- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe has the world’s lowest life expectancy, six-digit inflation and political horrors to rival China’s or North Korea’s. And yet Robert Mugabe, the 84-year-old strongman who has presided over it all for 28 years, will almost surely “win” re-election to another five-year term this weekend in a rigged contest.

This is the 10th year of Zimbabwe’s present recession. Close to 15 percent of the country is HIV-positive. The male life expectancy is 37 years according to the World Health Organization. For women, it is 34 years. Annual inflation tops 100,500 percent.

In 1980, upon Zimbabwe’s independence from the United Kingdom, the country was relatively prosperous. Mr. Mugabe was hailed as a hero and nationalist. He quickly built a brutal, personalistic dictatorship. The government also began expropriating farmland to fuel his redistributionist agenda. As a result, the Zimbabwean dollar has fallen from 20 cents under parity with the U.S. dollar in 1980 to a ratio of approximately 50 million-to-one today.

For a sense of how deliberate and extensive the abuse of all Zimbabweans has been, consider 2005’s “Operation Murambatsvina,” or “Take out the trash.” This government “anti-squatter” initiative deprived an estimated 700,000 Zimbabweans of their homes and businesses. It was aimed at poor people who lived in “illegal” towns and cities. The targeted regions were mostly associated with the opposition. Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are refugees even now thanks to their government’s capital inhumanity. It is hard for most Westerners to fathom.

Heroic opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been brained and nearly killed, jailed and tortured by Mugabe henchmen. The former labor leader Mr. Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni, Mr. Mugabe’s former minister of finance, are the opposition candidates. Evidence of Mugabe’s vote-buying, intimidation and election irregularities are already surfacing.

Sometimes democracy’s virtues are best illustrated with reference to the sad, tragic, corrupt and repressive opposite, which Mr. Mugabe’s rule exemplifies.

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