Lecture: Oak Institute speaker Tawanda Mutasah
This year's Oak Institute speaker, Tawanda Mutasah who is the International Director of Programs at the Open Society Institute in New York who is critically involved with the Democratization efforts in Zimbabwe, gave a lecture on the Hill September 29. Mutasah spoke about Zimbabwe's currently non-democratic system of government and the authoritarian leader, Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980. At the time, Mugabe was a hero who represented liberation from British control. He has since morphed into the face of authoritarianism in contemporary Zimbabwe. According to Mutasah, Mugabe's government has suppressed the growth of democracy and has deprived the citizens of Zimbabwe of their civil liberties. Any form of protest against the government is silenced through violence by Mugabe's police force. Having been incarcerated for political rallying himself, Mutasah has firsthand experience with the Zimbabwe police brutality, the partisan court system and the inhumane jail conditions. Although pressure for the democratization of Zimbabwe is growing, Mugabe's government continues to violently resist.
Mutasah acknowledged that the solution to this complex issue is not as straight forward as taking Mugabe out of power. A change of mindset and political philosophy is necessary, not just a change in the one who holds power. Despite Mugabe's many shortcomings, he has made some improvements to life in Zimbabwe. Infant mortality and child malnutrition have both decreased dramatically and he has also started a generous scholarship fund that annually sends hundreds of young people to South African universities.
It is going to be very difficult to phase out a system that has been in place for several decades. It will also be a challenge to bring such radical change to a country that is largely unstable due to hyper-inflation, widespread poverty, and rampant government corruption; all in addition to the state sanctioned violence.
Mutasah made it clear that the situation in Zimbabwe is a complex one, but his lifelong devotion to build and promote democracy and a government that is accountable to its people shows that hope must not be lost. Transition to a democracy is a multi-generational process, yet Tawanda Mutasah remains dedicated to fighting for this cause.