OPINIONPeople Daily

Zimbabweans must wrest back their country from ruins

Zimbabwe is a country in the throes of a mortal crisis. It is about to reach a tipping point. Over the past six months, Zimbabweans have been pouring out onto the streets to protest against the government of President Robert Mugabe, which has all but destroyed a once proud nation. The country is today in a mess, an economic basket case.

An estimated seven million people are on food aid and 30 per cent of the population is said to have fled to other countries, principally South Africa, to escape the economic devastation.

Zimbabwe is saddled with a $10.8 billion (Sh1.1 trillion) debt, causing a major fiscal crisis. There is a huge cash crunch. Teachers, doctors and nurses are on strike because of delayed wages and banks are now limiting the amount of money one can withdraw.

The government has decided to print more money to sort the mess and Zimbabweans fear the return of hyperinflation. Businesses are closing down daily, worsening the economic and unemployment crisis. As the economy collapses, Mugabe is said to hold birthday bashes that have been the source of much outrage.

In February this year, the country spent $1.1 million on celebrations for his 92nd birthday. He comes out as a president who has lost touch with reality. Further, despite ruling for 36 years, he shows no signs of readiness to relinquish power—in a country that badly needs fresh blood to salvage it.

Zimbabweans must not allow Mugabe to bring down the country. He is a leader whose time is long gone. His continued diatribe against the West might have sounded heroic in yesteryears, but today it’s simply the hollow diatribe of a failed despot.

The last time Zimbabweans tried to rescue the country from the grip of Mugabe was in 2008/09, when a similar financial crisis and a disputed election brought the country to its knees.

The crisis was resolved by a coalition government that brought opposition leader Morgan Tzvangirai (of the Movement for Democratic Change), to share power with Mugabe as prime minister. This enabled the international community to re-engage Zimbabwe and save it from the rocks.

Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, the wily old fox ground down his coalition partner and did everything to frustrate that arrangement. In the subsequent election in 2013, he managed to beat Tzvangirai through a mixture of vote manipulation and intimidation of voters through violence.

However, this year, Zimbabweans seem to have decided they have had enough. Since April, there have been street protests in major towns on a regular basis. A coalition of civil society activists and opposition parties, under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda, have been organising protests against Mugabe’s regime and the worsening financial crisis.

Mugabe has dug in and declared he will deal with them. Police have been breaking up the protests and making arrests. This has seen a return of violence in the streets akin to what was last seen in the 2008 economic crisis when citizens protested demanding change. However, Mugabe should read the signs of the times.

The writing is on the wall. He is not the first leader to have pushed his country to the wall and then continue cocking a snoot at the citizenry. Neither is he the first leader to attempt to stem the fate of an unpopular leader facing a popular uprising.

Surely, after three-and-a-half decades, and aged above 90, one would safely argue that there is nothing left for Mugabe to offer Zimbabwe. He seems determined that, with Tzvangirai fighting ill-health, the field is his to play as he deems fit. How wrong he is!

A whole new slew of leaders have risen up to fill that space and have been mobilising popular protest against Mugabe’s regime for almost half a year now. Zimbabwe faces complete collapse and the possibility of total chaos, with its attendant breakdown of social order. The day the country completely runs out of cash, is the day it will have its date with Armageddon.

The country’s leaders of goodwill cannot sit back and wait for that to happen. All must join hands to pressurise Mugabe to leave power. This time the citizens must go all the way.

The African Union, which has in recent times stepped up its game to intervene where its members find themselves with serious internal conflicts, must break its silence over the situation in Harare. The international community cannot continue looking askance as things move from bad to worse.

The endgame of the crisis is not difficult to imagine, as rising violence as police clash with protestors engulfs Zimbabwe. The South African Development Community cannot continue its silence, either. In particular, South Africa, the neighbour that is playing host to the millions of Zimbabwean refugees, must call out Mugabe.

This time, Zimbabweans must go all the way and wrest the country from Mugabe maladministration before it collapses. The situation is so dire that Zimbabwe cannot wait until the next elections scheduled for 2018 to bring new leadership. It needs change. Now! [email protected]

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