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May 20, 2007

Holding Mugabe to Account
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This is a piece I published at on whether Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe ought to be offered immunity in exchange for a swifter exit.  Its the old "peace versus justice" dilemma, with the new wrinkle being that the culture of impugnity in Africa has finally showed some signs of fading, meaning that now is not the time to put aside principle and revert back to old ways.  One depressing aspect is that some of my earliest pieces for Democracy Arsenal more than two years ago (like here and here) were about Zimbabwe, and since then things have changed only for the worse.  Its almost enough to make you want to do a deal, any deal, to get rid of Mugabe . . .

At long last, we seem to be approaching--fitfully--global agreement than Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's elected dictator, must go. He is presiding over 80 percent unemployment, an inflation rate of 1,700 percent, and shortages of nearly all basic goods. In response to his troubles, Mugabe has attacked and injured opposition leaders, opened fire on protestors, and beaten those who resist arrest. In a comparison that is as harsh as it gets in southern Africa, clerics have equated his tyrannical tactics to the worst of Pretoria's apartheid regime.

And, since many of his critics now believe that toppling his regime--and getting a fresh start for Zimbabwe--is more important than holding him to account, there are increasing calls for Mugabe to be forgiven. Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai--whose skull was cracked open in police custody last month--has hinted that Mugabe should be offered immunity if he agrees to step down. The International Crisis Group, in a March report, likewise assumed that immunity would be part of the solution. It is widely surmised that, if current efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki help end to Mugabe's rule, protection from prosecution may be part of the deal.

But, while immunity may seem a tempting solution--no worse than the way many other tyrants have left office--offering it to Mugabe now would represent a big step backward.

As African countries struggle to crack down on corruption and clean up messes in their own neighborhood, allowing one of the continent's notorious strongmen to walk free--without ever holding him to account--would simply enable future despots. Mugabe missed his chance to take advantage of a long era of impunity for brutal heads of state--and, now, it's too late to make an exception.

An immunity offer has obvious appeal: If Mugabe can be coaxed to leave Harare voluntarily, he could obviate the need for either an internal coup or aggressive international action (by either South Africa's neighbors or the international community). Allowing Mugabe to while away the rest of his days (and, remember, he is already 83) on a beachfront may seem like a small price to pay for the return of stability in Zimbabwe. It may be of particular appeal to Mugabe's neighbors, who wish to resolve the region's crisis without turning on a longtime friend. (Solidarity with Mugabe, who helped throw off the colonial yoke of white-minority rule in Rhodesia, has stood in the way regional pressure.)

But while a temporary exile may be needed to get Mugabe to step aside, it should not be accompanied by permanent impunity for his crimes. Mugabe has orchestrated state-sponsored assassination, uprooted entire populations, and starved political opponents. The victims of these high crimes deserve justice, either by a domestic court or--failing that--an international one. Human rights violations like Mugabe's cannot simply be overlooked without threatening respect for human rights worldwide. If powerful human rights violators are above the law, other tyrants will continue their misery making, safe in the knowledge that they risk, at most, their authority, not their hides.

In fact, Mugabe's self-assuredness over the years owes in part to the comfortable exiles won by Marcos of the Philippines, Duvalier of Haiti, Mengistu of Ethiopia, Amin of Uganda, Stroessner of Paraguay, Mobutu of then-Zaire, the Shah of Iran, and Liberia's Charles Taylor. In most of these cases, exile meant de facto immunity, since no international courts were available to try the dictators' crimes.

Most of those countries were better off when those men left, but the mere fact of their departure isn't a good enough reason to insulate them from punishment. And this sentiment is gaining in popularity. That's why Taylor's story ended differently: After a few years spent lying low in Calabar, Nigeria's president finally succumbed to international pressure and turned him over to the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. By detailing Taylor's horrific crimes, proponents of accountability overcame Nigeria's promises to protect the fallen dictator.

Of course, this bodes well for justice, but poorly for precedent. By some accounts, Taylor's saga has complicated Mbeki's approach toward Mugabe: What good is exile if it is not accompanied by immunity? What use is an immunity offer if it can be unilaterally rescinded?

The answer is not much--and that's how it should be. But by taking a stand for accountability in Zimbabwe, instead of letting Mugabe skulk away, Mbeki and others could signal a new era for Africa--one that rejects corrupt and brutal leaders, no matter their revolutionary pedigree. Considerations of pan-African solidarity are too often allowed to trump both the fundamental values of Africa's democracies and the interests of its often defenseless populations. This pattern has helped prolong the crisis in Darfur and the strife in Congo. And the message is equally important for Zimbabwe's opposition: The regime that replaces Mugabe must mark a sharp break from the past--including true legal accountability.

