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Wishful Thinking on Zimbabwe

Writing today in the Boston Globe, Robert Rotberg of the Kennedy School has the solution for what ails Zimbabwe. After explaining the dire humanitarian situation and rehearsing the political brief against Robert Mugabe, he writes:

First, the African Union needs to declare Mugabe a non-president and recognize Tsvangirai as at least an interim ruler. Second, South Africa needs to make the Mugabe problem its own and present the nearly 85-year-old tyrant with two options: to exit gracefully to a soft landing in South Africa or to exit under South African military compulsion. Third, after a year or so, a new election to confirm Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change should be held under international auspices. If all else fails, the International Criminal Court should indict Mugabe for crimes against humanity. (emphasis added)

Rotberg is an Africa specialist so he ought to know that all of the steps he counsels have been suggested repeatedly, to no effect. For years, the West has called upon African leaders to “declare Mugabe a non-president,” or something to that effect, calls that have grown louder and louder over time with no demonstrable results. While Rotberg predicts that “When Obama assumes office, the power of his roots and his charisma may be able to persuade Africans to disbar Mugabe,” there is no evidence to assume this will be the case. The present American Secretary of State and her immediate successor, after all, are black. Their African ancestry, like Obama’s, was less important to African heads of state than the perceived national interests of those leaders, and it’s a good bet that they will not view Obama much differently.

As for South Africa “mak[ing] the Mugabe problem its own,” has Rotberg been asleep for the past 8 years? No shortage of criticism has been made of the African National Congress-led government for its support of Mugabe, and Western leaders have made their displeasure with the South Africans widely known. For Rotberg to speculate that the South Africans would ever launch a military invasion to oust Mugabe displays either wishful thinking or a stunning ignorance of regional politics. Indeed, the only circumstance in which a South African military invasion is even imaginable would be if it were to protect Mugabe and his regime in the event of a coup.

Rotberg concludes with this:

Thus, the key to ending the depravity and odiousness of Mugabe’s corrupt regime is decisive declarations by a collective leadership of an Africa that should know better, and now, at the 11th hour, can make matters right.

There are many actors on the global stage who “should know better,” and the world would be a much nicer place if they all behaved according to the dictates of Kennedy School professors. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way, and anyone seriously concerned about Zimbabwe can no longer place their trust in the African Union to do anything that would alleviate the situation.



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