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President Robert Mugabe has been a disaster for the people of Zimbabwe in every conceivable way. The country has been bankrupted and its agricultural system dismantled. Its international influence is nearly non-existent, and its domestic institutions perverted by corruption and politicization. Life expectancy and other key health indicators are abysmal. Much like other authoritarians, Mugabe and his party have treated Zimbabwe as their personal property. Freedom House continues to classify Zimbabwe as “not free,” ranking near the bottom in both its Civil Liberties and Political Rights categories.
Mugabe first came to power in 1980 and has ruled without pause for the last 33 years. On March 16, 2013, the voters of Zimbabwe approved changes to their constitution in a national referendum. One of the centerpieces of those changes added a two term (ten-year) limit to any president. Of course, Mugabe is exempt, since the changes are not retroactive but only apply to the next elected President. The result is that Mugabe, assuming he stays alive, can rule until he is 99, a full 43 years.
The idea that the people of Zimbabwe may have to suffer under Mugabe’s misrule for another ten years is tragic. Even more tragic is that Mugabe’s government continues to harass and detain his political opponents. On the day after the referendum, four aides to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, were all arrested and charged with serious crimes. (See reports on their arrest and release.) The lack of respect for human rights is nothing new, of course. Civil society activist Jestina Mukoko describes how the Mugabe government abused her rights in her Freedom Collection interview.
For Zimbabwe to turn the corner, it must have a president who is committed to protecting the rights of Zimbabweans and establishing the rule of law. The elections intended to be held later this year are an opportunity for a new beginning, but only if Mugabe and his party allow the citizens their right to have a free and fair election. As long as they use the powers of the state to harass, arrest, jail and otherwise oppress their political opponents, there can be no justice in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe’s legacy, like that of other long-serving tyrants, is one of pain, sorrow, and destruction. The people of Zimbabwe should be given a chance to begin the hard process of rebuilding the country he has destroyed.
Kent Patton is the Freedom Collection Blog Editor.
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