A CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP

Venal leaders are the curse of Africa. If sub-Saharan Africa is "in a mess," to quote Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's founding president, it is a mess made by its leaders. To be sure, Africa has its geographical constraints, a cascade of tropical medical ills, and a complex colonial legacy. But where visionary leadership lifted Asia up out of poverty since the 1960s, too many African heads of state in the same period presided over massive declines in African standards of living while carefully enriching themselves and their cronies.

Some of Africa's current and recent leaders are capable, honest, and effective. But kleptocratic, patrimonial leaders -- like President Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe -- give Africa a bad name, plunge its peoples into poverty and despair, and incite civil wars and bitter ethnic conflict. They are the ones largely responsible for declining GDP levels, food scarcities, rising infant-mortality rates, soaring budget deficits, human rights abuses, breaches of the rule of law, and prolonged serfdom for millions -- even in Africa's nominal democracies.

These authoritarians, many of whom win or manipulate elections and thereby claim a democratic façade, have proved hard to control and harder to oust; witness the Kenyan failure to vote out President Daniel arap Moi and this summer's only partially successful attempt to reduce Mugabe's dominance of Zimbabwe's parliament.

The elected autocrats, sometimes termed illiberal or quasi-democrats, have built-in advantages that are hard for even popular opposition movements to overcome: incumbency; state financing for official political parties; state control of television, radio, and newspapers; friendly security forces; crackdowns on opposition rallies; control over the voter rolls; and such tricks as gerrymandering, stuffing ballot boxes, and fiddling with the election count itself. Most of all, ruling parties know how to intimidate voters, particularly semiliterate rural voters acquainted with only one ruling party since independence.

Mugabe's efforts during the weeks before Zimbabwe's June parliamentary elections (he is not up for reelection until 2002) were a depressing case in point. The Western media noticed when Mugabe sent supposed war veterans onto thousands of white-owned farms to cow rural workers and white supporters of the new opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is headed by the union leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Hundreds of MDC supporters, black and white alike, were beaten, and several dozen were killed. Government orders that rural clinics and hospitals refuse treatment to MDC backers got less attention, as did having teachers suspected of supporting the MDC hauled from their classrooms and beaten.

The vote itself was a shambles, with doctored voter rolls and Mugabe-designed constituency boundaries finalized a mere three weeks before the election and released to the opposition only by court order. The United Nations, which led an election-monitoring effort, learned that 10 to 25 percent of registered voters were in fact dead and threw up its hands two weeks before the election. Other outside monitors had no more luck, leaving Mugabe cronies from his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), to oversee a campaign in which MDC candidates were beaten up and had their homes firebombed. A week before the election, the head of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum reported a "complete subversion of the democratic electoral process."

In a fair contest, Mugabe's record would have given the MDC plenty of political ammunition. Mugabe single-handedly destroyed his country's economic equilibrium twice in three years. In 1998, after sending Zimbabwean troops into the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect President Laurent Kabila's predatory regime, Mugabe began using antiwhite rhetoric and confiscating white-owned farms while granting lavish pensions to veterans of the country's 1971-79 war. Zimbabwe's business-confidence index plunged, foreign direct investment dried up, exchange rates plummeted, and fuel and commodity shortages became common -- while the president continued to line his pockets.

A referendum last February was intended to give Mugabe the constitutional authority to take white farms without compensation. But the voters, emboldened by the fledgling efforts of the MDC and a fed-up urban civil society, decisively rebuffed the president. In response, Mugabe incited the war veterans further and refused to let the police enforce High Court injunctions against the farm invasions. This refusal to abide by the inconvenient rule of law was hardly new; the torture of two journalists in early 1999 and the kidnapping in mid-2000 of two Cuban physicians trying to defect were only two authoritarian outrages among many. Even former associates of Mugabe have been known to suffer fatal "accidents" while driving. Within State House, the shadowy Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) enforces the president's dictates and represses dissent by any and all means.

Zimbabwe's fall is hardly unique. Yet the Zimbabwe case, like the much earlier examples of Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah or Nigeria under a string of military presidents since the mid-1960s, is particularly vexing because Zimbabwe has always been comparatively wealthy. Unlike Zambia and Botswana, which rely on one primary export (copper and diamonds, respectively), Zimbabwe has almost always been able to feed itself and export tobacco, maize, gold, and minerals. It has a healthy entrepreneurial tradition of manufacturing for export and, with the Victoria Falls and many well-managed game reserves, an attractive tourist industry.

