Bang the drum slowly, it’s all over but the hand-wringing in Zimbabwe. Morgan Tsvangirai’s withdrawl from the Presidential run-off election means that Robert Mugabe has officially won, ensuring that his party, the Zimbabwe African National Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) will remain in power for the foreseeable future. It’s a big blow for democracy in Africa, not to mention another big nail in the coffin of what was once a beautiful, prosperous nation.
In a face-saving gesture, Tsvangirai will call (again) for a unity government. His plea will be echoed by the US, Britain, and perhaps one or two regional nations. The man and his party have no leverage, however, so Mugabe will certainly refuse to even consider the “demand” that he give up any power.
Mugabe had already announced he wouldn’t recognize the results of the election if he lost, why should he give in now?
There is no organized opposition to the Old Man in Zimbabwe, as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s failure to nominate a viable candidate proved. What about Tsvangirai? With all due respect to his bravery in both mounting a campaign and then having the decency to call it off before more bloodshed occurs, he was never a strong opponent. His past failures to pull his party together, previous half-hearted attempts to force a unity government on Mugabe, and apparent inability to rally the leaders of regional states around his cause have to be seen as contributing factors to his defeat.
While there is no question that ZANU-PF’s brutality destroyed the democratic process, Tsvangirai’s weak candidacy was doomed to failure from the start. Until MDC finds a leader–or another opposition party emerges (a highly unlikely prospect)–Mugabe and whoever succeeds him as the head of ZANU-PF (even the Old Man won’t live forever, but his power base might) will continue to rule Zimbabwe.
Is there anyone else who can bring about change? Not really. Simba Makoni, a senior member of ZANU-PF until he was expelled and a one-time Minister of Finance, staged a campaign in the first election, but I suspect he was allowed to run simply to split the opposition vote, which he did. Arthur Mutambara, a leader of an MDC faction opposed to Tsvangirai, threw his support to Makoni not long after he announced his candidacy. The result was that Makoni essentially became Zimbabwe’s Ralph Nader, garnering just enough votes (8.3%) to ensure no clear victory for MDC.
There won’t be any outside intervention, either, regardless of how loudly the New York Times and the rest of the Western press bang that drum. Any action by the UN Security Council will be blocked by South Africa. The US and Britain are in no position to start any other foreign wars–and who appointed them Africa’s savior anyway? Any action whatsoever by the West will simply play into Mugabe’s claim that his opponents are no more than pawns of the colonialists, further inflaming his club-wielding supporters.
Nor will the regional states step in, even though they have the most to lose as Zimbabwe continues to sink into oblivion and its people flood over their borders looking for new lives. South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki has done little more than jawbone around the situation, obviously reluctant to undercut his ally, Mugabe. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa of Zambia and Botswana President Seretse Ian Khama have spoken harshly, but that’s about all they can do without the heft of South Africa behind them.
What does the future hold for Zimbabwe? Much, much more of the same. Harsher Western economic sanctions will take the remaining scraps of food off the tables of the poor but mean little or nothing to the “Big Men” at the top of the heap. Food aid will resume, but be distributed (one way or the other) by Mugabe’s men only to those who support the party. Eventually, Chinese arms shipments will resume.
The West will cry and protest, but the people of Zimbabwe will die in silence.