Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe: Change or Continuity?
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 32 years running, will 2013 break the chain?
In 1980 Robert Mugabe was voted into power as a hero of the liberation struggle, the war
campaign which overthrew the white minority government in Zimbabwe. This image however soon became overshadowed by violations of human rights and the rule of law and an electoral process observed as far from free and fair.
President Mugabe has a recorded number of human rights abuses throughout his tenure in power. Mugabe is infamously known for his deployment of state violence, abuse and intimidation against any state opposition and their supporters. In 1982 Mugabe launched operation Gukurahundi, also known as Mugabe’s genocide in Matabeland and the Midlandsa military operation against civilians to force them to relinquish their support of Joshua Nkomo and his party Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), and alternatively show loyalty to Mugabe and his party Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). Following thousands of civilian deaths and endured conflict between ZANU and ZAPU, Mugabe and Nkomo signed a Unity Accord in 1987 merging the two parties into Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF). Since 1987 Mugabe has ruled with his party ZANU-PF, and maintaining power through the deployment of state-violence against opposition has since been a notable trend in the politics of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe and ZANU PF furthermore have a record of defying the rule of law in Zimbabwe. A notable example for this was the seizure of white owned commercial farms by ZANU-PF war- veterans and their associates dictated by Mugabe in February 2000. Even though the supreme court of Zimbabwe ordered an end to the seizure of farms and for the state police to remove the illegal occupiers Mugabe over-ruled the orders of the court and dictated that the seizures continue.
Additionally, Zimbabwe has been referred to as a de-facto one-party state as the same leader and party has remained in power since the 1980’s, through having won every election and a majority of seats in parliament. Many observers including, the South African Development Community, the European Union and the National Constitutional Assembly comprised of a large array of NGOs, have stated that the election process in Zimbabwe is not free and fair. As opposition parties and their supporter’s campaign in an environment over-run by state violence, fear and intimidation.
Since the millennium Morgan Tsvangirai and his party the Movement for Democratic Change have been credible and threatening opposition. In 2008 The National Constitutional Assembly observed the March 2008 presidential election, reporting that the election had been the most free and fair election in Zimbabwe’s history. In the results Tsvangirai had won more votes than Mugabe but did not garner a 50 percent of the votes plus one needed in order to become president. A run-off presidential election followed in June 2008 which was observed and reported as a militarized election, characterized by winning votes through the bullet instead of the ballot. In the run up to the election intimidation, violence, torching houses and denying food hand outs were strategies deployed by Mugabe and his party’s security/military sector (Joint Operations Command). These tactics led to Tsvangarai announcing his withdrawal from the run off but regardless his name remained on the ballot. The results of the presidential election run-off revealed that Mugabe had won 85.5 percent of the votes against Tsvangarai and his mere 9.3 percent. The controversial results left Tsvangarai and Mugabe in dispute and to break the deadlock a power-sharing government was agreed upon in 2009.
Why is this relevant?
Robert Mugabe, now 88 years of age, is preparing with his party ZANU PF to campaign and run for elections in 2013 against Tsvangirai and his party the MDC. President Mugabe verily keen to stop the power-sharing government, is in favour of holding elections as soon as possible. Whilst Prime Minister Tsvangirai urges that a new constitution is convened prior to elections to ensure that they are free and fair, and not of the violent and intimidating nature that has characterized elections throughout Mugabe’s 32 years in power. International observers have likewise stated that a fair vote is not possible without a new constitution and under current laws.
Accordingly 2013 may mark the end of Mugabe’s 32 years of power and bring to the people of Zimbabwe a constitution that will truly embed the rule of law and protect their will. On the other hand a referendum on the newly drafted constitution can be prolonged furthermore and elections may take the path of the past. The future of Zimbabwe can fall either way; many are hoping to see change and not continuity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own
Tania Mansour studied her degree in International Politics at City University London, and completed her Master’s in International Politics at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She has worked in the charity sector, in the donor relations, events and publications departments.