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Zimbabwe At The Crossroads: Transition Or Conflict?


Despite broad international condemnation and a tremendous thirst among the people of Zimbabwe for change, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government succeeded in systematically manipulating the March 2002 election process to ensure another six-year term for President Robert Mugabe. The strategic use of state violence and extra-legal electoral tinkering authorised by President Mugabe effectively thwarted the will of the people from being heard.

However, opinions are divided about the legitimacy of the electoral process and result. Much of this diversity is driven by strikingly different political and strategic considerations within Zimbabwe, the southern Africa region and the broader international community. Zimbabwean civil society organisations were unanimous that the process was neither free nor fair. Regional opinions were mixed, but driven by a fear of instability that could have unfolded if ZANU-PF had lost, as well as by concern about the rising potency of labour-based political movements. Although the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum declared the results to be neither free nor fair, the SADC Council of Ministers, the Organisation of African Unity and individual African government delegations declared the election to be free and fair or, in the case of South Africa, "legitimate". Beyond Africa, the condemnation was nearly universal. The Commonwealth and most country observer missions said the election was not free or fair. The 54-country member Commonwealth subsequently suspended Zimbabwe for one year as a result.

The reaction to the election results within Zimbabwe remains uncertain. There is potential for increased violence and instability. Trade unions and civic groups are planning mass action, principally in the form of general strikes. The government has deployed the army, police, war veterans and party youth militia to bludgeon any resistance or civil disobedience. After statements by President Mugabe indicating that the tempo of land seizures would be increased, government security forces have resumed land invasions. Another white farmer was killed on 19 March. A wave of government sponsored post-election reprisals against supporters of the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), continues, and President Mugabe has signed into law a draconian media bill. All these factors ensure that Zimbabwe's economic crisis will intensify in the short term, as will the country's difficulties with food security.

The implications of the election, however, reverberate far beyond Zimbabwe. Good governance and African peer pressure, two of the key planks of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) upon which much of the continent's hopes for a better future rest, will be undermined if Africa's response to Zimbabwe's stolen election is half-hearted. A tepid regional response would also send a dangerous signal of accommodation to anti-democratic forces across the continent.

If Zimbabwe's long slide toward chaos and increasing violence is to be reversed, a concerted regional and wider international effort will be needed. At this point, the best way forward is to create a clear division of labour between regional diplomatic efforts aimed at brokering a transitional power-sharing arrangement and an intensification of pressure by other members of the international community aimed at isolating the regime, highlighting its illegitimacy and demanding fresh elections.

The hard-line position of the wider international community should reinforce the leverage of the region's diplomacy. If the latter fails, the international community, hopefully joined by the region at that point, can then further escalate pressures on the regime. At the end of the day, President Mugabe's electoral manipulations may have been so brazen and his defiance of diplomatic efforts so thorough that he will force the hand of the region and the broader international community to act decisively against an escalation of violence and entrenchment of illegitimacy.


To the Zimbabwean Government, MDC AND Zimbabwean Civil Society

  1. Work toward a transitional mechanism that will allow, as a means for averting a full-scale crisis in Zimbabwe:

    • meaningful power sharing;
    • substantial constitutional reform;
    • agreement around an economic and land policy; and,
    • a defined period preceding new elections.

    To the European Union, United States and Other Concerned Governments

  2. Do not recognise the legitimacy of the regime in Harare and call for new elections.

  3. Work to suspend the regime's membership in relevant multilateral forums, in line with action taken by the Commonwealth.

  4. Broaden and deepen dramatically the "smart sanctions" regime targeted against senior ZANU-PF officials, expanding the list to include the executives and directors of companies that have helped bankroll ZANU-PF and are chief beneficiaries of the asset stripping undertaken in the Congo and Zimbabwe and ensuring that the sanctions are aimed at restricting travel, freezing assets and sending back to Zimbabwe family members of those listed.

  5. Expose the degree to which assets are held by ZANU-PF officials in countries that do not participate in an asset freeze.

  6. Make clear that when a way forward is found that is acceptable to all stakeholders, with the rule of law restored and the militias and war veterans brought under control and disarmed, international assistance will be forthcoming to support Zimbabwe's political and economic development.

  7. Substantially increase support to Zimbabwean civic organisations working to establish democracy, support human rights and prevent conflict in their country.

    To South Africa, Nigeria and SADC Countries Involved in Regional Diplomatic Efforts

  8. Establish bottom line principles that should mark any negotiated solution between the ZANU-PF and the MDC for a transitional government, including:

    • agreement around constitutional reform that would restrict presidential powers;
    • meaningful power sharing between ZANU-PF and MDC, augmented by direct input from Zimbabwean civil society;
    • a shortened time frame for the next presidential election;
    • disbanding of the youth militias and war veterans, with agreement around clear steps to restore the rule of law;
    • agreement around a basic agenda for economic, police, judicial and land reform; and,
    • a political exit strategy for President Mugabe.

  9. Undertake contingency planning for reaction to an escalation of violence inside Zimbabwe, and coordinate closely with the broader international community on possible responses to such an eventuality.

Harare/Brussels, 22 March 2002

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