Zimbabwe: talks stalemate, violence continues
Democracy Digest
October 21, 2008

African Union Commission head Jean Ping will meet South African President Thabo Mbeki later this week to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis, it was announced today. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, distrustful of Mbeki, has been pushing for AU involvement.

The Friday meeting will aim to accelerate the implementation of the recent AU summit resolution on power sharing. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been under intense African pressure to enter negotiations with Robert Mugabe. But, while the AU believes that the solution is a government of national unity, the MDC wants a transitional government to prepare for fresh elections in two years under a new constitutional arrangement.

South Africa last week joined with Russia and China to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. Moscow denied that it reneged on an agreement at the G8 summit to support punitive measures.  

Pretoria’s siding with the Mugabe regime drew scorn from diplomats and human rights activists. “It was particularly disturbing,” said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, “given the history of South Africa … where international sanctions played an important role in encouraging transformation [from apartheid] for its representative to be protecting the horrible regime in Zimbabwe.”

Britain is to push for tougher sanctions from the European Union. It will submit the names of a further 36 individuals and two entities to a list of 132 people currently subject to EU financial and travel restrictions

Analysts and activists alike suggest that sub-Saharan Africa is at a significant watershed. A “deflation of strong democratic leadership”, the emergence of autocratic pseudo-democracies and several recent flawed elections have eclipsed the promise of democratic success stories in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. “The continent right now seems caught in the middle between the good cases and bad cases,” said Chris Fomunyoh, senior associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute.

The Zimbabwe crisis is highlighting the emergence of a new generation of African leaders which is no longer prepared to tolerate the most egregious violations of human rights and the democratic process.  Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, a lawyer, and former army chief Seretse Ian Khama of Botswana, Africa’s most enduring democracy, are vocal critics of Mugabe.

“It’s the first time that we are seeing on the African continent that leadership has transitioned from the old perceptions,” South African political analyst Chris Maroleng believes. “We’re seeing more leaders beginning to embrace their own democratic notion.”

Many African leaders reject the legitimacy of the regime. “The violence that preceded the election was so intense that the results did not reflect the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe,” Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister Zainab Bangura said.

Within the country, the security forces continue to target MDC activists and parliamentarians. Newly-elected opposition MP Costin Muguti was arrested and severely beaten after defeating a leading Zanu-PF official and relative of Mugabe. “The police told me this is just politics,” he said. “They might even kill me to create a by-election.”

Analysts differ in assessments of the different parties’ prospects. “The onus is now on Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC to do what they can to be part of the process if they want to, not the other way around,” says Norman Mlambo, a researcher at the Africa Institute.

Others suggest the country’s economic collapse will gradually sap the regime’s ability to place its support base in the military and security services. “The regime is in more of a fix than the MDC is,” says Francis Kornegay, a senior researcher at Johannesburg’s Center for Policy Studies. “With time, the upper hand and the advantage tilts more towards the MDC, and it’s a question of how they use that advantage.”

© Democracy Digest