Potential Hot Spots: Zimbabwe Comes to a Boil


: Items About 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.


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