Zimbabwe's odd stability has several causes. More than 3 million discontented people have fled the country -- often the talented and educated -- leaving Mugabe with less internal opposition. Many of the Zimbabweans who remain avoid starvation with the help of international aid and remittances from relatives in prosperous neighboring countries. Mugabe's political opponents have generally been weak and divided -- when not being jailed and tortured by the government. And some residual support for Mugabe remains, particularly in rural areas, because he is an anti-colonial hero; it is hard for many to accept the idea that their founding father is also a corrupt, brutal incompetent.
There are, however, signs of resistance. My friend reports that lower-level members of the military and police seem increasingly alienated and disillusioned. At a demonstration last year, he says, "they were unenthusiastic and malnourished, with ragged uniforms. They pleaded with us to go away, because they didn't want to hurt us. And then I was saluted for the first time by the police."
And Mugabe's ZANU-PF party is beginning to fracture. The former finance minister -- who opposed the policy of printing money and price controls -- is running as an independent against Mugabe in the March 29 election. Simba Makoni is viewed by U.S. officials as a smart, honest technocrat. He clearly possesses bravery, though not much grass-roots support.
The March 29 vote, as usual, will be a fraud. Mugabe -- despite pressure from surrounding nations -- will conduct a police-state election, with tight control of the media, corrupt voter rolls and massive intimidation, including the use of food as a tool of political control. But the opposition has little choice but to participate. It may gain some support in local councils and the parliament. And if opponents abandon the electoral route, says my friend, the only alternative would be "street action, which is fraught with problems."
And so Mugabe remains on his bayonet throne as his country becomes the Weimar Republic and totalitarian, all in one.