Zimb abw e
Updated September 26, 2008
Analyst in African Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Zimbabwe’s prospects appeared promising in 1980, as it gained independence
after a long liberation war. Rising inflation and unemployment bred discontent in the
1990s and led in 1999 to the formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC). The new party surprised many with its initial success, campaigning
against a 2000 referendum that would have legalized the president’s continued rule,
made government officials immune from prosecution, and allowed the
uncompensated seizure of white-owned land for redistribution to black farmers. The
referendum failed, and the MDC won nearly half the seats in the 2000 parliamentary
election. The ruling party has since taken numerous, often undemocratic actions to
bolster its power.
President Robert Mugabe’s government has been seen as autocratic and
repressive by its critics, and its human rights record is poor. The regime has
suppressed freedom of speech and assembly, and many contend that the government
has restricted access to food, already scarce, in opposition areas. The MDC, divided
over how to respond, split into two factions in 2005, hampering its ability to
challenge the ruling party. Reports of political violence rose sharply after Zimbabwe's
March 29, 2008 elections, when, for the first time since independence, the ruling
party lost its majority in the National Assembly. Mugabe has repeatedly extended
his rule and his re-election as president in the June 2008 runoff election has been
viewed as illegitimate by the United States and the United Nations Secretary-General,
among others. On September 15, 2008, after several weeks of negotiations in South
Africa, Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing
arrangement aimed at resolving the political standoff. As part of the deal, Tsvangirai
will become Prime Minister, and cabinet positions will be divided among the parties.
Zimbabwe’s economic output has decreased dramatically since 1998, official
inflation rose above 11,000,000% in 2008, and unemployment is estimated at more
than 85%. A widely criticized urban cleanup program in 2005 resulted in the
demolition of thousands of homes and businesses in poor urban areas, seen by the
government as a base of MDC support. The adult HIV infection rate of 18% has
contributed to a sharp drop in life expectancy, and five million are expected to
require food aid in 2008. Deteriorating conditions in the country have led many to
emigrate to neighboring countries, creating a substantial burden on the region.
President Mugabe has enjoyed considerable popularity in Africa as a former
liberation leader. However, some African leaders have come to see his conduct as
damaging to the continent and urged democratic reforms. Following controversial
elections in 2000 and citing abuses of human rights and the rule of law, the United
States and some other former allies of the government became vocal critics. The
U.S. Secretary of State has labeled Zimbabwe an “outpost of tyranny,” and the United
States has enforced targeted sanctions against top Zimbabwe officials and associates
since 2002. This report provides background on events leading up to the country's
most recent elections, in March and June 2008. For further discussion of those
elections and other current events, please see CRS Report RL34509, Zimbabwe:
Developments Leading to the 2008 Elections............................1
March 2007 Arrests........................................1
South African Mediation....................................1
March 2008 Elections......................................3
Power Sharing Agreement...................................5
Parliamentary Elections 2005....................................7
Charges of Election Rigging.................................8
Restrictions on Political Freedoms...............................10
2005 Senate Elections.........................................12
Internal ZANU-PF Struggles ...................................12
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).....................13
Origins of the MDC.......................................13
Division in the Opposition..................................14
Opposition Defiance Against a Ban on Protests and Rallies........15
The International Response.................................19
Continued Evictions and Operation Garikai....................20
Violations of Domestic and International Law..................21
Zimbabwe’s Food Crisis.......................................22
Food as a Political Weapon?................................23
The IMF and the World Bank...................................25
Attempts to Revive Agriculture Industry...........................27
The Mining Industry and Nationalization of Foreign Companies........27
“Look East” Policy............................................28
The Military and the Economy .................................28
U.S. Support for African Diplomacy..........................32
Other International Perspectives.................................34
China and Iran...........................................35
The African Union........................................39
Prospects for the Future............................................41
List of Figures
Figure 1. Map of Zimbabwe........................................43
Developments Leading to the 2008 Elections1
With official inflation rising above 11 million percent in 2008, Zimbabwe’s
economy continues to collapse, and the outlook for its people remains grave.
Following the March 2007 assault by police on government critics, then-South
African President Thabo Mbeki began a mediation effort between the government of
Zimbabwe and the opposition. The talks resulted in some changes to laws regarded
by many as repressive prior to the country's first harmonized elections, which were
held on March 29, 2008. Human rights activists argue that the changes were cosmetic2
and that the talks failed to create a level playing field prior to the elections.
March 2007 Arrests. Zimbabwe received international media attention for
the March 11, 2007, crackdown on opposition and civil society activists, during
which one opposition supporter was shot and killed by police (see "Opposition
Defiance" section below). Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
(CHAHN-gih-R-EYE) and several others reportedly received severe beatings by
police following their arrest. They were accused of violating a three-month ban on
public protests instated by the Zimbabwean government in mid-February.3
Tsvangirai was detained again, with other party members, on March 28 in a police
raid on the opposition headquarters.
South African Mediation. International criticism of the situation in
Zimbabwe grew after the arrests, even among former allies on the continent. In one
of the most critical statements from African leaders, Zambia’s President Levy
Mwanawasa compared the country to “a sinking Titanic whose passengers are
jumping out to save their lives.”4 One of South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Ministers
told the South African parliament, “The South African government wishes to express
its concern, disappointment, and disapproval of the measures undertaken by the
1 For further discussion of the 2008 elections and other current events, please see CRS
Report RL34509, Zimbabwe: 2008 Elections and Implications for U.S. Policy.
2 See, for example, Human Rights Watch, All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and
Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe's Coming General Elections, Vol. 20, No. 2(A),
March 2008, and International Crisis Group, “Zimbabwe: Prospects from a Flawed
Election,” Africa Report No. 138, March 20, 2008.
3 The opposition officials were released into the custody of their lawyers days after the
arrest. Two opposition officials who were arrested were later allowed to go to South Africa
to receive medical treatment for their injuries. According to media reports, police initially
refused to allow their departure, and another opposition official, Nelson Chamisa, was
allegedly beaten at the airport when he tried to leave.
4 “Zimbabwe ‘A Sinking Titanic,’” Financial Times, March 22, 2007.
security forces in dealing with the political protests,” blaming the current situation
on an “absence of open political dialogue.”5 Southern African Development
Community (SADC) leaders convened an emergency summit on March 28, 2007.
Given the strong statements made by some southern African leaders, many
observers expected the SADC heads of state to increase pressure on Mugabe to make
reforms. Reports suggest that in private the leaders may have been tough on the
Zimbabwean president, who was in attendance, but their public response was deemed
disappointing by human rights activists and critics of the regime.6 During the
summit, the SADC leaders resolved to promote dialogue within the country, at the
same time suggesting that western countries should drop their sanctions against the
Mugabe government and that Britain should provide funding to assist in land reform
efforts. South African President Thabo Mbeki was appointed to mediate between the
Zimbabwean government and the opposition. Mbeki, who opposed calls for regime
change, pushed instead for democratic elections, saying “you might question whether
these elections are genuinely free and fair ... but we have to get the Zimbabweans
talking so we do have elections that are free and fair.”7 Talks between the Mugabe
Administration and the MDC factions began in Pretoria in June 2007.
According to human rights activists and the U.S. Department of State, political
violence against opposition leaders and supporters continued in spite of the
negotiations.8 The Mugabe Administration accused the opposition of being
responsible for a series of bombings targeting shops, trains, and police stations,
although some observers suggest the attacks were an attempt to frame the
opposition.9 Harassment of university students by police also reportedly increased.
On November 22, 2007, 22 members of the National Constitutional Assembly, a
pro-democracy civil society organization, reportedly sustained severe beatings during
a peaceful protest set to coincide with a visit by President Mbeki to Harare.10
Although the South Africa negotiations resulted in several agreements between
the parties, leading to the amendment of some laws seen to restrict press freedom and
political activity, the talks were abandoned after Mugabe announced that elections
would be held on March 29, 2008. Despite President Mbeki's report to SADC leaders
that his mediation had achieved “commendable achievements,” Morgan Tsvangirai
5 “RSA Parliamentarians Urge Stronger Action Against Zimbabwe,” South African Press
Association, March 28, 2007.
6 “Zimbabwe Crisis Deepens,” Voice of America, April 6, 2007.
7 “Mbeki Rejects Regime Change,” Financial Times, April 2, 2007.
8 See, for example, Solidarity Peace Trust, Destructive Engagement: Violence, Mediation,
and Politics in Zimbabwe, Johannesburg, July 10, 2007.
9 The government's allegations are outlined in reports produced by the Zimbabwe Republic
Police, Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe: A Trail of Violence and Opposition Forces in
Zimbabwe: The Naked Truth, Volume 2,available at [http://www.moha.gov.zw/]. The
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has refuted the government's claims in At Best a
Falsehood, At Worst, A Lie, August 2007, available at [http://www.hrforumzim.com].
