June 15, 2011 | World Defense Review

Zimbabwe’s Runoff Rip-off

Three months ago, Zimbabweans went to the polls and by a clear majority repudiated the nearly three-decade misrule of the Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in general and the increasingly autocratic leadership of President Robert Mugabe in particular. Unfortunately for the southern African country, according the official results delivered by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) after a suspicious delay of over a month, the presence of a third party candidacy deprived Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of an outright majority, forcing him into a run-off with the incumbent scheduled to take place this Friday. Barring a miracle, the contest looked likely to be neither free nor fair. Consequently, the decision Sunday by Tsvangirai to pull out of the race is completely understandable.

Immediately after the March 29 poll, I reviewed in this column five possible scenarios for how the situation would unfold. Discounting the non-confrontational approaches, I noted Tsvangirai, confident in the mandate he believed himself to have actually won – projections by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a coalition of 38 civil society organizations which conducted nationwide observations, had projected that he had won 49.4 percent of the vote (with a 2.4 percent margin of error), while the MDC's own numbers claimed 50.3 percent of the vote – could resist a run-off and proclaimed himself president, purposely precipitating a stand-off with the ZANU-PF regime by forming a government and relying on massive turnouts of emboldened supporters to protect itself. That did not happen as Tsvangirai allowed himself to be persuaded by regional leaders – many of whom, like South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, as I subsequently noted, are little better than enablers of and apologists for Mugabe, having already twice, in 2002 and 2005, vouched for fraud-tainted polls in Zimbabwe – to submit to another round of voting. This set the stage for the scenario I warned against:

    A run-off is called, but the process quickly degenerates as Mugabe and ZANU-PF hardliners resort to their old tricks to retain power. Some observers, for example, have noted that Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga declared … that while ZANU-PF had “let the president down” in the first round, it would rebound to “win” a decisive victory in the second: “We only applied 25 percent of our energy in the first round … [The run-off] is when we are going to unleash the other 75 percent.” … Mugabe, whose regime is already under sanction, may well gamble that there is little that the international community is likely to do to actually remove him from power.

Sadly not just for the Zimbabwean people, but for all Africans, ZANU-PF indeed unleashed the full force of the regime against its political opponents, as a fact sheet released last Friday by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor detailed:

  •     Authorities illegally detained Morgan Tsvangirai on five separate occasions: June 4 and 6, twice on June 12, and again on June 14, preventing him from attending MDC rallies. Police impounded Tsvangirai's two campaign buses, but recently released one.
  •     MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti was arrested on June 12 and charged with communicating statements prejudicial to the State and treason, which carries the death penalty. Reporters were barred from his June 14 court appearance.
  •     On June 7, the wife of an MDC district chairman was murdered by a member of the ZANU-PF militia, who cut off her hands and legs and set her body on fire.
  •     On June 6, the home of an MDC district councilor in a Harare suburb was set on fire by a ZANU-PF mob. The councilor's six-year-old son and pregnant wife were killed in the fire and neighbors were beaten.
  •     On June 4, a group of gunmen in riot police uniforms broke into an MDC office where six people were hiding. They shot three, poured gasoline over all six, and set them on fire. Two died, two are in the hospital with severe burns, one escaped with burns, and one is missing.
  •     An MDC provincial treasurer was abducted at gunpoint in broad daylight on May 22 and later murdered. His mutilated body was found May 25.
  •     At least eight newly elected MDC parliamentarians have been arrested or detained and at least one remains in prison in defiance of a court order to release him.
  •     The government has banned rallies by the opposition party, although on June 7 the High Court issued a provisional order allowing four MDC rallies in Harare to proceed.
  •     The government is confiscating the identity cards of some MDC supporters, rendering them unable to vote or collect food aid from the government.
  •     On April 25, police raided MDC party headquarters and took more than 300 persons into custody, many of whom were being sheltered by the MDC after having their homes burned. The detainees were later released; however, as many as 500 displaced people remain at party headquarters.

Nor has the regime's campaign of intimidation been limited to prominent political opponents. In a report entitled “Bullets for Each of You”: State-Sponsored Violence since Zimbabwe's March 29 Election, Human Rights Watch reports on a regime-directed operation dubbed “Makavhoterapapi?” (“where did you put your vote?”):

    ZANU-PF officials and “war veterans” are beating, torturing and mutilating suspected MDC activists and supporters in hundreds of base camps, many of them army bases, established across the provinces as local operations centers. Abusive “re-education” meetings are being held to compel MDC supporters into voting for Mugabe. In one of these meetings, on May 5 in Chiweshe, ZANU-PF officials and “war veterans” beat six men to death and tortured another 70 men and women, including a 76-year-old woman publicly thrashed in front of assembled villagers.

    ZANU-PF and its allies are engaged in a campaign of looting and destruction, slaughtering animals, stealing food and property, and burning down homesteads. More than 3,000 people are known to have fled the violence and are now internally displaced in cities and towns throughout the country with inadequate access to food and water. An unknown number have fled across the borders to Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.

