Mugabe meltdown in Zimbabwe

Hopes for a peaceful and honest settlement of the elections in Zinbabwe faded this afternoon, as Robert Mugabe’s security forces began raiding offices of the opposition MDC. Foreign journalists have gone missing as Zimbabwe prepares to head for a violent clash that could tear the nation apart:

Raids on opposition party offices and the rounding up of foreign journalists are threatening to push Zimbabwe further toward confrontation between current President Robert Mugabe and the apparent winner of national elections.

Police raided the Meikles hotel, which is used by the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, and ransacked some of the rooms. Riot police also surrounded another hotel housing foreign journalists, York Lodge, and took away several of them, according to a man who answered the phone there.

“Mugabe has started a crackdown,” Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Tendai Biti told The Associated Press. “It is quite clear he has unleashed a war.”

The New York Times said that its correspondent Barry Bearak was taken into custody by police.

A government spokesman admitted that security forces had arrested foreign reporters for practicing journalism without accreditation, but gave no word on when — or whether — they would be released. They wouldn’t even identify the reporters being held, promising to release their names tomorrow instead.

The journalists who remain in Zimbabwe will rightly see this as an intimidation tactic to keep the word on further crackdowns from spreading across the globe. It gives an indication what will likely follow. If Mugabe has already begun arresting reporters and raiding MDC offices, he wants to ensure that he can operate with the greatest degree of latitude in rigging the run-off election between himself and Morgan Tsvangirai.

He may have miscalculated in this instance. Zimbabweans are tired of starvation and corruption, the two most significant achievements of the Mugabe regime. They want change — and if it doesn’t come at the ballot box, it will come at the point of a gun. When that happens, Zimbabwe will become another collapsed African state, and yet another post-colonial civil war will wreak its depredations on millions.

If Africa wants to avoid this, then leaders on the continent had better convince Mugabe to retreat and to abide by the actual election results. It looks like they may have run out of time already.