Today, the sad news has broken: there will not be democracy, or freedom from despotism in Zimbabwe.
The call by Zimbabwe’s political opposition for people nationwide to stay away from work began to take effect on Tuesday, but it did not succeed in shutting down the capital, Harare.
Election officials, citing voting irregularities, have refused to release the outcome of the contest, between Zimbabwe’s autocratic president, Robert G. Mugabe, who has ruled for 28 years, and the MDC candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.
The High Court Monday rejected an opposition demand that it force Zimbabwe’s electoral commission to publish the results, prompting the opposition to go ahead with the strike.
The opposition, which analysts say does not have a strong track record of organizing large public protests, decided against calling on its followers to take to the streets.
Police have banned all public rallies. And in recent days, opposition leaders have said in interviews they believe Mr. Mugabe’s government is looking for reasons to crack down and declare a state of emergency that would allow him to rule by decree. They hoped a stay-away would enable them to avoid violent confrontations with the police and the army.
With the cave-in over the last week of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who somehow found that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe (clearly, Fred Kagan has found time to give Mbeki policy advice), there is now no apparent hope that Mugabe’s disastrous reign will end, despite his obvious defeat at the ballot box. The victorious opposition lacks the organization of its counterparts in Pakistan, and the crippling poverty and unemployment which has devastated Zimbabwe made the hope of a non-violent general strike a mirage. And while no cost in human blood and American treasure is too high to ensure the right to vote in Mesopotamia, the Mutupa Empire cannot be spared even high-minded American words, righteously demanding justice even if the words are as hollow as our government’s rhetoric has ever been.
But President Bush, not content with all else that he has taken from Americans, has seized that as well.
When I was growing up, the smear used against Mondale and Dukakis was always, “Is this man fit to be the leader of the free world?” That was the term that I always heard them use about Reagan. Leader of the free world. That was why Dukakis looked so damn stupid in that tank.
I don’t hear that term anymore. No one really uses it. And I wouldn’t have thought that would bother me, but it actually does.
The expression that people never imagined that, in their lifetime, they never imagined that the United States would be a nation with secret prisons and legalized torture has become so commonplace as to nearly be a cliché, although of course I feel that way. But I honestly never imagined that in my lifetime, people would no longer say that the President of the United States was no longer the leader of the free world. A little less than twenty years ago, when Tiananmen Square erupted, President George H.W. Bush enacted sanctions against China and was rightly deemed to have done too little. Today, as China does so further west from Shanghai, our President’s administration patiently explains that the Olympics are all about the running and jumping.
We don’t even get the self-righteous preening from Jesse Helms anymore. That is how low we’ve sunk. We torture and have a Stasi and go to war for the first time in a century without our oldest ally, whose aid in war predates our nation, while we mock them and rename Belgian snack foods to spite them. We have to beg the alliance which we held together through forty years of the Cold War to aid our campaign against those who attacked my city.
And so what can we possibly have left for Felix Muzambi, a grandfather who had the temerity to run for election against Mugabe’s party and was beaten for his victory?
“We’re in trouble,” said Muzambi, who won a seat on Marondera’s council, a humiliating loss for Mugabe’s party, which has controlled this town since Zimbabwe’s birth in 1980. “Everybody is scared because they know he kills.”
Not even pretty words, letting him know that whatever price he is forced to pay to attempt to join us in the “free world”, America is on his side. President Bush had to steal that from us as well.