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The disastrous Mr. Mugabe
Comment, New York Times
March 20, 2007

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has spent much of his 26-plus years in power suppressing all opposition, persecuting defenseless minorities and destroying a once-promising economy. He has shamelessly tried to deflect all blame for the disastrous consequences — including a man-made famine and a catastrophically mishandled H.I.V./AIDS epidemic — onto international scapegoats, chiefly Britain and the United States.

Now, the 83-year-old Mr. Mugabe seems to have descended into total power-madness. He has barred opponents from leaving the country, ordered his thugs to literally crack the skulls of opposition leaders, accused his own party’s youth group of plotting against him, and told Western critics to "go hang." Last week, he threatened to run again in 2008 for another six-year term.

With hyperinflation making its currency almost worthless, Zimbabwe is running short of basic commodities like milk, cooking oil and gasoline. Fewer than one in four Zimbabweans have jobs, and life expectancy, nearly 60 in 1990, has plunged into the 30s.

Will no one rescue Zimbabwe? The United States and Europe have limited influence, and risk playing into Mr. Mugabe’s racist rhetoric when they try to use it. But President Thabo Mbeki of neighboring South Africa — the region’s most prestigious political leader — has enormous leverage, and he should be using it. South Africa is Zimbabwe’s main trade partner, a big investor and the source of more than 40 percent of its electricity.

Unfortunately Mr. Mbeki has done nothing, apparently out of a misplaced sense of liberation-struggle solidarity. Zimbabwe is struggling to liberate itself from Mr. Mugabe’s deadly misrule. Its people desperately need all Zimbabweans, and the influential Mr. Mbeki, to show real-life solidarity with them — and not with their rampaging dictator.

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