Zimbabwe: Mugabe Shouldn’t Run Again


Robert Mugabe, 87, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 31 years, plans to run for yet another 5-year term. While he will always be remembered by his people as a hero who led Zimbabwe to majority rule, his legacy is now at risk of being overshadowed by the suppression of freedom and failed economic policies.

Zimbabwe was a British colony known as Southern Rhodesia. Its black majority was ruled by a white racist minority. When Britain ordered Rhodesia to give blacks equal voting rights, white leader Ian Smith refused and instead declared independence (1965).

The refusal to end minority rule triggered a quasi-colonial guerilla war (1965-79). The UN asked member states not to recognize the Rhodesian regime, in which a minority of 250,000 whites controlled four million blacks (1965). During the conflict, Mugabe and the blacks fought from bases in neighboring Zambia, while Smith employed South African mercenaries, and arrested, tried, and executed many courageous black freedom fighters.

Over time, Rhodesia became isolated, as the blacks sabotaged the railroad that ran through neighboring Portuguese Mozambique to the Indian Ocean (1972). The white government was further cut off, when black majorities in neighboring Mozambique and Angola eliminated white Portuguese colonial rule (1975).

Mugabe emerged as a leading figure during the final push towards liberation (1976). As the UN called for free and fair elections, Smith visited President Carter, who pushed him into granting black voting rights (1978). Soon afterward, the white government finally abdicated and majority rule was allowed (1979). Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe, as Mugabe became president (1980).

If Mugabe had retired after two terms as president, he would have gone down in history as another George Washington. But he did not think his job was done by merely bringing about majority rule. Since the best farm land was controlled by the white minority, Mugabe seized it and redistributed parcels to blacks (1988). As farms were left to those with no experience managing them, the agricultural sector collapsed. Food shortages threatened famine, as an economic crisis gripped the country. Aid from the west was cut off due to the land seizure program (1998-2001). Galloping inflation ultimately led to price controls (2007).

Mugabe also put controls on the press to ensure his continued election victories (2002). He arrested opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (2003). Frontline reported Mugabe was running a harsh dictatorship, without dissent (2006). When Tsvangirai claimed an election victory (2008), Mugabe refused to step down, and remained in office under a power-sharing deal (2009).

While Mugabe deserves respect for risking his life in the struggle against white minority rule more than three decades ago, his age, prior service of 31 years in office, willingness to control the free press, and his inability to solve current economic problems, all lead to the conclusion that he should not run again.

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