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The Mugabe choice

The world needs to take a strong stand against the dictator, or prepare for the worst in Zimbabwe.

June 24, 2008

'Only God will remove me."

With this public vow, Zimbabwe's strongman president, Robert Mugabe, officially ended the campaign for the presidential runoff election that is to be held on Friday. The campaign had already turned brutal, with Mugabe's thugs making nightly visits to opposition supporters, beating them, arresting them and forcing tens of thousands of people out of their homes. At least 85 opposition figures have reportedly been killed. Still, other African leaders -- notably Mugabe's chief enabler, South African President Thabo Mbeki -- looked the other way.

But when Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years, announces that only God and not mere voters will remove him from office, why bother with an election?

Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai got the message. He quit his campaign on Sunday, saying he could no longer ask supporters to endanger themselves for what was not an election but a war. Tsvangirai then sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy after Mugabe's men raided his headquarters, dragging away about 60 people.

Will the world finally take Mugabe at his megalomaniacal word? Until now, the U.N. Security Council, which Mbeki had obstructed, and the African Union, which was formed to prevent precisely the kind of catastrophe that is now unfolding in Zimbabwe, have allowed Mugabe to follow in the bloody footsteps of African dictators past. Will they now act to forestall a repeat of the unchecked excesses of Uganda's Idi Amin, the Central African Republic's Jean-Bedel Bokassa or Congo's kleptocratic Mobutu Sese Seko?

We're about to find out. The U.N. Security Council on Monday was poised to declare that the campaign of violence has "made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on June 27." The watered-down language of the resolution stopped short of blaming Mugabe's forces for the violence. But it did indicate that the results of the last election -- won by Tsvangirai -- should stand. The U.N. must now send an investigative team to Harare to report on the violence. More important, it must come up with a plan for forcing Mugabe to take responsibility for his depredations.

Meanwhile, the African Union should send a high-profile team of diplomats and notables with the stature to privately urge Mugabe to retire, now, perhaps to a quiet farm in Namibia. He may be immune to international pressure, but the people in his inner circle can be made to understand how unpleasant their lives will be if they persist in holding their miserable citizens hostage to his rule.

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