Democracy Lab

It's Time for Mugabe to Go

The argument for real change in Zimbabwe.

For decades, Robert Mugabe has thumbed his nose at the world. The long-time dictator has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist, repeatedly insulted foreign dignitaries, ignored regional and international agreements to which he was a signatory, and isolated the country from any legitimate international economic or political engagement. The price of both his brutality and adolescent-like behavior -- clearly an attempt to cling to the revolutionary persona of a liberation struggle now more than three decades old -- continues to be paid by the people of Zimbabwe.

In 1980, Mugabe became prime minister of the newly renamed Zimbabwe following the liberation struggle from foreign colonial rule in what was previously known as (Southern) Rhodesia. In a rousing Independence Day speech, Mugabe vowed to lead the country under the principles of reconciliation, democracy, multi-ethnic tolerance, and economic advancement. But he wasn't in power long before his true intentions and preferred political tactics were revealed: In 1983, Mugabe, a member of the Shona people, launched a ruthless genocidal campaign against the Ndebele people, who were supporters of his political rival Joshua Nkomo. The four years of horrific violence were later known as the Gukurahundi massacre.

The brutal crackdown on innocent civilians, labeled as "dissidents" by Mugabe, was executed by his military's North Korean-trained 5th Brigade and resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 men, women, and children. This horrific event is a defining moment in our nation's history, the scars of which remain visible in our society to this day. Over the next three decades, Mugabe and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union -- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), proceeded to eliminate or imprison his political rivals, use his loyal military and intelligence services to instill fear into society, and change the constitution 19 times to pave the way for his entrenchment in power.

For 33 years now, Mugabe's scorched-earth modus operandi and outlandish behavior have made him a laughing stock among around the world, on par with Hugo Chávez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and Kim Jong Il. In 2010, as a show of professional and diplomatic respect, U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray, along with several other foreign emissaries, attended the funeral of Mugabe's sister, at which the long-winded despot launched a diatribe culminating in announcing that Western nations can "go to hell." Most recently, he attacked the Southern African Development Community (SADC) advisor to Zimbabwe calling her a "stupid" and "idiotic" "street woman" in response to her questioning of Zimbabwe's readiness to hold elections. Regrettably, similar examples of his diplomatic insults abound with few, if any, repercussions for these embarrassing verbal assaults on respected members of the international community.

Mugabe has also spent decades disrespecting and defying regional and international institutions, including the United Nations, the African Union (AU), and SADC -- the region's multi-lateral political and economic arbitration body. Following the landslide victory of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in the 2008 national elections, Mugabe unleashed a torrent of bloody violence against MDC supporters forcing Tsvangirai to withdraw from the run-off presidential election to prevent further bloodshed. Humiliated by the first round defeat, Mugabe was required to enter into a SADC-facilitated power sharing agreement leaving him in the presidency but installing Tsvangirai into the newly reintroduced role of prime minister.

The multi-party agreement, known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA), created the Government of National Unity (GNU) that has acted as Zimbabwe's governing institution since 2009. The GPA called for a balanced governmental approach along with a series of security sector, media, and electoral reforms before proclaiming or conducting any national elections. Unfortunately, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party (itself a coerced collaboration stemming from the Gukurahundi massacre) have largely ignored the agreement and made every effort possible to subvert policy changes put forth by Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC. The ZANU-PF maintains control over almost all major ministries within the government, the media and security services, and has pilfered hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit diamond revenues.

Mugabe and his regime have diverted these funds needed for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure while impeding meaningful reforms mandated by the GPA despite his signature and commitment. The Zimbabwe military and state-run media continue to pledge allegiance to Mugabea and openly campaign for ZANU-PF. The military refuses to salute Prime Minister Tsvangirai, and harasses, intimidates, and brutalizes anyone suspected of supporting anyone other than ZANU-PF. Most recently, Mugabe illegally circumvented our parliament and unilaterally declared an unconstitutional election date.

