The second round of Zimbabwe's presidential elections will be
held on June 27 according to Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission. The
runoff pits the first round winner, Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, against President Robert Mugabe.
Mounting state-sponsored political violence leads even Mugabe's
staunchest supporters to question whether elections held under
current conditions could produce a result with even a modicum of
legitimacy. With the United Kingdom serving as the current
President of the United Nations Security Council and the United
States poised to take over in June, these countries should use
their position on the Council to bring increased U.N. pressure and
attention to Zimbabwe.
The Demise of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe's March 29 presidential election cast the already
unstable country into further crisis as the Mugabe regime sought to
retain power despite losing at the polls. Delayed election results
coupled with state-sponsored violence on the part of the military,
police, and government-backed "war veterans" are compounding
suffering for average Zimbabweans. The country has endured years of
hyperinflation, currently estimated at over 200,000 percent, and an
unemployment rate of over 80 percent. Some 3-4 million Zimbabweans
have fled the country and the remaining 8 million have seen the
country's average life expectancy drop from 57 years to just 34
years. The Mugabe regime destroyed the agricultural base of the
economy through its chaotic land reform, which put productive land
in the hands of regime supporters and created chronic food
shortages in a country that once served as a regional breadbasket.
The current regime's violence against civil society and opposition
supporters leaves Zimbabwe on the edge of collapse.
South Africa took the unprecedented step of sending a team of
senior army generals to Zimbabwe to assess the political violence
resulting from the March 29 first round of voting. Their "shocking"
findings led the team's leader, Lt. General Gilbert Ramano, to
state that a peaceful runoff election would be "almost
impossible." This assessment mirrors the views of
Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary
Tomaz Salomao, who highlighted that "we can't say the playing
ground is safe or will be fair."
The Failure of South Africa and the SADC
The United States and the international community have rested
their entire strategy for democratic elections in Zimbabwe on the
so-far disappointing leadership of the SADC. It would be absolute
folly at this point to fall into line with the Mugabe-appointed
Zimbabwean Electoral Commission's election plans without strict
demands aimed at ensuring a free and fair electoral process. The
SADC has proven incapable, unwilling or both when it comes to
forcing Zimbabwe to adhere to regional and international election
standards. It is time for the mandate to shift to its appropriate
place in the U.N. Security Council.
Even as Zimbabwe's post-election tensions reached ominous levels
in April, South African President Thabo Mbeki stymied efforts to
take up the crisis in the Security Council, noting that the issue
did not represent a threat to international peace and security.
Now, with over 700 documented cases of post-election violence that
have resulted in scores of deaths, few could cling to such an
argument. Strong statements from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
show a willingness within the world body to engage, and Zimbabwe's
presidential runoff will certainly require international resources
best provided through multilateral mechanisms.
Those who might still be inclined to leave Zimbabwe's fate in
the hands of Mbeki and the SADC must reflect on the potential scale
of human suffering that awaits. It should not be forgotten that the
number of political opponents and ordinary people killed in
Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1982 by Mugabe and his North
Korean-trained Shona army is widely estimated at 20,000. Mugabe
took extreme measures to erase Joshua Nkomo's power base then, and
it must be assumed that he is equally willing to act against the
It is also relevant to highlight the fact that South Africa's
African National Congress (ANC) was itself committed to a strategy
of revolutionary violence and came to power after a decade of
political violence that resulted in 25,000 deaths. Current ANC
President Jacob Zuma, in whom the international community has
placed significant hope, recently referred to Mugabe's Zimbabwe
African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) as a "fraternal
liberation movement and an ally."
U.S. Leadership Is Needed
There is an appropriate time for "soft power" in the form of
moral suasion, diplomatic pressure, and pointed outspokenness.
These have been the tools of U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe and have
worked hand in glove with Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" for nearly
eight years. The world has little to show for it, and the life of
the average Zimbabwean has continued to sink into a quest for
day-to-day survival. African leadership on Zimbabwe is still a goal
worth preserving, but it must find new impetus far from the reach
of Mugabe's "allies."
The State Department should be commended for its recent efforts
to cajole Zimbabwe's neighbors to take actions that are clearly in
the region's best interests. Assistant Secretary for African
Affairs Jendayi Frazer took the first bold step when she flatly
stated that Morgan Tsvangirai won Zimbabwe's presidential election.
The importance of U.S. leadership cannot be underestimated, and by
throwing aside Mugabe's distractions the U.S. opened the door to a
process that can still result in a democratic outcome for
U.S. policy must continue first and foremost to support the
Zimbabwean people and their nearly decade-long quest to rid
themselves of a dictator. The process of moving beyond regional
efforts and Mugabe's skillful ability to deflect them is at hand.
Specific steps that the U.S. government should adopt include:
- Congress should immediately hold hearings in both the House and
Senate on the situation in Zimbabwe. Congress should work with the
Bush Administration to announce America's commitment to provide
resources to help bring stability to Zimbabwe's chaotic economic
and humanitarian situation should the upcoming election be free and
- Both Congress and the Administration should immediately declare
America's strong support for U.N. action to ensure that Zimbabwe's
electoral process is free and fair and announce its willingness to
coordinate with the U.N. to address post-election stability and
economic recovery. While the U.N.'s track record can be questioned,
there are few strong alternatives given the impotence displayed by
the SADC and the African Union.
- The United States should work with the U.K. to engage the U.N.
Security Council on Zimbabwe. The U.K. is the current President of
the Security Council and will be followed in June by the United
States. Both countries should coordinate to ensure their
consecutive presidencies bring maximum pressure on Zimbabwe. The
first step would be for the U.K. to issue a presidential statement
on behalf of the Council rejecting Mugabe's easily anticipated
denunciation of neo-colonialism, condemning the post election
violence, and calling on Zimbabwe to invite election observers from
all nations. Additional statements should be issued as
circumstances merit. Simultaneously, the U.K. and the U.S. should
work to pass a Security Council resolution condemning post-election
violence in Zimbabwe. It should require the country to admit
international human rights and electoral process observers,
including from non-African countries, to work alongside SADC teams,
which were the only observers permitted in the March elections. And
it should call for targeted international economic and travel
sanctions against Zimbabwe's leadership, including the police and
military, should the government fail to safeguard opposition
supporters and members of civil society as they participate in
legitimate election-related activities.
- Secretary of State Rice should play a visible and active role
in bringing pressure on Zimbabwe, including supporting actions by
the Security Council to ensure that Zimbabwe holds a free and fair
runoff presidential election and working with countries in the
region affected by the crisis in Zimbabwe, such as Botswana and
The election runoff date of June 27 chosen by the Zimbabwean
Electoral Commission must be heavily scrutinized and the MDC should
maintain a powerful voice in determining when the conditions are
adequate for a free and fair contest. The opportunity to set
Zimbabwe on a course toward peace, stability, and democracy must
not be squandered. Africa's democratic movement over the last
decade represents a hard-won gain, and Zimbabwe's shadow cannot be
allowed to diminish the positive trends throughout the continent.
Mugabe's efforts to obscure facts, stall for time, and hold on to
power at all costs make him an iconoclastic relic of Africa's past.
The United States and the world must now take decisive action to
champion those fighting for democracy and hope of change in
Thomas M. Woods
is Senior Associate Fellow in African Affairs in the Margaret
Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
Dumisani Muleya "Zimbabwe: Violence 'Shocks' SA Generals," Business
Day (Johannesburg), May 14, 2008.
Dumisani Muleya "Zimbabwe: Country Sets Sights on July Poll Date,"
Business Day (Johannesburg), May 15, 2008.