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
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.
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
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
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
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 Zimbabweans.
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 fair.
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
- 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
- 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 Zambia.
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 Zimbabwe.
 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.