If you've been following the sad news in Zimbabwe, you will hear the irony in the name of its capital city, Harare. In the language of the Shona people, it means, "One who does not sleep."
When I slipped into Zimbabwe a few years ago as a board member of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, I slept restlessly out of fear of being arrested. President Robert Mugabe had shut the door on visas to outside journalists. Since then attacks have increased against the press and anyone else who does not toe Mugabe's political party line.
And Zimbabweans sleep more fitfully. Some of the reasons are spelled out in a list of Zimbabwe's dead, compiled and distributed by Mugabe's political opposition to international news media and reported by Paul Salopek, the Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer Prize-winning Africa correspondent.
There's a man who was attacked and beaten after sitting down to eat dinner.
There's another killed while tending his garden.
There's a woman whose targeted husband was not home, so she was killed as a warning to him.
There's another woman who was locked in a room at the shopping center and burned with plastic all over her body and in her mouth.
A man was given rat poison and, when that wasn't enough to kill him, he was slaughtered with an ax.
More than 80 known victims were killed in the run-up to Mugabe's June 27 sham of a re-election. The carnage and intimidation have not stopped. The country's economy is a wreck. It takes millions of Zim dollars to buy a loaf of bread and the prices go up every half hour or so. As many as 80 percent of the workers are unemployed. Peaceful sleep is a luxury.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, was poised to win the runoff, despite Mugabe's best vote-stealing efforts, but withdrew to stop the brutal state-sponsored attacks against thousands of his supporters.
At 84, Mugabe clings to power against all pretense of caring about the lives or liberty of his country's people. He cares only for power.
It wasn't always like this. I remember when Mugabe was viewed as one of Africa's brightest post-colonial hopes.
Like South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Mugabe was imprisoned for opposing white-minority rule. Freed in 1975 after 11 years in prison under the breakaway British colony of Rhodesia, he led a resistance that ended with his election in 1980 as prime minister of the newly named Zimbabwe.
But power corrupted him. In the early 1980s, his special forces, assisted by the North Korean army, massacred an estimated 20,000 members of the Ndebele tribe who supported a rival leader. In 2000, he defended the seizure of land from white farmers by self-proclaimed "war veterans." The country deteriorated rapidly from food exporter to food beggar.
Mugabe has always been on his best behavior as long as his own power is not threatened. Subject him to something so humbling as an honest election and, as far as he's concerned, everybody gets hurt.
He paints himself as Africa's champion, but he's a retro-throwback to the old Big Man system of kleptocracy and pseudodemocracy: "One person, one vote, one time."
So Nelson Mandela, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Barack Obama have condemned his violence? So the United Nations Security Council has joined the condemnations? So the queen of England has revoked his knighthood? So you think Mugabe cares?
Mugabe cares only for power and, perhaps, keeping himself and his cronies from having to answer for war crimes at The Hague. Instead, he's coddled by bodies like the African Union.
At last week's AU meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, the presidents of Kenya and Senegal were most prominent among the few who sharply rebuked Mugabe for embarrassing the continent. Most of the African Union urged a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But, like resolutions the UN and others have passed, it had no enforcement teeth.
Zimbabweans still wait in vain for what they really need to hear, a strong rebuke of Mugabe's arrogance from their neighbor, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki. As the region's designated negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisisand president of the region's biggest economic and political powerhouseMbeki could almost single-handedly persuade Mugabe to retire to a comfortable villa somewhere.
Through carrot-and-stick threats of international sanctions against the landlocked Zimbabwe and Mugabe's cronies, Mbeki could save his legacy and Africa's future. Instead, Mbeki behaves, in the words of an old African fable, like a mouse in the pocket of Mugabe's elephant while the grass suffersand does not sleep.