Africa's failure to thrive at the end of the last century has many causes, not least of which is mismanagement. One can pin the blame on shifts in world commodity prices, misguided World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, civil wars, climatic disasters, unchecked population bulges, and so on. But the visible hand of individual rulers can also be discerned. And no single exemplar of failed leadership surpasses Mugabe, who has been prime minister or president of Zimbabwe since 1980. In the annals of human-made disasters in Africa, his has not yet equaled the inspired debacles of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Idi Amin in Uganda, and Jean Fidel Bokassa in the Central African Empire. "I'm no Idi Amin," Mugabe resentfully told London's Sunday Times in June. Yet those three were poorly educated potentates pursuing peculiar personal visions and vendettas in countries less robust and prosperous than Zimbabwe. By contrast, the gifted Mugabe inherited a well-run, well-off territory. He robbed Zimbabwe of its potential.

THINGS FALL APART

Mugabe's assessment of his own abilities is not wrong; he is no mere thug like Amin. Rather, he is well-trained and capable of matching wits with many of the world's most sophisticated leaders. Mugabe was trained by Jesuit missionaries in rural Zimbabwe, became a teacher, and studied for a B.A. in English and history at the University College of Fort Hare in South Africa when it was one of the five best institutions of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa. After graduating from Fort Hare in 1951, Mugabe taught first in Zimbabwe and then in Zambia at a teacher-training institution. Along the way, he obtained a diploma and a bachelor's degree in education from the University of South Africa and another bachelor's degree in economics from the University of London, all by correspondence. Subsequently, Mugabe taught in a teacher-training school in Ghana, from 1956 to 1960, where he met Sally Hayfron, his first wife.

Because Mugabe is genuinely talented and because Zimbabwe is a modern state that could have one of Africa's better economies and has, per capita, one of its best-educated populations, his madcap abuse has been that much more tragic. He has been fully in charge and fully aware, lording it over his party's authoritative politburo and central committee, the cabinet, and parliament.

Zimbabwe has been on an economic slide since 1995 but went into free fall in 1997. The comparatively (for Africa) wealthy country's per capita real GDP slumped in the late 1990s, from $645 in 1995 to $437 in 1999. Its real GDP growth rates tumbled from 7.3 percent in 1996 to -1 percent in 1999, with even worse shrinkage (perhaps almost -10 percent) expected for 2000. Consumer-price inflation has shot up from 22 percent in 1995 to 58.5 percent in 1999 and 80 percent in mid-2000. Zimbabwe's foreign-currency reserves were essentially exhausted in mid-2000. Its currency exchange rate against the U.S. dollar collapsed from 8 Zimbabwean dollars (Z$ hereafter) to $1 in 1995 to Z$23 to $1 in 1998, and then plunged to an artificially controlled level of Z$38 to $1 since mid-1999. Just after the 2000 elections, the unofficial trading rate was Z$60 to $1, and without controls, the overvalued local currency would trade at about Z$80 to $1. Domestic interest rates on treasury bills have risen to 70 percent, up from 20 percent in 1997. These stratospheric levels make nongovernmental borrowing -- and thus routine commerce -- increasingly difficult.

The people of Zimbabwe are one-third poorer than they were at independence. With the onset of aids, their life expectancies have declined considerably, and infant mortality rates are rising rapidly. The modern look of Zimbabwe's cities belies their new poverty and the depths to which the living standards of most Zimbabweans have tumbled.

Countries cannot easily be bankrupted, but since Zimbabwe has been unable to pay its petroleum or energy bills since 1999, it is coming close. This spring, Zimbabwe could not cover the running costs and salaries of its overseas diplomatic missions. Thanks to charitable loans from Libya and Kuwait and the benevolence of South Africa, which understands the devastation that a total Zimbabwean collapse would wreak on the economy of southern Africa, Zimbabwe somehow managed in the first half of 2000 to import a dribble of fuel for cars, trucks, and tractors.

For Zimbabwean consumers, life since December 1999 has been a succession of mile-long lines: for gasoline for their cars, diesel fuel for their tractors, kerosene for heating, cooking oil, and bread. More than 60 percent of urban adults are unemployed. In an agricultural land where national self-sufficiency has been assumed except in years of dramatic drought, wheat and other staples (including the white maize that most Africans eat) have been periodically unavailable. Even local vegetables are scarce and expensive. Consumers, both urban and rural, have borne the brunt of the country's financial decay. Further shortages, fuel rationing, and damaging price controls are predicted for the last quarter of 2000.

