The Close of the Mugabe Era
April 29, 2008
After 28 years of increasingly violent misrule, the reign of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has entered its endgame. Frustrated by his failure to secure victory in the March 29 parliamentary and presidential elections, Mugabe has turned loose his security forces, ruling party militias, “war veterans,” and youth gangs to terrorize populations suspected of sympathizing with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Reports of violent assaults and killings are proliferating. As in Burma in September 2007, resort to repression has raised the specter of both a spasm of state violence against civilians and the consolidation of security chiefs’ power, organized under the Joint Operations Command. It has undermined already slim hopes that a runoff presidential election could be a free and fair contest.
The "crackdown" option has been effective in the past for Mugabe, but this time he will not easily reverse gathering momentum for his removal. Fractures have appeared in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and among Zimbabwe’s security chiefs. Mugabe’s conspicuous failure to successfully rig the election, something he has done routinely this decade, has damaged his position among ZANU-PF hardline stalwarts and exposed his vulnerability to a citizenry that has crossed a threshold of anger and economic desperation. A determined political opposition and brave civil society refuse to give up, despite escalating threats and unrelenting official violence. The parliamentary vote recount reaffirmed that the MDC won control of that body.