There’s a reason Americans should pay attention to what’s going on in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe. Politically and economically unstable countries are Petrie dishes for terrorism.
And as the West has learned, the increase in terrorist activities is a global phenomenon. Foreign and homegrown terrorists are spreading death and destruction with abandon.
That’s why the U.S. should define a role it can play in the political transition in Zimbabwe.
For the first time in 28 years, the country that was once the “bread basket” of Africa, but today is an economic basket case, has a new leader.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the 75-year-old former spy chief who was fired as vice president about three weeks ago, was sworn in Friday.
Mnangagwa immediately pledged that “free and fair elections” would take place next year as scheduled and that the “people’s voice would be heard,” the Guardian newspaper of Britain reported.
Unfortunately, the change comes three decades too late.
Ousted President Robert Mugabe, who epitomized the evil dictatorship that is so common in the Third World, held on to the reins of power by ordering the murder of his political opponents and other critics. He launched a campaign against the white minority, confiscated property, including farms, that he passed on to his cronies, and encouraged violence.
His ouster as a result of a bloodless military coup, impeachment by Parliament and his subsequent resignation, came at the end of a reign of terror.
Zimbabwe today is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and is, therefore, vulnerable to the global terror organizations that prey on the pain and suffering of the populace.
Mnangagwa is well aware that Mugabe continues to enjoy the support of a goodly number of Zimbabweans, especially those who have benefited from his corrupt governance. He, therefore, sounded a conciliatory note as he addressed the crowd of 70,000 or so at his swearing-in.
As reported by the Guardian, the new president said “Mugabe’s immense contribution” to Zimbabwe should be recognized.
“He fought for our freedom … let us all accept and acknowledge his immense contribution to our nation.”
The newspaper noted that the applause from the crowd was muted.
But people sang and danced in the stands and raised banners reading “Dawn of a new era” and “No to retribution.”
DARK CLOUD OVER MNANGAGWA
But a dark cloud hangs over the new president that could influence how he governs.
In 1983, the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade killed an estimated 20,000 people in a crackdown on Mugabe’s opponents. Mnangagwa has denied any part in the atrocities, but that incident was the beginning of Mugabe’s bloody rein. The new president was very much a part of the government that destroyed the country’s economy and made a mockery of democracy.
It won’t be long before the world finds out if this is, indeed, a new beginning, or just a continuation of the dark days of Mugabe’s rule.
When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, the economy was one of the strongest in Africa. Agriculture was a mainstay of the economy, with exports of tobacco and coffee contributing to the nation’s wealth.
It also had reserves of metallurgical-grade chromite and commercial mineral deposits of coal, asbestos, copper, nickel, gold, platinum and iron ore.
However, with Mugabe’s policy of replacing experienced farmers and mine operators with inexperienced cronies, the foundation of the nation’s wealth collapsed.
The former president raided the country’s treasury for personal gain. He made members of his family and his inner circle very rich, while the citizens of Zimbabwe starved to death. Children and the elderly were most at risk.
Because of hyperinflation, a high unemployment rate and a major reduction in foreign aid, the country could not afford to import food or medicine.
While the ruling class lived in luxury, the people suffered.
Now, there’s hope, but only if the new president puts the interest of the country before his self-interest.
Zimbabwe is going to need a major infusion of foreign aid, which is where the United States and other Western nations can make a difference.
The aid should come with strings attached. Full-fledged democracy in return for financial support, food and medicine is a deal President Mnangagwa should be willing to make.