Potential Hot Spots: Zimbabwe Implodes


: Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

May 21, 2008: The South African nation of Zimbabwe was once a breadbasket. It is now a basket case. Tyranny has savaged Zimbabwe, making the country yet another tragic example of a nation brutalized by its own government, in its case the rapidly decaying regime of Robert Mugabe.

Once a major regional food producer, today a substantial number of Zimbabweans go hungry or leave. Since 2000 an estimated three million Zimbabweans (nearly a quarter of the population) have fled the neighboring nations, with South Africa a preferred destination. Zimbabwe's economy is wretched beyond description. In late 2007 the Zimbabwean government's own inflation data put the inflation rate at 7,600 percent a year. Economic analysts outside of Zimbabwe rated it as high as 15,000 percent. An IMF "forecast" said the real rate could reach 100,000 percent or more. The statistical differences were meaningless. Staples like meat, bread and cooking oil are not available in retail grocery stores.

Mugabe, like so many post-colonial sub-Saharan African leaders, was a successful rebel leader. He was also a professed Marxist. In 1979 Mugabe's Shona tribe-based rebel organization and allied rebel groups (the coalition referred to itself as the Patriotic Front) overthrew the white-run Republic of Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia). However, in 1980, with the aid of North Korean military advisers, Mugabe (a member of the Shona tribe) turned on his former allies in the Matabele tribe. From seven to ten thousand Matabele died in that brief war. No one has stepped forward to finance another armed resistance. Guns cost money, and no one sees Zimbabwe worth getting involved in. So Mugabe and his well armed Shona allies have kept control, without armed opposition.

Mugabe has shown a willingness to use his police forces and political militias (like the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association) to terrorize and occasionally murder political opponents. One of his major targets has been the moderate and democratic opposition group the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Over the years, Mugabe's ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) Party has been a reliable prop for his regime. However, as of 2008, there is increasing disenchantment within the ZANU-PF coalition. The chief reason for the increasing opposition is Zimbabwe's self-wrought economic destruction. Zimbabwe is one of the worst economically managed countries on the planet. Mugabe has devastated the what was once one of southern Africa's most productive and comparatively wealthy nations.

Zimbabwe's national elections on March 29, 2008 have introduced a new dimension of political conflict. The main opposition party (the MDC) put forward Morgan Tsvangirai, who apparently won that election outright – but the electoral commission, controlled by the Mugabe regime, declared that Tsvangirai had not won a majority of the vote. The MDC disputed this decision. A second round of elections are scheduled for June 27. Mugabe has always maintained the forms of democracy, which can be dangerous if you let the voters get out of hand.

Nobel Prize winner former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has called for international peacekeepers to insure the elections are fair and safe. Political pressure on Mugabe is building—primarily from Europe and the US but increasingly from African nations. The MDC has accused Mugabe of using the military and his militias to intimidate opposition supporters. The MDC claims at least 40 of its supporters have been killed since March 29. Moreover, they are alleging that Mugabe is plotting to assassinate Tsvangirai. Meanwhile, Mugabe fears his own followers, who see their own prosperity and security threatened by the continuing implosion of the economy. (Austin Bay)


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