Rejecting an immunity deal would also reflect the sea-change in international justice that has taken place in recent decades. The creation of the U.N.'s special tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone--as well as the creation of the International Criminal Court in 1998--have made justice available for perpetrators of some of the world's most notorious crimes. These courts are beyond the reach of tyrants, threats, and violence. At the same time, these bodies are beginning to reshape public expectations so that the idea of brutal thugs retiring in safe splendor is less accepted than it used to be. People have tasted international criminal justice, and they are asking for more.

Africa is at an inflection point when it comes to holding leaders responsible for corruption, incompetence, and human rights abuses. With the arrest of Charles Taylor, the continent shifted from willingness to let bygones be bygones (as the governments of Mozambique, Botswana, and Angola once avowed) to the beginnings of accountability. Having made these first steps, Africa should not let the likes of Mugabe drag it backward again.


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This post gives me the disquieting sense that Suzanne Nossel has taken a leave of absence from the reality-based community. I hope it is temporary.

I do not know that any deal involving the removal of Robert Mugabe from power in exchange for his immunity from prosecution has been discussed, or indeed that such a deal would change much about Zimbabwe's government apart from its nominal head. So to that degree Ms. Nossel's whole argument is probably moot. Having made this observation I note that, not for the first time, Ms. Nossel's sense of an international consensus appears to rest on an uncertain foundation. Americans and most Europeans doubtless look on Mugabe's government with well-justified feelings of disgust, but it has never been clear that these feelings were widely shared among the people who count in Africa, and considerable evidence that they still are not.

It is because he is a thug that Mugabe is regarded by many in Africa as a hero. Zimbabwe is not Liberia or Sierra Leone, small countries in which bringing the former leaders to trial can be a useful alternative for a war of extermination against their followers. Mugabe struck against white Zimbabwean farmers; he humbled them and took their land, giving it to his supporters. Most of the governments in Africa either dream of doing something similar to one group or another in their respective countries, or have already done it. Indeed, the recent direction of Venezuelan government policy suggests that Mugabe's example has found admirers outside of Africa as well.

There is also the question of accountability. What does accountability mean, first of all? And accountability for what? The shining example of Slobodan Milosevic's trial -- a circus that dragged on for years and only ended when the defendant died of natural causes -- is not as inspiring as some of the enthusiasts for international criminal justice seem to think it is. Moreover -- and this is no defense of Mugabe -- he shed less blood in Zimbabwe in the last five years than he did in his first five years in office, a generation ago. So what is he to be tried for, exactly?

Local solutions for local problems. Zimbabwe's self-destruction has proceeded as it has because the regional power, South Africa, has not lived up to its responsibilities. When that changes, there will be opportunities for Zimbabwe to move away from the course its government has set -- though even in the best case it will take many years for the country just to recover what it has lost under the last period of Mugabe's rule. If that does not change, there is no reason to think that holding aloft the magic amulet called "accountability" will accomplish anything. The force of this concept extends only as far as the power of the states that support it.

Mugabe took the farms from white farmers because there was a massive black electorate which was a threat to his power. Taking the farms off whites was just a bonus to appease the rest of Africa. To get an idea of how many blacks were displaced, the commercial farming sector employed over 400,000 workers (Zimbabwe's largest employer). If you add on their families, well over a million people were violently displaced. The media has missed this one most important issue and Mugabe is probably grateful for the media's incompetent. Many of these people fled to the towns. Mugabe then had another go at them in Marumbatsvina where he again destroyed their homes, their livehoods, their worldly possessions and any prospects for the future. The United Nations estimate that well over 700,000 people were left homeless. These people have now disappered of the face of the earth. Their treatment by the police was savage in nature. They deliberately seperated families by taking a wife by truck to one area of the country and the husband to another area 100's of miles away from the wife.
The SADC initiative to nominate South Africa's Thabo Mbeki is about as clueless as George Bush nominating this same man as his points man in Africa. Thabo Mbeki is a great supporter of Robert Mugabe and this can be proven by his government's blatant encouragement and support for Mugabe on all global forums and determining "free and fair" elections in Zimbabwe when they were blatantly rigged. Quiet diplomacy has worked very well for South Africa because it has kept Morgan Tsvangirai from power. Tsvangirai is a unionist. The prespect of him gaining power in Zimbabwe is Mbeki's worst nightmare. The ANC came to power in South Africa simply because of its tripartite member COSATU who were the real movers and shakers during apartheid. Mbeki fears that if a unionist like Tsvangirai gets power, COSATU may follow suite.

