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Analysis: Southern Africa's Zimbabwe Divide

Council on Foreign Relations

June 12, 2008
Author: Stephanie Hanson

As the date of Zimbabwe's runoff presidential election draws closer, speculation about the fluid political situation runs rampant. Some Western diplomats and rights groups say a coup has put the military in charge (Times of London). Ruling party insiders reportedly, meanwhile, say President Robert Mugabe still holds control but plans to step down next year (SA Times). Other regional media outlets suggest Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, and the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), might even be discussing a national unity government (Business Day). Yet there is widespread agreement on one point: The state-sponsored campaign of violence and intimidation documented by human rights groups precludes a fair runoff election on June 27. Zimbabwe's fate, experts say, will hinge on mediation by African negotiators, most likely led by the South African Development Community (SADC).

To date, SADC, a regional body that grew out of the anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, has been loath to censure Mugabe directly. Taking its lead from South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, the group has opted for "quiet diplomacy." Mbeki-led talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC last year failed to produce results ahead of March's elections, and in the aftermath of the disputed poll SADC produced a halfhearted statement that called for the release of election results but did not even mention Mugabe by name.

There are distinct signs of a shift within the fourteen-member body, however, particularly among Botswana, Tanzania, and Zambia. A recent policy briefing from the International Crisis Group says the three countries agree "Mugabe needs to go, a transitional government should replace the current regime, and, for this to happen, the South African mediation must be broadened." Further, the reluctance of some countries to challenge Mugabe's legitimacy also appears to be wavering.

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