10 April 2008

Zimbabwe Elections


Accra — "A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard."

I scratch my head as I write this while recognizing how appropriate a prognosis the statement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to the present situation in Zimbabwe. It has already happened in Kenya and it may happen in Zimbabwe.

So what else could the citizens of Zimbabwe say to Comrade Mugabe after the elections on March 29, 2008? The results of that election have been delayed for obvious reason. After losing parliament, the first time in 28 years, in fact, since independence, it is not hard to assume that Mugabe has lost the presidency.

So, it is time for Mugabe to step down. The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has petitioned the Zimbabwe's High Court for immediate release of the results. Yet, he hangs on, thinking a re-count is the best option left for Zimbabwe.

For some, this poses a strange dilemma. One aspect of it, and perhaps the most damaging, is what this impasse does to the national psyche of Zimbabwe; of which the image of Mugabe, the freedom fighter, is at the core. Generations from now, how would Zimbabwe remember its founding father, with pride or shame?

After 28 years of independence, with Mugabe at the helm, Zimbabwe has been ruined in many respects. What is left to salvage is the image of the man who once led Zimbabwe so valiantly to independence from white rule.

Ironically, it is this same man, who is bent on self-destruction because of his narcissistic tendencies. Together with his admirers, we are forced to watch as he spins precariously close to disaster. Should this happen, the spirit and history of his nation would be crushed in an irreparable way.

The unfolding scene in Zimbabwe need not end as happened so recently in Kenya. It can be reversed by one man alone - Mugabe. He has to recognize the danger into which he is pushing his nation and recant his ambition for the sake of his people.

Unfortunately, Mugabe's present stance does not help. He is insisting on a ballot recount on the basis of a ridiculous claim that it was the opposition that stole the elections. He should know that there is nothing in the current state of affairs that a ballot recount can salvage. If anything, that act is more likely to worsen the situation. The only recourse is for him to acknowledge defeat now.

I am reminded of a moment in 1958 when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev' was told that an American had won the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. The Soviets had assiduously organized the competition, hoping to claim cultural superiority over America after successfully launching Sputnik in those cold war days. With so many piano virtuosos in Russia, no one had counted the American competitor, Van Clinburn, who was only 23, as one of the greats.

As the writer Sara Fishko tells it, "Cliburn famously tore into Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto, awing the Soviet judges. But they remained unsure whether they could give the prize to an American. As the popularly recounted story goes, the judges sought Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's approval. "Is he the best?" Khrushchev asked. The judges replied yes. "

"Then give him the prize," Khrushchev said, according to Sara Fishko.

In Zimbabwe's case, the question is not who is the best. It is that time has left Mugabe behind and out of touch with the aspirations of his people and that isn't it about time he gave someone else the chance to rule?

Mugabe, warts and all, can be remembered affectionately, if he would behave like other leaders in history who recognized the truth and gave in to the verdict of the moment. Mugabe should recognize Morgan Tsvangirai now as his successor. Such a move would be his finest since his confrontation with Ian Smith.

Also, such an acceptance of defeat will help cement the opinion that Mugabe made no effort to rig the elections.

Of course, there are also those who insist that the reason why the results were even close was because Mugabe rigged the elections. Otherwise it would have been a total landslide for the opposition.

This line of thinking fails to consider the nature of elections in some parts of Africa, where, usually, the incumbent president could get as high as 99.9% of the total vote! Given this background, it would be hard to reason that all crafty Old Mugabe could manage was to produce a stalemate that leaves his status in doubt.

Mugabe has been an honest broker this election cycle. His belief, perhaps, that the people would always want him as leader, could have prevented him from rigging the elections. This belief could have been a product of fact or pride, but it was his to think so.

But, those of us who argued against him in the past did so not because we didn't share in some of his basic ideals for his country. We did so thinking that his struggle for economic empowerment and land reform was just but the process was flawed. It was an approach that had already been proven futile by Idi Amin of Uganda fame.

Our problem with Mugabe now is this narcissistic tendency of thinking that he alone could do what needed to be done for Zimbabwe. Fortunately, history has, with this election, given him a moment of pause and a chance to redeem his legacy. He could do so by the selfless act of stepping down in exchange for peace for his country.

Otherwise, he would regret Dr. Martin Luther King's words: "A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard."

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