Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Will Mugabe stay on?

In the 1970s while fighting for freedom against the entrenched and seemingly unshakable white rule of Ian Smith, Robert Mugabe was radical and uncompromising in his approach, espousing Marxism and revolution in Zimbabwe. But when he overwhelmingly won the elections twenty-eight years ago – Zimbabwe’s majority black population was finally allowed to vote for the first time – he stuck a conciliatory note, calming the fears of the country's white minority. This is what he said on April 18, 1980, Zimbabwe’s independence day:
“The wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten. If we ever look to the past, let us do so for the lesson the past has taught us, namely that oppression and racism are inequalities that must never find scope in our political and social system. It could never be a correct justification that because the whites oppressed us yesterday when they had power the blacks must oppress them today because they have power. An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or black against white.”
Stirring, sage words. But more than anything else they illustrate how a politician can speak such eloquent phrases and go back on them. Mugabe persecuted whites during his twenty-eight year tenure, routinely persecutes his political opponents, and has today left the country’s economy in shambles. The current inflation rate is staggering. Lunch for 8 people costs six million Zimbabwe dollars (see picture), about 18 US dollars.

And Zimbabwe is very much in the news these days after recent elections. Mugabe seems to have lost to the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). But unsurprisingly Mugabe refuses to concede, although there has been speculation he might give in this time. What next? Tyrants usually don’t leave easily; one just hopes Mugabe's exit, whenever it happens, does not lead to instability and violence.

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