10 Press Statement of U.S. Department of State Spokesman Sean McCormack, “Zimbabwe:
Civil Society Organization Beatings During President Mbeki's Visit,” November 26, 2007.
announced in February 2008 that “nothing has changed...changes in the law,
negotiated by President Mbeki, have not changed the behavior of the dictatorship.”11
March 2008 Elections. The two factions of the main opposition party, the
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which split in 2005, remained divided
prior to the elections. Despite rumors of dissatisfaction with Mugabe’s continued rule
from within his own party, the party’s central committee nominated Mugabe to be
their presidential candidate in March 2007. The committee also supported a
resolution to hold all elections (presidential, parliamentary, and local council) at the
same time, and to reduce the terms for all public offices from six to five years. In
addition, they voted to back efforts to increase the number of parliamentarians from
150 to 210 and the number of senators from 66 to 84.12 Critics contend that these
proposals were an effort to manipulate the electoral process through gerrymandering,
with the new constituencies created in rural areas where the ruling party has stronger13
support. The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front party
(ZANU-PF) also proposed to allow the parliament to select a new president if the14
sitting president resigns, is incapacitated, or dies in office. Analysts suggest that
Mugabe may not have intended to serve an entire term if re-elected, instead planning15
to resign mid-term and use parliament to hand-pick his successor. The proposals
were included in a controversial Constitutional Amendment Bill, which, to the
surprise of many observers, was passed by the parliament in September 2007 with the
support of MDC MPs. The final version of the legislation, did, however, include
some changes seen as concessions to the opposition, and reports suggest that the
MDC supported the legislation because of progress in the South Africa negotiations.
In February 2008, then-ZANU-PF senior member Simba Makoni announced his
intention to run against President Mugabe in the upcoming elections. He was
subsequently expelled from the party and is running as an independent, although he
is rumored to have the support of several unnamed senior party officials. Makoni,
57, served as Finance Minister from 2000 to 2002 and was reportedly dismissed after
criticizing the administration's economic policies. Makoni also previously served as
the executive secretary of SADC. Opposition leader Tsvangirai dismissed Makoni
as “old wine in a new bottle,” but rival MDC leader Arthur Mutambara withdrew as
a presidential candidate and expressed his support for Makoni.
In the period preceding the March 2008 elections, civil society activists reported
significant pre-election irregularities. The Zimbabwean government invited election
11 Barry Bearak, “Zimbabwe Opponent Criticizes Mbeki,” New York Times, February 14,
12 Text of report on Zimbabwean Radio, “Zimbabwe Ruling Party Endorses Mugabe
Candidacy for 2008 Elections,” BBC Monitoring, April 1, 2007.
13 “Zimbabwe Ruling Party Accused of Manipulating Electoral Process,” Voice of America,
April 18, 2007.
14 “Mugabe Said Planning to Amend Constitution Over Possible Mid-Term Resignation,”
Financial Gazette, April 13, 2007.
15 Dumisani Muleya, “Mugabe’s Latest Survival Strategy,” Zimbabwe Independent, April
observers from over 40 countries and regional organizations, including SADC, but
allegedly barred observers from countries considered to be critical of its policies.16
Western media organizations and journalists were also reportedly denied permission
to cover the elections.17
Zimbabwe's first "harmonized" elections were held on March 29, 2008.18 The
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), widely criticized for its delayed release of
the electoral results, announced the National Assembly results four days after the
election. For the first time since independence, the ruling party lost its majority in the
National Assembly. The MDC factions, which reunited on April 28, won 109 seats
in the 220-seat National Assembly, over ZANU-PF’s 97. After a month of rising
tensions, the results of the presidential race were belatedly announced on May 2.
They indicated that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had received more votes
than the incumbent, President Robert Mugabe, but had failed to garner the 50 percent
needed to avoid a runoff.19
Although the opposition accused the government of manipulating the results and
initially objected to participating in a runoff, Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to stand
against President Mugabe in a second round of voting. While electoral law requires
the government to hold a runoff election within 21 days of announcing the initial
results, the ZEC declared that the runoff would not be held until June 27, three
months after the first round. During the following weeks, reports of political violence
increased dramatically, in what many critics contend was a government-orchestrated
attempt to punish opposition supporters and ensure a Mugabe victory in the runoff.
Several of the country’s security service chiefs, including the heads of the army and
the police, publicly announced that they would not recognize an electoral victory by
anyone other that Mugabe.20 Citing the high number of attacks against MDC
supporters and the lack of a level playing field, Tsvangirai withdrew from the race
days before the election. Despite public comments from African observer missions
and a presidential statement from the United Nations Security Council arguing that
conditions for a free and fair election did not exist, the government held the runoff
as scheduled. Mugabe was declared the winner with over 85% of the vote and
inaugurated on June 29, 2008. His electoral victory in the runoff election was
declared illegitimate by several countries, including the United States.
President Mugabe delayed the swearing in of the new parliament and the naming
of a new cabinet as President Mbeki and other international leaders pressed for talks
between the parties. When the parliament was sworn in on August 25, 2008,
Lovemore Moyo, an MP from the MDC Tsvangirai faction, was elected as Speaker.
He received 110 votes, beating MDC-M MP Paul Themba-Nyathi, who had received
16 See “First Poll Observers in Zimbabwe,” BBC, March 11, 2008.
17 “CNN Denied Permission to Cover Elections in Zimbabwe,” CNN, March 25, 2008.
18 The 2008 "harmonized" elections were held for all levels of government (local, National
Assembly, Senate, and presidential) simultaneously.
19 The ZEC declared that Tsvangirai had received 47.9 percent of the votes, while Mugabe
received 43.2 percent and Makoni 8.3 percent.
20 "Zim Prisons Chief Orders Officers to Vote Mugabe," Reuters, February 29, 2008.
98 votes, including those of most ZANU-PF members of parliament. Two MDC-T
MPs were arrested when they arrived for the swearing in, but were later released.
Power Sharing Agreement. On September 15, after several weeks of
negotiations overseen by Mbeki, Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing
arrangement aimed at resolving the political standoff. The agreement outlines a time
frame for the drafting and adoption of a new constitution. As part of the deal,
Tsvangirai will become Prime Minister in a new unity government, and cabinet
positions will be divided among the parties. The MDC factions will reportedly take
16 ministerial positions, three of which will come from the MDC-M faction, and
ZANU-PF will take 15 positions. Early reports suggested that Tsvangirai would gain
control of the police force, but Mugabe, who will remain head of state, would retain
control of the armed forces. The text of the agreement, however, leaves oversight of
the police, which falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs, undetermined. Mugabe
will lead the cabinet, but reports suggest that Tsvangirai, who will chair a Council of
Ministers, will be responsible for the day-to-day management of government21
affairs. As was the case in Kenya during power sharing negotiations in early 2008,
the Zimbabwe parties are now struggling to determine who will control key
ministries, and implementation will require major concessions from all sides.
After years of economic sanctions by the international community and a
decades-long civil war that resulted in more than 30,000 dead, the white minority rule
government of Southern Rhodesia concluded a series of agreements with the black
majority in 1979 that resulted in the establishment of the government of the Republic
of Zimbabwe. Among the greatest challenges facing the new government was the
demand by the majority for greater equity in land distribution.22 At independence,
the white minority, who composed less than 5% of the population, owned the vast
majority of arable land. Many observers considered the country’s white-owned
commercial farms crucial to the country’s economy, although there was a general
recognition that land reform was necessary. Britain initially funded a “willing buyer,
willing seller” program to redistribute commercial farmland, offering compensation
to white farmers amenable to leaving their lands.
Dissatisfaction with the pace of land reform grew and led in the 1990s to
spontaneous and often violent farm invasions. At the same time, the country’s labor
movement and a segment of its urban middle class were becoming increasingly
critical of the government’s economic performance. Facing rising political and
economic challenges, the government of Zimbabwe began to implement aggressive
land expropriation policies, leading Britain and other donors to begin withdrawing
financial support for resettlement.
21 "Zimbabwe Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Deal," Reuters, September 15, 2008.
22 For more information on Zimbabwe’s land redistribution issue and other historical
context, see CRS Report RL31229, Zimbabwe Backgrounder, by Raymond Copson.
In 2000, the government held a referendum to approve changes to the
constitution that would allow land seizures without compensation, a responsibility
that in its view lay with Britain. The referendum was rejected by 55% of voters and
was seen as a victory for a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC). Within days of the vote war veterans and ruling party supporters
moved onto an estimated 1,000 white-owned farms, and, months later, the President
invoked emergency powers to take land without compensation. During this time
there were numerous attacks against white farmers and their employees, as well as
against supporters of the MDC; more than 30 people were killed.
Since then, the country’s problems have deepened. Substantial political
violence and human rights violations have accompanied elections since 2000. The
broad scale of such abuses in the wake of the most recent general elections, held on
March 29, 2008, brought international condemnation, but little consensus on how
best to stop the violence. Reports of government-orchestrated human rights abuses
continued for months after the elections. Zimbabwe’s political difficulties have been
accompanied by a sharp decline in living standards, with more than 80% of the
population living on less than $2 per day.23 Once touted as a potential “breadbasket
of Africa,” much of Zimbabwe’s population is now dependent on food aid. More
than 18% of adults in Zimbabwe are infected by the HIV/AIDS virus, and life
expectancy fell from an estimated 56 years in 1990 to 39.7 in 2008.24 Foreign Policy
magazine has ranked Zimbabwe third in its index of failed states, behind Somalia and
Sudan.25 Observers are concerned that the difficulties confronting Zimbabwe are
affecting neighboring countries and deterring investors from the region.
