Automatic or Autocratic Democracy?

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Sic Semper Tyrannus, or “thus always to tyrants” in English, is a phrase attributed to the Roman Senator Brutus, thought to have been said after he helped assassinate Julius Caesar. It was then famously uttered by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Abraham Lincoln. It was also shouted, perhaps more famously, by crazy Joe Dovola towards Jerry on Seinfeld. The phrase implies that tyrants should always receive a sudden, violent end. Perhaps Lincoln and Seinfeld do not deserve to be on the receiving end of such an expression, however, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe certainly does.

Unfortunately, it seems as if a more peaceful demise is in store for Mugabe, who recently stepped down from power at the ripe age of 93. Mugabe has done quite well for himself and will probably enjoy a short exile in a lovely villa on some sunny beach. Mugabe’s people, on the other hand, have not exactly prospered under his oppressive 37-year reign. In fact, life expectancy in Zimbabwe has decreased from 59 years to about 42 since Mugabe rose to power. Per-capita income has decreased, and inflation and unemployment have both increased under his watchful eye.

Mugabe has also managed to amass quite a collection of bizarre and disturbing quotes. He’s is notoriously homophobic, and accused former British Prime Minister Tony Blair of organizing a “gay gang” to harass him in London. He has also called himself the “Hitler of our time,” and claimed that Hitler was interested only in the “sovereignty and independence of his people.” Oh, and he also claims to have one-upped Jesus, and said on his 88th birthday, “I have died many times – that’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once.”

Empty statements of congratulations and false hope accomplish nothing. International pressure must be applied, and economic incentives need to be offered in order to bring about real change in Zimbabwe.

Clearly Mugabe is an utterly deplorable human being, whose tenuous grasp on reality endangers the citizens of his nation. Good riddance. It’s time to celebrate, right?

Foreign leaders certainly seem to think so, and have offered messages of hope for Zimbabwe’s future. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “I think I speak on behalf of all Canadians that we are hopeful that the departure of Mr. Mugabe can be the beginning of a better chapter in the life of the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe.” British Prime Minister Theresa May stated that Mugabe’s fall from power “provides Zimbabwe with an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterized his rule.” Not to be outdone, the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe’s called Mugabe’s exit a “historic moment,” and said that Zimbabweans have, “raised their voices and stated peacefully and clearly that the time for change was overdue.” And, if their jubilant street celebrations are any indication, Zimbabwe’s citizens seem to be hopeful as well.

However, the world’s victory parade may have been rolled out too early. Mugabe’s exile was a result of a military coup, not a popular revolution. It was the political maneuvering of his opponents, not some widespread acceptance of democracy, that led to this change in leadership. The ruling party is still ruling, and as of yet there is no indication of future fair elections. Mugabe’s replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was Mugabe’s ally for years, and is guilty of the same human rights abuses. Mnangagwa promises jobs and a bright future, but the fact that he has already been sworn-in — with no mention of free elections — is a red flag that the same political processes are likely to continue. It seems Zimbabwe may have just traded one dictator for another.

Nevertheless, any transition of power is a moment of weakness for an autocratic regime. Popular expectations are high, and Mnangagwa’s hold on power has not been fully solidified. To truly provide relief to Zimbabwe, the free-world must act quickly and definitively. Empty statements of congratulations and false hope accomplish nothing. International pressure must be applied, and economic incentives need to be offered in order to bring about real change in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe may be gone, but his dictatorial infrastructure still remains. Democratization is a long and arduous process, and for Zimbabwe, it has only just begun.

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