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  Zimbabwe’s Crisis: High Stakes for Southern Africa

HARARE/WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS, 11 January 2002: If international pressure on Zimbabwe to stop state-sponsored violence is to have any chance of success, it must be championed by those countries with the greatest influence and the most at stake – namely Zimbabwe’s neighbours. All signs are that violence and chaos will worsen as the presidential election of 9-10 March approaches. The summit meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Malawi on 13-14 January represents the best remaining chance to halt the deteriorating situation.

A new ICG briefing paper, “Zimbabwe’s Election: The Stakes for Southern Africa” provides a series of policy options for SADC, with special emphasis on its most powerful member, South Africa. It makes the case for SADC to take strong action, including taking personal sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership, and in doing so set an example for the European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth, who are considering their own measures. Broader economic sanctions should be avoided as they will adversely affect Zimbabwe’s people.

South Africa is already receiving 500 refugees from Zimbabwe every day. Its currency, the rand, has fallen 37 per cent in the past year, due in part to the crisis in Zimbabwe. South Africa’s taxpayers have been bearing the cost of Zimbabwe’s unpaid electricity and fuel bills, investment has declined and tourism has suffered.

ICG’s Africa Program Co-Director John Prendergast said: “Zimbabwe represents a crossroads for Southern Africa. Violence, instability and abandonment of the rule of law are tarring positive regional trends in democracy and economic development. However, the outcome in Zimbabwe can be influenced positively or negatively by what South Africa and the region decide to do.”

For the past eighteen months, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki has pursued a policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ with President Mugabe, but he must now acknowledge that this policy has failed. At the Malawi summit, SADC leaders should insist that President Mugabe upholds principles to which all Southern African governments have already agreed – in particular standards on free and fair elections. To be credible this should be backed by tangible measures that apply pressure to Mugabe and the leadership.

Should President Mugabe fail to respond adequately, his SADC colleagues should make it clear that his legitimacy as leader and his historical legacy will be jeopardised. Regional governments would also be advised to prepare contingency plans, in case Zimbabwe descends into further chaos and a state of emergency is applied.


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