    The violence is being orchestrated by the Joint Operations Command, which is headed by senior ZANU-PF officials and includes the heads of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, police, prison services, and the Central Intelligence Organization …

    Human Rights Watch investigations indicate that the army is playing a major role in supporting the violence. It has provided known “war veterans” and ZANU-PF supporters with guns, transportation and bases from which serious human rights violations are carried out.

In particular, the New York-based nongovernmental organization notes, “the ruling ZANU-PF government has sought to undermine the ability of various civil society actors who could possibly play a role in drawing attention to lack of freedom and unfairness in the runoff election for president.” Even purely humanitarian groups involved in food distribution and HIV/AIDS treatment have been curtailed, the regime suspending their activities along with those of other civil society organizations on June 5 and only lifting the ban on relief work two weeks later on June 18. One day after the ban went into place, the Mugabe regime even hijacked a truck carrying 20 metric tons of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) food for hungry schoolchildren in the Marange District of Manicaland in eastern Zimbabwe. All told, according to MDC officials whose numbers have been corroborated by local and international human rights workers, some 86 opposition supporters have been killed in the violence, with more than 10,000 injured and 200,000 forced to flee their homes – an onslaught that has been the country's worst since the Gukurahundi (“the early rain washes away the chaff”) campaign of the early 1980s when the ZANU-PF regime massacred tens of thousands of Ndebele people in Matabeleland who had the temerity to be known as supporters of onetime Mugabe rival Joshua Nkomo.

Religious leaders and members have also suffered under the regime, especially most recently the Anglicans who belong to the Church of the Province of Central Africa, a grouping of dioceses in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and who constitute the country's second-largest denomination. (Zimbabwe largest denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, lost its most effective leader last fall when Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, an outspoken human rights advocate with international standing, was forced to resign following his entrapment in an apparent sex sting operation initiated by the regime.) The bishops of the Anglican province had repeatedly run afoul of the regime for pronouncements like the pastoral letter they issued earlier this month expressing concern over ZANU-PF's campaign of repression:

    As shepherds of our people we are deeply concerned and dismayed at the escalation of violence in Zimbabwe since the post election of March 29, 2008.

    We are alarmed that a government can perpetrate irresponsible acts against its citizens by destroying people's homes, torturing and killing for the simple reason that they did not vote “correctly.” We fear that the Presidential Run-Off elections on June 27, 2008, could witness a repeat of retribution of those who would have not voted “correctly.”

    As bishops our mission has been and will be to preach the gospel of peace and justice for all. Therefore we are distressed at what the people of Zimbabwe are experiencing in an environment devoid of any resemblance of justice and peace.

Mugabe's dealings in recent years with Zimbabwean Anglicans highlight the totalitarian trajectory of his rule. In 2001, Zimbabwean secret police secured the election of Nolbert Kunonga, a professor at the controversial South Korean Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Seminary in Barrytown, New York, as the Anglican bishop of Harare after a racially-charged campaign targeting the frontrunner for the episcopate, the white vicar-general of the diocese, Canon Tim Neill, who had earned the ire of the regime for denouncing its human rights abuses (a letter from one government agency once warned the Oxford-trained cleric that he was “applying for a early passport to hell”). Once enthroned at Harare's Cathedral of St. Mary and All Saints, Kunonga proceeded to turn his diocese into the “religious” arm of ZANU-PF, a party whose leader, Mugabe, regularly claims – as he did again at a rally last Friday – to govern by divine mandate. As Canon George Conger reported earlier this year in Christianity Today:

    Kunonga drove off the diocese's white Zimbabwean clergy and purged its ranks of those deemed disloyal to the regime, causing half of the African clergy to flee abroad. To fill empty pulpits, he began ordaining clergy without theological training – including some members of the secret police, Zimbabwe's vice president Joseph Msika, and two government cabinet ministers.

Kunonga's antics – including his proclamation of Mugabe as “a prophet from God” and his announcement of the formation of a breakaway Anglican province with himself (of course) as primate and a fellow traveler, Manicaland bishop Elson Jakazi, as his suffragan – made him such a notorious supporter of the ZANU-PF regime that he was designated a key Mugabe accomplice and barred from entering both the United States and the European Union. Jakazi, incidentally, was raised to the episcopate two years ago in a disputed ecclesiastical election in which the Zimbabwean regime interposed itself at the behest of Kunonga. Eventually the provincial hierarchy declared both Kunonga and his minion Jakazi deposed and replaced them, respectively, with Bishop Sebastian Bakare and Bishop Peter Hatendi, both retired prelates. Bishop Hatendi, Zimbabwe's first black bishop in 1979, is well-known as a distinguished patriot who once served as chair of the country's electoral authority, but was hounded out of office in 1995 by the regime and not allowed to continue ministering. Rather than submit to the hierarchy, however, Kunonga barricaded himself inside the cathedral and, as the New York Times reported last month, riot police have unleashed against parish congregations supporting the canonical bishop. Kunonga and Jakazi were subsequently excommunicated by the dean of the Church of the Province of Central Africa and the Archbishops of Canterbury and Cape Town, South Africa, called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “express their grave concern about the increasing violence of what appears to be a sustained campaign against the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.” (For an update on the religious front, see last week's report by Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.)