Zimbabwe at a Glance
Population: 12.4 million
Approximate size: Slightly larger than Montana
Population growth rate: 0.568%
Life expectancy at birth: 39.7 years
Ethnic groups: African 98% (Shona 82%, Ndebele 14%, other 2%), Mixed and Asian
Languages: English (official), Shona, Sindebele and a number of tribal dialects.
Literacy: Total Population: 90.7%; Male: 94.2%; Female: 87.2%
GDP real growth rate: -6.1%
GDP Per Capita: $158
HIV Infection Rate: 18.1% (adults, aged 15-49)
Sources: CIA World Factbook; Economist Intelligence Unit; UNAIDS
23 Department for International Development (DFID), Country Profile: Zimbabwe,
24 UNAIDS, Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2006, and CIA, CIA World Factbook.
25 The Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine uses 12 economic, social, political, and
military indicators to rank countries in order of their “vulnerability to violent internal
conflict and social dysfunction.” Zimbabwe’s ranking on the index dropped 14 points from
For more information, see “The Failed States Index,” Foreign Policy, May/June 2007.
Zimbabwe has been ruled since independence by ZANU-PF, which has come
under increasing scrutiny from human rights activists, both at home and abroad.
Critics cite high levels of corruption, political violence, and strictly enforced laws
restricting basic freedoms. The government contends its detractors have engaged in
a “propaganda war” backed by Britain and the United States, using democracy and26
human rights as a cover to push for regime change. Many domestic and
international observers have judged elections since 2000 to be “far from free and
fair.” The country’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC), split over tactical issues in 2005, and despite attempts at reconciliation, the
party remained divided until after the March 2008 elections. The ruling party has
also suffered internal competition, and some observers suggest opposition to
President Mugabe himself has grown within the party.
Parliamentary Elections 2005
Zimbabwe held legislative elections in 2005. The elections, like those before
them in 2000 and 2002, were controversial, with the opposition disputing the results
and alleging government efforts to deny a fair race. ZANU-PF retained control of the
150-member parliament, taking 108 seats (of these, 30 are appointed by the President
rather than elected). The MDC won 41 seats, and one seat went to an independent.27
The MDC’s representation in parliament had declined since 2000, when it won
57 seats in its first elections. Some observers argue that the MDC did not do as well
in the 2005 election because it delayed a decision to participate until December 2004,
leaving little time to campaign. Violence against MDC voters in past elections, and
the alleged use of food distributions by the ruling party to secure votes, and a general
climate of intimidation may have also discouraged MDC support. Government
supporters suggest voters simply lost faith in MDC promises. Opposition access to
the state-run media was severely limited, according to Reporters Without Borders,
a Paris-based organization that supports press freedom.28 The MDC was rarely
covered on television or in the Herald, the government-controlled newspaper, and
the stories that did appear were typically disparaging.
Election-Related Violence. Although most observers agree that the level
of political violence surrounding the 2005 elections was significantly less than that
which preceded the 2000 and 2002 elections, many argue the election was not “free
and fair,” and that there were some incidents of violence. Critics suggest that state
harassment of civil society and the political opposition, combined with limitations
on press and other political freedoms, left little need for violent repression.
26 “Imperialists Can’t Preach Human Rights,” The Herald, January 19, 2007.
27 Jonathan Moyo, former Information Minister, left ZANU-PF and was elected as an
28 Reporters Without Borders, “No Letup in Abusive Media Tactics Three Weeks Before
Legislative Elections,” March 8, 2005.
Nevertheless, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of 17 human
rights organizations, reported more than 300 assaults in the pre- election period.29
Charges of Election Rigging. Many analysts argue that the Zimbabwean
political system is undemocratic because elections are administered by institutions
and under laws that many consider biased in favor of the ruling party. In response
to democratic protocols established by the Southern African Development
Community (SADC), the government passed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
(ZEC) Act and the Electoral Act prior to the 2005 elections. However, the new
“independent” ZEC, appointed by the president, was only established two months
before the election, leaving many of the preparations to the old Electoral
Commission, which many considered discredited by its past performance. According
to the U.S.-based democracy advocacy group Freedom House, “despite some
improvements, the Electoral Act granted the ZEC powers to employ security forces,
retained biased residency requirements for voters, denied most expatriates the right
to vote, and created an Electoral Court staffed by a deeply compromised judiciary.”30
The Mugabe government has employed other legal tactics seen by critics as
designed to intimidate the opposition and produce a political landscape favorable to
ZANU-PF. The 2004 gerrymandering of constituencies, which the government
attributed to population shifts arising from its land reform program, resulted in the
redistricting of three urban seats held by the MDC into three new rural
constituencies, which ZANU-PF candidates won in 2005. The International Council
of Barristers and Advocates described extensive efforts by ZANU-PF to gain control
over the legal system in a 2004 report, suggesting the ruling party has interfered in
judicial appointments and forced the removal of impartial judges “through a31
combination of psychological and physical intimidation and threats of violence.”
The MDC challenged the results of numerous 2005 races in court, claiming that
the election was rigged.32 Their allegations focused on several largely rural districts
in which the ZEC announced voter turnout totals before the vote results were
reported. Once the results came in, the ZANU-PF candidate won in each case, but
the vote for the two candidates added together exceeded the initial ZEC-reported
turnout total. This created a suspicion that additional votes had been given to the
29 Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Political Violence Report, March 2005. The
forum produces monthly reports on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and assists
victims of violence. See [http://www.hrforumzim.com].
30 Freedom House, “Country Report: Zimbabwe,” Freedom in the World 2006.
31 International Council of Barristers and Advocates, The State of Justice in Zimbabwe,
December 2004. The Council sent an investigative team to Zimbabwe which included
Chairmans of the Bar of England and Wales and the Irish Bar, and Vice Chairman of the
South African Bar.
32 Although none of the 2005 results were overturned, a 2006 Zimbabwean supreme court
decision gave the opposition further legal recourse. Against the arguments of the chief
justice, the attorney-general, and the justice minister, the court ruled that the judicial
appointment of commissioners to the electoral court was unconstitutional and violated the
principle of separation of powers. “Zimbabwe Court Rules 2005 Electoral Legislation
‘Inconsistent’ with Constitution,” The Financial Gazette, July 27, 2006.
ZANU-PF candidates during the tabulation phase to prevent MDC victories.33
According to the ZEC, they had initially released early totals coming in to provide
an indication of voter turnout, and the discrepancies between those initial figures and
the final tallies were due to poor communications from rural areas. Other opposition
allegations focused on large numbers of voters in contested areas reportedly turned
away for alleged registration problems.
Election Observers. Many domestic election observers, such as the
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Zimbabwe Election Support
Network (ZESN), were critical of the elections. During the pre-election period, they
cited a lack of transparency surrounding voter registration as a “significant and
serious threat to the overall credibility of the electoral process.” Their reports cited
no incidents of overt political violence, but noted the pre-election period was marked
by intimidation, “politicization of food distribution,” and a lack of media access by
the opposition. The observers contended they were restricted access to the vote
counting process at many polling stations, and that in some cases the total voter tally34
did not coincide with the total number of votes cast for the candidates. Both groups
reported the use of POSA, MOA, and AIPPA throughout the election period against
opposition supporters. The ZLHR report concluded, “Zimbabwean authorities have
failed, on most accounts, to ensure a free and fair electoral process.”35
The Mugabe regime placed limits on foreign observers for the election. No U.S.
observers were invited, and Russia was the only European country asked to send a
team. Leading the Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation,
South African Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka congratulated Zimbabwe on “the
holding of a peaceful, credible, well managed and transparent election. The people
of Zimbabwe have expressed their will in an impressively instructive manner that
will go a long way in contributing to the consolidation of democracy and political36
stability not only in Zimbabwe, but also in the region as a whole.” The head of
South Africa’s parliamentary observer mission was quoted saying that the delegation37
had “unanimously agreed that the elections were credible, legitimate, free and fair.”
Both statements received substantial criticism in the international press. The SADC
Parliamentary Forum, which consists of legislators from the region and had issued
a report critical of the 2002 election, was not invited to observe the vote.
33 The ZEC eventually halted the release of turnout totals, so it is not known if there
were similar discrepancies in other districts.
34 ZESN, Report on Zimbabwe’s 2005 General Election, April 2005. The ZESN, a coalition
of 35 human rights and civic groups based in Zimbabwe, deployed 260 long-term observers
and 6000 observers for the election itself.
35 The report of the ZLHR,a local human rights organization that deployed 44 observers for
the election, is available at [http://www.zlhr.org.zw].
36 “Zimbabwe’s Enabler; South Africa Falls Short as Monitor of Democracy,” Washington
Post, April 4, 2005.
37 “The Real Fraud in Zimbabwe,” Washington Times, April 6, 2005.
Western governments condemned the elections. Based on reports from domestic
observers and U.S. Embassy staff who were allowed to observe the election, U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued the following statement:
Although the campaign and election day itself was generally peaceful, the
election process was not free and fair. The electoral playing field was heavily
tilted in the government’s favor. The independent press was muzzled; freedom
of assembly was constrained; food was used as a weapon to sway hungry voters;
and millions of Zimbabweans who have been forced by the nation’s economic38
collapse to emigrate were disenfranchised.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan commended the election’s lack of violence but
noted concern that “the electoral process has not countered the sense of disadvantage39
felt by opposition political parties who consider the conditions were unfair.”
