Welcome. Join Us.
19 February 2009
In the last two weeks, a seeming resolution to the Zimbabwean crisis has emerged. The leader of the opposition group agreed to the South African Development Community (SADC) proposal to implement the power sharing agreement that was signed in September of 2008. On February 13th, Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister and effectively put in charge of the finance and social services portfolios that have suffered the most in the Zimbabwean crisis. Tsvangirai's new role means he will primarily be responsible for convincing donors to provide money to Zimbabwe to help alleviate suffering and attempt to restore order in a country that has suffered a devastating political, economic and social crisis.
On February 17th, the new cabinet met for the first time, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) released a report that shows that the cholera epidemic is getting worse as medical and social infrastructure continue to deteriorate. Most hospitals remain closed because they cannot afford to provide services. The latest figures show that 3,623 have died since the cholera outbreak began in August of last year.
MDC supporters are still being targeted in political battles and the human rights and opposition activists that were arrested in December remain in jail. Morgan Tsvangirai has a difficult road to navigate and the environment in which he has to work remains extremely difficult. On February 17th, ONE launched an effort to petition the AU to execute its role as guarantor of the new Zimbabwe unity government.
The Crisis in Context
At independence, Zimbabwe was touted as one of Africa's most promising countries. Robert Mugabe was elected president in the country's first elections in 1980, following a lengthy and brutal transition from British rule. After being elected on a platform of national reconciliation and reconstruction, in his first years as president Mugabe demonstrated a commitment to Zimbabwe's socioeconomic development. Substantial investments were made into the country's health and education systems and the potential for economic growth was high as a result of a strong agricultural sector and diversified economy. By the 1990s, Zimbabwe boasted some of the region's highest literacy rates and was on its way to becoming a regional breadbasket.
By the late 1990s, poor economic management coupled with Mugabe's relentless hold on power had reversed this situation. With inflation running into the millions of percentages, life in Zimbabwe had literally ground to a halt. Controversial land reform policies, which (sometimes forcefully) transferred white owned farms to black Zimbabweans, have destroyed the agricultural sector and in turn, the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy, leaving many Zimbabweans without employment or food. Today, the World Food Program estimates that half of the country's population (more than 5 million people) are in need of emergency food aid. Health indicators have also plummeted- last year, the World Health Organization announced that Zimbabwe had the shortest life expectancy in the world: 37 years for men and 34 years for women.
On March 29th 2008, Zimbabweans had another opportunity to vote for change through elections. Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads Zimbabwe's main opposition party (Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC) challenged Mugabe for the presidency. After months of uncertainty due to the government's delay in releasing the official results, on May 2nd the race was deemed too close to announce a winner and a run-off election was scheduled for June 27th. In the lead-up to the run-off elections, members and supporters of the MDC party were repeatedly harassed and arbitrarily imprisoned. Tsvangirai himself was detained twice for no just cause. Eventually, Tsvangari withdrew his candidacy claiming that a fair run-off was impossible. Having held power for the last 28 years, it was clear that Mugabe was determined to blatantly abuse power and human rights to continue his rule indefinitely. Despite the lack of an opposition candidate, Mugabe went ahead with the elections, announced himself the winner and was sworn in on June 29th.
Following the "run-off", the African Union (AU) came under tremendous pressure to mediate a resolution. Despite explicit condemnation of Mugabe's election tactics from African leaders (notably Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya), the AU maintained that a resolution signed by African leaders for tougher sanctions against Zimbabwe was not the best solution. Instead, it appointed South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate a negotiations for a government of national unity. In September, a power sharing agreement was signed which stipulated that Mugabe would remain President and Tsvangirai would become Prime Minister. It was agreed that Mugabe would head the cabinet and set policy, while Tsvangirai would head the council of ministers to oversee cabinet decisions and day-to-day administration. An opportunity for progress seemed to present itself.
This opportunity was initially squandered when negotiations over the ministerial positions revealed that Mugabe's ZANU-PF party lacked sincerity in the execution of the agreement. The opposition accused Mugabe of attempting to retain power by holding on to key cabinet positions, in particular the security agencies that were responsible for the intimidation and election malpractices. It was only recently that the power-sharing deal was finally instituted, and it remains to be seen how this "unity government" will function.
The Road Ahead: Restoring Zimbabwe's Potential
Zimbabwe has the potential to regain some of its lost years of development. Although the headlines paint a crisis beyond repair, lessons from other African countries indicate that a recovery is possible. Countries like Rwanda and Mozambique have demonstrated the remarkable recoveries that are possible after the most destructive civil conflicts. The first step in this process is establishment of a functioning, committed government. The state plays a huge part in providing an enabling environment for development to take place. When governance structures breakdown, citizens cannot access basic social services and any chance at socio-economic improvement becomes severely limited. Zimbabwe provides a clear example of the importance of ensuring that basic governance structures exist as a prerequisite for effective development. The second key qualification for recovery is strong support from international partners. Two decades of autocratic rule have tarnished Zimbabwe's relationship with the global community. That is why it is vital that the international community is not only strong in demanding a fair political resolution, but is poised and ready to offer support once Zimbabwe has a chance at recovery.