"A Nation in Decay"
Op-Ed, Globe and Mail
April 25, 2007
Author: Robert Rotberg, Director, Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Intrastate Conflict Program
Nelson Mandela emerged from prison in 1990 to demonstrate the power for good and the best practices of democratic African leadership. His affirmation of inclusionary and participatory values, moreover, matched those that had been affirmed for decades in neighbouring Botswana under presidents Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire. Until Mandela was freed, Khama's example had been the lodestar of democratic leadership in Africa.
The sure manner in which he had articulated a clear political, social, and economic vision for his country, together with the straightforward way in which he had mobilised the people of Botswana behind democratic values, were exemplary. Mandela and Khama (followed by Masire and now by President Festus Mogae) demonstrated the striking facility with which very different states could be led with a strong emphasis on serving the Commonwealth.
Khama and his successors' qualities of positive democratic leadership (in a land originally poor, but now prosperous), when joined to Mandela's moral force as an iconic leader of a recently embattled country, suggest the power of individual agency for good. Effective, popular leadership can flourish in Africa; the paucity of first-rate models need not suggest that Southern Africa nations cannot grow good leaders.
Unfortunately, models of distinctly poor leadership abound. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is today's African poster child for damaging, venal leadership. By 2005, if not well before, he had driven Zimbabwe's once-high levels of good governance into the ground. Educational and health services were in a shambles, rule of law had largely vanished, crime rates had escalated, corruption was rife, economic growth was strikingly negative, inflation was at Weimar levels and unemployment rates were among the very highest in the world.
Food shortages and hunger were constant, infant and maternal mortality rates were extraordinarily high and life expectations correspondingly low, political freedoms were universally denied, and even the ruling Zanu-PF had come to chafe under the exactions and Duvalier-like capriciousness of the nation's Pol Pot-like ruler.
Today, Zimbabweans are even more impoverished than ever before.
In March, with brutal attacks on opposition leaders such as Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) the prevailing norm, it is no wonder that the once-prosperous and proud nation of Zimbabwe is universally known as Africa's most atrocious tyranny. President John Kufour of Ghana, president of the African Union, indeed told the BBC after the disturbances in Harare that the Zimbabwe case was tragic and dreadful, but the AU could effectively do nothing. Who can?
Worst of all, as this article is being prepared, no uprising of the downtrodden masses, no purple or rose revolutions, and no alliances between opposition politicians and soldiers and police appeared promising. Powerful neighbours were not going to intervene, as Tanzania had done so successfully in Idi Amin's Uganda and Rwanda and others had done so well in Mobutu Sese Seko's Zaire.
But, South Africa has always refused to follow their lead, often defending Mugabe's excesses within and outside the AU. External sanctions, even the American "smart sanctions", have accomplished little, failing to curb Mugabe's excesses.
Even though his nation-state is decaying around his ears, in late March Mugabe (83) appeared as strong and alert as before. He and his henchmen continued to pummel fellow Zimbabweans of all classes, imposing travel restrictions on the injured, and -- in Mugabe's case -- telling his international critics to "go hang".
Despite the internal chaos, and despite universal condemnation from non-Africans and the United Nations, no one could foresee precisely how Mugabe's mayhem would be curtailed. Even Mugabe's natural death would not (as in recent Turkmenistan) necessarily result in more than cosmetic improvements to a nation-state that he has almost single-handedly destroyed. In that event, hustlers from his Zanu-PF would attempt to perpetuate his despotic style of rule.
Fortunately, abundant good leaders and positive leadership are readily available for the post-Mugabe, post-Zanu-PF era. Within the mainline MDC, still run by Tsvangirai, there are a number of persons capable of leading a free Zimbabwe back to liberty and prosperity.
This is not to suggest that the reconstruction of Zimbabwe would be easy. However, by harnessing the outside support that would be forthcoming from investors and donors to the country's own strong reservoir of human talent (and reclaiming the efforts of those millions who have fled to Botswana, Zambia and South Africa), the resuscitating of Zimbabwe need not prove impossible.
No Somali-type result is lurking on the horizon, despite the horrendous destruction wreaked by Mugabe.
The intrinsic high levels of education among Zimbabweans, and the Zimbabwe populace's resilient political culture, predict a better outcome in a restored state. Tsvangirai in effect won several popular elections already; he has demonstrated integrity and a strong ability to lead. He has articulated excellent ideas about how best to reform Zimbabwe, most recently in a speech in early March in Johannesburg. And his associates and collaborators in the MDC are also capable.
The remnants of Zanu-PF, particularly the jousting wannabe heirs to Mugabe -- such as Emmerson Mnangagwa, defeated MP for Kwekwe, former Cabinet minister and speaker of Parliament, and Solomon Mujuru, former army commander and Cabinet member -- have all enriched themselves since Mugabe unleashed the forces of wild corruption in the 1990s. Both, and their many competitors and followers, are implicated in a succession of scandals. Most of all, anyone who has loyally served Mugabe is tainted with illegitimacy. What Zimbabwe needs are leaders like Tsvangirai who have not helped destroy their country, prey on its people, and consorted with evil.
As Zimbabwe rebuilds, which it soon must, it will need leaders with vision, clarity of purpose, honesty of intent, and the respect both of their people and of non-Zimbabweans. If Zimbabwe is ever going to take its rightful place in Southern Africa and the world, it can only do so through good governance. Mugabe has provided the opposite. His successors must work for the people, not against them.
For more information about this publication please contact the ICP Program Coordinator at 617-496-9812.
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