'In Zimbabwe We Have Nothing'

Re-elected president heads overseas leaving a Zimbabwe in turmoil.


HARARE, Zimbabwe, June 30, 2008 — -- Fresh from this weekend's highly controversial re-election, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe made an appearance today at a meeting of the African Union in Egypt and received a cordial, if not overly warm reception.

But elsewhere condemnation continued, and the possibility of sanctions moved forward.

Privately, African Union officials are expected to urge Mugabe to open talks with the opposition with the goal of creating a power-sharing government.

Mugabe was seen at a reception today hugging other leaders, a diplomat at the meeting told The Associated Press. This, even as the African Union's own election monitoring team said today that Zimbabwe's election was not up to it's standards.

In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi today, Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for the African Union to suspend Mugabe from the group until a fair election is held, according to media reports.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also called for the African Union to reject the election results. The summit "should make it absolutely clear that there has got to be change," Brown said in London.

The United States is already circulating a draft of a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution to punish Mugabe.

When he flew to Egypt, Mugabe left behind a country divided, with many reeling at his recent inauguration.

For the Zimbabwean leader, it was an inauguration to match the election: full of ceremony but lacking any real legitimacy. In front of a handpicked crowd of government and military officials, Mugabe was sworn in for another five years as president.

"I do swear I will serve Zimbabwe in the office of president," Mugabe said, his hand on a Bible.

What no one acknowledged was that the guests had received their invitations before Mugabe was announced as the winner.

According to the official results, Mugabe won a landslide 85 percent of the vote. But the tally had little meaning after his only opponent, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew from the race after thousands of his supporters were beaten and dozens killed.

"The inauguration is a meaningless exercise, the world has said so, Zimbabweans have said so. So it's an exercise in self-delusion," Tsvangirai told the BBC.

Traveling inside Zimbabwe, we met many Zimbabweans who echoed the anger.

"Most of the people, they are not happy," one man told us. "We can only say there was no election. There was a selection of the president."

"Were people forced to vote?" I asked. "Yes, they were forced to vote," he answered, "especially in the rural areas."

This was our second trip into Zimbabwe in two months. When we visited in early April, Tsvangirai had just won the first round of the presidential election. The country was frozen, the Zimbabwean economy was in collapse, but there was some budding hope.

This time, we found complete despair. Driving on one of the main east-west highways, we didn't see a single car on the road. Part of the reason is that people can't afford gasoline, but it's also a measure of fear. The crackdown has driven people into their homes.

Police roadblocks marked every stretch of road. Members of the president's ruling Zanu-PF party followed us wherever we went. We posed as tourists because we'd learned of three American journalists detained on their way out of the country.

Despite the police presence, Zimbabweans were eager to talk to us, and everyone we met expressed outrage at the election.

We visited a polling station where the official posted results showed 17 votes each for Tsvangirai and Mugabe, ludicrous in a city with tens of thousands of people. The guard at the station told us the vast majority of voters spoiled their ballots by writing an X across both names.

Then he pointed to his shoes and said, "This is all I have. In Zimbabwe we have nothing."

The exchange rate was telling sign of the economy's spiraling decline.

In April, I exchanged one U.S. dollar for 50 million Zimbabwean dollars. This time, one dollar is worth 10 billion Zimbabwean dollars -- an inflation rate of 30,000 percent in just 2½ months.

Mugabe has drawn near-unanimous condemnation from the West. The Bush administration has announced it will pursue new sanctions against the regime, including an arms embargo and travel ban on government officials.

"The sham election there is likely only to bring more misery and perhaps violence," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on a visit to China. "And we believe that it's really now time for the international community to act strongly."

But many believe Zimbabwe's own neighbors carry the most weight. The retired South African Archbishop and Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu is calling on all African nations to speak with one voice.

"If you were to have unanimous voice saying quite clearly to Mr. Mugabe you are unwelcome any longer, you are illegitimate, and we will not recognize your administration in any shape or form, I think that that would be would very powerful signal," Tutu said in an interview with the BBC.

So far, those neighbors have been mostly silent. The next chance is today's African Union summit in Egypt. Mugabe made sure he would arrive there as his country's newly inaugurated president. The question now is whether his African counterparts will accept him.

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