Zimbabwe’s political crisis deepened yesterday after Robert Mugabe started rounding up opposition leaders ahead of an African summit on Mugabe’s dictatorship. Morgan Tsvangirai got arrested just before a scheduled press conference to discuss the political oppression suffered by Zimbabweans:
Forces stormed the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change in downtown Harare to gag its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who was preparing to hold a press conference on the continued violent repression of his party by the Mugabe regime.
Mr Tsvangirai, 50, and other MDC leaders were taken by bus for questioning to an undisclosed location by officials. The approaches to the headquarters had earlier been sealed and tear gas was used to keep people away.
“Tsvangirai and a number of others we have not been able to identify have been taken by police in a bus. We don’t know their whereabouts. We don’t know if they have been charged,” said an MDC spokesman. Police said he was later let go. “We’ve heard he has been released but he is not at home or at the office and he is not reachable on his mobile,” the spokesman said.
The raids came just hours before Mr Mugabe left for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to attend an emergency conference on Zimbabwe’s mounting political crisis hosted by the 18-member Southern African Development Community.
The timing shows how insecure Mugabe feels. The SADC conference came at a bad time for the man who has held power for more than a quarter century, turning a once-fertile land into Africa’s biggest welfare case. His departure, with all of the current unrest, could have turned into an opening for a coup. In order to prevent this, he simply had all of his opponents jailed while he travels to Dar es Salaam.
This puts enormous pressure on the SADC and the African Union to do something about Mugabe. In fact, Mugabe has more or less stuck a finger in the eye of both organizations, but especially the SADC. He effectively told the other African leaders that he has no intention of moderating his dictatorial practices even as they invited him to the meeting to look for some means to restore order and reverse the poverty that Mugabe has caused.
Hopefully, this provocation will finally get regional leaders to do something about Mugabe. The failure of Zimbabwe has created security problems for his neighbors. This latest stunt will make them appear weak and with no influence even in their own back yard. Even his ally, Zambia’s Levy Mwanawasa, has called Mugabe’s stewardship “the Titanic” of regimes in Africa.
If Africa ever wants to distance itself from its colonial past, it has to show that it can resolve these kinds of catastrophes on their own. Ethiopia did this in Somalia. Now the SADC has to show it can meet the challenge and defiance of Mugabe.