The news emanating this past weekend from Zimbabwe--that
opposition candidate and first round presidential election winner
Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party
was forced to pull out of the June 27 presidential run-off--is
distressing. Tsvangirai's decision to withdraw from the
election is the direct result of a three-month campaign of violence
and intimidation perpetrated by President Robert Mugabe and his
supporters in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic
Tsvangirai can be excused for withdrawing. For months, he and
his supporters have been threatened, harassed, beaten, maimed, and
killed simply for trying to conduct their campaign. Already more
than 80 MDC supporters have been murdered through state-sponsored
terror orchestrated by the police, the military, and the youth
militia's masquerading as "war veterans." Unlike Mugabe, who has
instituted a campaign of terror against his own people, Tsvangirai
was troubled by the possibility that his MDC supporters would pay
for their votes with their very lives. After all, only days ago,
Mugabe threatened to unleash widespread violence if he lost the
election, boasting, "We are not going to give up our country for a
mere X on a ballot. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?" As
recent victims of violence can attest, Mugabe's declaration of war
against ordinary Zimbabweans is not an idle threat.
In the aftermath of Tsvangirai's withdrawal, African leaders, as
well as the international community, must take action to end
Mugabe's campaign of terror.
Mugabe's increasingly savage efforts to maintain political power
have triggered the following economic and humanitarian crises:
- A humanitarian crisis. As the popularity of the MDC
increased, Mugabe cracked down repeatedly on the party's
supporters. The government's 2005 Operation Murambatsvina resulted
in the demolition of informal housing and markets and rendered
700,000 urban Zimbabweans homeless or unemployed. Reports estimated
that 70 percent of the urban population--a key source of support
for the MDC--may have lost shelter or employment. Additionally,
over 2 million citizens (more than 15 percent of Zimbabwe's
population) are believed to have been affected from loss of
customers, employees, or markets.
Although most Zimbabweans now depend on remittances from their
relatives abroad and food aid to survive, the government controls
food aid distribution, dispensing it only to loyal supporters.
Subsequently, hunger is widespread. More than 4 million Zimbabweans
are thought to 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. Dozens of people have been tortured or killed in
the three months since the first elections. Homes have been
firebombed. Thousands have been beaten and injured.
- An economic collapse. The agricultural base of the
economy was destroyed through Mugabe's "land reform" policies,
which banished productive farmers from their land and awarded the
property to supporters of the regime. These "land reform" policies
led to chronic food shortages in a country that once served as a
regional breadbasket. Unemployment currently hovers at 80 percent,
and government services have collapsed. According to Leon Louw of
South Africa's Free Market Foundation, inflation in Zimbabwe
exceeded 1 million percent in June. That's over 100 percent an
hour--in other words, after a one-hour lunch, your money is worth
half as much as it did when you sat down. Needless to say,
inflation, combined with price controls, has destroyed savings, led
to food shortages, and crippled the formal economy.
South African Silence
Mugabe's despicable actions over the past decade led the U.S.
and Europe to impose targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe's top
government officials. As the situation in Zimbabwe worsened,
however, African nations remained shamefully silent, resisting
overt actions against Mugabe. Such inaction is the product of
misguided loyalty to, and solidarity with, the revolutionary leader
who helped lead Zimbabwe to independence. Yet Mugabe's brutal
actions against his own people over the past decade reveal that
that such reverence is undeserved.
Particularly shameful is the silence from South Africa. Although
South African President Thabo Mbeki claimed the right to lead
efforts for political reconciliation in Zimbabwe, his "quiet"
diplomatic strategy has shielded Mugabe from overt criticism. The
unwillingness of South Africa to contemplate sanctions has provided
an economic lifeline to the ZANU-PF regime. Indeed, few have done
more than Mbeki to prop up the 84-year-old dictator, leading the
MDC to publicly ask Mbeki to halt his mediation efforts. Mbeki's
policy of appeasing an African despot should be an embarrassment to
the African National Congress, which fought for decades to open up
the political system in South Africa.
A Welcome End to "Quiet" Diplomacy
Thankfully, Mugabe's recent excesses seem to be too much for
more enlightened African leaders to tolerate. For instance,
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Chairman Levi
Mwanawasa, the president of Zambia, announced that the Zimbabwean
election should be postponed due to the Mugabe regime's attacks. In
addition to Mr. Mwanawasa, several other African statesmen have
issued strong condemnations of Mugabe and his regime:
- President Kagame of Rwanda stated flatly that the "African
continent has let down the people of Zimbabwe."
- President Yar'adua of Nigeria railed against Mugabe's lack of
respect for the rule of law and stated clearly that he "does not
subscribe to that sort of behavior."
- Prime Minister Odinga stood beside Secretary of State Rice last
week and declared that "Zimbabwe is an eyesore for the African
continent" and that a Bosnia-style multilateral force is called for
to stop the violence.
- Even President dos Santos of Angola has spoken out against his
long-time ally Mugabe and denounced his campaign of terror.
