Monday, June 23, 2008

Violence and illegitimacy: All you really need to know about "democracy" in Zimbabwe

By Michael J.W. Stickings

All you really need to know is that it's a "violent, illegitimate sham." So says Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader who has dared to challenge Robert Mugabe's brutal thuggery:

The leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition party withdrew Sunday from a presidential runoff, just five days before it was to be held, saying he could neither participate “in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process,” nor ask his voters to risk their lives in the face of threats from forces backing President Robert Mugabe.

The opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, the standard-bearer of the Movement for Democratic Change, said at a news conference in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, that his party was facing a war rather than an election, “and we will not be part of that war.”

A governing party militia blocked his supporters from attending a major rally in Harare on Sunday, the head of an election observer team said. The opposition said rowdy youths, armed with iron bars and sticks, beat up people who had come to cheer for Mr. Tsvangirai.

It was the latest incident in a tumultuous campaign season in which Mr. Tsvangirai has been repeatedly detained, his party’s chief strategist jailed on treason charges that many people consider bogus, and rampant state-sponsored violence has left at least 85 opposition supporters dead and thousands injured, according to tallies by doctors treating the victims.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s decision to quit the race seems intended to force Zimbabwe’s neighbors to take a stand. There are growing cracks in the solidarity that African heads of state have shown for Mr. Mugabe, an 84-year-old liberation hero whose defiant anti-Western rhetoric has long struck a resonant chord in a region with a bitter colonial history.

What else is Tsvangirai to do? He has waged a courageous battle against Mugabe, but Mugabe and his thugs aren't about to let him win. The popular will in Zimbabwe is not what the people want but what Mugabe wants.

The U.S. and the U.K. are "pressing to put Zimbabwe’s political crisis on the United Nations Security Council agenda [today]," but Zimbabwe's neighbours -- in particular, South Africa -- have thus far done nothing. Their post-colonialist support for Mugabe, which dates back decades, and current opposition to addressing the crisis at the U.N. are appalling reflections of just what sort of moral-political vacuum exists in some parts of the world. For these African states, it is all about supporting one of their own, or someone they consider one of their own, against the ex-colonialist West. And that means supporting the sort of brutal thuggery and sham democracy that has enabled Mugabe's authoritarianism. And that has forced his main rival out of an otherwise winnable race.

Like many others -- perhaps most notably the lead singer of a prominent Irish rock band that used to be really good -- I have been critical of the West's use and abuse of Africa, the combination of neglect, degradation, and rapacity that has kept much of the continent in a position of helpless submission from which it has been unable to escape (because not empowered to do so). But some of the responsibility for Africa's fortunes must rest with the leaders of countries like South Africa. They and their enablers deserve much of the blame for the continuing state of brutality and submission that keeps Mugabe in power and the people of Zimbabwe suppressed.

Democracy in Zimbabwe is a "violent, illegitimate sham" -- and, it seems, nothing is about to change anytime soon.

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