It is easy to work up a head of hate against Robert Mugabe, the cruel president of Zimbabwe. He has destroyed a beautiful country and inflicted untold suffering on his people. He has so mismanaged the economy that the country’s inflation rate is the world’s highest–over 100,000 percent. He has expelled the productive people from the country and others have fled. He has given choice land and accommodations to his family of thugs.
More, he is a murderer. In the early part of his reign of terror, he killed tens of thousands of the Matabele people in southern Zimbabwe, around the city of Bulawayo.
It is not hard to vilify Mugabe, who may now be at the end of his bloody reign. But there are other guilty men who should be named. They are the de facto co-conspirators up and down the continent of Africa, who lead countries, enjoy influence and have, to a man (the arrival of a woman leader in Liberia is recent), remained silent as Mugabe has become more maniacal.
The guiltiest are those in the frontline states that surround land-locked Zimbabwe. They are the leaders of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. Each one of them has some of the blood Mugabe has shed on his hands. Because of the silence that they have assiduously maintained, their complicity has been absolute. All four leaders have been the enablers of Mugabe.
Each country has suffered from the implosion of Zimbabwe. Each country has felt the pain from the lack of trade; unsatisfied debt; and the surge of people fleeing from the privations of Zimbabwe–once one of the richest countries in Africa, and the breadbasket of the southern region.
Botswana, on Zimbabwe’s southwest border, is currently the showplace of Africa. It is a functioning democracy, with a healthy economy based on mining and tourism. But Botswana could have used its economic leverage, as the host of the principle rail line carrying exports out of Zimbabwe into South Africa, and from there to the world, to put pressure on Mugabe. But it did not.
To the east, Mozambique hosts many of Zimbabwe’s exports and imports through the port of Beira on the Indian Ocean. If there had been some tightening of this relationship, Mugabe would have listened. Instead, there was silence.
Then there is South Africa and President Thabo Mbeki. If there is a judgment day, Mbeki will have much to answer for his connivance in tolerating Mugabe. Mbeki’s guilt extends beyond the suffering of the people to his north to his own people. More than 2 million refugees have fled from Zimbabwe to South Africa, where they have been no more popular than illegal aliens anywhere. The really hapless live on such charity as they can find; while those who are more capable of organization, particularly deserters from the Zimbabwe armed forces, have formed sophisticated criminal gangs, specializing in bank and armored car robbery.
Finally, Zambia has shouldered the burden of watching over the giant Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, which provides electricity to both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zambia has kept essential goods flowing into Zimbabwe, against the international sanctions; and it has seen its own Victoria Falls tourism plummet because of conditions on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. Yet, Zambia’s leaders have said nothing.
If Mugabe is forced from power by the ongoing election, and if he leaves without trying to annul the results of the election, milk and honey will not flow again in the country between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. Too much has been destroyed in 28 years of his rule. The infrastructure has been destroyed; soil erosion has carried away an incalculable amount of earth from the fragile plain that once produced corn for all of southern Africa; the professional class is scattered around the world, in what they refer to as the Zimbabwe Diaspora; and the people of Zimbabwe have lost confidence in the future. The most optimistic country in Africa has traded hope for fatalism.
Assuming Morgan Tsvangirai really has won the election in Zimbabwe, he will have to preside over a massive reconstruction, which will last decades simply to get the country back to where it was when Mugabe destroyed it through racism, megalomania, and economics so primitive that he thought he could print money and it would have value.
Tsvangirai will have to turn to the world for economic aid and technical assistance. But he will have to turn to Zimbabweans for goodwill and to resist corruption. And he will have to turn to another silent partner, China, for a better deal on the contracts Mugabe signed with Beijing.
Not since Idi Amin was feeding his opponents to the crocodiles has there been such a catastrophic head of state in Africa. And not since Amin’s days, have the leaders of Africa remained so quiet in the face of such palpable evil.