Zimbabwe has provided an unspeakably brutal example of how, absent the rule of law, leaders can do anything they wish to preserve power. Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country since it became independent in 1980, was retained in a sham election that resembled a war more than a plebiscite.
Opposition sympathizers were tortured or murdered, or both. No one is quite sure how many people died. The opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won an earlier election but decided to drop out of last week's runoff with Mugabe in order, as he said, to avoid more bloodshed. It was clear Mugabe intended to win, even if that meant forcing people to choose him.
With this, Zimbabwe has firmly established itself as the world's No. 1 example of how to mismanage and destroy a nation that ought to be prosperous. Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Africa. Now it is starving and impoverished. A recent op-ed in the Washington Post, written anonymously by a resident of Zimbabwe, described inflation so dire that children need to accumulate more than $1 billion in the local currency just to afford a piece of candy.
Mugabe set this course by removing virtually all important personal freedoms. Taxes and tariffs are high. The courts are not independent. Corruption is rampant, and property rights are tenuous, at best.
Despite all this, Mugabe is defiant in the face of virtual global condemnation. He apparently employed young people, described as barely out of their teens, to do his dirty work against political opponents.
Mugabe once again presents the world with a troubling problem. The United Nations has condemned the campaign violence. Condemnations and sanctions, however, seem ineffective against such defiance.
And yet the world has little choice. The region with the best chance of changing Zimbabwe is sub-Saharan Africa itself. South Africa, in particular, is in a position of influence. It provides electricity and port access to Zimbabwe. With the right pressure from a united Africa, Mugabe may have little choice but to relent. The United States and its allies ought to focus their diplomatic pressure on those neighboring countries to make this happen.