DemosNews: Zimbabwe After Mugabe
Zimbabwe After Mugabe
By: nat

As the world anxiously awaits the delayed outcome of Zimbabwe’s election, I’ve found myself thinking back to a trip I made to the country two years ago, back when Robert Mugabe’s now tenuous grip on power seemed unbreakable. The damage he’d inflicted on his once prosperous country was plain to see. Driving around Harare, the roads were filled not with vehicles but with people, for whom walking was now the only available and affordable means of transportation. Downtown, they formed lines out side of banks, hoping to withdraw whatever remained in their accounts before the dizzying inflation rendered it even more worthless. A few blocks away, we passed the site where, just a few months earlier, the Government had bulldozed the city's largest market, destroying overnight the livelihoods of hundreds of citizens.

But the sight I remember as most haunting were the roads leading out of Harare, into the farmlands that rank among Africa’s most fertile and which until just a few years earlier had produced enough food to feed the country and earn Zimbabwe a reputation as the bread basket of Africa. By the time I arrived, the fields had been abandoned, casualties of the government’s notorious 2000 campaign to forcibly seize white-owned farms. Field after field now lay overgrown, covered with wild shrubs and punctuated only occasionally by the rotting frame of a gutted greenhouse. In what was once the heart of a vibrant Zimbabwean economy, the only sign of life were the desperate people standing along the roadside trying to sell worms to wealthy fishermen driving out of Harare.

No one knows what these next few days will bring for Harare: will Mugabe accept defeat and go quietly? Will he order his operatives to overturn the vote, or the military to annul the election? Will he acknowledge defeat in the first round but go on to rig the second? No matter how their ruler reacts, Zimbabwe appears to have broken through what was once an impenetrable barrier into a new world in which Mugabe is no longer invincible, his power no longer omnipotent, and for the first time since taking power in 1980, he is vulnerable. But for now, his people can do nothing but gather nervously around televisions and radios and wait to hear how the only President most of them have ever known reacts to his unexpected defeat.

The opposition Movement for a Democratic Change (MDC), whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai is now widely believed to have won more votes and perhaps even the plurality needed to avoid a run-off, is not sitting idly by. It is reported to be in deep negotiations with all manner of players: with Mugabe’s closest aids, to negotiate his departure; with the military, to reassure them and win their support; even with its own senior leadership, as the suddenly grapple with the question that for so long has seemed unthinkable: what comes after Mugabe?

The answer will almost certainly involve the dictator’s exile or amnesty as part of a negotiated deal; allowing him to escape justice, however unfortunate, seems a price worth paying to win his peaceful departure. But following this victory stretches a long and very difficult road to recovery. Tsvangirai will inherit a government gutted by its focus on distributing patronage rather than public services, an economy in total collapse, and a military and police service focused almost entirely on domestic repression. His people have been reduced to ruin, and an estimated one-third of them are estimated to have fled to neighboring countries. It will be a long climb back up – but at long last it might finally have begun.

Near the bulldozed market in Harare, just across the aptly-named Remembrance Drive, there squats the concrete stadium where Bob Marley played in 1980 on the joyous occasion of Mugabe's inauguration. When I saw it two years ago, the city and its citizens looked so downtrodden that it was hard to imagine that concert, or the sense of euphoria and optimism that Zimbabweans felt in those heady days of early independence. This week, if it proves to be Mugabe’s final shudder, could finally return hope to streets of Harare.

© 2023 nat of DemosNews

April 3, 2008 at 0:13pm
DemosRating: 4.5
Hits: 1452

Genre: World
Type: Critical
Tags: Zimbabwe, politics, international

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