The situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating again under a new wave of political violence organised by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, and the country faces another illegitimate election and crisis unless credible, enforceable reforms can first be implemented.
Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End?, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the limitations of the much delayed reform process that threatens to derail the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA). President Mugabe’s call for early elections has increased fears of return to the unbridled violence of that year. Attacks have already intensified against those deemed to be enemies of his long-time ruling party, and Prime Minister Tsvangirai, the leader of the main wing of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), has appealed for help from the region.
A 31 March troika summit of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) responded sharply to the lack of progress in GPA implementation, as well as rising levels of violence and intimidation, with a communiqué that laid out steps that must now be taken to address the situation. This is a significant development that illustrates an unprecedented public hardening of attitudes and increasing frustration within the regional organisation toward the GPA signatories, in particular ZANU-PF.
“The next few months will determine whether SADC can follow up its words by securing action that advances the reform agenda and prospects for a sustainable transition”, says Piers Pigou, Crisis Group’s Southern Africa Project Director. “That in turn will indicate whether the conditions necessary for credible elections exist. It will be important for the West, including the UK, the European Union and the U.S., to give SADC, its South African-led facilitation team and the African Union strong support”.
The GPA was signed in September 2008 by the three parties – ZANU-PF, and the two wings of the former opposition, MDC-T and MDC-M – after Mugabe was “re-elected” in an uncontested run-off following violence that caused Tsvangirai (who led the first round) to withdraw. It was meant to provide a legitimate foundation for response to the multiple political and economic crises and did lead to an inclusive three-party government. But ZANU-PF, in partnership with the unreformed security sector leadership, continues to thwart any reforms that could facilitate a democratic transfer of power. The state media remains grotesquely unbalanced, and the criminal justice system is still used against ZANU-PF opponents.
The inclusive government should cooperate fully with SADC recommendations and enable a process that allows citizens to campaign for or against the draft constitution under preparation without fear. It must support the Constitution Parliamentary Affairs (Select) Committee’s (COPAC) constitutional reform process and other legislative measures to advance rule of law and overcome the legacy of political violence and impunity.
The full memberships of SADC and the African Union (AU), as GPA Guarantors, need to endorse the 31 March communiqué to give its recommendations even greater weight. They should also initiate a comprehensive assessment of violence and related matters to determine whether conditions are conducive for free and fair elections, as set out in the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
“It remains to be seen whether further tangible reforms will be secured through either the COPAC process or measures agreed to in the GPA”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “These reforms must be more than marginal, otherwise there will be a need to ask hard questions about what conditions will be in place when elections are held”.