The end of Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe presents that poor beleaguered nation the chance to correct the missed opportunities of 1980, when Mugabe came to power and proceeded to dismantle democracy.
But it is also a chance to hit North Korea where it hurts — its secret African connections.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported:
For years, North Korea has used African nations ... as financial lifelines, building infrastructure and selling weapons and other military equipment as sanctions mounted against its authoritarian regime. Although China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner, the smaller African revenue streams have helped support the impoverished Hermit Kingdom, even as its leaders develop an ambitious nuclear weapons program in defiance of the international community.
Zimbabwe is the most prominent of these, as best described by Rob Attwell of the University of Edinburgh:
In 1980, Robert Mugabe visited Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. The trip had a profound effect on him and, in the words of one of his aides, he returned to Harare 'a different man'. What Mugabe admired most was Kim Il Sung’s absolute power and the apparent adoration of North Korean people for the 'eternal president'.
Mugabe has often spoken of his admiration for North Korea’s Juche ideology, which stresses national self-reliance and Korean ethnic purity. He has compelled government ministers to read collections of Kim’s speeches. In addition, as noted by historian Benjamin R Young, Mugabe’s birthday celebrations are strikingly similar to Kim’s. They are characterised by marching, giant paintings of the president and dancing children.
When Mugabe was still a Marxist guerrilla fighter during the regime of Ian Smith in what was then called Rhodesia, he received assistance from China and North Korea. Another armed group fighting against Ian Smith was the Soviet-allied Zapu, led by Joshua Nkomo.
Mugabe and Nkomo eventually came to power, and were to share leadership in Rhodesia — which they renamed Zimbabwe. But that was not enough for Mugabe. He wanted the North Korean model. In 1983, Mugabe's North Korean-trained 5th Brigade launched the Matabeleland massacre — killing tens of thousands and driving Nkomo into exile.
Zimbabwe has become a repressive, isolated, economic basket case — very much the North Korea of Africa. Zimbabwe and North Korea have maintained their ties even after the Cold War. As Attwell points out, "In 2013, Harare sold yellowcake uranium to Pyongyang in support of North Korea’s nuclear program."
North Korea's dealings in Africa are conducted in secret; the fall of Mugabe presents us with an opportunity to discover those secrets and put an end to them. If we act quickly and reach out to the new rulers, they can seize the property (especially the documents) and weapons of the North Koreans before they can be destroyed.
There is precedent for all this. In 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon yielded tons of PLO documents detailing the Soviet Union's role in sponsoring a worldwide network of terrorist groups. In 1983, the Reagan administration uncovered tons of documents in Grenada, detailing the Soviet Union and Cuba's plans to foment communist revolution in the entirety of Central America. In 2008, the Colombian military attacked a FARC encampment in Ecuador, uncovering computer files revealing Hugo Chavez's ties to the narcotics trade. All of this intelligence proved vital to the United States in its battle to defend the free world.
Many stupid people over the years — from NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and future Sen. Jeff Flake (in his 1987 master's thesis) — have expressed admiration for Mugabe. They were wrong.
Let us — those who truly love and value freedom — pray for a better future for the people of Zimbabwe. And let us hope that an ally of the free world will emerge from this week's events.