Harare, Zimbabwe's seemingly prosperous capital, had the air in July of a modern Potemkin village. Hotels were empty, firms were going bankrupt, and tourists were absent. The sprawling city was a lifeless shell.

Ordinary commerce had started to grind to a halt in the months before the June elections, particularly with the threat of farm confiscations. In May and June, when cured Virginia leaf tobacco is usually sold, nearly all of it was sitting unprocessed in barns because so many white producers had been forced off their farms.

The root of this financial meltdown is the government's failure to control its fiscal deficit, which has risen alarmingly from 8 percent of GDP in 1998 to 12 percent in 1999 and probably to as much as 20 percent in 2000. Despite promises to the IMF throughout the 1990s, Zimbabwe failed to trim its official wage bill by reducing government workers. Excess civil-service and military employment kept fiscal deficits high, but the precipitating cause of Zimbabwe's economic troubles was Mugabe's personal decision (without prior consultation with parliament, the cabinet, or his party's central committee) to send 6,000 Zimbabwean soldiers into the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998 to bolster Kabila's government against rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

Mugabe says that helping Kabila was a simple matter of aiding a fellow southern African leader in a time of need, and the 6,000 Zimbabwean troops have since swelled to 13,000. But Mugabe also wanted to show President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa that he still counted. Equally important, Kabila offered Mugabe, his close political cronies, and some Zimbabwean generals a chance to line their pockets with the Congo's cobalt and diamond wealth. Although Zimbabwe paid the troops, purchased the ammunition, and obtained the fuel that let Mugabe's troops help contain the rebels in eastern Congo, a few individuals are widely suspected of having received rewards from Congolese mineral concessions in exchange. Zimbabwe's distraught finance minister, nominally in charge of the government's treasury, certainly never knew how the military incursion into the Congo was to be afforded. For years, Zimbabwean finances have been run from State House, and Mugabe regularly refused to let unhappy finance ministers resign.

If sending troops to the Congo were not damaging enough, Mugabe compounded Zimbabwe's misery this year by hiring rent-a-thug "veterans" to invade 1,600 white-owned farms -- more than a third of the total number of such farms -- and by threatening loudly to confiscate every last one of the remaining farms without compensation. Whatever moral justification there was for evicting whites from farms that had been in nonindigenous hands for 50 to 100 years after being "purchased" from Africans during the European occupation, Mugabe's bullying immediately jeopardized the employment and wages of 400,000 African farm laborers and their families, inhibited reinvestment by farmers, and chilled domestic trade and banking, which has massive loans outstanding to white farmers. Two South Africa-based construction companies scaled back their operations, and a huge sugar firm suspended fresh investments, as did the Nissan automobile company. Bata Shoes reported that its retail trade had halted. Two of Zimbabwe's largest firms warned that profits in 2000 would fall by 60 percent or more. Since the white farms produce more than half of Zimbabwe's exports and foreign-exchange earnings and since the unrest vitiated tourist earnings (which are about eight percent of annual GDP), Mugabe's actions drove a stake into the already weakened heart of his national economy.

To be clear, Africans were heartlessly pushed off the best lands in Zimbabwe by the more powerful whites. This began in the 1890s but continued well into the 1920s. These inequities, which were confirmed by a 1930 Zimbabwean commission chaired by Sir Morris Carter, relegated Africans to the less well watered, stonier, and less loamy lands of the nation. After independence, that disparity was meant to be rectified by official purchases of white-owned farms and the resettlement of truly landless African peasants. Some of that occurred, gradually, but much of the transferred farmland -- especially the very best bits -- somehow found its way into the hands of Mugabe's associates. The recovered lands were used as patronage spoils, and they still are. Moreover, in those cases of genuine peasant resettlement, no resources were provided to maintain irrigation facilities or other equipment. Once broken up into peasant holdings, large farms can prove inefficient and uneconomical, whatever the talents of the small farmer -- especially in situations like Zimbabwe's, where the small farmers are not given title to the new landholdings. To compound the problem, the government agricultural-extension services collapsed for want of funds, cutting off a source of advice. Mugabe sowed disaster.

ABSOLUTE POWER ...