Restrictions on Political Freedoms
Legislative actions in the ZANU-PF-dominated parliament raised concerns
about human rights in Zimbabwe. Laws that critics contend have been used to quiet
dissent and influence political developments include the following:
!The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
(AIPPA). This 2002 Act requires that all media services be
licensed, and that all journalists, including foreign correspondents,
be officially accredited. The government, citing AIPPA, closed The
Daily News, the only remaining independent daily, in 2003. In 2005,
three Zimbabwean correspondents for the Associated Press,
Bloomberg News, and the Times of London, fled Zimbabwe after
police raided their office. The Media Institute of Southern Africa
(MISA) has stated that AIPPA is “one of the most effective legal
instruments of state control over the media and civil society
communication anywhere in the world.”40 The government has
countered that AIPPA encourages responsible journalism.
!The Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Criminal Law
(Codification and Reform) Act (“Criminal Law Code”), and the
Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA). POSA, also enacted in 2002,
prohibits statements deemed to be “abusive, indecent, obscene, or
false” about the president or considered to “undermin(e) public
confidence” in the security forces, and prohibits false statements
38 The statement of Secretary Rice, made on April 1, 2005, is available online at
[ ht t p: / / www.st at e.gov/ secr et ar y/ r m/ 2005/ 44141.ht m] .
39 Secretary-General Annan’s statement is available at [http://www.un.org/News/ossg/].
40 MISA, Annual Report, April 2003-March 2004; “Media Institute Says Press Restrictions
in Zimbabwe Rule Out Fair Elections,” Voice Of America (VOA), April 5, 2004.
prejudicial to the state.41 The measure has been used in the arrest of
thousands of political opponents and in police action to break up
public meetings and demonstrations. Zimbabweans overheard
criticizing the President in a public place have also been jailed. The
MOA criminalized “conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace,”
and was often used with POSA against activists. Police and “persons
assisting the police” may use “all necessary force” to stop unlawful
gatherings.42 In 2006 many offences under POSA and MOA were
transferred to the new Criminal Law Code.
!The Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Act. Critics suggest
that the government has used the PVO Act, enacted in 2002, to limit
the activities of domestic NGOs. They are required to register with
the government, and a “probe team” of intelligence officers has wide
powers to investigate groups and demand documents related to
activities and funding. The African Commission on Human and
Peoples’ Rights has recommended that it be repealed.
The opposition has had limited success in preventing ZANU-PF from passing
other legislation that it contends would restrict freedoms. The Interception of
Communications Bill, which would allow the government to monitor all Internet,
email, and telephone communications for threats to national security, was stalled by
the Parliamentary Legal Committee (chaired by an MDC MP), but was later revised
and approved in June 2007. Critics suggest the revisions are cosmetic.
In the 2005 elections ZANU-PF won over two-thirds of the seats in the House
of Assembly, giving the party the power to amend the constitution. The parliament
subsequently passed several controversial constitutional amendments which some
analysts contend breach international human rights standards. The 2005 Constitution
of Zimbabwe Amendment Act (No.17) allows the government to limit the right to
freedom of movement when it is in “the public interest” or in “the economic interests
of the State” and restricts the right to leave Zimbabwe. Journalists, MDC officials,
and union leaders have had their passports revoked under the act; the government
charged that they planned to lobby abroad for sanctions or military intervention43
against the country. The act also prevents land owners from challenging the
acquisition of agricultural land by the state. It paved the way for the passage of
Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act in late 2006, making it illegal for
former farm owners to occupy nationalized land and allowing the government to
evict farmers and resettle the land without compensation. The constitutional
amendment also revived the upper house of the parliament, the Senate.
The South Africa-led SADC negotiations led in January 2008 to amendments
to both AIPPA and POSA. Critics suggest the amendments did not adequately
41 For the text of the POSA, see [http://www.kubatana.net/docs/legisl/posa060203.doc].
42 Solidarity Peace Trust, Policing the State, December 2006.
43 “Title Deeds to 4,000 Farms Nullified,” The Herald, September 23, 2005.
address human rights concerns and were not implemented.44 They cite, for example,
a January 2008 MDC "freedom march" that was blocked by police despite prior
notification of the event, in accordance with the changes to POSA. Supporters who
defied a police ban were reportedly tear-gassed and beaten with batons. Numerous
MDC rallies were likewise blocked in the period preceding the 2008 runoff, despite
court orders allowing the events. The Media Institute of Southern Africa dismissed
the amendments to AIPPA as "dwelling … on inconsequential issues which will not
advance basic freedoms."45
2005 Senate Elections
Elections to the new 66-seat Senate were held in September 2005, and were
marked by record low voter turnout. Of 26 MDC candidates who ran, seven were
elected; ZANU-PF gained the overwhelming majority of seats. Observers suggest one
of the reasons for the low turnout may have been a lack of solidarity on the part of
the opposition, which split prior to the election over whether to boycott the vote.
Internal ZANU-PF Struggles
In view of President Mugabe’s advanced age, presidential succession has been
a matter of intense interest to analysts for several years. Prior to the 2008 elections,
some analysts expressed concern that if the elections did not lead to a democratic
transfer of power, Zimbabwe could experience a violent succession struggle or a
possible military coup. Under the constitution, the president may designate one of
the country’s two vice presidents to serve as acting president until the next election,
should he leave office, but Mugabe has never done so. One of the vice presidential
posts was vacant prior to the 2004 ZANU-PF party conference, setting off a power
struggle that transformed the political scene by revealing internal party divisions.
Despite his age, President Mugabe is reportedly in good health and in no rush to
relinquish his post. Many observers suggest he has used the country’s anti-corruption
authority to check the political ambitions of his party members. Mugabe endorsed a
2007 proposal to extend the next presidential elections to 2010, but it was defeated
by the ruling party’s central committee.
Prior to the December 2004 party conference, Emmerson Mnangagwa, then
speaker of the parliament and a political veteran long touted as Mugabe's heir,
campaigned actively for the position of ZANU-PF's second vice president. His
selection to that position would likely have assured his appointment as national vice
president, but Mnangagwa was caught off guard when Mugabe decided that the
country should have a woman in the post. Mugabe's choice for the position, Joice
Mujuru, was inevitably elected, and she was sworn into office as Zimbabwe's second
vice president. Mujuru, a veteran of the liberation war and a women's movement
leader, had been serving as Minister of Water Resources and Infrastructure.
44 Human Rights Watch, All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral
Conditions in Zimbabwe's Coming Elections, Vol. 20, No. 2(A), March 2008.
45 Media Institute of Southern Africa, “AIPPA, POSA, BSA Amendments Signed into Law,”
Media Alert Update, January 12, 2008.
The outcome of any succession struggle may be affected by the country's ethnic
and clan divisions. Mugabe and many key party and clan officials are from the
Zezuru clan of the Shona people, who are dominant in a wide area encircling Harare,
the country's capital. Retired General Solomon "Rex" Mujuru, a Zezuru and husband
of Joice Mujuru, has been one of Mugabe's closest advisors and was regarded as a
king-maker. Mnangagwa was seen as a representative of the large Karanga clan,
which reportedly felt that its turn to control the reins of power had come.
Mnangagwa's viability as a presidential contender was hampered by accusations that
he led the purge of alleged regime opponents in provinces of Matabeleland in the
The events of the 1980s help to explain why Bulawayo has long been regarded as a
center of opposition to the government, although Mugabe has sought to gain support
in the region by elevating a number of Ndebele to party and government posts.
Mnangagwa’s power was reduced following the events of 2004, as was that of
a number of his backers, including the former minister of information, Jonathan
Moyo. Moyo was fired in early 2005 for his sharp-tongued defenses of the regime
and for picking spats with other ZANU-PF leaders. He deeply angered Mugabe by
convening an unsanctioned meeting of Mnangagwa supporters before the party
convention, allegedly to strategize on ways of derailing the Mujuru candidacy. Moyo
left the party and ran as an independent in 2005. He retained his seat in the 2008
According to reports, neither the Mnangagwa nor Mujuru camps initially
supported Mugabe’s proposed term extension. Once a strong Mugabe ally, Solomon
Mujuru has been vocal in his disapproval and is rumored to have been pivotal in
blocking the proposal at the party’s national conference. Some have suggested that
Mujuru covertly backed another ZANU-PF official, Simba Makoni, over his wife as
a potential successor to Mugabe. Makoni, a technocrat, was considered by some
analysts to be a compromise candidate, untainted by the corruption scandals that have
plagued others. Mugabe’s own choice for his successor is unknown. Mnangagwa
appears to have reallied with Mugabe, leading the party’s 2008 election efforts and
taking a central role in guiding the country’s security forces in recent months.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
Origins of the MDC. The MDC party rose from the Zimbabwe labor
movement. As poverty deepened in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s, and allegations of
corruption against regime leaders became more frequent, the Zimbabwe Congress
of Trade Unions (ZCTU) organized a number of strikes and protests. In September
1999, the MDC was formed on this trade union base with support from many in
Zimbabwe’s churches and in urban areas. In February 2000, MDC members elected
the ZCTU secretary general, Morgan Tsvangirai (CHANG-gerai), born in 1952, as
MDC president, and union president Gibson Sibanda as MDC vice president.
