No Winner In Zimbabwe?

by James Kirchick | April 29, 2008

The Nation has finally broken its month-long silence on the humanitarian and political crisis in Zimbabwe. And to their credit, the article by Mark Gevisser strikes many of the right notes, criticizing South African president Thabo Mbeki for his support of Robert Mugabe and  labeling the Zimbabwe regime a "kleptocracy." The Nation ought to be applauded for expressing (albeit, rare) criticism of Mugabe, given that the magazine usually praises America's enemies as, at best, in the right, or, at worse, misunderstood nationalists. Nevertheless, the piece is deficient for several reasons, both practical and moral.

Gevisser's purpose is to build the case for a negotiated settlement in which Mugabe and his cronies remain involved in Zimbabwe's governance. To do so, he has to make the country's democrats appear weaker than they actually are. Listing some of the violent tactics of the Mugabe regime, Gevisser notes "how susceptible Zimbabweans have been to this kind of intimidation," and concludes that "The ZANU-PF government has proven far more adept at intimidation than Rhodesia's white supremacist ruler ever was." Except the metrics of southern Africa in the 1970s and today could not be more different. For one, Rhodesia was surrounded on all sides, with the exception of South Africa (and, until 1975, Portuguese-ruled Mozambique), by regimes that fueled the anti-government insurgency. Robert Mugabe's ZANU and Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU not only had staging grounds on which to launch assaults, they were heavily supplied by the Chinese and Russians, respectively. There is no corollary for today's democratic opposition, who have been ignored and isolated by African leaders. Today, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe is surrounded on all sides by regimes that support his staying in power and that fail to criticize his brazen defiance of his people's human rights and clearly expressed democratic will. The effort over the past two weeks to prevent a Chinese ship from unloading weapons bound for Zimbabwe is an extraordinary exception to the diplomatic support that African countries have given Mugabe over the past 8 years.

Gevisser had no problem with the Russian and Chinese communists supplying arms to Nkomo and Mugabe throughout the 1970s. Would he oppose the United States arming Zimbabwe's democratic opposition today? Or is foreign involvement in a country's internal disputes only appropriate when the intervening authority is a communist dictatorship? Gevisser asserts that "the fact that [Mugabe] and his generals will not voluntarily give up power, means there is really only one solution to the crisis: a negotiated settlement." Why such nonchalance in the face of attempts to steal an election and the resultant murderous terror unleashed against innocent people?

He concludes his piece with "a real settlement can be reached only when each side accepts, incontrovertibly, that it cannot win."  Zimbabwe's democratic opposition deserves more than this defeatist, accomodationist tripe. They have won, fair and square. It is now incumbent upon the Free World to see that they assume office and that the authors of the country's torment face justice.

 --James Kirchick

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/no-winner-zimbabwe