Such a fundamental shift by African leaders marks a clear
departure from South African President Thabo Mbeki's "quiet
diplomacy." After eight years, African leaders are breaking ranks
to say that Mugabe's efforts to stay in power at all costs is not
in line with the democratic movement spreading across the
continent. In a remarkable break with past mediation efforts, a
meeting of SADC countries on the situation in Zimbabwe decided not
to invite Mbeki to participate.
A Role for the U.N?
As African leaders and the international community debate the
next step in resolving the Zimbabwean crisis, many are looking to
the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for action. South Africa
actively blocked discussion of the matter during its council
presidency last April, yet with the United States serving as
current council president, a window of opportunity has opened. In
fact, Secretary Rice made it clear at a Zimbabwe roundtable
discussion held June 19 in New York that the UNSC's failure to
adopt strong measures against the Mugabe regime would dramatically
undermine the body's credibility.
UNSC intervention in Zimbabwe is necessary for international
peace and stability. A third of Zimbabwe's 12 million people have
already fled the country as political and economic refugees. The
United Nations recently announced that 5 million Zimbabweans
remaining in the country will face a dire food crisis in the coming
weeks and months. Tens of thousands of MDC supporters have seen
their homes and villages burned, which has led to large numbers of
internally displaced people in the rural areas. In places like
Mashonaland, Manicaland, and Masvingo, the Mugabe regime's ban on
non-governmental food aid deliveries transforms political
repression into a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Given the
potential for large-scale refugee flows out of Zimbabwe, the UNSC
must immediately intervene.
Mugabe's actions illustrate that a peaceful resolution of the
situation in Zimbabwe is impossible. Outside intervention is
required. The United States and the United Kingdom should help lead
the international community to take decisive action through the
UNSC. Additionally, both countries should explore options to expand
existing sanctions, freeze economic assets and accounts of Mugabe
and other ZANU-PF officials, deny access to their respective
countries to Mugabe and his representatives, and officially expel
Zimbabwean diplomats. As noted by African expert J. Peter Pham:
[S]ending all sixteen diplomats--from Ambassador Machivenyika
Mapuranga down to Third Secretary for Political and Administrative
Affairs Loreta Evelyn Mutyora-- ... along with the members of their
households, packing back to "Uncle Bob" in Harare [would send a
clear message that] while America welcomes communication with
legitimate governments, even ones with which we have political
differences, given its blatant violation of the norms of its own
constitutional and legal order, Mugabe's regime can no longer be
considered the legitimate government of Zimbabwe and thus has no
right to avail itself of diplomatic prerogatives which the
international community accords to its lawfully sovereign
These international efforts would be bolstered by clear
encouragement and leadership from African nations. African
leadership must coalesce around concerted multilateral diplomacy
led by the UNSC. The council recently issued a presidential
statement, the weakest possible UNSC action, condemning the
government of Zimbabwe for encouraging and perpetrating the killing
and beating of opposition activists. The council should follow up
on the statement with a robust resolution focused on four essential
- The Mugabe regime must immediately halt its state-sponsored
campaign of terror against the opposition. Failure to do so will
lead to individual accountability within the ranks of the police,
military, government, and so-called "war veterans";
- Impose an immediate arms embargo on Zimbabwe to prevent the
Mugabe regime from conducting an even more widespread
- Humanitarian relief must be allowed to be distributed by
non-governmental organizations freely and without obstruction;
- The United Nations will be charged with immediately deploying
human rights and electoral process observers to Zimbabwe in advance
of newly declared elections.
The Security Council should also include, as urged by the U.S.
and other nations in a council debate on June 23, a statement in
the resolution declaring that "until there is a clearly free and
fair second round of the presidential election, the only legitimate
basis for the government of Zimbabwe is the outcome of" the March
29 election in which Tsvangirai won a plurality. As such, Mugabe and
his representatives should be denied official credentials in the
General Assembly and other U.N. bodies.
As his term in office ends, Mbeki could take steps toward
redemption by leading the UNSC effort to address the crisis. If he
lacks that resolve, other African leaders must step forward.
Failure to act will certainly prolong Zimbabwe's political crisis
and lead to massive loss of innocent life.
Thomas M. Woods is Senior
Associate Fellow in African Affairs and Brett D. Schaefer is Jay
Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The
Fact Sheet, "Hope Fades for Free Elections in Zimbabwe During
Government Campaign of Terror," U.S. State Department Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, June 20, 2008, at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/104399.htm.
more information see Woods, "The United States Must Increase the
Pressure on Zimbabwe;"
Brett D. Schaefer, "The Crisis in Zimbabwe: How the U.S. Should
Respond," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1407, March 23,
2007, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Africa/wm1407.cfm.
United Nations Department of Public Information, "Security Council
Condemns Violent Campaign Against Political Opposition in Zimbabwe;
Regrets Failure to Hold Free, Fair Election, in Presidential
Statement," Security Council Document SC/9369, June 23, 2008, at
(June 25, 2008).