March 9, 2007


Zimbabwe: An End to the Stalemate? (Africa Report, 5 March 2007, International Crisis Group)


After years of political deadlock and continued economic and humanitarian decline, a realistic chance has at last begun to appear in the past few months to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis, by retirement of President Robert Mugabe, a power-sharing transitional government, a new constitution and elections. Both factions of the divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition and powerful elements of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party support the concept in outline. Although many of his party's leaders are pressing him to retire in twelve months, when his term expires, Mugabe seeks to extend his tenure to 2010 by a constitutional amendment to harmonise presidential and legislative elections in that year. Increased pressure and intervention including from the regional organisation, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the West, in the run-up to the mid-year parliamentary session, could lead to a new political order, but concessions to ZANU-PF should only be made in exchange for true restoration of democracy.

The economic meltdown, as well as the bite of European Union (EU) and U.S. targeted sanctions, is pushing ZANU-PF towards change, since business interests of key officials are suffering. The party is split over the succession issue but Mugabe's long successful divide-and-rule tactics have started to backfire as the two main factions are coming together to try to prevent him from staying beyond the expiration of his present term in March 2008. They showed their strength by blocking his proposed constitutional amendment at the party's annual conference in December 2006 and will seek to do so again at the central committee in March so they can explore a deal resulting in his retirement to make way for moderate leaders who could negotiate with the MDC and civil society on transitional mechanisms, seek SADC endorsement and reengage with the West and foreign investors.

A deal that merely removed Mugabe while in effect maintaining the political status quo by keeping ZANU-PF in power would be no change at all. The situation is reminiscent of the last stages of Mobutu's reign in the Congo. The IMF predicts that inflation - already the world's highest - could pass 4,000 per cent by year's end, while foreign exchange is being wasted or stolen and smuggled abroad. Peaceful protests are repressed, and a new round of home and business demolitions similar to Operation Murambatsvina that displaced 700,000 in 2005 is being planned. Salaries of the security services and civil servants alike are mostly below the poverty line. Economic issues, discontent among underpaid police and troops and the increasing willingness of opposition parties and civil society to protest in the streets all increase the risk of sudden major violence.

The desire to remove Mugabe within the year provides a rare rallying point that cuts across partisan affiliations, and ethnic and regional identities. Opposition party leaders are keeping lines of communication open with the ZANU-PF dissidents while preparing for a non-violent campaign to demand immediate constitutional reform. The MDC's credibility and effectiveness, however, will be severely compromised unless efforts underway to reconcile its competing factions led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara succeed.

SADC (including South Africa) and the wider international community can make a vital contribution to resolving the crisis. SADC governments, who for long have been extremely reluctant to press Mugabe, now privately acknowledge they want him out to pave the way for a moderate ZANU-PF government. Without applying public pressure, the SADC troika is quietly beginning to explore ways to negotiate a retirement package for the president while persuading the West to relax its pressures. Mugabe's exit, however, should be only the starting point. Zimbabwe needs a more radical change to get back on its feet.

The West should both maintain pressure at this crucial point and increase support for democratic forces but also be more precise about the conditions for lifting sanctions and ending isolation. SADC, the EU and the U.S. should adopt a joint strategy with a clear sequence of benchmarks leading to a genuinely democratic process for which removal of sanctions and resumption of international aid to government institutions could be used at the appropriate time as incentives. Consultations are needed now to get such a strategy in place by July when the parliament will be expected to take crucial decisions either on Mugabe's harmonisation scheme or on plans for transition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 9, 2007 1:25 PM

Mugabee has them eating Mice, but I tell you Mandela plays a nice spoon and guitar

Posted by: h-man at March 9, 2007 4:03 PM

The question of Mugabe's departure from dictatorial rule of Zimbabwe (formerly, Rhodesia) is only "when", not "if".

It's obvious that South Africa finally realizes that it cannot tolerate the disintegrating Zimbabwe on its northern border. Reality is being accepted.

This is an appropriate point for the power brokers in Africa to abandon the concept that even a home-grown dictatorship is superior to former colonial rule.

With Mugabe and his ZANU-PF cronies gone, Zimbabwe can return to being a breadbasket for the rest of the continent. It's agricultural output is potentially life-saving for Africa.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at March 10, 2007 1:41 AM