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Opposing Mugabe: the socialist rule of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has destroyed the economy of this once-prosperous African nation. Despite calls for "freedom," Mugabe is having none of it.

Morgan Tsvangirai may be the luckiest man in Africa. He has been for many years the most prominent foe of Zimbabwe's brutal dictator Robert Mugabe, and in spite of three assassination attempts, numerous arrests, and at least one savage beating by police that nearly killed him, he is still alive.

In spite of more assassination threats and other tactics intended to keep him out of Zimbabwe ahead of a June 27 run-off election pitting him against Mugabe, Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are refusing to be intimidated. Mugabe's thugs now roam the length and breadth of impoverished Zimbabwe, destroying the property of MDC supporters and, in a particularly cruel twist, denying food to those

who do not support the aging monster determined to run this once-prosperous country into the dust rather than relinquish his grip on power. Tsvangirai's MDC, meanwhile, offers little more for its platform than getting rid of Mugabe--but that may be promise enough. Appealing for self-government and promising to protect the basic rights of Zimbabwe's citizens, the MDC's platform of governance says it all: "We want our people to be free."

In truth, Zimbabwe's oppressed millions have not breathed free air for a very long time. Soon after his rise to power in 1980, Robert Mugabe showed his true colors by ordering the systematic massacre over several years of at least 20,000 citizens who opposed his regime (the so-called Gukurahundi massacre, carried out by an army brigade trained in North Korea). Moreover, Mugabe's radical socialist economic policies have, over the past 20 years, slowly strangled the economic vitality of the country once deemed the breadbasket of southern Africa. Zimbabwe's slide into destitution accelerated in 2000, when Mugabe began driving white farmers off their lands and giving the land to political cronies.

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Today Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy of any nation (37 years for men and 34 years for women, according to the World Health Organization) and the world's highest rate of inflation (over 100,000 percent annually as of April of this year). From an exporter of food it has become dependent not only on imported food but also upon food aid distributed by international relief organizations. Mugabe is reviled in Zimbabwe and ostracized abroad, yet continues to cling limpet-like to power, insisting that foreign plotters and domestic subversives are to blame for his country's misfortunes, and that only his enlightened leadership can save Zimbabwe.

Political opposition to Mugabe has been gathering steam since the beginning of the decade, even as Zimbabwe's dictator has descended into increasing brutality and paranoia. The MDC, founded in 1999, managed in 2000 to stave off Mugabe's attempt to rewrite the Zimbabwean constitution to protect himself and his cronies from any legal prosecution over the Gukurahundi affair and to legalize his theft of land from white Zimbabweans. The movement also won 57 of 120 parliamentary seats open in the 2000 election, establishing itself as the first legitimate political opposition Mugabe has faced in many years.

Now, after years of chaos, during which Mugabe has balked at holding more elections that might lead to his ouster and eventual criminal prosecution, Zimbabwe's dictator reluctantly assented to allowing an election in late March of 2008. Confident that his army of thugs would cow the electorate, the swaggering strongman was caught by surprise when Tsvangirai outpolled him. After many days of suspense, the Mugabe government announced, conveniently, that Tsvangirai had won just less than 50 percent of the vote, allowing a runoff election in late June.

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Mugabe may have been caught flat-footed by the first round of voting, but all the stops have been pulled out to ensure a Mugabe victory in the runoff. Mugabe's thugocracy has been doing his dirty work; dozens of MDC officials have been killed by Mugabe's agents in recent weeks, and even foreign dignitaries, including U.S. embassy staffers, have been subject to harassment and intimidation.

Most appalling of all has been Mugabe's willingness to use food as a weapon against his own people. Mugabe recently banned all overseas aid agencies, including nongovernmental organizations involved in food distribution, from operating in Zimbabwe, citing their alleged support for his political enemies. The several million Zimbabweans dependent on donated food from abroad must now petition their own government to eat--and eating, it turns out, will come with a political price. "If you have an MDC card [i.e., a voting card indicating membership in Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change], you can receive food, but first you have to give your national identity card to government officials. This means they will hold on to it until after the election," U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee said.

"The only way you can access food is to give up your right to vote. It is absolutely illegal. We are dealing with a desperate regime here which will do anything to stay in power."

Mugabe's willingness to starve his people into submission to get the electoral outcome he wants puts him in the not-so-august company of some of recent history's worst dictators, including Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia (the murderous communist strongman who engineered the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s) and Joseph Stalin, who starved to death millions of Ukrainians resistant to his regime in the 1930s. An absolutely unrepentant Mugabe, brushing aside international condemnation, flew to Rome in early June to attend a United Nations food conference. In spite of protests from a number of UN member states, the United Nations defended Mugabe's participation in the name of "inclusiveness." "The fact that Mugabe and other leaders the West may not approve of are attending a UN meeting in Rome is not a scandal," according to UN spokesman Nick Parsons. "The UN [gives] all nations the right to participate."

As time winds down to the Zimbabwe elections, Mugabe's regime has banned all opposition rallies and amplified the drumbeat of intimidation. While hunger in Zimbabwe is still a far cry from Ethiopian standards, the plight of the former Rhodesia grows more desperate by the day.

Zimbabweans are being schooled in the bitter lessons of radical socialism as their once-fair country is transformed into yet another modern African tragedy. Robert Mugabe, whatever his ultimate fate, has already earned a place in the African pantheon of infamy alongside the likes of Uganda's Idi Amin and Milton Obote, Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam, Somalia's Siad Barre, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, and the Central African Republic's Jean-Bedel Bokassa. The only remaining question is how far Mugabe and Zimbabwe will ultimately fall.

Charles Scaliger is a teacher and frelance writer.
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Title Annotation:ZIMBABWE
Author:Scaliger, Charles
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Jul 7, 2008
Words:1096
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