The MDC proved formidable in the 2000 referendum and in the 2000
parliamentary election; some contend their success may have prompted a range of
repressive actions against the party and its supporters. Among the retaliatory
measures alleged, several leaders of the MDC, including Tsvangirai himself, were
arrested and charged with treason two weeks before the MDC leader ran against
Mugabe in the 2002 presidential elections.
Treason Charges. On October 15, 2004, Tsvangirai was acquitted of a
treason charge based on a video recorded in Canada, which the government claimed
showed him calling for the “elimination” of Mugabe. The verdict surprised many
observers in view of the regime’s perceived influence over the courts. The judge
stated that the evidence had been unconvincing, with the witnesses produced by the
state “suspect” and the video unreliable. The government can appeal the verdict, and
Tsvangirai may be tried again because the law does not prohibit double jeopardy. In
August 2005, the government dropped a second treason charge that had been based
on claims that he urged violence to bring down the government in 2004.
Division in the Opposition. In late 2004, the MDC became increasingly
divided in its strategy to defeat the Mugabe government. MDC officials initially
decided that the party would not participate in the 2005 parliamentary campaign,
unless the government took steps to assure a free and fair election. Several party
members questioned this stance on grounds that non-participation would deprive the
party of any influence in the next parliament. Some reportedly felt that a refusal to
participate would hand control of parliament to Mugabe on a “silver platter.”
Tsvangirai supported a boycott, arguing that the elections should be postponed until
substantial electoral reforms could be implemented. The party did eventually
participate “under protest,” but did not do as well as in previous polls.
In the months prior to the 2005 Senate elections, the MDC was once again
divided on whether to participate. Supported by some civil society groups who
suggested the elections were “meaningless” and “a waste of time and resources,”
Tsvangirai argued that participating in the Senate would legitimize previous “rigged”
elections, and vowed instead to lead the opposition through mass action. He was
opposed by a group of MDC politicians led by the party’s secretary-general,
Welshman Ncube, who had also been accused by the government of treason in 2003
(the charges were subsequently dropped), and Gibson Sibanda. In October, the
party’s national council voted 33-31 to participate in the election, but Tsvangirai
overruled the vote and, reportedly in violation of the party’s constitution, expelled
26 senior officials from the party. He announced the boycott, touring the country to
encourage voters to stay home. The Ncube faction refused to accept their expulsion
and fielded candidates in the Senate race, although they gained only seven seats.
Both factions held party conferences in early 2006; Tsvangirai was confirmed
as the leader of one faction, while Ncube ceded control of the “pro-senate” faction
to Arthur Mutambara, a noted student leader in the 1980s. The two factions attacked
each other in the press, and there were allegations that the Tsvangirai faction was
behind a violent July 2006 assault on Member of Parliament (MP) Trudy Stevenson
and several other Mutambara supporters. Stevenson identified the youths who
attacked her as known followers of the former labor leader, but Tsvangirai denied the
charges and denounced the beatings. Although his faction was reported to have the
larger support base and the backing of the ZCTU, some observers suggested neither
faction would be effective unless they could resolve their differences and reunite.
Opposition Defiance Against a Ban on Protests and Rallies. On
February 22, 2007, the Zimbabwean government announced a three-month ban on
political rallies and public demonstrations in Harare “due to the volatile situation in
the country.”46 The MDC filed an appeal with the High Court to lift the ban, which
coincided with an increase in public activity by the opposition and civic groups. On
February 18, despite a High Court decision allowing Morgan Tsvangirai to launch
his presidential campaign at a rally in Harare, police reportedly used batons and water
cannons to break up the event. A rally planned by the Mutambara faction in
Bulawayo was similarly dispersed, and numerous opposition supporters were
arrested. The ban was announced three days later, and police subsequently arrested
several hundred civic activists, according to press reports.
On March 11, 2007, police broke up a Save Zimbabwe Campaign prayer
meeting attended by both Tsvangirai and Mutambara, arresting an estimated 50
members of the opposition and civil society, including both MDC leaders. Police
shot and killed one opposition supporter after MDC youth reportedly began throwing
stones at police. The following day, police arrested an estimated 240 opposition
supporters during a demonstration protesting the March 11 crackdown. Media and
human rights reports suggest that Tsvangirai was severely beaten while in custody,
and he appeared in court on March 13 showing signs of head trauma.47 Other
opposition and civic leaders also reportedly sustained injuries after their arrest. The
protestors were released into the custody of their lawyers on March 14 after
prosecutors reportedly failed to appear at their court hearing. The Zimbabwean
government contended that the MDC incited violence and was responsible for attacks48
on several civilian targets and a Harare police station.
The March 11 incident spurred international media attention and drew
considerable criticism from many world leaders. U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice issued a strong statement, saying, “The world community again
has been shown that the regime of Robert Mugabe is ruthless and repressive and49
creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon also condemned the “reported beating of those leaders in police custody”
and criticized the ban, noting that “such actions violate the basic democratic right of
citizens to engage in peaceful assembly.”50 Several of Zimbabwe’s neighbors,
including South Africa and Zambia, issued statements of concern regarding the
46 “Rally Ban a Fatal Govt Assault on Social Contract,” Zimbabwe Independent, March 2,
47 “Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Taken to Hospital From Court,” CNN, March 13, 2007,
and “Mugabe Foes Vow to Intensify Action,” Washington Post, March 13, 2007.
48 “Zimbabwean Police ‘Fire-Bombed,’” BBC, March 15, 2007.
49 Statement of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “Call for Immediate Release of
Zimbabwean Opposition Leaders,” on March 13, 2007.
50 Statement issued by the Spokesman of the U.N. Secretary General on March 12, 2007.
incident, and Ghanaian President John Kufuor, then chairman of the AU, called the
event “very embarrassing.”51
Human rights groups have documented numerous accounts of political violence
in recent years. According to Freedom House, “Zimbabwe’s descent into the ranks
of the world’s most repressive states continued unabated.”52 The State Department
reported that Zimbabwe’s government has "engaged in the pervasive and systematic
abuse of human rights, which increased significantly during the year"and contends
that “state-sanctioned use of excessive force increased, and security forces tortured
members of the opposition, student leaders, and civil society activists,” in 2007.53
Amnesty International has been similarly critical:
The human rights situation continued to deteriorate, in a context of escalating
poverty. Freedom of expression, assembly and association continued to be
curtailed. Hundreds of people were arrested for participating or attempting to
engage in peaceful protest. Police were accused of torturing human rights
defenders in custody. The situation of thousands of people whose homes were
destroyed as part of Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) in 2005 continued
to worsen, with no effective solution planned by the authorities. The government
continued to obstruct humanitarian efforts by the UN and by local and54
international non-governmental organizations.
President Mugabe has repeatedly condoned police and military brutality against
Zimbabwean citizens. In August 2006, during Heroes’ Day, a holiday honoring war
veterans, Mugabe warned that his security forces “will pull the trigger” against55
protesters. A month later, in an incident caught on video, Zimbabwean police
conducted a particularly violent crackdown against leaders of the Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), who had planned a civic protest to highlight the
impact of inflation on the country’s citizenry. Mugabe sanctioned the police action,
saying, “Some people are now crying foul that they were assaulted, yes you get a
beating … when the police say move, move, if you don’t move, you invite the police56
to use force.” Subsequent mass ZCTU protests were not held.
Mugabe received international attention for his statement; the U.N. Country
Team (UNCT) in Zimbabwe announced “a profound sense of dismay” over
comments that “might be interpreted as condoning the use of force and torture to deal
51 “Zimbabwe Leader Faces Growing Condemnation,” Associated Press, March 15, 2007.
52 Freedom House, “Country Report: Zimbabwe,” Freedom in the World 2006: The Annual
Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties.
53 DOS, “Zimbabwe,” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007.
54 Amnesty International (AI), “Zimbabwe,” Annual Report 2007.
55 “Threat by Mugabe,” New York Times, August 16, 2006.
56 See Mugabe’s statement in an article from the government-owned newspaper, The Herald
at “Zimbabwe Press Review for 25 Sep 06”, BBC Monitoring Africa, September 25, 2006.
with peaceful demonstrations by its citizens.”57 The U.N. Special Rapporteur on
Torture58 has repeated a 2005 request for an invitation from Zimbabwe to investigate,
and the Harare magistrate who heard the case against the ZCTU leaders ordered an
independent investigation into the allegations of police brutality.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reports that there were 586 incidents
of torture from January through December 2007, 855 incidents of assault, and 19
incidents of politically motivated abduction/kidnapping.59 These figures suggest an
marked increase in political violence from the 2006, during which there were 368
incidents of torture, 509 incidents of assault, and 11 incidents of politically motivated
abduction/kidnapping.60 Human rights activists suggest that abductions and beatings
of opposition supporters have been “more systematic and widespread” since the
events of March 2007.61 And despite provisions in the new Electoral Laws
Amendment Act banning such acts and assurances by security officials that the
government would take a "zero tolerance" approach to violence, reports of attacks on
opposition supporters rose dramatically after the March 2008 elections.62
Some reports suggest the government may have increasing difficulty paying its
police and security forces, which rights activists infer could affect their willingness
to suppress protests with violence or conduct other alleged rights violations.
