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JEFF JACOBY

Zimbabwe’s horrors

From the Globe archives, Aug. 12, 2007:

NO ONE is surprised when a Roman Catholic bishop condemns the violence of war. But when was the last time you heard of one pleading for a military invasion?

Zimbabwe’s leading cleric has been doing just that in recent weeks, imploring Great Britain to invade its former colony and oust Robert Mugabe, the dictator whose brutal misrule has reduced a once-flourishing country to desperation, starvation, and death.

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Given the “massive risk to life” the regime poses, says Pius Ncube, the archbishop of Bulawayo, “I think it is justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe. We should do it ourselves but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.” Millions of Zimbabweans have fled the country, and those who remain tend to be hungry, impoverished, and intimidated by Mugabe and his goons. “How can you expect people to rise up,” Ncube asks, “when even our church services are attended by state intelligence people?”

The archbishop is no saber-rattler. But given the misery and murder spawned by Mugabe and his fascist Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, it is immoral not to fight them. “If you are no longer serving your people and are choosing death for them,” says Ncube, “then certainly ... stronger nations have a right to put you down.”

Considering that “stronger nations” have been unwilling to put down Omar al-Bashir, head of the Sudanese regime that is perpetrating genocide in Darfur, the likelihood that they will muster the fortitude to drive Mugabe from power in Zimbabwe is, in a word, nil. Instead they will go on issuing empty condemnations, like the Bush administration’s recent statement that it “deplores actions taken by the Mugabe regime,” but is “ready to engage a new Zimbabwean government committed to democracy, human rights, sound economic policy, and the rule of law.”

Unfortunately, hollow pieties from the free world will not end the chaos and cruelty that have turned Zimbabwe into a hellhole. In the nation once known as the breadbasket of Africa, Mugabe’s deranged policies are starving millions. In a land many hoped would be a model of postcolonial self-government, opposition politicians are beaten and imprisoned and elections are blatantly rigged to keep ZANU-PF in power. In a country where a decade ago the currency traded at the rate of eight Zimbabwe dollars to $1, it now takes 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars to buy a single American dollar.

The wretchedness that is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was captured recently by New York Times reporter Michael Wines, who described what happened when the dictator - in the face of hyperinflation estimated at more than 10,000 percent a year - commanded merchants nationwide to cut their prices in half or face jail time and the confiscation of their businesses:

“Bread, sugar, and cornmeal, staples of every Zimbabwean’s diet, have vanished. ... Meat is virtually nonexistent ... Gasoline is nearly unobtainable. Hospital patients are dying for lack of basic medical supplies. Power blackouts and water cutoffs are endemic. Manufacturing has slowed to a crawl because few businesses can produce goods for less than their government-imposed sale prices. Raw materials are drying up because suppliers are being forced to sell to factories at a loss ... As many as 4,000 businesspeople have been arrested, fined, or jailed.”

Eighty percent of Zimbabwe’s adults are now unemployed. Life expectancy has plummeted to 36 years. The death rate for children 5 and under has soared 65 percent since 1990. While Mugabe’s kleptocratic cronies and thugs drive expensive cars, build elaborate mansions, and amass fortunes by manipulating the currency market, ordinary citizens are reduced to unspeakable degradation. Schoolteachers sell themselves for sex in order to feed their children, the Times of London reports. A man in Rushinga was convicted of killing his 10-year-old son with an ax handle for eating four mice meant for the family’s lunch. One-time accountants, bankers, headmasters, now refugees in South Africa, survive through menial labor or begging in the streets.

Yet Mugabe, with his Hitler-style moustache and armed loyalists, remains firmly in control.

“Anyone who is ready to starve his people to death for the sake of power is a murderer,” Archbishop Ncube says. “What more does he have to do?”

Countless lives could be saved, and incalculable suffering ended, if Mugabe were forced from power. A detachment of US Marines, I wrote on this page in 2002, could do the job on its lunch break. The British could do it. South Africa could do it.

But of course no one will do anything. The death toll in Zimbabwe will continue to mount; the misery will continue to spread; the horror stories will continue to multiply. Cry, the beloved country.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
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