Zimbabwe’s military unexpectedly ousted President Robert Mugabe in late 2017, nearly four decades after he took power. Debilitating internal factionalism within the ruling Zanu-PF party over succession to Mugabe has culminated in the elevation of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the helm. He has promised to break with the past as he endeavours to navigate a much needed economic recovery. Prospects for promoting a new more inclusive political culture are less certain. Credible elections in 2018 could be a vital stepping stone toward a peaceful democratic transition, but they also pose a challenge to Zimbabwe’s weak institutions. Through research and analysis, Crisis Group sheds light on obstacles to a smooth, credible electoral process leading up to 2018. We help relevant actors nationally and internationally to buttress the likelihood of peaceful elections and democratic transition.
Zimbabwe will hold elections on 23 August. As with past votes, the playing field is skewed in favour of the ruling party ZANU-PF. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Nicolas Delaunay lays out the stakes and assesses the risks of violence.
Multiple observation missions reported widespread irregularities in general elections, casting doubt on legitimacy of vote which saw President Mnangagwa declared winner of second term.
Election authorities Mnangagwa re-elected in elections marred by irregularities. Electoral commission 26 Aug declared President Mnangagwa winner of presidential election held 23 Aug with 52.6% of vote against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s 44%; ruling party ZANU-PF also won 136 of 210 parliamentary seats against 73 for main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). Chamisa 27 Aug alleged “gigantic fraud” and 29 Aug called for elections rerun. Conduct of elections could also hamper Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive with international partners, as most international election observers said vote was marred by irregularities and poor organisation, while pre-election environment was largely favourable to ZANU-PF. Notably, in departure from past statements on elections in Zimbabwe, Southern African Development Community (SADC) 25 Aug said elections “fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe”, citing curbs on freedom of assembly and judicial capture. In response, Mnangagwa 27 Aug criticised outside observers for “interrogat[ing] institutions of a sovereign government”.
Lead-up to vote and election day marred by violence and repression. NGO Zimbabwe Peace Project recorded 84 human rights violations related to elections in first half of Aug, including arson, assaults, kidnapping threats and intimidation. Notably, suspected ZANU-PF activists 3 Aug ambushed and killed CCC supporter near campaign rally in capital Harare; police arrested 10 people in connection with case. Police 15 Aug also arrested 40 CCC members including MP candidate for allegedly blocking traffic and disrupting order during campaign event in Harare suburb. On voting day, journalist and opposition figure Hopewell Chin’ono 23 Aug accused ZANU-PF supporters and officials of intimidating voters outside polling stations, also criticised electoral commission’s lack of preparedness as authorities extended voting to 24 Aug in some wards amid delayed distribution of ballot papers. Police 24 Aug arrested 41 election monitors from civil society groups, accusing them of trying to disrupt voting process by releasing unofficial vote results from independent count.
For years, South Africa trusted in behind-the-scenes contacts to alleviate Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems. But those troubles have continued to mount. By stepping up pressure, and by working with Washington on reform guidelines, Pretoria can help Harare find a way out of its crisis.
In 2019, killings by machete-wielding gangs at Zimbabwe’s gold mines jogged the government into preventive action. But police sweeps alone cannot make the sector safe. Harare should adopt reforms that allow more citizens to mine legally and head off disputes over the country’s mineral wealth.
The Zimbabwean government’s decision to hike fuel prices has sparked fierce opposition. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Consultant Piers Pigou explains how economic hardship is driving ordinary citizens to unprecedented acts of resistance.
Zimbabwe’s disputed elections have reinforced political divisions as the Constitutional Court hears an opposition challenge of the results. The military crackdown on opposition protesters highlights the urgency of reform if the government is to preserve stability and, by extension, its re-engagement strategy with international donors.
On 30 July Zimbabwe will hold elections. For the first time since independence Robert Mugabe is not a candidate. His successor presents himself as a reformer – but many doubt the polls will be clean. The opposition warns that Zimbabweans will not tolerate another stolen election.
A new presidential administration in Zimbabwe offers an opportunity for much-needed democratic and economic reform after years of stagnation. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group proposes four key areas on which the EU and its member states should focus its support: the security sector, elections, the economy and national reconciliation.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the chance to embark on a much-needed process of economic and governance reform in Zimbabwe. The military’s role in the political transition casts a shadow on the road to credible elections, which remain a priority if his government is to earn national and international legitimacy.
Delayed elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the stalled transition risks provoking a major crisis, are one of three critical African polls: the DRC crisis, the recent vote in Kenya and Zimbabwe’s election next year all have important implications for democracy and stability on the continent.
Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.