Nevertheless, reports suggest that police still play a significant role in political
violence. The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, which investigated
the May 2007 detention and beating of lawyers, expressed shock at the role police
played in the attacks and at the "cavalier response of Zimbabwean authorities."63
In May 2005, the Government of Zimbabwe initiated Operation Murambatsvina
(variously translated as “Restore Order” or “Clean Out the Filth”), a massive
demolition program aimed at destroying allegedly illegal urban structures, such as
informal housing and markets. By early July 2005, an estimated 700,000 urban
Zimbabweans had been rendered homeless or unemployed by the operation, and an
estimated 2.1 million (in total, almost 20% of the population) were indirectly affected
57 “U.N. Slams President Mugabe,” Zimbabwe Independent, September 29, 2006.
58 The post of Rapporteur was created by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 1985
to investigate questions relating to torture. For information on the Rapporteur’s mandate,
59 Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Political Violence Report, December 2007.
60 Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Political Violence Report, December 2006.
61 “Zimbabwe Leaders Accused of Abducting Opponents,” New York Times, March 29,
62 Human Rights Watch, All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral
Conditions in Zimbabwe's Coming General Elections, Vol. 20, No. 2(A), March 2008.
63 For more information, see the Mission's report at [http://www.icj.org].
by the demolitions.64 These are considered “low-end estimates,” and some reports
suggest the numbers of those affected may be much higher.65 According to some
sources, 70% of the country’s urban population may have lost shelter, while
approximately 76% lost their source of income.66 Police and military who carried out
the event reportedly arrested forty thousand for allegedly illegal activities, and told
those whose homes were destroyed to “return to their rural origins,” although many
had no rural home to which they could return.67
Operation Murambatsvina has had a severe impact on the nation’s economy and
on the livelihood of its citizens. For many, this was not the first time they had been
forcibly removed from their homes. As a result of the 2000 land reform program, an
estimated 400,000 black laborers on commercial farms lost their livelihoods and/or
homes, and many fled to urban areas to find work. Political violence surrounding the
2002 elections also forced many from their homes, reportedly displacing more than
100,000.68 In 2004, under a new phase of land resettlement, an estimated 500,000
who settled on farms during the 2000 invasions were evicted.69 Many of these
displaced inhabited the urban “slums” prior to the demolitions, making their living
from trading on the black market. Given the collapse of the formal economy, 40%
of the labor force was estimated to be informally employed prior to Murambatsvina,
while 44% worked in the communal sector (including the agriculture industry), and
16% worked in the formal sector.70 Of those living in towns and cities, an estimated
Political Motivations? The government described Murambatsvina as a
program designed to restore the capital city to its former image as “the Sunshine
City,” ridding the country’s urban areas of illegal structures that foster criminal71
activity and stemming the black market trade in foreign currency. Launched shortly
after the disputed 2005 parliamentary elections, many contend the demolitions were
a political move aimed either at preventing mass protests over the growing economic
crisis or at punishing the reputed urban support base of the MDC. The Harare
Commission that initiated the campaign was established in order to contravene the
64 The U.N. Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe Anna Kajumulo
Tibaijuka, Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess The Scope and Impact
of Operation Murambatsvina, July 2005.
65 A survey by ActionAid International, a Netherlands-based international development
agency, found that 840,000 were directly affected and 1.2 million indirectly affected, while
a survey by the independent research firm Afrobarometer reported that an estimated 2.7
million were directly affected.
66 ActionAid International, The Impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order in
Zimbabwe, August 2005.
67 Tibaijuka, 13.
68 U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, “World Refugee Survey, Zimbabwe
Country Report,” 2003.
69 DOS, “Zimbabwe,” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005.
70 Tibaijuka, 34.
71 “Clean Up Commendable,” The Herald, May 23, 2005.
authority of the elected City Council, of which the MDC held the majority. The
mayor of Harare, an MDC politician who was elected by 80% of the vote, was fired
in April 2004, along with 19 MDC-allied city councillors, after having been arrested
in 2003 under POSA for holding a public meeting without prior state approval.
The legality of the Harare Commission, which was appointed by the Minister
of Local Government, was challenged in a November 2003 high court ruling that
found the Commission did not have the authority to fire the mayor. A new election
was supposed to be held within 90 days, according to law, but when no election
occurred, the Harare Commission was reappointed. The remaining MDC councillors
resigned in protest. With the exception of Harare, the local authorities of the other
areas (many of which are MDC-controlled) affected by Murambatsvina have reported
that they were not informed of the demolitions prior to the event. The implications
of this breakdown in governance are reflected by the United Nations, which found
that Murambatsvina “was implemented in a highly polarized political climate
characterized by mistrust, fear and a lack of dialogue between Government and local
authorities, and between the former and civil society.”72
The International Response. International reaction was highly critical.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Tanzanian-born Anna Tibaijuka,
Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, as the U.N. Special Envoy on Human
Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe to investigate the humanitarian impact of the
demolitions. Following a fact-finding mission to the country, she issued a
comprehensive report, which concluded:
Operation Restore Order, while purporting to target illegal dwellings and
structures and to clamp down on alleged illicit activities, was carried out in an
indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering and,
in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and73
international legal frameworks.
The report also described police preventing civil society and humanitarian
organizations from assisting those affected by the demolitions, and suggested that the
groups were operating in a “climate of fear” and practicing “‘self-censorship’ to74
avoid being closed down or evicted.” The Chairman of the African Union sent his
own envoy, but he was prevented from conducting an assessment (see “International
Perspectives,” below). The presentation of the U.N. envoy’s report to the U.N.
Security Council stirred controversy as China, Algeria, Benin, and Russia objected
to debate on the report. The majority of Security Council members voted to allow its
discussion, albeit in a closed session. Secretary-General Annan also issued a strong
statement condemning Murambatsvina, calling on the government of Zimbabwe to
stop the evictions and allow unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance:
“Operation Murambatsvina” has done a catastrophic injustice to as
many as 700,000 of Zimbabwe’s poorest citizens, through
72 Ibid., 7.
73 Ibid., 7.
74 Ibid., 54.
indiscriminate actions, carried out with disquieting indifference to
human suffering. I call on the Government to stop these forced
evictions and demolitions immediately, and to ensure that those
who orchestrated this ill-advised policy are held fully accountable
for their actions ... the Government must recognize the virtual state
of emergency that now exists, allow unhindered access for
humanitarian operations, and create conditions for sustainable75
relief and reconstruction.
Continued Evictions and Operation Garikai. Many observers suggest
the Zimbabwean government did little to respond to the U.N. envoy’s76
recommendations. Reports suggest that forced evictions continued, despite
government declarations to the contrary.77 As was the case during the initial
evictions, several thousand of those made homeless were taken, in some cases
reportedly against their will, to police-run “transit camps” in late 2006. Conditions
in these camps were described as dire, often lacking shelter, water, or basic latrine
facilities.78 In keeping with the findings of the U.N. report, Amnesty International
alleges that Zimbabwe has repeatedly prohibited aid organizations, including the
United Nations, from providing the displaced with temporary shelters, such as tents,
until permanent housing became available. Secretary-General Annan expressed his
concern in October 2005 over the government’s rejection of U.N. assistance to “tens
of thousands,” noting “there is no clear evidence that subsequent Government efforts
have significantly benefitted these groups.”79 The United Nations was subsequently80
permitted to erect approximately 2,300 shelters, a fraction of their target of 40,000.
In response to international criticism of Murambatsvina, the government
announced a new housing scheme, Operation Garikai, in June 2005. Under Garakai,
also known as “Hlalani Kuhle” (Live Well), new housing for those rendered
homeless was to be built with public funds. The ambitious reconstruction program
would allegedly create tens of thousands of new homes, but given the shortage of
building materials and the government’s budgetary problems, it is highly unlikely the
original target of 5,275 homes will be met. Reports suggest that few houses have
actually been completed, and, instead of going to victims of Murambatsvina, the
newly built houses have been more often occupied by soldiers, police, and members
of the ruling party.81 The government denies these allegations.
75 The Secretary-General’s statement, made on July 22, 2005, is available online at
[http://www.un.org/ apps/sg/ sgstats.asp?nid=1589].
76 See, for example, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum , “Political Repression Disguised
as Civic Mindedness: Operation Murambatsvina One Year Later,” November 2006 and
Political Violence Report, October 2007.
77 U.N., United Nations Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) 2007, July 2007.
78 AI, “Zimbabwe: No Justice for the Victims of Forced Evictions,” September 2006.
79 The October 31, 2005 statement is available at [http://www.un.org/News/ossg/].
80 AI, “Zimbabwe,” Annual Report 2007.
81 See the AI report; Solidarity Peace Trust, Meltdown: Murambatsvina One Year On,
August 30, 2006.