Against this backdrop of violence and intimidation, it is not only comprehensible, but laudable that Morgan Tsvangirai has pulled out of the run-off. Even if the poll were not rigged, the climate of fear engendered by the Mugabe regime would hardly make it a credibly free race. Staying in the contest would, in all likelihood, lead to more bloodshed in which his supporters as well as other innocent Zimbabweans would bear the brunt of ZANU-PF's machinery of terror. As the MDC leader noted in his statement to the press on Sunday: “We in the MDC have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate, sham of an election process … The courageous people of Zimbabwe and the people of the MDC have done everything humanly and democratically possible to deliver a new Zimbabwe under a new government.”

Withdrawing from Friday's election need not, however, be the end of the political trail for Tsvangirai. Rather, the struggle now shifts to the international stage, where Zimbabwean democratic forces are hoping the battlefield is more level. While Mugabe will undoubtedly declare himself the winner of the poll and award himself another five-year term, the violence which his regime has deployed – including an attack on MDC supporters and civil society activists attempting to hold a rally in Harare on Sunday – will cost him considerably in terms of political legitimacy, both at home and abroad.

The international community will have to decide where it comes down. Will other states recognize Mugabe as Zimbabwe's lawful head of state as he swears himself in for another term? There is a powerful case to be made, not only for legal non-recognition, but for total diplomatic isolation of the regime, including the expulsion of Zimbabwean diplomats representing the ZANU-PF dictatorship from the international organizations and foreign capitals where they are accredited. Restrictions could also be extended to family members and dependents of those connected officially with the Mugabe regime. The United States, for example, could take the lead by sending all sixteen diplomats – from Ambassador Machivenyika Mapuranga down to Third Secretary for Political and Administrative Affairs Loreta Evelyn Mutyora – whose names appear in the most recent edition of the State Department's Diplomatic List as official representatives of the Republic of Zimbabwe, along with the members of their households, packing back to “Uncle Bob” in Harare. The message would be clear: while America welcomes communication with legitimate governments, even ones with which we have political differences, given its blatant violation of the norms of its own constitutional and legal order, Mugabe's regime can no longer be considered the legitimate government of Zimbabwe and thus has no right to avail itself of diplomatic prerogatives which the international community accords to its lawfully sovereign members.

Economic pressure would reinforce the political boycott: Mugabe will find it even more difficult to purchase the continuing loyalty of the increasing number of ZANU-PF cadres who would be forced back into Zimbabwe after being declared persona non gratae, given the near total collapse of the country's economy (the official annual inflation rate was soaring above 165,000 percent in earlier this year before the country's chief statistician stopped calculating it since there were no longer enough goods in shops for him to use in his determinations; analysts estimate the figure to have subsequently soared to around 1.8 million percent). The economic screws could also be turned further by impounding all assets abroad belonging to either the Zimbabwean regime or its leaders and their families and holding them for future disposition by a legitimate government in Harare. In short, visit upon Mugabe's loyalists and their families some of the privations which they have already imposed on millions of other Zimbabweans, confident that a hitherto cosseted regime crony is unlikely to be as resilient in the face of adversity as a longsuffering ordinary Zimbabwean. The combined political and economic forces will make it impossible for Mugabe and his thugs to return to the status ante quo before the Zimbabwean people overwhelmingly turned on them at the polls.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a UN Security Council roundtable on Zimbabwe that:

    President Mugabe has squandered the promise of the very nation that was once hailed as the jewel of Africa and that he led to independence. He is instead turning it into a failed state that threatens not only the lives of Zimbabweans, but the security and stability of all of southern Africa. We need to ask now: If Zimbabwe could make a transition to democracy; so much would be possible for its people. The international community would finally have a real partner, a democratic partner, and we would fully support a democratic Zimbabwe's efforts to rebuild its economy and reduce inflation, to govern by the rule of law, to undertake difficult but necessary reform, and to expand peace and opportunity and social justice for its people. In short, we could help Zimbabweans fulfill the pride of knowing that their nation is once again the jewel of Africa.

The Zimbabwean people have made there choice and Mugabe has made his. The only question remaining is how the world's democracies will respond to not only to the despot's ongoing challenge to regional security concerns and international rights standards, but to his open defiance of the basic norms of human decency and civilized society.

— J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., as well as Vice President of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.

Dr. Pham is the author of over two hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).

In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.