John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Bleak Outlook for Zimbabwe’s Election

by John Campbell
July 30, 2013

Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition party Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) cheer during the final election rally of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare July 29, 2013. (Philimon Bulawayo/Courtesy Reuters)


The International Crisis Group (ICG) is a distinguished non-governmental organization (NGO) devoted to conflict prevention. On July 29 it issued an important report, Zimbabwe’s Elections: Mugabe’s Last Stand. It suggests that the aftermath of the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe is likely to be a protracted and violent political crisis.

Even before polling started, there have been reports of ruling-party aligned state security services resorting to violence and intimidation against opponents of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.

The ICG notes the poor state of election preparations. None of the proposed reforms have been implemented that might have forestalled a repeat of the post-electoral crisis of 2008, in which violence and refugee flows led the Southern African Development and Cooperation Community (SADC) under South African leadership to intervene and impose a power sharing arrangement on Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change–Tsvangirai (MDC-T).

This time, Mugabe has blocked any western election observers. The African Union and SADC will have teams on the ground, but they are unlikely to be critical of Mugabe, who is the surviving patriarch of the southern African liberation movements.

Given these realities, it is surprising that at least some in the opposition expect to win, and by a substantial margin. The media reports that the Zimbabwe Transition Barometer (ZTB), produced by a local NGO, argues that over the past four years, the country has become democratic in culture, and a democratic wave will sweep Mugabe out and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai into the presidency.

It is hard to share that optimism. But, if the opposition should appear to be winning, we should anticipate especially vicious repression by the ruling ZANU-PF, which will not tolerate an opposition victory; even perhaps in spite of Mugabe’s personal claims that he will accept defeat, a reality he clearly sees as remote.

The Zimbabwe election shambles is no credit to SADC and South African president Jacob Zuma. They have failed to bring about a democratic transformation in Zimbabwe. Further, Zuma has thrown over Amb. Lindiwe Zulu, a sharp-minded and outspoken advocate for a free and fair election who had been his point person on Zimbabwe. Zuma acted at the request of Mugabe, who notoriously called her a “street woman.”

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