Had the farm invasions not been just the sort of electoral ploy that Mugabe had often used before, and had the president and his cronies not been suspected by most Zimbabweans of having profited since the mid-1990s from every conceivable form of graft, the high-handedness of the past two years would not have caused so much consternation among a hitherto accepting population. Mugabe, after all, was the country's founder. But when citizens suffer and suffer, leaders can forfeit their credibility. This happened to Mugabe because of the Congo campaign and a cascade of corruption.

Tracing corruption anywhere, and particularly in the developing world, is never easy, and rumors are not fact. Still, there is no doubt that Mobutu salted billions of ill-gotten dollars in banks and properties in Switzerland and France, that Hastings Banda of impoverished Malawi built 13 large palaces throughout his nation during his 30-year reign -- and that Mugabe has purchased or constructed six "mansions" in Zimbabwe in recent years. It is also a fact that Mugabe has often commandeered jets from the national airline (thus inconveniencing scheduled passengers) for state "shopping" visits abroad. He has reportedly purchased property in Europe, and he has bank accounts in all the usual overseas places. A complicated web of companies registered in the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands may control many of his investments.

Last October, Transparency International rated Zimbabwe the world's 45th most corrupt country, below South Africa (34th) and Poland but well above Jamaica, Turkey, Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia, Ghana (63rd), Nigeria (98th), and Cameroon (99th). According to the Africa Competitiveness Report for 2000, Zimbabwe is one of the very least competitive African nations, pulled down significantly in the rankings by its reputation for corruption. Zimbabwe is also listed in the same report as the African country "most needing improvement," with the most volatile exchange rate, poorest export position, and least growth in all of Africa.

No wonder. Large construction contracts, including those for Harare's new international airport, have found their way to consortia controlled by Leo Mugabe, the president's nephew. In 2000, friends of the president created a diamond-harvesting scheme in the Congo and attempted to float stock on the London market. In 1997, Mugabe lost three court battles trying to prevent a local black entrepreneur from starting a successful cellular-telephone franchise; Mugabe wanted his nephew to dominate that business. (The entrepreneur became an MDC supporter and found it prudent to remain outside Zimbabwe after June's election results were announced.) Whatever the totality and truth of this circumstantial evidence, ordinary Zimbabweans in 1999 and 2000 simply rolled their eyes when questions arose about the president's corruption. He and his administration were seen as thoroughly rotten. Indeed, part of the job of the CIO is to keep tabs on the corruption of subordinates so that Mugabe always has leverage over those who have profited from their positions of public trust. Few have not.

Graft has, of course, helped block economic reform. Throughout the 1990s, advisers from the World Bank and the IMF, as well as a team from Harvard University, recommended that Zimbabwe follow Zambia's and South Africa's leads (and the Asian "tiger" model) and sell off its money-losing state-owned monopolies in such capital-intensive areas as communications and energy. Doing so would dramatically reduce government deficits; provide better, modernized, and cheaper services; create new jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities; provide infusions of cash for social services; and not tie up scarce official capital. These arguments were well received in almost all sectors of society and even within Mugabe's cabinet and central committee. Outsiders personally discussed these ideas with Mugabe. But the sale of significant state-owned enterprises proceeded glacially and without presidential enthusiasm, for three obvious reasons: state-owned concerns were sources of patronage, which Mugabe directed; the resources of state enterprises could be diverted (like the national airline) for his own use; and state-owned firms could offer contracts that Mugabe and his associates could control and from which they could (and did) profit.

In 1996, I visited the cabinet minister responsible for privatization and beseeched him to accelerate the sale and restructuring of state enterprises. "You don't need to try to persuade me," he smiled, holding up his hands. "We're all in favor of privatizing." So why wasn't it happening? The minister rolled his eyes and gestured upward. "The boss won't let us," he said. With deliberate naivete, I asked if the cabinet were in favor. "Of course," my tutor explained. And how would the cabinet vote on the question? "It depends," he said, "on whether the ballot were open or secret."

THE AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCH

Like most of Africa, Zimbabwe has structural and geographical weaknesses that go beyond poor leadership. It is landlocked, for one, and its 12 million people are burdened with one of the highest adult hiv infection rates in the world (27 percent). It also endured 90 years of white settler occupation and racist misallocation of resources, as well as a bitter civil war. But Zimbabwe's glum failure to realize its potential has much to do with the self-aggrandizement of the very man who led the nation out of white supremacist rule. In the 1960s, many Africa specialists -- myself included -- extolled Mugabe's clear-eyed intelligence, character, and Jesuit-instilled ascetic integrity. Mugabe's disdain for his citizens is bold, freshly arrogant, and jarring in one previously so politically acute. What went wrong? What changed?

