March 7, 2005


As vote nears, hope of change in Zimbabwe: Mugabe seen to provide opening for opposition (John Donnelly, March 7, 2005, Boston Globe)

Five years after government-backed toughs crushed political opposition to President Robert Mugabe and armed gangs started seizing white-owned farms, many Zimbabweans today say they are ready to push for genuine democracy in national elections this month.

The possible sea change in this southern African nation of 12 million people arrives at a moment when Mugabe has apparently ordered his youth militia and soldiers to largely stay on the sidelines during the campaigns for parliament -- a gamble, say diplomats and analysts, that the elections will help him regain legitimacy around the world.

But the slight opening in political freedom -- opposition candidates are holding rallies and some events are drawing thousands of people -- has caused many people to become cautiously optimistic of a strong showing by the opposition, raising hopes that the election will mark the beginning of the end of Mugabe's quarter-century reign. Mugabe, 81, the only leader Zimbabwe has ever had, is one of Africa's last remaining ''Big Man" leaders, a largely corrupt group keen on holding onto power above all else.

''Mugabe craves legitimacy," said a Western diplomat in the capital, Harare, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ''So he's doing what he can to clean up his image, but did he [err on] his bet by giving space to the opposition, which will give them a better showing?"

As Gorbachev most famously showed, Big Men seldom comprehend how much they are despised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 7, 2005 8:30 AM

He has already pretty much picked the place clean so I would imagine he's all packed up for Gstaad and doesn't care whether he wins or loses next time out.

Posted by: Bart at March 7, 2005 11:26 AM

Mugabe's head in Mbeki's bed.

Posted by: ratbert at March 7, 2005 11:12 PM