Violations of Domestic and International Law. Human rights
organizations have raised questions about how Zimbabwe and the international82
community should respond to what some have termed “crimes against humanity,”
as defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court8384
(ICC), and whether there is a “responsibility to protect” those affected by
Murambatsvina. Among the U.N. report recommendations, the envoy suggests:
Although a case for crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute
might be difficult to sustain, the Government of Zimbabwe clearly caused large
sections of its population serious suffering that must now be redressed with the
assistance of the United Nations and the international community. The
international community should encourage the Government to prosecute all those
who orchestrated this catastrophe and those who may have caused criminal
negligence leading to alleged deaths, if so confirmed by an independent internal
inquiry/inquest. The international community should then continue to be engaged
with human rights concerns in Zimbabwe in consensus building political forums
such as the UN Commission on Human Rights, or its successor, the African
Union Peer Review Mechanism, and in the Southern African Development
The report includes a legal analysis of Murambatsvina through international and
regional, and national legal frameworks. Several domestic and international
organizations, including the International Bar Association (IBA), have called for the
Zimbabwean government to be brought before the ICC, not only for violations
related to the demolitions, but also for the government’s alleged support of political
violence against its critics. Responding to President Mugabe’s comments supporting
the beating of the ZCTU leaders in September 2006, the Executive Director of the
IBA made the following statement:
Mugabe’s statements add to the weight of evidence that torture and other serious
violations of international law are sanctioned at the highest level in Zimbabwe.
This underscores the urgent need for international and regional action to hold the
Zimbabwean Government to account ... the torture of the trade union activists is
not an isolated incident, but part of a dangerous and illegal system of repression
which constitutes crimes against humanity in international law. Decisive action
is required by both the United Nations and the African Union to end impunity85
and violence in Zimbabwe.
82 Institute of War and Peace Reporting, “Prosecution of Mugabe Urged,” January 20, 2006.
83 The United States is not party to the Rome Statute. For more information, see CRS Report
RL31495, U.S. Policy Regarding the International Criminal Court, by Jennifer Elsea.
84 For more information on the “Responsibility to Protect,” see the Report on the
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which aims to
“reconcil[e] the international community’s responsibility to act in the face of massive
violations of humanitarian norms while respecting the sovereign rights of states.” The
report is available at [http://www.iciss.ca/report-en.asp].
85 The IBA is comprised of Bar Associations and Law Societies around the world. The
comments of its Executive Director can be found at [http://www.ibanet.org/iba/article.
Because Zimbabwe is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, a U.N. Security Council
resolution would be needed for any referral to the ICC. Given the objections of some
Security Council members to the envoy’s report itself, which as stated above
suggested an ICC case would be “difficult to sustain,” it is unlikely such a referral
would be made. The U.N. Envoy found that “The Government of Zimbabwe is
collectively responsible for what has happened,” but cautioned that “it appears there
was no collective decision-making with respect to both the conception and
implementation. Evidence suggests it was based on improper advice by a few
architects of the operation.”86 According to one media source, though, Zimbabwe’s
State Security Minister has claimed, “All the decisions to do with the operation
emanated from the politburo [the ruling party’s inner cabinet] and were sent through
me to the government.”87
The government of Zimbabwe has yet to prosecute those who might be
responsible for crimes related to Operation Murambatsvina or the subsequent
evictions. The victims, in most cases, lack the financial resources to seek redress in
the courts, although Zimbabwean human rights lawyers have represented groups of
victims on several occasions. In one such case, in November 2005, residents of a
Harare suburb were given a temporary stay of eviction by the High Court, but police
ignored the court order and forcibly moved the group to a transit camp. The inability
of the country’s judicial system to protect its citizens or their property, or to provide
due process to those seeking remedy or compensation, suggests a fundamental crisis
in Zimbabwe’s rule of law.
Zimbabwe’s Food Crisis
Several Southern African countries have suffered from chronic food insecurity
in recent years, stemming from a combination of weather-related and man-made
factors, including prolonged drought, floods, poor economic performance, and the
impact of HIV/AIDS.88 Zimbabwe has been particularly hard hit. Grain silos across
the country that once held strategic grain reserves three times the population’s annual
food needs now stand empty. Experts attribute this food insecurity to unexpectedly
severe crop failure,89 but some suggest Murambatsvina and other government policies
significantly limited the population’s ability to feed itself, particularly in urban
areas.90 USAID and the World Food Program predict that over five million
86 Tibaijuka, 76.
87 See an excerpt from South-Africa based website ZimOnline in “Ex-Ethiopian Leader Said
Behind Zimbabwe’s Cleanup Operation,” BBC Monitoring Africa, February 20, 2006.
88 For more information on the region’s food crisis, see CRS Report RS21301, The Food
Crisis in Southern Africa: Background and Issues, by Charles E. Hanrahan.
89 United Nations, 2006 CAP Mid-Year Review, June 2006.
90 ActionAid International, The Impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order in
Zimbabwe, August 2005. This study suggests up to 54% of the country may have become
food insecure as a result of Murambatsvina. A more recent USAID study also concluded
that Murambatsvina and “more recent evictions ” increased vulnerability, according to its
“Zimbabwe — Drought and Complex Emergency Situation Report #2,” Fiscal Year 2007.
Zimbabweans, more than a third of the country’s population, will need food
assistance in 2008 and early 2009.91
Although drought is partly to blame for the country’s food shortages, analysts
believe that disruptions to the farming sector resulting from Mugabe’s land seizure
program are the main reason for reduced food production.92 Nearly all of the
country’s 4,500 commercial farms have now been taken over; the government’s land
redistribution program is reportedly plagued by inefficiencies, with large portions of
redistributed land not being actively farmed. Tractors and other inputs to production
are reportedly in short supply. Thousands of experienced farm workers were
reportedly forced to flee seized commercial farms, and many of those who now hold
farmland have no agricultural expertise. The government's introduction of price
controls in 2007 may further restrict production — the country's seed and fertilizer
producers report that the controls have created "unrealistic prices," which in turn
have caused shortages for the latest farming season.93
Operation Taguta. In late 2005, the Zimbabwean government established
Operation Taguta (or “Eat Well”), a move seen by many as an acknowledgment that
the government’s farm resettlement policies had failed to meet the country’s
agricultural production needs. With food distribution already under the control of the
Grain Marketing Board, led by military officers, the government established a
command agriculture system, in which the military would be responsible for not only
the distribution, but also the production of food. Since the program’s inception, there
have been numerous reports of the illegal seizure of farm equipment, the destruction
of the fruit, vegetable, and other cash crops small-scale farmers grow to sell at market
to support their families, and even army brutality against farmers. Some critics of the
government suggest Operation Taguta was used by the government as an excuse to
deploy military forces throughout the country to control the population.94
Food as a Political Weapon? The Mugabe regime’s stance on food aid
leads many observers to suspect that food is being used as a political weapon, a
charge the government denies.95 Despite assessments by multiple international donor
agencies suggesting the need for food assistance, President Mugabe confounded
observers in recent years by repeatedly declaring the country was running a maize
surplus and would not need food aid.96 In 2004, the government stopped a U.N. food
needs assessment and later halted general food aid distribution by donors (targeted
food aid to vulnerable groups continued), despite independent estimates that
91 USAID, "Zimbabwe — Complex Emergency Situation Report #3," Fiscal Year 2008.
92 On the land takeovers in Zimbabwe, see AI, Zimbabwe: Power and Hunger — Violations
of the Right to Food, October 15, 2004.
93 “Zimbabwe: The Mother of All Farming Seasons,” IRIN, October 25, 2007.
94 Solidarity Peace Trust, Operation Taguta/Sisuthi, April 2006.
95 AI, Zimbabwe: Power and Hunger.
96 “Mugabe Word for Word,” Sky News, May 24, 2004.
suggested 4.8 million would require assistance.97 In March 2005, the government
finally acknowledged serious food shortages, but delayed in signing agreement to
allow the World Food Program (WFP) and its implementing partners to provide
assistance until December of that year.98 Reports suggested that the government
maintained tight control of food distributions, until its ban on the distribution of aid
by NGOs prior to the 2008 runoff.99 The government has accused aid agencies of
using food to turn Zimbabweans away from the ruling party.
Critics like Pius Ncube, former Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, have accused
the government of distributing food only in areas where people would agree to vote
for ZANU-PF. During past elections, civil rights groups and the opposition have
reported instances of the ruling party holding campaign rallies in conjunction with
government food distributions. In some areas, government officials distributing food
required those in line to show a party card — and MDC supporters were reportedly
turned away. Two 2005 court rulings supported these claims, finding that ZANU-PF
candidates politicized food distribution and used violence against the opposition.100
In the midst of its political and economic crisis, Zimbabwe is being ravaged by
HIV/AIDS. One in five Zimbabweans is HIV positive. The United Nations
Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that almost one quarter of Zimbabwe’s children
are orphans (primarily attributable to AIDS), the highest percentage in the world.101
The epidemic is also causing a severe strain on the country’s healthcare system; 75%
of hospital admissions are AIDS-related, leaving few beds or resources for other
patients. To compound this problem, the economic crisis has resulted in the exodus
of many of the country’s medical professionals. Of those who remain, many are
infected with HIV themselves, leaving Zimbabwe to rely upon assistance from
others. The AIDS epidemic is having a crippling effect on the economy- the inability
of infected agricultural workers to adequately contribute to food production further
hamstrings the struggling industry.
Although its infection rate remains high, Zimbabwe is the only country in Sub-
Saharan Africa in which HIV prevalence and incidence rates have declined. While
97 AI, Zimbabwe: Power and Hunger, and USAID, 2004 Annual Report for the Office of
Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).
