Mr Mugabe, I wonder would you please accompany me on a brief world tour? Yes, yes, please do bring some of your generals. And bring a few of your senior police officers. I would very much like them to see what I have to show you.
Our first stop doesn’t take us very far. This, as I am sure you know, is South Africa. And this is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I am sure you remember him: one of the heroes of liberation from white supremacist rule in southern Africa. I know you would like to see yourself in the same category but, let’s be honest, you replaced rule by one set of gangsters for rule by a different gang. Not the same thing at all.
Archbishop Tutu led South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It investigated the worst examples of brutality under Apartheid. People felt free to give evidence honestly because there was immunity from prosecution. Does that burn you up? I think it must. It does me, and I am not a black African who grew up under white supremacist rule. But, on balance, the ANC government felt it was more important to get to the truth than to bring the criminals to justice. Most of the police and army continued in post, and the worst offenders were allowed to quietly retire.
Now, welcome to Baghdad. It is quite different here. The police and army were, controversially, disbanded. The decision was heavily criticized, but leaving them in place would have been controversial too. After five years new armed forces are in post, and gradually winning the war against terrorism and more mundane crimes. The senior – and even some junior – officers implicated in Baathist repression live in fear. Will the next knock on the door be the one that has them led away in chains? And the President? Well, I am sure you saw that. He live in hole for while, then he was tried and hanged.
Tallinn, in Estonia is different again. Poor Estonia was occupied twice in the lifetime of its oldest residents. Actually, three times. The Soviets were here twice, before and after the Nazis. Two appalling totalitarian governments ruled this place- both of foreign origin. There were collaborators with both occupations of course. But the collaborators were treated differently. Those who collaborated with the Nazis are still hunted down. Those who collaborated with the Soviets live out peaceful retirements. It seems so unjust. It is unjust. Anyone still alive who collaborated with the Nazis more than six decades ago was, of necessity, a pretty junior officer at the time. But many of the masterminds of Soviet oppression are still alive. A brief occupation, that few can now recall, and its junior officers will die as wanted men, if they escape arrest at all. Decades of repression by the Soviets and its most brutal torturers are free men.
And yet, pragmatically, it is right. The Communists and the Afrikaner National Party eventually gave up power peacefully. The Nazis and the Baathists fought to the last man under their control. Not to the last man of the regime, of course. They either committed suicide of fled. But they ordered other people to fight to the last man.
And if a regime – no matter how criminal – cannot negotiate its way out of power, and gain immunity from prosecution by doing so, then they will all fight to the last conscript under their control. Why would any dictator give up power if it was only to be hanged? So, yes, even for you, there is still a way out. If you hand over peacefully to the elected President of Zimbabwe you will not get to keep the palaces, but you can live out your retirement under some sort of house arrest. And your lieutenants need not be prosecuted either. Are you listening, General? And, you, police commissioner? What about your junior officers?
If you remove Mugabe from power, then most of the police and army can stay in post. The worst of the criminals can retire with permanent immunity from prosecution. But if he holds on until the bitter end, then there will be reprisals. Then, you will never really be free. If you flee, if you hide, you will never know if the next knock on the door will be the one you fear. Just keep looking over your shoulder, for the rest of your life.
So, what it is it to be? Peaceful surrender and immunity? Or a lifetime of fear with a noose waiting for you at its end?