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Zimbabwe: Danger and Opportunity


The economic meltdown, government-created food crisis, and deepening state-sponsored violence that have plagued Zimbabwe in the year since President Robert Mugabe's ruling party rigged the presidential election continue to point in one ominous direction: potential state collapse.

One of Africa's most highly developed formal economies is disappearing. Despite price and wage controls, the inflation rate may hit 500 per cent before the year is out. Severe food shortages resulting from the destruction of the commercial farm sector and the use of food as a political weapon have turned one of Africa's breadbaskets into a beggar nation subject to localised famines. There is real risk that deterioration of command and control over the war veterans and youth militias the government has used against its opponents will lead to a rapid increase in unstructured violence generally throughout society.

While the crisis deepens, the international response has become more divided. The Commonwealth's very purpose is being called into question. Though the principles upon which it is based are being flouted, leading members, South Africa and Nigeria, are arguing against all the evidence that Zimbabwe's suspension should be lifted because the situation has improved. The relevant regional and continental international organisations (SADC and the African Union respectively) have yet to engage meaningfully while South Africa and Nigeria set the tone. The European Union is rent by divisions, with France's invitation to Mugabe to participate in a pan-African summit in Paris having engendered a controversy that nearly put an end to the targeted sanctions regime that was established shortly before Mugabe's re-election. The U.S. remains a weak actor, able to implement a promised asset freeze component in its own targeted sanctions regime only after nearly a year's delay because of internal mid-level policy disagreements. Western nations still need to break down suspicions about their agenda that have hindered common action with Africa on Zimbabwe, not least by demonstrating that they understand the emotive aspects of the land issue across the continent.

The international community's inaction deprives it of a chance to influence what increasingly appears to be the onset of a serious succession battle within President Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. Leading officials are engaged in bitter debates – and some clandestine diplomacy – about how to move beyond Mugabe. The tensions, which might well lead to a ZANU-PF break-up, are driven primarily by the accelerating erosion of the state and the economy, which threatens the viability of the spoils system from which the party leaders have benefited. They result partly, however, also from international pressure and isolation – as divided and inconsistent as these have been.

Reducing international pressure on ZANU-PF now, just when it appears that there is some prospect the political situation inside Zimbabwe is moving, would be a great mistake, one that would only lower the chance that the change will be peaceful or positive. New efforts to coordinate both African and wider international efforts are called for, with a practical focus on restarting, ideally under new sponsorship, the negotiations between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition that South Africa and Nigeria fitfully facilitated and then abandoned in the first half of 2002.


To the African Union:

1. Invite the wider international community to create with it a new mediation effort, built on the previous Nigerian and South African-sponsored talks, that involves all relevant Zimbabwean stakeholders and aims at restoring legitimacy to the Harare government.

2. Focus on creating a transitional administration, restoring the rule of law, finding an electoral compromise, reforming economic policies, ensuring a more orderly land reform program, and crafting an exit strategy for President Mugabe.

To the European Union and the United States:

3. Work with African leaders to create a fresh inter-party negotiations process aimed at resolving the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

4. Implement fully existing or promised targeted sanctions, including asset freezes, travel bans and financial transfers, and expand the list of those targeted to include additional ZANU-PF officials, their business associates, military and police officials, war veterans responsible for human rights abuses, and the family members of all those targeted.

5. Provide direct budget and operational support to Zimbabwean civil society and opposition groups working for political and economic reform.

6. Undertake concerted efforts to improve coordination of policy towards Zimbabwe among relevant international actors, including by demonstrating greater understanding of African views about the land issue.

To the Commonwealth:

7. Send a fact-finding mission from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to meet with all relevant stakeholders in Zimbabwe (including civil society and opposition leaders) and investigate the real political situation in the country.

8. Determine options, through the CMAG, for moving beyond the current stand-off within the Commonwealth with the aim of maintaining Zimbabwe's suspension.

9. Prepare to facilitate inter-party talks if the African Union does not or cannot do so.

To ZANU-PF and the MDC:

10. Engage seriously and in good faith with a new inter-party negotiations process.

To the Government of Zimbabwe:

11. Stop politicising food aid delivery through the Grain Marketing Board, including channelling commercial deliveries toward ZANU-PF supporters and away from MDC followers.

12. Halt the use of war veterans, youth militias, police and others in attacking opposition supporters and civil society representatives.

To UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and UN World Food Programme head James Morris:

13. Authorise a UN monitoring mission to ensure the distribution of food in Zimbabwe.

14. Prioritise food for work activities, rather than free distributions, in order to protect rural livelihoods and reduce food aid dependency.

Harare/Brussels, 10 March 2003


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