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

Democracy Lab

From Turkey to Egypt: The Army Is Not a Solution

Why Turkey's experience of military rule does not offer a hopeful precedent for Egypt.

The July 2013 coup in Egypt has prompted considerable debate about whether transitional democracies can be nurtured by military rule. It is often argued that the military can play the role of a neutral arbiter in the political sphere; it can be useful in distributing power, limiting excessive majorities, and introducing a culture of negotiation and power sharing. In these arguments, the military is perceived as a checks-and-balances mechanism, an institution builder that will strengthen democracy in the long term.

The Turkish military is often cited as leading exemplar. Since the first military coup in 1960, the Turkish military played a central role in establishing laws, installing institutions, and regulating politics. One cannot deny its impact in shaping Turkish politics, but it is hard to argue that military interventions and the tutelary role of the military nurtured Turkey's democracy. On the contrary, it interrupted and significantly delayed the process of democratization.

To call the Turkish military a "democratizing" power is a fundamental misconception. It is in fact an institution that has staged four coups against democratically elected governments. Following the coups, new constitutions were written by military-controlled assemblies. Until today, in fact, Turkey has been unable to produce a civilian-made constitution. The military's role in politics has constituted major blows to Turkey's democratization process, in which the military has a history of limiting the power and autonomy of civilian government actors.

The military thus acted not as a facilitator of democratization but as a retardant: It wrote constitutions and built institutions that were hardly compatible with a modern liberal democracy. Whenever political reforms were discussed in Turkey and demanded by the European Union as part of Turkey's accession process, they always involved amending the constitution. This was precisely because the military-made constitutions did not include provisions to enable civilian control of the military. Nor did they protect political parties, which resulted in the closure of 28 political parties by the constitutional court since 1961.

What the military-made constitutions did was to institutionalize the autonomy of the military over the civilian governments through the powerful National Security Council. Moreover, military coups destroyed the autonomy of political parties and suppressed the internal dynamics of social actors.

The 1960 coup closed down the then-ruling Democratic Party, and Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and two members of the cabinet were executed. After the 1980 military coup, all political parties were abolished and their leaders were banned from politics for 10 years. Following the 1997 coup a civilian government was forced to step down, and the constitutional court closed down Turkey's most popular party. In short, the Turkish military attempted to intervene in the natural course of political developments, thereby preventing Turkish democracy from maturing at its own pace.

After coups people never took to the streets to push back the military despite the fact that it was their will the military overruled. Instead, they expressed their reactions by means of the ballot box, where they usually voted for the followers of the political party that had been overthrown. Knowing this, the military established a system in which elected governments had to share power with the military.

After each coup, the military promised a speedy restoration of democracy. These promises were met, but it never restored true democracy. Rather, the military installed a "tutelary democracy," in which the military set limits on political activities and positioned itself above the government with formal and informal supervisory functions. The political system, thus shaped by repeated military interventions, lost its ability to resolve problems. Political actors and parties, unable to act independently, became increasingly weak and inefficient. This in turn gave way to the rise of radical political movements, including that of Islamists.

If Egypt is now heading toward such a tutelary democracy, the Turkish story is relevant. Those who fear the "risk of democracy" in Egypt, however, may prefer this form of government. It was only in July 2012, after all, that the electorate chose an Islamist president. These people must remember, however, that Islamists suppressed by the military are likely to win the sympathy of the people, improve their political strategy, and make a stronger comeback in the next elections.

Some Western analysts (here and here) portray the Turkish military as a model for the Egyptian military. The Turkish military is regarded as the guardian of secularism and a counterbalance to the Islamists. Yet the military's activities to prevent the rise of Islamist movements have produced the opposite result. The Islamist Welfare Party won local elections in Istanbul and Ankara in 1994; by 1996 it was the largest political party under Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan. The military, as the "tutelary guardian" of the system, responded to these situations in undemocratic ways. It declared political Islam as the state's principal enemy; it mobilized the media and civil society to isolate Islamists and push the Islamist-led government to step down; it briefed judges and public prosecutors about the activities of Islamic groups; and so on.

These undemocratic activities resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Erbakan and the ordered closure of the Welfare Party by the constitutional court. Yet the military's activities also sowed seeds of anger, discontent, and democratic reaction, not only among the Islamists but also among those secular democrats who defended the Islamists' right to compete in political arena.

Challenged by the military and its institutional allies within the state, particularly in the judiciary, the pro-Islamic Welfare Party reformers changed their political lexicon and established the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001. The new party transformed itself from a marginal Islamist movement into a mass political party in search of security against the assaults of military-led secularists. The AKP developed a three-part strategy: First, it adopted a language of human rights and democracy as a discursive shield. Second, it mobilized popular support as a form of democratic legitimacy. And third, it built a "democratic coalition" of modern, secular sectors both at home and abroad that recognized the AKP as a legitimate political actor.

By stressing democracy and individual rights, and thus gaining the moral high ground over its opponents by building a broader social and political front, the AKP managed to outmaneuver its secularist opponents.

Before the latest military intervention in 1997 that targeted the Islamists, the highest share of the Turkish vote garnered by the pro-Islamic Welfare Party was 21 percent. When Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected as mayor of Istanbul in 1994 on the Welfare Party ticket he got only 25 percent of the vote. But following the 1997 coup, the political party of the reformed Islamists, led by Erdogan, the AKP won the 2002 elections with 34 percent of the vote by attracting both Islamist and non-Islamist voters. Its voting bloc has increased over the past 10 years; in the 2011 general elections, the AKP won 50 percent of the vote.

The case of Turkey demonstrates that an Islamist party, radical or reformed, can re-emerge stronger once it has been undemocratically suppressed by a military. The Turkish military not only damaged democracy through undemocratic tactics against Islamist political movements, but it also provoked them into making a stronger comeback, thus putting democracy at risk once again. Under the AKP government, which is increasingly criticized for going authoritarian, Turkey's search for democracy still continues. Democracy in Turkey was not nurtured by the military nor has it been prospered under the reformed-Islamists. This should serve as a warning for the leaders of Egypt's military coup and its supporters both at home and abroad.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images