Ordinary Africans Are Turning Against Mugabe

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Recent shifts in African governments' positions on Zimbabwe are mirrored by growing criticism from ordinary Africans, angered by harassment of the opposition and President Robert Mugabe's efforts to hold onto power.

In the run-up to Friday's controversial runoff presidential election, opinion among more and more Africans appears to have moved from one of relative support -- even a few months ago -- for Mugabe, a hero of the 1970s armed campaign to overthrow white minority rule in what was then called Rhodesia.

Many say they are disappointed that Mugabe has refused to admit waning public support and resign, a step they believe would help the impoverished country move towards political stability and economic recovery.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai won a first round election against Mugabe in March, but without sufficient support to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai this week pulled out of the election, saying it could not proceed in a climate of intimidation and violence against his supporters.

Mugabe won much sympathy from Africans by attributing Zimbabwe's problems to pressure from the West, especially former colonial power Britain. Mugabe said Western governments were embittered by his land redistribution policies that entailed the seizure of white-owned commercial farms.

Most economists say the land policies led to severe food shortages and historic inflation levels in a country that was once regarded as a regional bread basket.

When Mugabe visited Kenya for a regional meeting in early 2007, many Kenyans turned out to welcome him.

Early this month, by contrast, when the Zimbabwean national soccer team played against Kenya in Nairobi, many in the crowd carried banners reading "Mugabe Must Go" and slogans attacking his record.

Alex Wahome, a public relations analyst in Nairobi, said even formerly sympathetic Africans have turned against Mugabe because of alleged election rigging and violence against the opposition.

"Unlike leaders like [Tanzania's first post-colonial president] Julius Nyerere, who let power go when his economic policies failed to improve the living standards of his people, Mugabe has failed to follow suit," he said. "He is not sincere. He is not a statesman."

"I think Mugabe should now go," said Joyce Wambui, who operates an Internet cafe in Nairobi. "His problems are no longer a result of Britain or America. He is a dictator like any other."

Steve Kubai, a stock market dealer here, said the world should leave Zimbabweans to resolve their own problems, because global condemnation will not depose Mugabe.

Civil society groups have also started taking a stronger stance against the Mugabe regime, with senior civil society leaders calling for the election to be postponed until conditions more conducive to a free and fair poll are in place.

Njeri Kabeberi, the executive director of the Kenyan branch of the Center for Multi-Party Democracy, an organization with centers across the continent, said the African Union (A.U.) should consider sending peacekeeping troops and organizing fresh elections.

The center is planning protests outside the Zimbabwean and South African diplomatic missions in various countries to protest what it calls the "death of democracy" in Harare.

South African President Thabo Mbeki continues to draw flak for an unwillingness to speak out publicly against Mugabe, although Pretoria's ruling African National Congress, has eventually shifted from a long held stance of support.

The governments of Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Botswana and Uganda and among those that have become more openly critical of Mugabe in recent weeks.

The A.U. as a bloc has remained hesitant to act, however. Leaders of the 53-nation organization meet in Egypt on Monday, and Zimbabwe is expected to dominate the agenda.

Tsvangirai in a statement Thursday urged the gathered leaders to launch an initiative to manage a "transitional process" that "takes into account the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

"A negotiated political settlement which allows the country to begin a national healing and the process of a) economic reconstruction; b) provision of humanitarian assistance and c) democratization would be in the best interest of the country," he said.

Mugabe plans to attend the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

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