SADC Protecting Robert Mugabe

EDITORIAL (New York Times) – We had hoped that political leaders in southern Africa would finally resolve Zimbabwe’s political crisis at their summit meeting last weekend. Instead, they made it worse, agreeing that President Robert Mugabe and his thuggish loyalties can keep control of the two ministries that oversee the army and the police.

A power-sharing compromise negotiated in September can work only if these two ministries are divided between Mr. Mugabe’s supporters and those of Morgan Tsvangirai, the top vote-getter in the first round of this year’s presidential elections. That is essential since it was army- and police-backed violence that drove Mr. Tsvangirai out of the second round, creating the current destructive political impasse.

For too long, Zimbabwe’s people have been abandoned to Mr. Mugabe’s brutality, famine and economy-destroying hyperinflation. There hardly could be a clearer case of a violently stolen election, a ruinous dictator and a responsible opposition willing to compromise and accept less than the clear victory it won at the polls.

Yet handed the opportunity for constructive leadership, the politicians in the Southern African Development Community chose instead to protect Mr. Mugabe (one of their own) and his undercutting of the power-sharing deal painstakingly negotiated under their own auspices.

Now that Zimbabwe’s neighbors have failed, the United States, Europe and others will have to increase the pressure on Mr. Mugabe and his cronies, denying visas and freezing foreign assets. While providing humanitarian relief, they must withhold all other forms of aid and recognition until Mr. Mugabe agrees to share or vacate power.

According to some reports, Mr. Mugabe has contemplated yielding several times since his first-round election defeat but has been held back by pleas from his generals who fear losing their power and ill-gotten gains and possibly being prosecuted for their worst crimes.

That suggests the regional leaders might have been able to pressure Mr. Mugabe into doing the right thing for Zimbabwe. Instead, they have enabled his continued misrule and guaranteed his people’s further misery.