June 24, 2003
Freeing a Nation From a Tyrant's Grip
By COLIN L. POWELL
A brave man recently met with me and described how life in his country
has become unbearable. "There is too much fear in the country,
fear of the unknown and fear of the known consequences if we act
or speak out," explained Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic archbishop
of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Yet Archbishop Ncube speaks out fearlessly
about the terrible human rights conditions in Zimbabwe, and is threatened
day with detention or worse.
For hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, the worst has already
come. Millions of people are desperately hungry because the country's
once-thriving agricultural sector collapsed last year after President
Robert Mugabe confiscated commercial farms, supposedly for the benefit
of poor blacks. But his cynical "land reform" program
has chiefly benefited idle party hacks and stalwarts, not landless
peasants. As a result, much of
Zimbabwe's most productive land is now occupied by loyalists of
the ruling ZANU-PF party, military officers, or their wives and
Worse still, the entire Zimbabwean economy is near collapse. Reckless
governmental mismanagement and unchecked corruption have produced
annual inflation rates near 300 percent, unemployment of more than
70 percent and widespread shortages of food, fuel and other basic
necessities. Is it any wonder that Zimbabweans are demanding political
change, or that President Mugabe must rely on stepped-up violence
and vote-rigging to
remain in office?
On June 6, the police again arrested Mr. Mugabe's most prominent
opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai. They paraded him in a courtroom in
shackles and leg irons before releasing him on bail on June 20.
His offense? Calling for work stoppages and demonstrations to protest
economic hardship and political repression.
Like Myanmar's courageous opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
Mr. Tsvangirai wages a nonviolent struggle against a ruthless regime.
Like the Burmese junta, President Mugabe and his Politburo colleagues
have an absolute monopoly of coercive power, but no legitimacy or
moral authority. In the long run, President Mugabe and his minions
will lose, dragging their soiled record behind them into obscurity.
But how long will it
take? How many good Zimbabweans will have to lose their jobs, their
homes, or even their lives before President Mugabe's violent misrule
runs its course?
The United States — and the European Union — has imposed
a visa ban on Zimbabwe's leaders and frozen their overseas assets.
We have ended all official assistance to the government of Zimbabwe.
We have urged other governments to do the same. We will persist
in speaking out strongly in defense of human rights and the rule
of law. And we will continue to assist directly, in many different
ways, the brave men and women of Zimbabwe who are resisting tyranny.
But our efforts are unlikely to succeed quickly enough without greater
engagement by Zimbabwe's neighbors. South Africa and other African
countries are increasingly concerned and active on Zimbabwe, but
they can and should play a stronger and more sustained role that
fully reflects the urgency of Zimbabwe's crisis. If leaders on
the continent do not do more to convince President Mugabe to respect
the rule of law and enter into a dialogue with the political opposition,
he and his cronies will drag Zimbabwe down until there is nothing
left to ruin — and Zimbabwe's implosion will continue to threaten
the stability and prosperity of the region.
There is a way out of the crisis. ZANU-PF and the opposition party
can together legislate the constitutional changes to allow for a
transition. With the president gone, with a transitional government
in place and with a date fixed for new elections, Zimbabweans of
all descriptions would, I believe, come together to begin the process
of rebuilding their country. If this happened, the United States
would be quick to pledge generous
assistance to the restoration of Zimbabwe's political and economic
institutions even before the election. Other donors, I am sure,
would be close behind.
Reading this, Robert Mugabe and his cohorts may cry, "Blackmail."
We should ignore them. Their time has come and gone. As Archbishop
Ncube has said, "Things in our country can hardly get worse."
With the perseverance of brave Zimbabweans, strengthened commitment
from their neighbors, and the strong support of the international
community, we can rescue the people of Zimbabwe. This is a worthy
and urgent goal for us all.
Colin L. Powell is secretary of state.
Source : The New York Times