Robert Mugabe is now 88. He continues to be paranoid against everyone, and is banned from traveling to Europe, but no one was surprised when he went to the Rome conference on Food last week.

You see, Mugabe is 88. His wife, however, is only 44. If Robert goes, so might his money.

So while Mugabe was busy spouting conspiracy theories on the world stage, his wife Grace, copying our own Imelda Marcos, went on a shopping spree. I guess she just had to have a couple more pairs of expensive shoes.

Photo by AP.

Hmm…she needs to learn some makeup tips from Imelda, an ex beauty queen, but never mind.

Since the long delayed vote count that managed to find a recount was needed, we see the repeat of the “food for votes” and generalized intimidation of rural voters similar to earlier elections. But this time, the level of intimidation is worse than before.

Human Rights Watch has issued a report “Bullets for Each of you” reporting the high level of voter intimidation by threats, attacks and even murder. Much of the violence is in Central Zimbabwe, in areas that previously had been strongholds for Mugabe’s ZANU PF party, but whose votes had switched in the last election.

In addition, the government is repeating the practice that tainted the previous elections: controlling food.

Last week, despite reports that the June harvest was poor, due to lack of seed and fertilizer, the government has stopped NGO’s from distributing food aid to villagers. The government alone will be in charge of distributing food. The idea is that if you belong to the “wrong” political party, you can get food if you hand in your election ID card (i.e. give up your chance to vote).

Like most dictatorships, another reason to stop the NGO’s is to stop information from getting out. Missionaries and NGO’s have been notorious in their habit of highlighting civil rights abuses by governments as far back as DeLasCasas‘ reports against the Spanish atrocities.

So the government of Zimbabwe not only has stopped reporters from entering the country, they will stop NGO’s and even suspicious visitors. And last week, Diplomats from the US and UK were detained during a factfinding trip to Bindura.

All of this is merely a repeat of tactics used in the past, albeit with a much higher level of violence and intimidation.

What is new is reports that the reason behind the strategy: That the military have essentially taken over the government, making Mugabe a mere figurehead.

The UKTimes reports that not only the Human Rights Watch report but report from diplomatic sources state a military takeover:

Zimbabwe’s effective rulers (are claimed to be) the Joint Operations Command, a shadowy security politburo made up of military and police generals, senior intelligence officers, prison service officials and leaders of the ruling Zanu (PF) party.

What is worrisome is that many of the military have experience as “peacekeepers” in Central Africa. Another worry is the “Green bomber” youth groups, who are essentially militias that terrorize the countryside, reminiscent of Rwanda’s youth gangs behind that country’s atrocities.

The military often could be prosecuted for human rights abuses that have occured before the recent elections, or for atrocities in previous years, such as the war against the Ndebele in the 1980’s.  If a democratic government took over, with the return of millions of the Zimbabwe diaspora, not only would they lose their land and money from looted farms and businesses, but they could face prosecution for their crimes.

So the scenerio is set: the military will make Mugabe win, Tsvangirai and friends will either leave for South Africa, or “disappear”, and the generals will run the place.

However, since tyrants don’t tend to share power, in the long term this means a fight over who will take over if Mugabe should die or disappear himself. So the possibility of civil war or anarchy is a very real problem.

In the meanwhile, South Africa’s Mbeki continues to prop up Mugabe’s government, stopping outside observers and preventing African Union peacekeepers from being sent in.

Indeed, much of the Zim diaspora blogosphere is blaming Mbeki for the “anti foreigner riots” that recently occurred in various South African towns.  They see it as a way to “punish” the openly anti Mugabe elements among the refugees that have fled Zimbabwe over the last few years.

So as Grace shops for shoes, Zimbawe starves, and the world shrugs.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about human rights in Zimbabwe at Makaipablog.

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