Want to sideline Mugabe? Support Zimbabwe now
Want to sideline Mugabe? Support Zimbabwe now
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Want to sideline Mugabe? Support Zimbabwe now

In the wake of fraudulent presidential elections, followed by a brutal military crackdown on the opposition, the hardliners in power agreed to a government of national unity in which the real opposition winner of the election now shares power as prime minister.

The hopeful scenario for Iran? No, the actual situation in Zimbabwe.

In the four months since Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) joined a coalition government in Zimbabwe with their long-time oppressors, President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party, a flicker of hope has grown stronger and stronger that the country has embarked on the long road towards political reform and economic recovery.

Optimists can now point to a growing sense of movement in Zimbabwe reflecting small but clear signs of recovery. Prices have stabilised, stocks have filled the shops, the government has begun to function after a fashion, and civil servants are being paid at least a modest stipend.

Schools and hospitals are starting to re-open, and humanitarian assistance from Western governments is picking up. Human rights activists report a precipitous drop in government abuses.

Parliamentarians are working across party lines to adopt a new, democratic constitution.

Still, Tsvangirai is facing much scepticism from potential public and private supporters and the Zimbabwean diaspora during his current European and American road-show. Sceptics understandably cite efforts by some old regime elements, especially hardline generals and other Mugabe loyalists, to thwart the new government, motivated by fear of loss of power and its financial benefits; possible prosecution for their crimes; hatred of Tsvangirai and his MDC; and a belief that that they are the guardians of the country’s liberation.

These forces continue to work flat out to undermine the inclusive government by stalling processes which should lead to the fulfilment of the Global Political Agreement. They are delaying appointments of key posts, postponing the reform of the Central Bank and the Attorney General’s Office, refusing to implement order from the coalition leadership and even the courts, and taking every opportunity to show disdain for Tsvangirai’s authority. True to form, Mugabe is giving them backing and taking actions and decisions that call into grave question his commitment to make the inclusive government work.

As a result, the international community has been slow to embrace the new government. While there has been some welcome expansion of immediate humanitarian assistance, too many foreign donors — including the United States and the UK — are adopting a "wait-and-see" posture towards longer-term financial support for recovery and reconstruction. This approach could doom the new government to failure.

In fact, hesitation risks thwarting the very changes the international community is seeking, both by weakening the hand of the MDC and moderates in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, and by undercutting popular support for the reform process.

It would be premature for foreign governments to remove targeted sanctions — travel bans and asset freezes — against those thwarting the transition, or to adopt a "business-as-usual" posture toward the unity government. But there are actions they can take.

The UK and other Western governments should expand assistance under the "humanitarian plus" strategy that supports revival of the education, agriculture, health and water sanitation sectors. It should go further and also help empower a functioning civil service and legislature, rebuild key infrastructure, and support reform of politicised government institutions, including the judiciary and the police.

It should also strengthen civil society fractured in recent years by Mugabe’s divide-and-rule tactics. Such aid would be channelled through transparent and accountable mechanisms. Government can also adopt innovative programs to support vital trade and foreign investment in Zimbabwe, essential to addressing the country’s 90 per cent unemployment rate.

In addition, the outside world can help encourage the retirement of the military’s senior leadership, in order to counter the real risk of an attack against Tsvangirai or a military take-over. This could be through a law that offers immunity to senior generals from domestic prosecution for past political crimes — excluding crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide — in return for retirement, and should explore appropriate transitional justice mechanisms such as a truth commission and vetting processes.

Some worry that such a strategy would prematurely reward Mugabe and his hardline supporters or reduce the pressure on them to cooperate with the reform process. In truth, it would strengthen the hands of moderates and make it more difficult for the extremists to again seize power, which would lead to even greater repression and isolation, and new hardship and abuse for the long-suffering Zimbabwean people.

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