February 7, 2008
By Thomas M. Woods, Roger Bate, Marian L. Tupy and Tom Woods
Zimbabwe's economic meltdown and political repression just keep
accelerating. Four million Zimbabweans have now fled the country,
and most of the 8 million remaining there face extreme
Since 1994, average life expectancy in the beleaguered nation has
plummeted from 57 years to 34 years for women, and from 54 years to
37 years for men - the shortest lifespans in the world.
And small wonder. Some 3,500 people die every week from the
combined effects of HIV/AIDS, poverty and malnutrition.
State-sponsored killings and torture of the opposition activists
are common as well. More people die in Zimbabwe every week than in
Afghanistan, Darfur or Iraq.
Clearly, African leaders - most notably South African President
Thabo Mbeki - have failed the people of Zimbabwe. Yet, as the
crisis worsens, there is hope that a new regional leadership will
address Africa's forgotten tragedy more forcefully. The United
States, too, must reconsider its past policy toward Zimbabwe and
seize this new opportunity.
None can fault past U.S. policy, which has featured tough rhetoric
and sustained effort to coax the world to act by embracing targeted
sanctions. But it's time to change course.
Change in Zimbabwe has always required a healthy dose of reality.
There has never been a time like the present to call for a
tightening of the noose on the Mugabe regime. The time is now ripe
for one simple reason: President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is
heading for the door.
For years, the U.S. State Department has found it way too
convenient to "support without reservation" Mr. Mbeki's leadership
in resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe. With Mr. Mbeki's departure,
State should now admit his "quiet diplomacy" was an unmitigated
Mr. Mbeki's inaction and cavalier attitude to the suffering of the
Zimbabwean people has done grave harm to the idea of an "African
Renaissance." One can't help but wonder if he ever actually
intended to do anything to end the cruelties of Robert
Mugabe's reign in Harare.
There is good reason to hope Mr. Mbeki's replacement, the newly
elected African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, understands
the calamity that is unfolding to his north and is willing to take
the steps necessary to wake the region from the nightmare that
Zimbabwe has become.
For one thing, Mr. Zuma's election would have been impossible
without the support of South Africa's powerful trade unions that
have close and friendly ties with Zimbabwe's opposition Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC).
Meanwhile, Washington can do more too. Admittedly, direct U.S.
national interest in Zimbabwe is limited, but we can do more to
relieve one of the world's greatest humanitarian disasters than
simply voice hollow rhetoric.
The time has come to break away from the Mbeki-led talks between
the ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic
Front) and the opposition MDC. These talks will never produce a way
out of Zimbabwe's political crisis. The talks already are melting
down as the MDC sees clearly that Mr. Mugabe does not intend to
follow through on reforms that would guarantee free and fair
presidential and parliamentary elections in March.
The United States should engage Mr. Zuma and, importantly, the new
National Executive Council of the ANC, in discussions on how to
create a six-month road map that can lead Zimbabwe through
constitutional reforms and toward competitive and internationally
And now that the long-suffering MDC looks set to finally reunite,
the White House should invite their presidential candidate, Morgan
Tsvangirai, for an Oval Office meeting with President Bush in the
next month or so. Mr. Bush is said to be keen to do more about the
Zimbabwean crisis. An Oval Office meeting would give Mr. Tsvangirai
much-needed international recognition and greater clout at
Washington also needs to prepare for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. The
State Department would do well to intensify its contacts with the
But long-term planning offers little solace to the suffering
people of Zimbabwe. Left alone, the 83-year old dictator will
likely outlast many of the hungry and poverty-ridden Zimbabweans he
The U.S. can play a more constructive role on Zimbabwe and help it
find a way to freedom by publicly and expeditiously parting with
the moribund "quiet diplomacy" of Thabo Mbeki.
Tom Woods is a senior associate fellow at the Heritage
Foundation and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for
Africa. Roger Bate is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute. Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato
Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.
First appeared in the Washington Times
Zimbabwe's economic meltdown and political repression just keep accelerating. Four million Zimbabweans have now fled the country, and most of the 8 million remaining there face extreme hardship.
Thomas M. Woods
Senior Associate Fellow in African Affairs
Read More >>
Marian L. Tupy
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