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Zimbabwe

Country without hope

by Meike Scholz, Hans Dembowski

In brief

Opposition supporters show their injuries: their limbs were broken during a rally in Harare.

Opposition supporters show their injuries: their limbs were broken during a rally in Harare.

After a run-off election marked by violence, Robert Mugabe was sworn in again as president of Zimbabwe in late June. Some African leaders voiced criticism, but the African Union as a whole did not seem prepared to rebut the autocrat.

Five days before the run-off election, Morgan Tsvangirai, the chairman and presidential candidate of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had announced his withdrawal. This was by no means a concession statement, but rather an urgent cry for help. A UN peacekeeping force was needed to protect the Zimbabweans, Tsvangirai said after seeking refuge at the Dutch embassy in Harare. The opinion of some who had still hoped to oust Mugabe in the election, however, was: “Five more days – we could have held out.”

Others showed understanding for Tsvangirai motives. More than 86 MDC supporters had been killed, over 20,000 wounded and around 200,000 displaced. Mugabe’s party ZANU-PF, the police and the military were responsible for the violence, according to the opposition and a large number of non-governmental organisations. Oppression had prevented the MDC from running any serious election campaign.

After the run-off, Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African parliament’s election-monitoring mission, declared that “the current atmosphere prevailing in the country did not give rise to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections”. Ahead of the event, South Africa’s congress of trade unions (COSATU) had stated that the run-off would not be “an election, but a declaration of war against the people of Zimbabwe by the ruling party”.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa had demanded that the run-off be postponed, as anything else would be an embarrassment to Africa as a whole. After the election, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga echoed him and spoke of a “fake”. Odinga heads a huge cabinet of supposed national unity. This troubled coalition was formed after a severe electoral crisis in his country.

While some other African leaders made similar statements, the African Union as a whole did not seem prepared to refute the autocrat as D+C was going to print. Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s president, stayed conspicuously silent. His so-called “quiet diplomacy”, however, amounted to support for Mugabe’s attempt to enter talks with the MDC from a position of relative strength as re-elected president. Zanu-PF had lost its parliamentary majority to the MDC in elections in May. At the time, Mugabe had come in second after Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential election.

Though widely debated, the idea of solving Zimbabwe’s crisis by forming a
government of national unity in Zimbabwe is probably condemned to failure:
– Examples in other African nations have shown that governments of national unity do not resolve the problems at hand but simply put them to the side.
– The MDC would lose all credibility if it shook the hand of the man they accuse of violent crimes – including murder.
– Mugabe himself does not think much ofgovernments of national unity. Under his leadership at the end of the 1980s, he united the ruling party Zanu-PF with ZAPU, the opposition party of the time. The outcome: Zanu-PF swallowed the opposition after Mugabe had waged war against them for years. It is reported that more than 20,000 people were killed by Mugabe’s special troops, the 5th Brigade, in the process.

So what is the way out of the crisis? For many Zimbabweans, the answer is clear: they are leaving the country. Several million have reportedly already done so. And in South Africa, Botswana or Zambia, they are now waiting for Mugabe to die. After all, he is 84 years old and even a dictator does not live forever. Many of these people have given up hope that the international community will help them. (sz/dem)