From Aung to Zimbabwe, Foreign Pressure Goes Only So Far
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's three decades in power may finally be over.
Gunfire broke out late Tuesday in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare as military panzers moved in to prevent anyone from accessing government offices. At around 5 a.m. Wednesday, Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo, a ranking member of the army, appeared on state television. "We wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe … Comrade RG Mugabe and his family are safe," the commander said in his statement, Al Jazeera reports. "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country."
We can only guess who these "criminals' might be, while human rights activists will scoff at the idea that Mugabe doesn't deserve such a label. Since the end of the Cold War, Zimbabwe has been a virtual pariah state, run with an iron hand by the now 93-year-old Mugabe, who has mixed Marxist-Leninist ideology with opportunistic Black African nationalism to hold on to power at all costs.
Having long denounced U.S. and Western imperialism, and his internal rivals in the southern African country, Mugabe's latest power grab was the recent removal of his vice president in an apparent bid to clear a path to power for his wife, Grace Mugabe.
Mugabe in 2008 — Photo: Sgt. Jeremy Lock
The Johannesburg-based African News Agency reports this morning that Mugabe will step down and his wife will leave the country, though observers caution that the situation remains fluid — and the strongman has managed in the past to survive similar attempts to unseat him.
Zimbabwe's recent history is a reminder that autocratic leaders — dictators and the democratically elected alike — are not apt to cede to international pressure. At the 31st ASEAN summit in Manila, which ended Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised objections to the Philippines brutal crackdown on drugs, which has reportedly resulted in more than 12,000 extrajudicial killings by police.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines made it clear he won't stand for any external critique of his government. "It is a personal and official insult," he decried at a press conference. "I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bullshit, especially foreigners. Lay off."
The summit's host was not the only attendee to face criticism. Trudeau, alongside the UN, the United States, as well as numerous other organizations and countries, have called on the government of Myanmar to end widespread violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine.
World leaders had once thought they could influence Myanmar, whose de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the Nobel Prize for standing up to decades of junta rule. But in a very different manner than either Duterte or Mugabi, the "Lady" is having none of it.
Some will argue that criticism from abroad only ends up boosting a bad leader's popularity at home. Still, saying nothing in the face of injustice can never be the right message.