months or even two years to prepare the way for real democracy in Zimbabwe. Faced with a Hobson’s Choice, the international community will go along, satisfied that at least Mugabe is off the stage.
The aid money will pour into Harare, so will the tecnical experts. Improvements in the material life of the people will come quickly, though more educated Zimbabweans — those few who remain — will leave the country. Then about a year from now, the regime’s leader will declare that he is decided, after much anguished reflection, that he will stand as a candidate for president in the “free and fair” elections to come. The international community will moan and groan, diplomats will say they’ve been cheated, the opposition will cry foul. But after a week or two, the decision will come to be accepted.
Is this Mugabism without Mugabe? Is this Zimbabwe’s future? To go from one dictator to another?