- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2002

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is in denial. The aging strongman promised to hold free and fair elections at last week's 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Malawi. This, just after the Zimbabwean parliament, dominated by his ZANU-PF party, passed laws to criminalize criticism of the president, ban independent election monitors, and deny millions of Zimbabweans living abroad the ability to vote. Indeed, there is much to criticize about Mr. Mugabe's reign. His "land reform" policy backs militant blacks in the forced takeover of land from white and more recently, black farmers, preventing the production of tobacco, which supplies Zimbabwe with 30 percent of its export earnings. Yet Mr. Mugabe still doesn't realize he is on his way out. In February 2000, voters rejected a new constitution which would grant him 12 more years in power and the right to confiscate farmers' lands without compensation. He ignored the will of the people then, just as he does now. At the SADC meeting, Malawian President Bakili Muluzi's request that Mr. Mugabe resolve his country's political and economic crises did not phase the Zimbabwean dictator, who has been in power for 22 years. A smug Mr. Mugabe emerged from the meeting announcing that "All is well that ends well." There would be no change in his land-robbery policy, he insisted.
At home, Mr. Mugabe is militantly averse to any opposition. Last weekend government-backed militants beat and critically injured opposition activists. Ruling party members also burned down the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change opposition party. Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, revealed Wednesday that the United States and the United Kingdom were tracking the assets of Mr. Mugabe and his associates. Zimbabwean officials were transferring the money, thought to be millions of dollars, to safe havens in Europe and the United States ahead of the March elections, Mr. Royce said.
Washington and the European Union are considering freezing the accounts of Mr. Mugabe, his family and other government officials and limiting their travel abroad. This is well-advised, and would send a distinct message to Mr. Mugabe that his corrupt practices are unacceptable. In London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the British Commonwealth if there is no reform by March, an action that would likely leave the country in irreparable disrepair. A man who must steal land, money and power to remain on the throne is very weak indeed. The international community, and especially the SADC, must use the next two months to pressure Mr. Mugabe to stop blocking democratic reform. Unless he finds his way back to reality before then, Mr. Mugabe will be whistling past his own political graveyard.

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