Everyone's Favorite Evil Dictator

The charade of democracy in Zimbabwe does nothing for progress

According to election results, Zimbabweans recently turned out in record numbers to vote in favor of economic collapse, starvation, corruption, government thuggery, and a spiraling AIDS epidemic.


In reality, the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) simply stole another election. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 25 years, and—despite the fact that the former breadbasket of Africa has become the famine-ravaged basketcase of Africa—his iron-fisted grip on power seems unassailable.

It is no mystery why the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) parliamentary seats fell from 57 to 41; the election deck, as always, was stacked wildly in Mugabe’s favor. Mugabe directly appoints 30 members of the parliament, which means that the MDC needs to win 76 seats to have a simple majority while the ZANU-PF only needs 71 seats to have a two-thirds majority. The ZANU-PF supports this structural advantage through gang violence, voter intimidation, and shameless abuse of food aid. Simply put, voting for the MDC is a death sentence in rural areas, where famine—thanks to Mugabe’s land-grabbing policies—enables the ZANU-PF party to condemn MDC voters to starvation. The MDC was further emasculated through a hopelessly outdated voter roll which enabled two million ghosts to vote for ZANU-PF, in addition to those non-existent voters who cast their ballots through some good old fashioned ballot box stuffing.

In the face of Mugabe’s half-crazed will to power and institutional invulnerability, the MDC should abandon its attempts to achieve change within Zimbabwe’s democratic system. Mugabe has stolen three successive elections, and hoping for a sudden change of heart from Mugabe is self-destructive; participating in unwinnable elections weakens the MDC and disillusions its supporters. Why risk life and limb for a hopeless cause? The MDC’s hopeless campaigns only legitimize the ZANU-PF’s dictatorship; an impotent opposition provides Zimbabwe with the façade of a democracy.

The struggle against Mugabe demands a much more drastic action from the MDC. In the face of Mugabe’s institutional invulnerability, if the MDC is not willing to go to war, the only effective alternative is to completely refuse to engage and cooperate with Mugabe. The MDC should withdraw from Zimbabwe’s sham democracy. Yes, this would cost the MDC its voice in the Parliament, but currently that voice is effectively silenced regardless. If the MDC, with its widespread popular support and significant (albeit useless) representation in the Parliament, had refused to participate in the past elections, Zimbabwe would have faced a political crisis. Not even the ever-sympathetic South African President Thabo Mbeki could have deemed such and election fair. Instead, the MDC engaged in a futile campaign that only lent credibility to the farce elections in Zimbabwe. The MDC must learn from this mistake and refrain from inadvertently further validating Mugabe’s dictatorship.

Piotr C. Brzezinksi, a Crimson editorial comper, is an economics concentrator in Currier House.