Areas That Could Break Out Into War
March 14, 2007: Last year's reevaluation of
Zimbabwe's currency was supposed to help cure its economic ills. The
re-evaluation didn't. Zimbabwe's inflation continues to soar. A recent analysis
dubbed Zimbabwe "the world's fastest shrinking peacetime economy." That's a
fair rendition, except we wouldn't call Zimbabwe's situation "peacetime" unless
you call the "dictator's peace" of theft, brutality and repression peace.
Zimbabwe has been in a state of "near civil war" or "almost revolt" or
"quasi-tribal warfare" for almost five years. The real cause of the problem?
Dictator Robert Mugabe. Mugabe was once viewed as a potential "progressive"
leader in southern Africa, but his track record is very mixed. He waged what
amounted to a tribal war against the Matabele in the early 1980s - and
allegedly employed North Korean military advisers. He has used his "war
veterans" as a private militia. The war veterans were at the front of the
forced "farm evictions" that began in 2000.
Mugabe now wants to change Zimbabwe's constitution.
His term as president runs out in 2008 but he wants to remain in charge until
2010. Mugabe has found his ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic
Front) party a reliable supporter during his years in power. However, his move
to continue in office until 2010 has produced some opposition from younger
leaders. The most obvious reason is the frustrated ambition of younger ZANU-PF
politicians, but there is more to it than that. The economy is in shambles and
two more years of Mugabe (three, actually, including 2007) would continue the
devastation. That might move the situation from "near tribal war" to outright
war. NGOs operating in Zimbabwe believe this could produce a political
opportunity, if the disgruntled members of ZANU-PF can find common ground with
the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC has a lot of
international moral capital, some international media appeal, and political
appeal in Zimbabwe. However, the organization is defenseless. Its members are
easily harassed and intimidated by Zimbabwean authorities and the "war
veterans" (which are a Mugabe militia in many respects). The MDC does not have
a party militia. It is a "non-violent" political organization. That noted, the
moral capital and media appeal the MDC possesses means that if an outright war
erupted, it is not inconceivable that South Africa or Great Britain could
intervene, effectively protecting the MDC.
The diplomats and politicians also note that South
Africa, Botswana, and other nations in the region are not happy with Mugabe.
His destructive policies have hurt the entire neighborhood. The impoverishment
of Zimbabwe hurts the entire region's economy. Moreover, no one wants a
spill-over war, with refugees and possibly spill-over violence. While Mugabe
can trust the Zimbabwean Army's more elite units, there is evidence that some
in the armed forces are increasingly disenchanted with Mugabe's rule. Press
reports in February noted a "soldiers strike" for higher pay. The hope is that
ZANU-PF members will convince Mugabe to "retire" on schedule in 2008, or
perhaps earlier. This may be hastened by the regional outrage over the recent
appearance of opposition politicians in a Zimbabwe courtroom. The defendants
showed obvious signs of being beaten. For South Africa, and other nations in
the region, that was the last straw. South African politicians finally came out
and publicly criticized Mugabe and his brutal government. The end game here is
similar to what happened to dictator Joseph Mobutu in Zaire (now Congo) ten
years ago, when long simmering opposition finally toppled the tyrant. Then
again, the fall of Mobutu led to a decade of tribal violence that killed over
five percent of the population.