It is well understodd by most Zimbabweans that Mbeki is not an honest broker and will hatch all sorts of games to keep zanupf in power. Many expect him to do a deal with one MDC faction (none Tsvangirai) to form a government of national unity to appease the west. Tsvangirai, who holds overwhelming grass roots support, could be left in the cold.

Mugabe's fears are being played out in his purge of Tsvangirai's MDC opposition structures. The intention are clear. Destroy the middle management structures of Tsvangirai's party by the end of June 2007. His target is on course as more than 600 people have been brutalised and hospitalised. Many have simply disappeared, gone into hiding or eliminated by Mugabe's stormtroopers.

The real inflation rate is now estimated by various economists to be between 6000 - 8000 percent. The official massaged rate is 3400%.

The appointment of Zimbabwe to chair the United Nations committee i=on UNsustainable UNdevelopment has been achieved out of Africa's hate for the west. It's sort-of cut off one's nose to spite one's face mentality as Zimbabwe leads the world in destroying itself.

Here are a few areas:

- Mugabe has chased away a huge bank of intellectual capital. Many of these people have gone to his enemies' countries and, of course, taken advantage of South Africa's affirmative action.
- Over 35% of the population have fled the country. An estimated 4 million has fled to South Africa.
- 65% of Zimbabwe's wildlife has been slughtered
- 95% of Zimbabwe's Stud beef cattle have been slaughtered
- 95% of Zimbabwe's dairy herds have been slaughtered
- 70% reduction in staple food production
- wholesale destruction and looting of agricultural infrastructure,decimation of agriculural service support industries, massive deforestation exposing the country to uncontrolled erosion, widespread cutting of native forests and destruction of sensitive eco-systems
- lowest human lifespan in the world (34 years for women)
- over 80% unemployment
- highest inflation rate in the world (Some experts say the real year on year figure is 6000-8000%)
- no need to mention the massive level of human rights abuses because nobody cares anyway.

White people are strange. They support us when we grant immunity to Apartheid and Rhodesian racists who murdered thousands of our people. They give us nobel peace medals. BUT dont want to see us extending the same act to black leaders. Disgusting hypocrisy.

That aside, Mugabe is only hated in the white west, the rest of the world looks on with amused satisfaction. The hatred is directly linked to our long overdue repossession of our colonised lands. The hatred against Mugabe, championed by Britain, has nothing to do with democracy, human rights or any such imperialist hogwash. Recently Nigeria hosted the most violent, non-free, and unfair elections seen on the african continent, and Tony Blair was the first prime-minister to say the UK government will work with the current regime--simply because the person in power protects Anglo-American interests. Its the same everywhere, saudi arabia etc. It has everything to do with imperialist greed. Zimbabwe is under fire because it threatened british interests by repossessing land stolen by british nationals as late as the 1970s. Its normal for the west to be that hypocritical, after all everyone protects his interests, but the joy is in that the majority of people have woken up. And we see the white man for what he really is! Our determination to undo the neocolonial york is equally inspired, and god willing, we will prevail.

If any white person thought southern africa was going to be another australia, newzealand, america, where anglo-greed has successfully replaced the native, then that dream is dying a more rapid death than anyone could have imagined.

I like Mugabe, so too do more than half our population (though the mdc always come up with silly excuses). A look at some recent elections in zimbabwe will show that by and large, mugabe is popular among his people, and thats what matters.

The land is ours, and we have taken it (Mugabe, 2003)

I'm too angry to comment.

We need to do something about that nasty piece of work!

Rev Mufaro Stig Hove.

I'm too angry to comment.

We need to do something about that nasty piece of work!

Rev Mufaro Stig Hove.

'Suzanne worked in Johannesburg, South Africa on the implementation of South Africa’s National Peace Accord, a multi-party agreement aimed at curbing political violence during that country’s transition to democracy.'
For someone who worked her ass out to pardon apartheid racist murderers in South Africa, your motivation to have our leader hanged is doubly strange.Now that Mugabe has done the right thing, taken back our land from the invader, and restored justice, your cage is rattled? Where were you during Gukurahundi? Indeed blood is thicker than water. Leave us alone! America and Britain are the sources our problems.

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Women are not, are fairly portrayed in the media

Agree with a flat tax system

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