Zimbabwe: Political and Security Challenges to the Transition
Zimbabwe: Political and Security Challenges to the Transition
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Briefing 70 / Africa 3 minutes

Zimbabwe: Political and Security Challenges to the Transition

As Zimbabwe enters its second year under a unity government, the challenges to democratic transformation have come into sharp focus. Despite reasonable progress in restoring political and social stability, major threats could still derail the reform process.


As Zimbabwe enters its second year under a unity government, the challenges to democratic transformation have come into sharp focus. Despite reasonable progress in restoring political and social stability, ending widespread repression and stabilising the economy since February 2009, major threats could still derail the reform process. In particular, resistance of intransigent and still powerful security sector leaders and fractious in-fighting between and within the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) must be addressed now. South Africa and other countries in southern Africa – who monitor the accord that guides the transition – must press the parties, and particularly President Robert Mugabe, to see the transition through to a successful conclusion. Donors should back their efforts.

The unity government, created under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by Mugabe and MDC factional leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, was born under a cloud of scepticism. Most observers gave it little chance, predicting that, even as prime minister, Tsvangirai would fall prey to Mugabe’s “divide, rule, co-opt and destroy” strategy. Against the odds, the government started well: schools and hospitals re-opened; civil servants were paid and returned to work; the Zimbabwe dollar was shelved; goods returned to store shelves; and a cholera epidemic was controlled. Human rights activists reported a significant drop in abuses. Donors generally received well an ambitious yet pragmatic reconstruction program calling for $8.5 billion in foreign aid and investment.

But major concerns undermining the transition process have come to the fore. Hardline generals and other Mugabe loyalists in ZANU-PF are refusing to implement the government’s decisions, boycotting the new national security organ and showing public disdain for Tsvangirai. Farm seizures have continued virtually unabated. Most attention has focused on completing the GPA, but ZANU-PF has delayed or ignored important commitments in that document, while stalling constitutional reforms by insisting on preserving broad executive privileges. Key blocked steps include a land audit, appointment of MDC governors, an end of arbitrary detentions and arrests, regular functioning of the National Security Council in place of the infamous Joint Operations Command, public consultations on a new constitution and preparation for elections.

These delays reflect the two deeper challenges on which this briefing concentrates. First, a mature political system must develop, so that ZANU-PF and MDC engage as both competitors in the political arena and partners in the inclusive government. This will be difficult, especially under the divisive Mugabe, but other ZANU-PF leaders, including the factions led by Vice President Joice Mujuru, and Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, know that their party has lost much popular support and needs a generational shift. For its part, the MDC must keep faith and engaged with its broad following in the transition process, including trade unions, human rights groups and women’s organisations. It must also show the country as a whole that it is a viable custodian of the state – competent, transparent, and capable of preserving social change since independence.

Equally challenging are security issues. A relatively small number of “securocrats” use their positions and symbiotic relationship with Mugabe to exercise veto power over the transition. They are motivated by differing factors: fear of losing power and its financial benefits, fear of prosecution for political or financial abuses, and a belief that they guard the liberation heritage against Tsvangirai and the MDC, which they view as fronts for white and Western interests. Zimbabweans across the political spectrum are quietly considering how to ease these officers into retirement, even at the cost of allowing them to keep their assets and providing them a degree of impunity from domestic prosecution, while simultaneously professionalising security forces respectful of human rights and a democratically elected government.

While the primary tasks ahead rest with Zimbabweans, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) must take seriously its GPA guarantor role. South African President Jacob Zuma’s activism as mediator must convey the message that the region will abide no alternative to the GPA. His recent actions, including appointment of three respected advisers to oversee the Zimbabwe account, are welcome indications he will be tougher vis-à-vis Mugabe on GPA obligations and respect for rule of law.

The broader international community, especially the UK, U.S., EU and China, should support and complement SADC’s efforts through careful calibration of trade, aid, and investment to encourage progress; maintenance of targeted sanctions on those thwarting the transition; and lifting of sanctions on entities key to economic recovery. Donors should provide new recovery and development assistance – including for rural development, health and education and strengthening of the judiciary, legislature and civil society – through transparent mechanisms, such as the Multi-Donor Trust Fund.

This briefing focuses on political party and security issues, as well as South Africa’s mediation. Subsequent reporting will analyse other topics vital to the transition, including constitutional and legal reform, justice and reconciliation, sanctions policies and security sector reform.

Harare/Pretoria/Nairobi/Brussels, 3 March 2010

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