Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies and repression are responsible for widespread poverty, sickness and violence that have gripped Zimbabwe, and while his rule appears to be coming to an end, Zimbabwe’s story provides a somber lesson for the rest of the world. For too long, world leaders and international institutions have temporized with African dictators and accepted flawed elections as sources of incumbents’ legitimacy.
In the March 2008 poll, despite what was widely seen as a flawed electoral process, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change gained a majority of the parliamentary seats in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe refused to relinquish power, however.
The African Union and the Southern African Development Community did not call for him to go. Instead, they pushed for a power‐sharing compromise between Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the MDC. Mr. Mugabe was to stay on as president and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was to become the new prime minister. The Cabinet seats were to be shared on an equitable basis.
However, even those generous terms were not enough for Mr. Mugabe, who demanded that the MDC relinquish its claim for sole control of the powerful Home Affairs Ministry, which supervises Zimbabwe’s police force and electoral machinery. Mr. Tsvangirai has rightly rejected this new demand. Over the years, the highly politicized police force has emerged as Mr. Mugabe’s favorite tool against opponents, while Mr. Mugabe’s control over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has enabled him to rig successive elections.
Unfortunately, Africa’s democratic awakening, which has seen the demise of many one‐party dictatorships and military regimes since 1990, is, in many ways, only skin deep. In many countries, elections are either rigged in favor of the incumbents or ignored if their outcomes are unfavorable to the ruling regimes.