He is the champion in all disciplines! At the advanced age of 89, Robert Mugabe has once again demonstrated to his own people, to those in neighboring countries, to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to the African Union (AU) and to the West that he is in charge. Robert Mugabe is the old and new president of Zimbabwe. A scoundrel and first-class political poker player. Since his inauguration on Thursday (22.08.2013) he now sits more firmly in the saddle than ever before in the past 13 years. In the year 2000, when the last truly democratic referendum was held, the Zimbabwean people rejected Mugabe's unlimited expansion of his powers. That was a warning shot for the egocentric ruler. In 2002 his seat shook for the first time. Elections were manipulated in a way that was visible to everyone - but there were no consequences and Mugabe remained in power. In 2008 came a bigger shock. Even biased election observers could not deny that Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party had been rejected by the majority of Zimbabweans. Yet he succeeded once again in turning the true outcome to his advantage, by means of delaying tactics, state terror and propaganda.
11 years of rigged elections
In 2013, the election results – 61 per cent for Mugabe, a two-thirds majority for his party – make him appear a legitimate president. Protests from within Africa are muted. The guest list for the inauguration ceremony revealed who is in favor and who is not. Botswana's President Ian Khama was absent. He is regarded as an arch-enemy and is one of the few politicians far and wide to stand up to the despot. In return, diplomatic circles report that Mugabe insulted him as a "bastard."
Powerful neighbor South Africa sent only its number two, presumably a signal from President Jacob Zuma, saying: "We recognize you as president, Robert Mugabe, but we don't want to get our hands too dirty."
Western observers are amazed at how many admirers the old man has on the continent. Half of Africa seems to be secretly delighted when the liberation hero launches another tirade against "white colonial settlers" and "Anglo-American-influenced neo-imperialists." No one but Mugabe dares to come out with such sentiments, even intellectuals can be heard to murmur.
Other things seem to have been forgotten. For example, how Mugabe got rid of unwanted individuals during the war of liberation. How he claimed credit for the victory over white Rhodesia by eliminating fellow fighters and allies from the national memory. There were many heroes but today only one still shines: Robert Mugabe. That is the result of 33 years of propaganda. His main rival Morgan Tsvangirai, whom he even had tortured, was not the first person to be out-maneuvered politically. In the 1980s Mugabe sidelined the popular Joshua Nkomo, a one-time companion in arms, and had thousands of his supporters killed. He waged war against his own people. White farmers were dispossessed, often violently, in violation of the country's laws. Mugabe ignored national and international court verdicts, including those of regional body SADC.
At the same time, Zimbabwe plummeted in the rankings of the UN Human Development Index to position 173 out of 187. Life expectancy fell from 55 years to 44 within a decade. Following the civil war unleashed by Mugabe in 2008, the AU and SADC could find no other solution but to insist on a government of national unity and election-loser Mugabe pledged allegiance to a Global Political Agreement (GPA). He has hardly implemented a single point listed in the agreement. He has undermined, eroded and reinterpreted the GPA. This alone should have sufficed to deny him any legitimacy.
Africa's astonishing silence
But Africa lets him get away with it. One should listen carefully to Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – their drop in popularity notwithstanding – when they speak of election rigging. One should pay attention to Zimbabwe's civil society, members of which warned against manipulation long before the elections took place. One should ask the millions of Zimbabweans (a quarter of the population) who fled abroad to escape the Mugabe system why they have not returned.
With his policy of economic indigenization, under which foreign-owned companies must hand over a majority stake to black Zimbabweans, Mugabe had a popular election topic. Perhaps the population would even have elected him legally, if he had made more of this. As before, with the highly politicized land reform policy, the opposition could offer no convincing alternative. The Tsvangirai camp is ailing, feeble and generally at a loss. That also explains why Mugabe is still in power. For biological reasons alone, this will probably be his final victory. He may be a champion, a genius at manipulating and hoodwinking people. And previously, also a hero. But Robert Mugabe is not a legitimate president. His victory is a Pyrrhic victory for Zimbabwe. And a defeat for democracy in Africa.
Claus Stäcker is the head of DW's African Languages Service