Act Before the Tyrant Dies

The Economist, October 2, 2015

In Zimbabwe they are waiting for rain. The region’s worst drought in a decade has withered the maize (or corn) crop, which came in at only about half the size of last year’s. The poor harvest has left at least 1.5m people–more than one in every eight–in desperate need of food aid.

For Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people, waiting has become a national vocation. For 15 years since he rigged a general election in 2000, Zimbabweans have waited for the chance to be shot of Robert Mugabe. He has ruled the country since its independence in 1980, and so gravely wrecked its economy that people are poorer today than they were 25 years ago. Of late, despairing of democratic change, they have simply waited for the 91-year-old to succumb to mortality.

The parched harvest and weak economy mean that their patience may soon be rewarded: if Mr Mugabe does not die first, it looks increasingly possible that he may be pushed out by his party, Zanu-PF, over which his ruthless control is slipping. To be sure, he has weathered economic and political crises before. But this time things are different.

One reason is that Mr Mugabe’s mental powers seem at last to be failing him. He recently read out the very same speech that he had delivered to parliament only three weeks earlier. Still more pressing is the fact that his government is running out of the money it needs to pay the public servants, especially policemen and soldiers, who keep it in power and whose wages gobble up more than 80% of public spending.

In previous crises Mr Mugabe could usually pull a rabbit out of the hat. When his popularity fell, he seized land from white farmers and gave it to his supporters. And when, as a result, the money ran out, he printed more. Now Mr Mugabe’s hat is out of rabbits. {snip}

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