Zimbabwe: An Opposition Strategy

Posted in Africa | 25-Aug-06 | Source: International Crisis Group


The risk of an explosion that could cost thousands of lives in the country and shatter the stability of Southern Africa is growing in Zimbabwe. Political reform is blocked, and virtually every economic indicator continues to trend downward. Inflation, poverty and malnutrition are growing more acute. Party and civil society opponents of President Mugabe’s government are yet to tap effectively into the living-standards-based dissatisfaction but it could finally become the spark that sets Zimbabwe toward change. The course is risky but Zimbabwe’s splintered opposition needs to come together to formulate a campaign of non-violent resistance that channels this anger and frustration into pressure on Mugabe to keep his word to retire by 2008 and on his ruling ZANU-PF party to negotiate seriously on a transition. The international community, long frustrated at its inability to influence the crisis, should assist, especially by tightening targeted sanctions (U.S./EU) and offering mediation services (South Africa).

A sense of paralysis hangs over the country. ZANU-PF, which in any event has nothing in its recent history to suggest it is capable of producing constructive policies, is gridlocked. Mugabe has manipulated the succession contest within it to keep the competing factions dependent on his favour and to neuter the dissatisfaction with his stewardship that is increasingly visible even among its members. Senior government, party and security officials exploit exchange rates to strip rapidly dwindling national assets.

The international community is fatigued and disillusioned at the lack of progress and shows no inclination to attempt new initiatives. Ideas for mediation by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and then former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa have not shown much sign of life. South Africa acknowledges it has nothing to show for years of quiet diplomacy and is now preoccupied with its own presidential politics and other international issues. South African Development Community (SADC) members appear increasingly concerned at the impact the crisis is having on the region. Some reportedly pressed Mugabe for reform in private at the just concluded summit in Lesotho, but in public the chairman praised Zimbabwe’s economic “progress”, suggesting the organisation is not likely to adopt a strategy going beyond trying to persuade the Zimbabwe president to accept some form of mediation by Mkapa.

U.S. and EU sanctions against key personalities of the Zimbabwean power structure remain in place but, while useful, are not much more than annoyances to the elites rather than active forces for change. Increasingly, it appears that Zimbabweans will have to start the process of creating new circumstances on the ground before the external actors can be stimulated to become more actively involved.

The political opposition and civil society organisations have failed to respond adequately to the crisis and demonstrate that they can put genuine pressure on the government. The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is weakened by a split that seems permanent, although there is talk of creating a “New Patriotic Front” (NPF), a Kenyan-style umbrella that offers promise for a loose coalition of all opposition groups. The main MDC faction, that of Morgan Tsvangirai, is still planning for the mass action it has promised.

Any such campaign is dangerous because the authorities have their own plans to respond with deadly force if need be. The crippled economy affects rank and file police and soldiers enough to cause a worried government to give them large salary increases recently but there is no evidence it could not mass enough reliable guns to suppress any confrontation in the centre of Harare. A decentralised campaign of non-violent resistance, at many places around the country and focused on bread and butter demands, could have more promise because it would be harder to infiltrate and disrupt and might force the government to decide between starting a process of piecemeal concessions or relying on less trusted men as the security forces were stretched.

Ultimately, stalemate in Zimbabwe is most likely to be broken by domestic resistance of one kind or another. With conditions becoming so dire, no one can discount a spontaneous revolt like the 1998 food riots. But it is incumbent on the MDC and civil society to try to manage the birth of a new dynamic that would also energise the international community. If they can, and if they can also put together a deal guaranteeing Mugabe a secure retirement, it just may be possible to move quickly at last on inter-party talks aimed at a new constitution and elections that truly are free and fair.


To the MDC Factions of Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara:

1. Work together to enact the principles of the recently signed “Democracy Charter”, actively participate in a loose coalition, bilaterally and under the umbrella of the proposed “New Patriotic Front”, and encourage as many as possible opposition parties, civil society organisations and religious bodies to join that Front and speak to the government with one voice.

2. Establish jointly a commission to investigate intra-party violence and expel permanently any party members who have engaged in or in future engage in such violence.

3. Consider launching a decentralised, non-violent campaign around the country focused initially on bread-and-butter economic demands and involving many and on-going actions such as non-confrontational marches, ratepayer strikes and the like to pressure the ZANU-PF government into specific concessions and eventually political negotiations.

4. Identify acceptable elements of a deal that might be proposed to President Mugabe at an appropriate moment in return for his firm commitment to lay down his authority and leave the presidency no later than upon expiration of his term of office in 2008, a possible element of which might include a guarantee he and his family could live comfortably and secure from prosecution.

To Civil Society Organisations:

5. Join the proposed “New Patriotic Front” so that as many organisations as possible can speak to the government with one voice

6. Consider joining the MDC in a decentralised, non-violent, nationwide campaign focused initially on bread-and-butter economic demands.

To the Government of Zimbabwe and ZANU-PF:

7. Negotiate with the MDC on a new constitution, provisions for sharing power in a transitional government and arrangements for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections (the latter perhaps moved forward to 2008), including repeal or suspension of repressive “security laws” enacted in recent years.

8. Drop plans in parliament to adopt proposed new repressive legislation such as the “Suppression of Terrorism Bill” and “Interception of Communications Bill”.

9. Suspend ongoing activities related to Operation Murambatsvina until humanitarian concerns surrounding housing and employment have been addressed, and allow street vendors to resume operations.

To the Government of South Africa:

10. Encourage President Mugabe to accept and implement a retirement package no later than the end of his present term in 2008 and offer to facilitate ZANU-PF/MDC talks aimed at producing a new constitution, a transitional government with shared powers and free and fair elections in 2008.

11. Press SADC to take a strong position in support of democratic change in Zimbabwe, including an expressed willingness to consider expulsion from the organisation if this is not forthcoming.

To the EU, its Member States and the U.S.:

12. Maintain and strictly enforce targeted sanctions against senior members of the Zimbabwe government, ZANU-PF and closely associated businesses.

To SADC and the African Union:

13. Pressure Harare to accept the MDC as a negotiating partner.

To UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan:

14. Dispatch a senior official to conduct a follow-up investigation on the effects of Operation Murambatsvina.

Pretoria/Brussels, 24 August 2006

Africa Report N°117