He has also barred international election observers, beyond a limited AU and SADC presence, into the country, claiming they will implement their "regime change agenda." This constant environment of manipulation is the backdrop on which Zimbabweans head to the polls this week.

Mugabe's refusal to implement agreed upon reforms is a slap in the face to well respected SADC leaders, especially South African president and key SADC facilitator Jacob Zuma, and their efforts to bring stability and democracy to the region. With the physical and psychological wounds of the brutal state-sponsored violence during the 2008 election still fresh, Mugabe's refusal to implement the SADC-brokered and mutually agreed upon security sector reforms threatens again the safety of all Zimbabweans hoping to exercise their constitutionally protected voice. Such brazen affronts to international election standards would not be tolerated in any free, democratic state and should not be tolerated in Zimbabwe.

The MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai understands the importance of breaking away from Mugabe's past antics and shedding the pariah status in the international community. Despite subversion efforts of Mugabe and ZANU-PF, the MDC influence in government has been seen and felt. Immediately after taking office, MDC party members in government stabilized the economy by dumping the Zimbabwe dollar and adopting a multi-currency system based on the U.S. dollar. We were also successful in pushing through a new constitution that, for the first time in Zimbabwe's history, provides a bill of rights for the protection of all citizens. These successes were made possible through sheer determination in the face of fierce opposition from Mugabe and his regime cronies desperate to hang on to power for their own personal economic interests. Released from the shackles of a regime whose time has passed, Zimbabwe can again be a responsible member of the community of nations.

In the late 1990s, Mugabe's misguided policies sent our economy and agricultural productivity, our country's lifeblood, plummeting into the abyss. To make up for the financial shortfall, his regime attempted to print its way out of the mess immediately resulting in inconceivable hyperinflation, topping out at 231 million percent. The breadbasket of Africa and one of its most advanced economies was reduced to ruins. Our people starved, our currency became useless, and legitimate commerce came to a standstill. All of us at the MDC believe transitioning back to normalized international political and economic engagement along with responsible management of resources are the keys to political stability and economic growth for Zimbabwe.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have an economic recovery plan to create jobs, attract foreign direct investment, and ensure the country's natural and financial resources are utilized to the benefit of the people. We will deliver key financial sector reforms to ensure expanded access to credit for small businesses and our critical agriculture sector. We will reform our tax code to relieve the burden on individuals. We will transition workers in the informal market back into the formal by implementing fair, transparent and pro-business policies to attract domestic and foreign investment. We will also implement a comprehensive debt resolution plan by re-engaging the international financial institutions. We believe this path of re-engagement in the international community will lead us into the future and bring prosperity and security to our people and the region.

A recent survey of 62 Africa specialists in Foreign Policy gave Robert Mugabe a resounding victory as "Africa's Worst Political Leader," with more than double the votes of his nearest "competitor." Needless to say, this is an honor Mugabe would certainly be quick to dismiss. Well, Zimbabweans have had enough. Robert Mugabe is not representative of who we are, what we stand for, or how we want to be viewed by the rest of world. We are peace-loving people, respectful of foreign representatives, who want the country to be a prosperous, productive and responsible member of the global community.

The people of Zimbabwe do not blame the "West" for our problems, as Mugabe continues to assert in his pass-the-blame, racially-charged hate speech. We blame the misinformed and misguided polices of a tyrannical regime that has continually put the interests of its political and military elite above those of its people. The Zimbabwean people do not want the pariah stigma attached to their country any longer. We have serious challenges and we need serious leadership working with partners and friends in the region and around the world to meet these challenges.

As Morgan Tsvangirai has said, "Yesterday's people cannot solve today's problems." We want change. The time has come to move into the present and plan for the future. Zimbabweans will go to the polls this week in full force. Mugabe has tried to manipulate and rig this election but he will fail. Our people will rise up, vote him out of office, and usher in a new era of democracy in the beautiful and blessed nation. The time is now for a new Zimbabwe!

JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

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