Analyzing the Zimbabwe election

Sunday, June 29, 2008 | 12:47 a.m. CDT; updated 1:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stuart Loory: Zimbabwe will have a run-off presidential election, with only one candidate in the race. He is 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for 29 years. Mugabe was defeated in the March 29 election by opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. Recently, Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off and took refuge in the Dutch embassy at Harare, saying his life and his followers’ lives have been endangered by Mugabe and members of his ruling party, ZANU-PF. Tsvangirai says international intervention is needed to oust Mugabe and bring democracy to Zimbabwe. Mugabe says this is a plot by Western nations to bring Zimbabwe under their control. The United Nations, the African Union and many individual countries have called for Mugabe to be reasonable. Reports say Mugabe’s forces have murdered 85 opposition workers and beaten many more. The country has become a political, economic and social basket case. The inflation rate is more than 1,000 percent. Much of the work force has emigrated because there are no jobs, and the country exists on money sent by workers in the diaspora. Mugabe’s forces have said the election is a battle. Mugabe has said an X on the ballot has no guns, and only God can oust him. Can the election be canceled or postponed?

Scott Baldauf, Africa correspondent, Christian Science Monitor, Johannesburg, South Africa: The head of the electoral commission said it was too late for Tsvangirai to withdraw his candidacy, and the election will go ahead. But the situation isn’t at a standstill. Internal talks are possible. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has been trying to get the parties to look toward another solution, and Tsvangirai’s people and Mugabe’s people are talking to Mbeki.

Loory: Western European countries, the United States, the U.N. and the African Union also have exerted pressure, but to no avail.

Wilf Manga, founder and editor-in-chief, The Zimbabwean newspaper, London, England: Mugabe isn’t listening to anyone. He was humiliated when he lost to Tsvangirai, and he wants to go ahead with the election and reverse that, or at least convince himself he is still Zimbabwe’s leader. Then he will talk to Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). No one can rule Zimbabwe without the other party’s accommodation. Mugabe knows he will have to talk to Tsvangirai, but he wants to talk from a position of strength and to be the senior person in any arrangement.

Manga: Tsvangirai would be mad to accept an arrangement after he won the election. More than 60 percent of Zimbabweans voted against ZANU-PF. Mugabe is a minority leader and not taking that into account doesn’t represent the people’s will.

Loory: Was there notable opposition to Mugabe before and after the election?

Baldauf: It was striking that the opposition built inroads into areas where ZANU-PF has always won. Everything seems to be changing. People are taking the collapsing economy as a sign this is a last straw. They cannot take Mugabe’s leadership anymore. The question is, if only one man is running will there be two names on the ballots?

Manga: During the election, the army will move people to polling stations in army trucks. People’s identity cards will be taken from them and they will be put in order by name. The ballots are numbered so the army will know how each individual votes. Voters will be told not to claim they are illiterate. A soldier in plain clothes will help them mark their ballots, and of course it will be for Mugabe. Mugabe’s party wants to ensure a huge turnout, and Mugabe will win with at least 80 percent of the vote.

Loory: Was inflation’s impact visible when you were in Zimbabwe?

Baldauf: Absolutely, and it was terrifying. Whole rows in supermarkets were empty. Shopkeepers couldn’t afford to bring in maize meal. Entrepreneurs who still have access to gasoline are bringing or smuggled in supplies. They can charge higher prices as the value of Zimbabwe’s currency falls.

Loory: Aren’t the diaspora supporting the economy? How do they get money into Zimbabwe?

Manga: About four to five million Zimbabweans live in exile, mainly in South Africa, but also in the U.K., the U.S. and Australia. Those with jobs send money home in envelopes through the post, or through companies that transfer funds. People pay, and the money is transferred to relatives in Zimbabwe. It’s how the majority of Zimbabweans survive.

Loory: A U.N. resolution and the African Union have called on Mugabe to make changes. Could those requests have an impact?

Baldauf: Cumulatively, yes. If South Africa were to take a harder line against Mugabe, it would be difficult for Mugabe to interact with the outside world. Also, if the U.S. and the U.K. said they wouldn’t recognize Mugabe as president, that would pressure him. Many of the ruling Zimbabwe elite send their children to universities outside of Zimbabwe. If more nations had sanctions against the elite, it would have some personal effect on the people in charge.

Manga: What Zimbabwe needs is an international force to protect citizens from being killed and abused by their own government. The police turn a blind eye and are involved in some of the violence. When a country abuses its citizens, when the president of a country kills his own people, it becomes imperative for the international community to take action.

Loory: Mandela recently spoke out against Mugabe, but South African leaders haven’t greatly criticized him.

Baldauf: The African National Conference in South Africa is a liberation movement. People who work within it often follow their cues from the top, and the top is Mbeki. He visited with Mugabe and said there’s no crisis in Zimbabwe. He gave his stamp of approval for Mugabe to operate the elections despite the irregularities.

Loory: Would Mugabe consider going into exile in order to settle this situation?

Manga: Mugabe says he won’t consider exile. He says he was born in Zimbabwe and he will be buried there. People have considered giving him amnesty for his actions in the past, but he won’t accept that. He would rather die fighting.

Loory: Then what are the back-channel talks about?

Baldauf: They’re likely about whom both sides would work with and under what conditions. Presumably the MDC would go with the technocrats, the ones who aren’t military leaders and don’t have blood on their hands. ZANU-PF members are concerned with amnesty on human rights violations and for public property violations, including large commercial farms that have ended up in government officials’ hands. It comes down to what the ZANU-PF would give up and under what conditions the MDC would work with them.

Loory: Are outside leaders pushing the MDC to accommodate Mugabe’s government?

Baldauf: There’s a lot of pressure on the MDC and, in many cases, it has been more willing to give in than Mugabe. The problem is the only person who gets through to Mugabe is Mbeki. Only the two of them know whether Mbeki is making stringent demands on Mugabe.

Manga: Mugabe doesn’t listen to anyone. The only thing Mugabe will understand is force, or if the border to South Africa was closed. Then it would affect him.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Eunjung Kim and Catherine Wolf.

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