After Ian Smith attempted to create a settler-ruled Rhodesia from 1965 to 1979, Mugabe and other Zimbabwean nationalists were severely tested. They were jailed and exiled, and their edges were honed by the determined aggression of the white settlers. Mugabe spent ten years, from 1964 to 1974, in detention. When Zimbabweans, backed by China, Cuba, Libya, Algeria, and Marxist Ethiopia, took to the bush and began an eight-year guerrilla war against Rhodesia in 1971, Mugabe emerged ascendant when his rivals struck the guerrillas as insufficiently tough. Mugabe fled Zimbabwe in 1975 and rapidly consolidated his embryonic claim to national leadership by obtaining the funds and weapons necessary to pursue the war and make combat costly for Smith's whites. Mugabe was never the field strategist, but he fueled the efforts of the guerrillas and refined their political message.

By late 1979, white Rhodesia was on the ropes, and its apartheid-minded South African friends had thrown in the towel. A British-negotiated settlement created the modern Zimbabwe. At the talks in London, Mugabe was the unquestioned leader of the team. In the subsequent 1980 election, Mugabe skillfully deployed his political troops, campaigned imaginatively throughout what was soon to become Zimbabwe, and claimed the premiership of the new country.

Zimbabwe, as an African-run, crypto-Marxist enterprise, was Mugabe's creation. Members of his ZANU-PF party were officially called "comrade." The ruling party was more powerful than the government. The nation's foreign policy was "nonaligned" and pro-Soviet. Mugabe presided over the nationalization of newspapers, the national airline, and the marketing of minerals. Hindered for seven years by the British-imposed constitution, he waited until 1987 to scrap the country's inherited parliamentary system and become executive president and unquestioned leader. (Britain said that it did not then view the inauguration of single-party rule as "an erosion of democracy.")

In the early 1990s, Mugabe's diktats became less and less subject to criticism. As Mugabe consolidated his grip on power at home and became a recognized figure abroad, he became more autocratic and avaricious. Those close to Mugabe, now 76, attribute his increasing arrogance and vanity to his age, his anxiety about being eclipsed as an African leader by Mandela after South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994, and the waning influence of the president's then-wife, Sally. Around 1990, the president and Grace Marufu, his young secretary, became increasingly intimate, and she subsequently gave birth to his three children. (His only child with Sally died young.) After Sally herself died in 1992, Mugabe married Marufu, and the upsurge in Mugabe's caprice and greed has closely tracked her rise. Senior ZANU-PF cabinet members called her "grasping Grace" -- behind her back.

The MDC's Tsvangirai has proposed a truth commission to provide a national accounting for past crimes (including the appalling Matabeleland massacres in the 1980s, in which over 20,000 opposition supporters were murdered), human rights abuses, and corruption. After the June elections, he urged Mugabe's impeachment. Mugabe's leadership decisively lost its legitimacy in the late 1990s. The unanticipated loss of the February referendum was a precursor to his party's narrow and much-questioned parliamentary victory in June, which gave 62 predominantly rural seats to ZANU-PF, 57 to the MDC, and 1 to a small opposition party.

Having received nearly half the votes cast, the MDC controls enough seats to prevent Mugabe from amending the constitution. The MDC also emerged as a new kind of African political party: it has an urban power base but also controls many of the country's rural areas. Moreover, black voters elected four MDC whites, enabling the MDC to claim that it is a truly nonracial, pan-ethnic party.

By comparison, ZANU-PF kept its seat majority by winning -- sometimes in a questionable manner -- a succession of entirely rural Shona-speaking constituencies. The leader of the European Union monitoring team termed the election "hardly free and fair." Even within ZANU-PF, there were strident calls immediately after the election for Mugabe's resignation.

The long reach of the CIO still makes that unthinkable. Mugabe is nimble, clever enough to reform, and aware of how energized urban African publics can be. But easing toward retirement would mean moderating his cronies' greed and his own. Following the rule of law would hardly work to Mugabe's benefit.

