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|Posted April 27, 2008|
MATHEW ELAVANALTHODUKA/UNMIL, VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
|EXITS Charles Taylor of Liberia departed for Nigeria, while Idi Amin fled Uganda to Saudi Arabia.|
By GRAHAM BOWLEY
ZIMBABWES political crisis lurched on last week as President Robert Mugabe, the strongman who has ruled the California-size country in southern Africa for the past 28 years, refused to release the results of the March 29 elections. In old-fashioned autocratic style, the governments police began to round up opposition supporters.
The world is losing patience, but Mr. Mugabe is only the latest example of dictators in Africa and elsewhere some more bloodthirsty than others who have overstayed their welcome, and whom the West have tried to winkle out of power.
What lessons can be learned from past attempts to oust seemingly immovable oppressors? Do the lessons apply in the case of Zimbabwe? What are the options for dealing with Mr. Mugabe?
|PAY OFF AND EXILE|
This strategy has worked, sort of, before.
In 1997, President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now Congo, the very model of an African dictator dirty with corruption as his country collapsed around him, was promised safe passage by his former ally, the United States, and flew to Morocco. (He died of prostate cancer in exile soon after.)
In July 2003, leaders of the African Union bribed Charles Taylor a murderous warlord with folllowers who would hack off the hands or feet of civilians to leave Liberia for an early retirement in Nigeria. In similar fashion, the United States got Ferdinand Marcos to quit the Philippines by allowing him refuge in a Hawaiian villa.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who as ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton helped ease Mr. Mobuto from Zaire, said he believed the same strategy could be used with Mr. Mugabe.
Maybe if he is offered safe passage we will rid ourselves of this despot, he said.
Yet Congo and Liberia are hardly good examples. Congo has tipped further into chaos since Mr. Mobuto left. And, despite promises, Nigeria returned Mr. Taylor to Liberia, which handed him over to an international tribunal to face charges of war crimes in Sierra Leone. That sequence of events may make autocrats like Mr. Mugabe think twice before they head for the airport.
|SANCTIONS AND ISOLATION|
A popular response to noxious regimes (think Castro or early Saddam). But they only work if the sanctions hurt.
The greater the ties to the West, the greater the degree to which the elite is educated in the West and has career prospects in the West, then the greater the likelihood the coalition behind a regime will crack, said Steven Levitsky, professor of government at Harvard University, who has studied conditions under which autocracies crumble. (Another condition is a weak internal security apparatus with little stomach for a long fight against its people hardly a description of Mr. Mugabes battle-hardened forces, which came of age in a guerrilla liberation war.)
Unfortunately, its not clear what extra pain sanctions could exact on Zimbabwe, where 8 out of 10 people are unemployed and the annual inflation rate is more than 100,000 percent.
In 1979, armies from Tanzania invaded Uganda and chased out Mr. Amin, a tyrant said to have sanctioned the murder of close to 300,000.
Yet regime change is perilous, as the United States discovered following its toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In Uganda, the man who replaced Idi Amin Milton Obote was arguably worse. Mr. Obote may have murdered more Ugandans even than his predecessor.
Intervention is always very difficult in Africa, said Michael Holman, former Africa editor of The Financial Times. If you dont have a well-drilled army and decent civil service to fill the gap that threw up the problem in the first place then you are going to have a disaster on your hands.
In 1998, President Suharto of Indonesia was forced to end his brutal and corrupt tenure after an economic meltdown, nationwide rioting and the withdrawal of government and military support. (He went into internal exile in a modest house in Jakarta, the capital, until his death earlier this year.)
One hope among Zimbabwe watchers is that the moderates in Mr. Mugabes ZANU-PF party turn against him, dissent breaks out in the military, or ordinary Zimbabweans finally take to the street.
Earlier this year, in the election crisis in Kenya, opposition supporters streamed from Nairobis slums to challenge President Mwai Kibakis declaration of victory in a flawed vote, until he was finally persuaded to share power with the opposition leader Raila Odinga.
But that may be too much to expect from embattled Zimbabweans. In Zimbabwe, extreme poverty has bred utter lethargy, said Michela Wrong, author of In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, about Congo, and who is writing a book about the Kenyan crisis.
Indeed, a nationwide strike called by Zimbabwes chief opposition party earlier this month fizzled quickly as people went about their normal routines, and the partys leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, isnt even in the country, suggesting he may not be prepared to fight or be imprisoned again.
|TALK TO HIM|
Wary of intervening in a continent where some Africans still perceive Mr. Mugabe as a liberation hero in the struggle against colonialism, the United States and the West have largely left the job of negotiating with him to South Africa, Zimbabwes big neighbor and regional power.
Some critics think South Africa has not been sufficiently muscular with Mr. Mugabe but President Thabo Mbeki says that his quiet diplomacy has won results: the elections went ahead in the first place, and the government agreed to post the outcome of each count on the outside of local ballot stations, though the government has withheld the overall results.
Mark Ashurst, director of the Africa Research Institute in London, said that South Africa also subtly promoted an alternative candidate, Simba Makoni, a breakaway member of Mr. Mugabes party, but that this effort failed after Mr. Makoni won too few votes.
Gugulethu Moyo, a Zimbabwean lawyer who works for the International Bar Association in London, said it was time for the outside world to go beyond hand-wringing and critical statements. Instead, she said, the United Nations should be sent to scrutinize the actions of the security forces and monitor any future elections.
One idea is for Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, to be dispatched to broker an agreement just as he negotiated the Kenyan deal.
Maybe he could persuade Mr. Mugabe to stay for now but to agree to step down in two years and hold new elections a sort of government of national unity trial balloon that was floated by Zimbabwes state-run newspaper, The Herald, this week.
But will Mr. Mugabe take Mr. Annans call? Some think not.
Heidi Holland, author of Dinner With Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant, argues that the only power he will speak to now is Britain, Zimbabwes former colonial master under whose rule he spent half his life.
Ms. Holland, who first met Mr. Mugabe in 1975 and interviewed him again last year, said he was a remote, emotionally immature, dogged, bookish man who is obsessed with Britain as a kind of parental figure. She said he felt humiliated because, in his view, Britain reneged on financial commitments he believed were made at the time of independence in 1980.
For her, the way out of this mess may be more psychological.
Revenge is a key word for Mugabe, she says. He says, I dont have a quarrel with the United States, or the United Nations. He wants Britain to come to him and say: O.K. We will now talk. All he wants is recognition.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, Week in Review, of Sunday, April 27, 2008.
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