Friday, January 17, 2003
Robert Mugabe's 23 years of authoritarian rule has brought the southern African nation of Zimbabwe to its political and economic knees, which is why the mere mention of the president's resignation has taken the impoverished country by storm.
But even if the dictator does step down, the crisis for which Mugabe is singularly responsible won't be resolved until he is held to account for the thousands of Zimbabweans who have died as a result of his iron-fisted rule and the theft of the nation's assets, including millions of dollars in foreign aid.
Simply allowing Mugabe to resign and then to take refuge in some far-away paradise to live out the rest of his life in luxury would be tantamount to rewarding him for his crimes.
It would also send a dangerous message to his successor: raping and pillaging a country is acceptable, so long as you become such a monster that the citizens just want you to go away.
Mugabe, 78, has been in power since 1980, when Zimbabwe attained independence from Britain. It was a country of great wealth and highly productive commercial farms, mostly owned by whites. For a while, the president seemed to realize that in order for his country to succeed, he could not rule in the same dictatorial fashion as other African leaders who have led their nations down the path of destruction.
But it didn't take long for power to go to his head and for him to conclude that the only way he could stay in office was by the use of force against his opponents.
During the past three years, his government has seized most of Zimbabwe's thousands of white-owned commercial farms, calling it a justified struggle by landless blacks to correct the inequities of British rule.
However, the Africans who now manage the farms, most of them cronies of the president, lack the skills or knowledge of such large-scale farming, and so commercial agricultural industry has collapsed.
The country is in the grips of food shortages, rampant disease and an education system that is failing.
Although Mugabe has denied that he intends to step down, there are strong indications he realizes that his time is up. Thus, it should come as no surprise if he strikes a deal that permits him and his family to leave Zimbabwe -- that seems to be the modus operendi of other African dictators who find themselves losing power -- and to keep the fortune he has illegally accumulated.
If that's what it takes to get him out of the presidential palace, so be it. But the United Nations has a responsibility to the people of Zimbabwe and to the international community to not only prosecute him for crimes against humanity, but to recover the money he has stolen over the years, money that is needed to rebuild the nation.
Too many dictators have been given a pass. Mugabe must be brought to justice.