Zimbabwe could, under revamped leadership, recover its promise with much greater ease than neighboring Zambia and Malawi after their recent traumas of corrupt, autocratic rule. The immediate challenges are formidable but less daunting than they would be in African countries with poorer human resources: bringing the troops home from the Congo, restoring law and order, stabilizing the national finances, fighting corruption, improving health and education, strengthening infrastructure, privatizing state monopolies, wooing foreign direct investment, and starting to practice good governance. But what about the fundamental leadership problems of the rest of Africa? Here, the lesson of Mugabe is richly instructive.

DESTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT

Lord Acton's dictum that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" is suggestive in the Mugabe case, but hardly conclusive. In Zimbabwe, as in so many other places in Africa since 1960, a weak civil society provided openings for autocracy; the Cold War, with its tolerance for strongmen, offered others. Zimbabwe, like many other African states, lacked an independent media to hold politicians accountable. Mugabe originally also created a party-dominated socialist state. Given the comparative prosperity of the 1980s, the absence of any real victimization of whites, and the repression and then co-optation of the main opposition party, anti-Mugabe voices were muted. Moreover, ZANU-PF was ethnically and politically formidable. Those politicians who did oppose Mugabe and the ZANU-PF steamroller either lacked national legitimacy or were harassed and arrested. The CIO kept internal ZANU-PF dissidents in line, as did Mugabe's patronage machine. By the early 1990s, Mugabe was unassailable, and the resultant sense of entitlement engendered excesses.

The forgiving attitude of the international community also contributed to Mugabe's sense of invincibility. No one in Africa ever publicly called Mugabe to account, including its giants. Nyerere was greatly displeased when Mugabe rebuffed his plea not to send troops to the Congo. Mandela regarded Mugabe as an insufferable autocrat, and South Africa's current president, Thabo Mbeki, probably feels the same way. But no one said so publicly.

Outside of Africa, the international lending institutions always thought it better to woo Mugabe than to criticize him. Indeed, the IMF rewarded him with tranche after tranche of support. Even after Mugabe and his finance ministers refused over and over again to fulfill their bargains, even after he sent troops into the Congo, the IMF clung to engagement. The World Bank and other donors also never flagged in their support.

One recipe to curb the rise of future Mugabes is to hold strictly to conditions for help. To curb autocratic excesses, international lending institutions should use tough love: an absolute refusal to lend and donate in the absence of the rule of law, good governance, and sensible economic policy. Likewise, bilateral donors should cease supporting those who self-aggrandize or abuse human rights. Better yet, donors and international lending agencies should shun all dealings with those who breach their own national norms. There should be no state visits for the Mugabes of the world or their foreign ministers or finance ministers. Ostracism can be a powerful weapon, especially if the refusal to pursue business as usual with dictators and illiberal democrats becomes widespread.

Continuing big-power relations with the Mugabes of the world is usually excused by the term "constructive engagement." Better to retain some influence, however limited, with despots -- thus runs the usual rationale. But it almost never works. Mugabe grew more and more insufferable because he could thumb his nose at the international lending institutions, the Commonwealth, and the big powers. No one has yet called his bluff. In May and June 2000, even Mbeki -- heir to Mandela, the continent's shining light -- consciously refrained from publicly criticizing Mugabe.

Good leadership in Africa should be rewarded, participatory leadership supported, and sensible economic management backed -- but not bad leadership and bad policy. Mugabe's growth as an unlimited autocrat just might have been checked by enough international cold shoulders. If he had been made persona non grata abroad, especially in Europe and the United States, Zimbabwean civil society might have taken heart. So might his critics in and out of government. At the very least, the IMF and the World Bank should have abided by the letter and spirit of their own conditions. Depriving Mugabe's Zimbabwe of foreign aid because of his proclivities might have made a difference. All of those snubs were certainly worth trying. Constructive engagement, in other words, ought to be employed in Africa only sparingly and surgically.

Such prescriptions are useful but difficult and negating. One could also be proactive about Africa's leadership problem. It is now more necessary than ever to find ways to help elected African politicians themselves lead -- not by working in society at large (although that is not harmful) and not by working at the grassroots (which is also useful but not sufficient). The models of modern Botswana, Mauritius, and South Africa need to be offered to emerging African elected leaders through carefully tailored courses and seminars. Doing so would not be a conclusive remedy for African leadership weaknesses, but it should help limit the rise of future Mugabes and their ilk. The old ways have hardly worked.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Robert I. Rotberg is Director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and President of the World Peace Foundation. His books include Suffer the Future: Policy Options in Southern Africa, The Rise of Nationalism in Central Africa, and The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power.
  • More By Robert I. Rotberg