Saying that it was not worth the continuing murder of his supporters — not to mention the likely possibility of his own assassination — Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from Friday’s presidential race.
Thanks to a brutal campaign of intimidation by that once prosperous nation’s autocratic ruler, Robert Mugabe, the election would have been a sham in any case.
Mugabe, 84, had led Zimbabwe since its independence in 1984. Initially hailed as a hero of African liberation, his rule grew increasingly brutal and corrupt. The economy has collapsed and about one-fourth of its 12 million people have fled.
Despite his tight control of the media and the security forces, he lost an election to Tsvangirai in March but had enough votes, if you credit the count, to force Friday’s runoff.
To avoid a repeat, his agents murdered more than 80 members of the opposition party and beat and burned out of their homes tens of thousands more.
Zimbabwe wouldn’t be in this sorry fix if not for the passivity of its neighbors, especially South African President Thabo Mbeki whose indulgence of Mugabe’s cruelty has been nothing short of criminal.
The international community will try the usual remedies (U.N. condemnation, sanctions), but it is up to Zimbabwe’s neighbors and the other nations of the Southern African Development Community to impress upon Mugabe that it is time for him to go and if he doesn’t, to make it clear that they won’t impede the efforts of those who would force him to go.