Zimbabwe’s plight needs more than regime change


When democracy fails, regime change is desirable but difficult. President Robert Mugabe’s regime is a case in point. Which scenarios are the most promising for addressing Zimbabwe’s mounting problems?

When Robert Mugabe refused to accept the results of the Presidential election he lost any claim to democratic support. It became even clearer that the democratic processes in that country were being be dismissed by Mugabe who continued to retain power through military and economic levers.

Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe continues, compounded with personal tragedy. The Aids epidemic is hardly mentioned in external reports, although the outbreak of cholera [December 2008] is reported as yet one more burden visited on a hapless community.

International pressures are not appearing to speed-up change. Sanctions are hurting the most vulnerable.

Regime change is ‘necessary but not sufficient’

However painful the thought to many people, removing President Mugabe will not solve the country’s desperate problems. There are lessons to be learned from recent history. The collective might and will-power of the United States (with not a little help from Great Britain and others) failed to work out a way of achieving regime change in Iraq which resulted in a plan for future stability. The problems in Iraq and in Zimbabwe are not resolved by limited and linear thinking. It is not enough to focus on the first step (First let’s get rid of Saddam, or Mugabe, and then we can really get things moving in the right direction).

Historical lessons

Our historical analyst Jeff Schubert has studied the rise and fall of tyrants. He is in no doubt over the political lessons for Zimbabwe. He points to how the apparatus of power might unravel:

Toward the end of his life, Stalin’s people personnel policies were catching up with him. His long history of picking-off colleagues and lieutenants one, or two, at a time made some of his lieutenants so fearful that they would be next that they began to resist his divide and rule tactics. Sergo Beria wrote: “In 1951 the members of the Politburo, Bulganin, Malenkov, Khrushchev and my father, began to appreciate that they were all in the same boat and it mattered little whether one of them was thrown overboard a few days before the others. They felt a sense of solidarity once they faced the fact that none of them would be Stalin’s successor – he intended to choose an heir from among the younger generation. They therefore agreed among themselves not to allow Stalin to set one against the other, and they would immediately inform each other of anything Stalin said about them, so as to frustrate his manipulations. … This solidarity among the members of the Politburo increased as time went by

Mussolini’s leading lieutenants also jointly sought some mechanism for achieving peace. On 16 July 1943, with Italy at war on the side of Germany, they went to his office. Giuseppe Bottai said: “We are not here to ask to diminish your powers, or rather your power; not to divide, that is dissect, fragment your responsibility. We are here … to ask to share your responsibility. To make of it, that is, co-responsibility, that binds us to you, but also you to us, in ready, absolute and declared solidarity.”

… but Mussolini would not make clear he would share power in the way that was now demanded, and he would not give up the war. [one of his aides] thought Mussolini was wearing a ‘mask’ – that he had lost his will-power, and was actually ‘resigned’ to his fate. In essence, Mussolini seems to have been trapped within his own image as ‘the Man’ and unable to surrender it even thought he clearly recognized that in some way his end was near.

For me, these lessons from history indicate how power drains away, with courageous actions from those directly in contact with the regime. External powers, however well-meaning, have a wider picture to consider: what can we do, even now, to help the people of Zimbabwe?

One day Robert Mugabe will be gone. Whether he was a hero who became confused and began to believe in his right to rule, or a malevolent force is less central to the change process than the material conditions in the country, and what might be done to bring some relief to its people

One Response to Zimbabwe’s plight needs more than regime change

  1. Tudor,

    Mugabe has clearly lost touch with reality. However, it may not be all his fault. Consider this extract from my book:

    The passivity of lieutenants often produces very negative results for the dictatorial CEO. He is left in the dark when he might have wished otherwise, and things don’t get done. General Voronov recalled that Stalin “could not tolerate the decision of even secondary matters without his knowledge”; but because “people were often afraid to report to him … many innovations in every possible area were artificially delayed.”

    When, at a post-war dinner, Mikoyan told Stalin that there was a general food shortage, he was afterwards tackled by Beria and Malenkov, who said to him:

    “What’s the use. It just irritates Stalin. He begins to attack one of us. He should be told only what he wants to hear to create a nice atmosphere, not to spoil the dinner!”

    Almost identical words and sentiments came from General Duroc who told Caulaincourt to give up opposing the 1812 invasion of Russia. Duroc said “it was foolish to sacrifice oneself for high matters which one could in no way change”; and, “we can do nothing about it. Since you cannot hope to change the Emperor’s plans, why irritate him?” Caulaincourt wrote that as the Grand Army marched toward Moscow and doom, the passivity continued: “As the Emperor wanted to do everything himself and give every order, no one, not even the Chief-of-Staff, dared to assume the most responsibility.”

    “The King of Naples (Marshal Joachim Murat) was better able to appreciate these troubles than anyone, and he told the rest of us about them when he chatted with us. He even ventured to make some remarks to this effect to the Emperor, but His Majesty did not care for reflections that ran counter to his projects, and lent a deaf ear. He changed the subject; and the King of Naples, who above all wished to please him – and who flattered his vanity at the same time, by doing so – kept to himself the wise reflections which he had voiced to us alone.”

    It’s not only fear that keeps the lieutenants passive. Duroc and Caulaincourt still saw Napoleon as ‘the Man’. Goering was one of the least fearful of Hitler’s lieutenants, and his passivity in part reflected his admiration for Hitler whom he continued to regard as ‘the Man’. He once told Schmidt, the interpreter, of the difficulties he faced in disagreeing with Hitler: “I often make up my mind to say something to him, but then I come face to face with him and my heart sinks into my boots.”

    On availability of information: Does Mugabe use the Internet? Did Bill Clinton?


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