March 31, 2005

Zimbabwe Votes, Sort Of

Today was the day for the people of Zimbabwe to go to the polls, and at least some of them were peacefully permitted to do so. But from most accounts of the situation before election day, there seems to be little hope of an outcome that would rid the country of its scourge, the dictator Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabweans voted on Thursday in peaceful polls that President Robert Mugabe proclaimed were as fair as any in the world, but which the United States said were conducted in "an atmosphere of intimidation."

Officials and an independent monitoring body said tens of thousands of voters were turned away from polling stations across the country for a variety of reasons.

Foreign critics led by the United States and the European Union dismissed Thursday's parliamentary vote as a sham, echoing opposition charges that Mugabe, 81, has used repressive laws, intimidation and even vital food supplies to engineer victory. "Generally we'd say that the campaigning took place in an atmosphere of intimidation," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington.

This Times Online piece gives some background on Zimbabwe's best known dissident and freedom fighter, the priest Archbishop Pius Ncube:

From the terrible period in the 1980s, when Mr Mugabe dispatched his notorious Fifth Brigade to suppress dissidents in Matabeleland — a war that is said to have led to the deaths of anything from 2,000 to 8,000 people — to the seizing of white farms by “war veterans”, and the deliberate manipulation of elections, Archbishop Ncube has never flinched from the truth. He has exposed the facts about the destruction of the country’s economy, and the poisoning corruption of Mr Mugabe’s regime.

He has done so in language that is less than blunt. “Our Government engages in lies, propaganda, the twisting of facts, half-truth, downright untruths and gross misinformation, because they are fascists,” he said last year. (how much "less than blunt" is that?? - DW)

The Washington Post displays little hope for a good outcome:

It's easy to see why Zimbabwe's Archbishop Pius Ncube calls for a "people power" uprising in his country. The parliamentary elections on Thursday have been rigged so comprehensively that it's unlikely President Robert Mugabe will be unseated no matter how much his 25 years in office have harmed his countrymen. At least 1 million of the 5.7 million names on Zimbabwe's voter rolls are thought to be fictitious; the ballot boxes are made of transparent plastic; the polling stations will be run by pro-Mugabe thugs from his security forces. The campaign, though less violent than some previously, has featured brutal intimidation. People have been told that districts that support the opposition will be denied food distributions, a potent threat in a country where one-third of the population is on the verge of hunger.

Dr. Roger Bate, the Director of Africa Fighting Malaria, calls Mugabe "Africa's Pol Pot" in a depressing TCS essay that explains how Mugabe's misrule has been the cause of so much death by disease, malnutrition and violence. Please read it all:

Twenty years ago, life expectancy in Zimbabwe was 58; in 2002 it was 33 and dropping. The official HIV/AIDS rate in 2002 was about 25 percent (the highest in the world for any sizeable country), but the real rate is probably much higher. With no hope for treatment, and little for long term survival, behavior rapidly worsens. According to one survey, over a third of Zimbabwean men who are aware they are HIV positive do not tell their partners they have the disease. And astonishingly 79% of women surveyed said they would not tell their partner if they had HIV. As one put it to me - "life is too short here to worry about HIV."

Dr. Mark Dixon from Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo says that 70 percent of the patients he treats for any reason carry the HIV virus. A possible explanation for this extraordinary number is the high incidence of unprotected sex (usually rape) in Mugabe's youth camps, where sexual power is used to suppress dissent against the ruling party.

The London Independent has some reaction from voters leaving the polls.

UPDATE 4/1: Another piece on the election by Roger Bate, this time at NRO

Posted by dan at March 31, 2005 8:59 PM