The MDC was born during the 1999 campaign, when Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader since 1980, lost a constitutional referendum that would allow him to grab more power. Since then, Mr. Mugabe has silenced the press, abolished freedom of assembly, banned most foreign reporters and unleashed waves of violence against the opposition in which thousands of people perished. Over the last decade, Zimbabwe has held four parliamentary and two presidential elections. Each of those polls was rigged in favor of the incumbent, earning Harare much opprobrium in the West.
In contrast, most African election observers ignored Mr. Mugabe’s vote‐rigging. Abandoned by fellow Africans, Mr. Tsvangirai turned for support and encouragement to the West. That turned out to be a mistake. As Simon Badza, political analyst with the University of Zimbabwe, recently told the BBC, Mr. Tsvangirai “had very limited options. He was increasingly perceived as having no respect for African solutions to African problems. He couldn’t continue defying SADC [the Southern African Development Community], a regional institution.”
African solutions should of course be welcome when they genuinely allow Africans to resolve their own problems. Regional trade liberalization, for example, has the potential to increase the welfare of the African people. In its most malign form, however, the concept of “African solutions” can denote the worst kind of relativism, which holds that standards of just conduct do not apply on the African continent.
When Mr. Mugabe lost the 2008 parliamentary poll and refused to relinquish power, most African leaders ignored the election result and called for power‐sharing instead. In a deal first struck last September, Mr. Mugabe was to stay on as president and Mr. Tsvangirai was to become the new prime minister. The cabinet seats were to be shared on an equitable basis. When even those generous terms were not enough for Mr. Mugabe, the SADC forced the MDC to share the control of the Home Affairs ministry that supervises Zimbabwe’s police force and electoral machinery with Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. In the end, the MDC relented.
For a decade, Zimbabwe has burned. It boasts the second‐highest hyperinflation in recorded history and the world’s shortest life‐spans. Public services are nonexistent. Cholera and hunger haunt the land. Throughout the past 10 years, the SADC ignored its own treaties and commitments to good government and democratic accountability. It made a mockery of the so‐called African Renaissance touted by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and the new generation of African leaders to whom Bill Clinton referred.