The future of Zimbabwe

Weeks after the widely discredited June 27 presidential runoff, the future of Zimbabwe is still uncertain, making the present chaotic. “We have a lot of terrible situations, but this one is top of the list,” said Black political science profes

Weeks after the widely discredited June 27 presidential runoff, the future of Zimbabwe is still uncertain, making the present chaotic.

“We have a lot of terrible situations, but this one is top of the list,” said Black political science professor Richard Joseph of Northwestern University’s African Studies Program.

Inflation in the southern African nation is officially set at 2.2 million percent–but estimated to be higher–and two million of the country’s citizens are at increased risk for homelessness, starvation and disease since the government ordered aid organizations to leave the country in June.

“That’s why you’re getting the massive exodus into countries like South Africa,” explained Professor Jennifer Widner of Princeton University’s African Studies program.

Election influences present Much of the current political confusion in Zimbabwe is due to the presidential election.

Robert Mugabe, leader of Zimbabwe since 1980, lost the presidential election to opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai on March 29. Zimbabweans voted Mugabe out after years of unsound economic policies, corruption and violence.

“Robert Mugabe has been an unmitigated political embarrassment for African leadership and an economic disaster for Zimbabwe,” Earl Hutchinson, a Black author and political analyst, said via e-mail.

Despite Tsvangirai’s success, the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission called for the June 27 election because Tsvangirai did not win the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff. Leading up to the runoff, supporters of Mugabe’s Zimbabwean African National Unity-Patriotic Front party brutalized supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.

Tsvangirai eventually dropped out of the runoff, due to violence against his supporters. MDC officials said that 113 of the party’s members have been killed in political violence since March.

Mugabe won the second presidential contest as the only candidate in an election that has been widely condemned by the international community.

Power sharing Now only one question remains: what happens next?

On July 21, Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed an agreement for immediate talks about sharing power in order to ameliorate the current political chaos. The deal requires the two politicians to create a framework for “working together in an inclusive government.”

The agreement, which stipulates that talks must end in two weeks, also calls for an end to political violence.

Joseph noted that power sharing could set a bad precedent.

“You can lose an election, but as long as you make it impossible for the opposition, regardless of the election, then you’d be able to hold onto power,” he said.

Widner said she does not think a unity government could work.

“How can you convince those in power that they actually have to give something up?” she questioned. “Power sharing is the main proposal on the table. It will require that (1) Thabo Mbeki (president of South Africa) be removed from the negotiating process as the Zim opposition does not trust him and (2) probably that Mugabe be removed or put far into the background as other (African Union) members and the rest of the international community do not trust him at all,” Northwestern University political science professor William Reno explained via e-mail.

The opposition does not trust Mbeki because he is a long time friend of Mugabe and would want another mediator in light of negotiations.

Mugabe and Mbeki would feel a great deal of solidarity with one another because they were both part of a “generation of leaders who fought…the institutions of white supremacy (and) helped usher in multi-racial independent rule,” explained Princeton associate politics professor Evan Lieberman.

“Mbeki is looking too much towards the past and not enough towards the future,” Lieberman added.

Mbeki signed last week’s agreement and insisted that dialogue, instead of sanctions, was the way to deal with Mugabe.

Additionally, negotiations present certain difficulties because ZANU-PF would want Mugabe to lead in a power sharing deal. The opposition and Western critics have rejected such a proposal.

The possibility of Mugabe giving up power, however, remains to be seen.

Before Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed the agreement for talks, Lieberman noted that Mugabe’s rhetoric suggested that he would not participate in a power sharing deal.

“I think that Mugabe may think that he will never step down in his lifetime. I think that he will be forced to step down. Whether he is killed in the process remains to be seen,” Reno said.


Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press

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