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Zimbabwean Professor Calls On President Mugabe To Step Down - 2003-01-28

A Zimbabwean political science professor says the only way his country can begin taking the road toward peace and reconciliation is for President Robert Mugabe to step down. And he says a direct message from President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair could make that happen.

Masipula Sithole says twenty-three years in power is enough. It is time for Robert Mugabe to step down and allow a peaceful takeover by a transition government.

He says, "It has to happen if we are to be responsible. It has to happen. I don’t know that the exile option is the right option. Why not retire. Stay home and let others get a chance at it."

Recently there were reports of a plan to allow President Mugabe to step down and leave the country. However, the government denied any such plan existed.

Professor Sithole is on sabbatical from the University of Zimbabwe. He is currently a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, non-partisan institution created by the U-S Congress in 1984.

He says one reason Mr. Mugabe refuses to step down is because “power is intoxicating.” He says the Zimbabwean leader might respond favorably to retirement if that proposal came from the highest levels in the United States and Great Britain.

He says, "The Secretary of State, even the President, himself, and even the Prime Minister, himself, in England."

He fears Zimbabwe could tumble into widespread violence unless a transition government comes to power.

"That," Mr. Sithole says, "is what I am worried about. Anytime, we are bound to see an escalation of violence we can’t control. People are getting desperate."

Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis, a shattered economy and international sanctions. Professor Sithole says he doubts these problems can be adequately dealt with in the current political atmosphere.

"It is my view what complicates the situation is President Mugabe’s staying power. The food situation and the drought can be better handled by a new hand in the leadership of either the country or his party," he says.

Professor Sithole says the leaders of neighboring African countries should encourage Mr. Mugabe to retire to prevent the political problems in Zimbabwe from spilling over into theirs.

He also says the government’s land reform program has had so many problems because no true reform plan exists – merely the taking of land from whites and giving it to – what he calls “certain blacks.” The opposition and government critics have said the land is often given to political supporters.

Professor Sithole says if a transitional government were announced, there would soon be an “upturn in the economy.” He says the United States and other countries would begin investing in Zimbabwe.

However, there appears to be little chance of President Mugabe stepping down. The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reports this week that he has ordered an investigation into reports of a power sharing plan involving senior government officials and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Information Minister Jonathan Moyo is quoted as calling it “a coup plot.”

Also, the government-owned newspaper, The Herald, says another effort to oust Mr. Mugabe has been exposed. It reports the Southern African Institute for International Affairs “recently held a secret meeting with business people and some diplomats accredited to South Africa and Zimbabwe” regarding the president’s removal.

As for Mr. Sithole’s charge that the government does not have a true land reform program, The Herald reports that STANBIC Bank Zimbabwe has agreed to extend loans to farmers. The loans would help them “procure livestock and farm machinery, and finance irrigation equipment.”

The Herald also says, “Captains of industry and farmers welcomed the gesture by the bank saying the financial aid was going to boost the economy and usher in a new chapter in the land reform program.” It reports industry leaders said increasing participation of the private sector in land reform through financial assistance was a clear indication of the importance that the banking sector now places on agrarian reforms. It also says the private sector – after an initial reluctance to support the land reform program – now “seems to have realized that new farmers form the back bone of the economy.”