Mugabe is in this position primarily because he has turned Zimbabwe into one of the world’s poorest countries–the result of his worsening political repression, frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary, confiscation of property, and evisceration of the once‐thriving private sector. With health, education, and incomes in freefall, Zimbabweans are ready for change. An independent poll conducted by the University of Zimbabwe on March 14 found that the Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party, enjoyed the support of 28 percent of respondents, while Mugabe trailed with only 20 percent.
Yet Zimbabweans are unlikely to get change by peaceful means. The elections are hopelessly rigged in Mugabe’s favor. Zimbabwe has no free media and the state‐controlled media has denied coverage to the opposition. Opposition candidates have been harassed, beaten and, sometimes, killed. The police, who under the terms of an agreement brokered by South Africa earlier this year were to keep out of the polling stations, have been allowed back in–ostensibly “to help the disabled.” (Of course, Mugabe has a long history of using violence to deal with his political opponents. In the 1980s, he ordered the massacre of 20,000 Matabeles who supported his rival, Joshua Nkomo. Similarly, many commercial farmers lost their lives during Mugabe’s economically ruinous land‐grab earlier in this decade.)
Mugabe is trying so hard to hang onto power because he knows that losing it would leave him exposed to prosecution. A new government in Zimbabwe would undoubtedly find itself under pressure to have him tried. A flight to a friendly country, like Idi Amin’s to Saudi Arabia, is no longer without risks. In 2003, for example, Charles Taylor gave up the Liberian presidency in exchange for a safe haven in Nigeria. Today, he is fighting for his freedom at The Hague. Not surprisingly, Mugabe said this week that the MDC will not come to power so long as he is alive.