The regime of 87-year-old strongman Robert Mugabe has sought to pre-empt the types of protests that have shaken autocrats in North Africa and the Middle East. Yet, a constellation of internal and external events may finally bring an end to the more than 30 years of one-man rule.
Elections are scheduled for sometime this year, and many believe that Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, are resorting to their time-honored practices of intimidation, bribery, naked assaults against the opposition and outright election thievery.
In 2008, Mugabe forced a second runoff although it appeared to all objective observers that he had lost the first round by a majority vote. He won in the subsequent round after the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), refused to participate.
The entire election cycle was marred by violence, murder and harassment. However, condemnation of the election results and near global isolation compelled Mugabe into a power-sharing agreement with MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai became the prime minister. There is, however, little doubt where the real authority lies.
Mugabe continues along his repressive path. Last month, 46 teachers, students, labor activists and others were arrested and charged with treason for attending a meeting to discuss how the protests in the Arab world might impact the situation in Zimbabwe. The lecture at the meeting was entitled, “Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia: What Lessons Can Be Learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa.”
A swarm of other arrests has also occurred. Paul Siwela, the former president of ZAPU, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party during the liberation struggle and a smaller political force today, has been detained and charged with treasonous activities. More than 70 other activists are in jail or out on bond. However, in today’s global milieu, such actions are more likely to mobilize rather than quell resistance.
And the likely fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is not a good sign for Mugabe. No other international figure has been more politically and economically friendly to Mugabe than Gadhafi. He not only loudly supported Mugabe, but helped finance his continual stay in power. It is believed that Gadhafi owns land in Zimbabwe, which has fueled speculation that if he were forced to leave Libya, his next stop would be Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. That rumor has also animated Mugabe’s opposition.
Yet another issue is Mugabe’s own health. He has flown out of the country a number of times to Asia for supposedly follow-up treatment for cataract surgery. Speculation runs rampant in Zimbabwe that he has a more serious illness.
The journey from revolutionary times, when Mugabe was instrumental in overthrowing a brutal white power structure, to the excesses of his kleptocracy has been a difficult one. Today, it is critical to give support to the many civil society organizations and activists that have worked tirelessly and nonviolently to remove the Mugabe regime from power. They are very much part of the global wave of mass upheavals that are daily reshaping the world.
Zimbabwe could be next.
Clarence Lusane is an associate professor in the School of International Service at American University and author of many books, including, most recently, “The Black History of the White House,” published in the Open Media Series by City Lights Books. Lusane was recently invited to the White House to keynote at a Black History Month celebration there on February 28, 2011. He can be reached at [email protected].