Tyranny in the heart of Africa

Zimbabwe: Mugabe destroys prosperity and freedom to extend his personal rule.

January 14, 2002

ROBERT G. MUGABE has earned a place in history among the despots who would destroy their own countries to possess them.

After 21 years as independent Zimbabwe's only president, Mr. Mugabe might be content at 77 that his life's work is done. Instead, he is terrified of the possibility.

Mr. Mugabe, facing re-election in March, fears that people blame him for agricultural meltdown, civil chaos and destroyed hopes. A free vote would elect opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

So Mr. Mugabe has run independent judges off the courts. His top general said the army would not accept any result other than his re-election. And the parliament was put to work.

It enacted a public order law that controls activities of opponents and authorizes the death penalty for vaguely defined opposition and life imprisonment on suspicion. Another new law forbids foreign or independent monitoring of the election. A third, working its way to passage, would license or bar foreign correspondents.

This follows Mr. Mugabe's race-baiting seizure of farms from white landowners. They go to Mr. Mugabe's supporters, who lack farm experience, not to farm workers who could make a go of it. And that followed two decades of failure to bring orderly land redistribution, for which aid funds had been available.

Zimbabwe, the former Southern Rhodesia, has lapsed into chaos and tyranny. Neighboring Zambia, the former Northern Rhodesia, began a contrasting example of African democracy. President Frederick Chiluba stepped down on schedule for an election Dec. 27 to choose his successor.

Levy Mwanawasa, the designated heir, won by a disputed sliver over Anderson Mazoka in a field of 10. Mr. Mazoka cried foul, demonstrations ensued and a government crackdown began.

Zambia's election proved flawed, but there is a transition. Zimbabwe is emulating the worst tyrannies of the colonial era to preserve the tyrant.

Sanctions by the United States and European Union are in order. Expulsion from the Commonwealth of Nations (the British Empire alumni association) looms. The greatest moral suasion can come from neighboring countries, especially South Africa.

Zimbabwe has great natural wealth and many problems, of which its founding president has stayed on to be the worst.

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