Saturday, May 24, 2008

Zimbabwe Rival Is a Flawed but Enduring Leader

Mr. Mugabe contemptuously mocks Mr. Tsvangirai for not having joined the guerrilla struggle in his youth, and the state-owned newspaper — a mouthpiece for the governing party — recently belittled him as a coward and Western stooge with “a big black nose” and “chubby and pimply cheeks.”

Big black nose? Seems a common trait.

He rose through the ranks of the mine workers union and in 1988 became secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. Stephen Chan, a professor of international relations at the University of London, describes in his book, “Citizen of Africa: Conversations with Morgan Tsvangirai” (Fingerprint Cooperative, 2005), how Mr. Tsvangirai, a pragmatic social democrat, turned the congress into voice for workers at a time when the and the International Monetary Fund were pushing “structural adjustment programs” that required African governments to keep a lid on spending, including wages.

The World Bank and IMF did engage in a sort of social engineering, of enforcing economic policies, which were not necessarily beneficial for the peoples of countries the organizations engaged.

In 2005, the party — already damaged by internal discord — fractured, with some accusing Mr. Tsvangirai of having authoritarian tendencies and tolerating violence against those who challenged him, allegations that he strongly denies.

But the opposition was divided, and at a critical time. Zimbabwe’s economy spiraled downward and Mr. Mugabe’s government carried out a brutal strategy to damage the opposition’s political base in 2005, destroying the homes of hundreds of thousands of poor people in urban settlements.

Talk of hardball tactics to retain power; ruthless.

Now, Mr. Tsvangirai says he is heading back to Zimbabwe with a sense of foreboding about his own safety and the prospects for democracy. Some analysts believe that a military coup would be likely if he won. Mr. Tsvangirai warned that if Mr. Mugabe’s government shut down dissent “some of us who are advocates of a nonviolent democracy will become irrelevant.”

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