98 “ZANU-PF Admits Food Crisis,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting (London), March
7, 2005; “10 More Die of Hunger in Bulawayo,” Zimbabwe Standard, March 7, 2005; “14
More Die of Hunger in Bulawayo,” Zimbabwe Standard, February 15, 2005.
99 “Govt Delays Stall WFP Food Distribution,” Financial Gazette, December 13, 2006.
100 Reference to the rulings, made by Judges Nicholas Ndou and Rita Makarau, can be found
in DOS, “Zimbabwe,” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005.
101 “Zimbabwe Has Highest Percentage of Orphans in the World,” Associated Press,
December 6, 2006.
reports suggest evidence of changes in sexual behavior,102 the country’s high
mortality rates also play a role in the decreased prevalence rate.103 Zimbabwe’s
government claims significant resolve to fight the disease. The country was the first
to introduce a tax to finance HIV/AIDS programs (3% on taxable income). President
Mugabe announced in Zimbabwe’s commitment to universal access to antiretroviral
therapy (ART) by 2010. Despite this commitment, access to ART is low.104
For those who are able to access treatment, the country’s economic crisis is
limiting its impact. Patients taking ART must maintain healthy diets for the
treatment to be effective, but with malnutrition rates high, few are able to benefit.
Murambatsvina reportedly displaced an estimated 80,000 infected with HIV/AIDS,
leaving many not only food insecure but also without access to ART. Experts
suggest this disruption in ART may lead to increased resistance in HIV-positive
patients to the most common medication, Nevirapine.105 The displacement and
separation of families may also lead to an increase in unsafe sexual behavior, which
could reverse the country’s decreasing prevalence rate.
The turmoil in Zimbabwe has led to a severe economic contraction, a sharp drop
in living standards for the rural and urban poor, and a massive exodus of
Zimbabweans in search of work. According to the Solidarity Peace Trust, founded
by clergy from Zimbabwe and South Africa, over three million Zimbabweans are
now living outside the country. The Trust calculates that this amounts to 25%-30%106
of the total population, or 60%-70% of productive adults. Those forced to leave
the country because of economic hardship often face difficult conditions because
economic refugees are not entitled to political asylum. Many of those who remain
behind now reportedly rely on remittances from family abroad.
The IMF and the World Bank
Dubbed “the world’s fastest shrinking economy,” Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) has declined over 50% since 1998.107 World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending has been suspended since 2000 due to
102 UNAIDS, AIDS Epidemic Update, December 2007.
103 Dr. Peter Piot, “Launch of the 2005 AIDS Epidemic Update,” November 21, 2005.
Speech available at [http://data.unaids.org/Media/Speeches02/SP_Piot_
104 “Zimbabweans Pledge to Redouble Efforts to Beat AIDS,” VOA, December 1, 2006.
Other figures are more conservative — the United Nations estimates that 10%, or 1 in 10
Zimbabweans, are receiving ART.
105 Tibaijuka, 40.
106 Solidarity Peace Trust, An Account of the Exodus of a Nation’s People, November 2004.
107 See, for example, Simon Robinson, “Great Leap Backwards,” Time, May 29, 2005, and
the World Bank's “Country Brief” on Zimbabwe, available at [http://www.worldbank.org].
nonpayment of arrears, and foreign currency for essential imports, particularly fuel,
is in extremely short supply. The IMF suggests that the inflation rate will not reverse
without significant changes in government spending.108 Zimbabweans continue to
face steep rises in the prices of food and non-food items.
In December 2003, Mugabe selected Gideon Gono, credited with turning around
a troubled commercial bank, as governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The
move was welcomed by some, since Gono was regarded as a successful technocrat.
However, critics maintain that his measures to fight corruption and discover illegally
held foreign exchange are being used to damage government opponents and further
the interests of ZANU-PF.109 Regardless of Gono’s efforts, international assessments
of Zimbabwe’s economic prospects remain bleak. Ignoring the advice of the IMF,
the government has refused to devalue the official exchange rate. Instead, in June
2006, Gono devalued the country’s currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, removing three
zeros in an effort to mitigate inflation.
Under “Operation Sunrise,” the government printed new “rebased” currency,
known as “little heroes,” in an effort to combat corruption and money laundering,
according to the government.110 Zimbabweans were given only 21 days to exchange
their old currency. Individuals were restricted from exchanging more than Z$100
million (USD$1000) of the old notes without clearance from tax authorities
(companies were allowed to exchange Z$5 billion). Police arrested more than 3,000
at roadblocks for holding currency over the individual limit and seized a reported $40
million.111 Analysts suggest the devaluation has done little to reverse the foreign
exchange rate shortages.112 In late September 2008, Zimbabwe began officially
trading in foreign currency in an attempt to lower prices.
Zimbabwe is currently restricted from borrowing from the IMF, to which the
country still owes an estimated $119 million. The government paid $120 million in
2005 and $9 million in 2006 to settle other outstanding arrears with the Fund and to
avoid compulsory withdrawal from the IMF. The source of the funds used to pay the
IMF debt has been a source of considerable speculation in the media.113 Mugabe has
dubbed the IMF a “political instrument” and “monster” for regime change.114
Zimbabwe also owes an estimated $409 million to the World Bank and $300 million
to the African Development Bank.
108 IMF, Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa, September 2006.
109 “Gono’s Mission Is to Save ZANU-PF, Not the Economy,” LiquidAfrica, December 3,
110 “Country is Committed to Uprooting All Forms of Corruption,” The Herald, August 24,
111 “Much Ado About Money,” IRIN, August 18, 2006.
112 “Bag of Bricks: Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe,” The Economist, August 26, 2006, and
“Zimbabwe: Millions no Longer Millionaires,” African Business, October 2006.
113 See, for example, “A Zimbabwean Businessman, His Farms Seized, Takes on Mugabe,”
Washington Post, February 24, 2006.
114 “Mugabe’s 82nd Birthday Blast at Zimbabwe,” Business Day, February 21, 2006.
Attempts to Revive Agriculture Industry
In addition to the government’s attempts to revive its flagging agriculture
industry through the introduction of a command agriculture system (see “Food
Crisis” section, above), the administration has introduced long-term leases to provide
security of tenure for farmers willing to cultivate land nationalized in the 2005
constitutional amendment. One of the unintended side effects of Mugabe’s 2000
land reform strategy, which resulted in the abolition of land tenure, was that farmers
were unable to use their land as collateral to obtain bank loans to invest in their
farms. As a result, few commercial farmers were able to find the capital to maintain
productivity. The government began to distribute 99-year leases in November 2006,
and among the initial recipients were 19 white farmers, which came as a shock to
many after Mugabe declared in July 2005 that his land reform program would be
complete only when there was “not a single white on the farms.”115 There are
currently less than 500 white farmers left in Zimbabwe. Some suggest financial
institutions may be reluctant to accept the new leases as collateral, given that the
government reserves the right to cancel the lease if it deems the farm unproductive.
The government also announced in 2007 its intention to ration electricity to
households across the country in order to divert its dwindling supplies for irrigation
of Zimbabwe's winter wheat crop.116 More recent electricity shortages, caused by
supply cuts from Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia, have compounded
Zimbabwe's economic woes, cutting the production capacity of the manufacturing
and mining sectors by as much 50%, according to some reports.117
The Mining Industry and Nationalization of Foreign
While the country’s agriculture industry founders, its mining industry has
continued to bring much-needed income into Zimbabwe. Mining accounts for almost
half of Zimbabwe’s total foreign currency revenues. Zimbabwe has the world's
second largest reserves of platinum, behind South Africa.118 In early 2006, the
government announced plans to take a 51% share of all foreign-owned mines for
local black investors; 25% of that share would be acquired at no cost to the
government, and mines that refused to part with their shares would be expropriated.
After industry officials cautioned that the plan would deter foreign investment, the
proposal was modified, allowing firms that invested in community projects to keep
their majority share. Parliament may consider the legislation in 2008. They voted
to approve similar plans to take a majority share in all foreign-owned businesses in
September 2007; the legislation became law in March 2008. The Zimbabwe
115 “In Reversal, Mugabe Seeks White Farmers,” UPI, December 17, 2006.
116 “Zimbabwe to Ration Electricity for Homes to Four Hours a Day,” Reuters, May 10,
117 “Power Cuts Halt Harare Factories,” Business Day, October 29, 2007.
118 The largest mining operations in the country are controlled by Impala Platinum and
Anglo Platinum, respectively. These South African-owned companies are the world's largest
government insists that it will not expropriate foreign-owned companies and that the
law will not be applied to every company, but rather “on the basis of capital
(investment) and employment levels.”119 Critics argue the law further deters much-
needed foreign investment.
The government has taken steps to crackdown on illegal mining. Police arrested
an estimated 20,000 illegal miners in late 2006, including several hundred reportedly
legal small-scale miners, confiscating gold, diamonds, emeralds, and gold ore. Since
the collapse of the formal economy, many of the country’s unemployed have resorted
to illegal mining, selling their goods on the black market. According to reports, most
of the miners were released after paying fines.
The Kimberly Process, an international government certification scheme
designed to prevent trade in conflict diamonds, has investigated allegations that
“blood diamonds” from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been
smuggled along with rough stones from Zimbabwe into South Africa for export. If
the allegations are proven, Zimbabwe’s legal diamond exports could be banned. The
government has dismissed the claims as a western attempt to promote regime change.
Zimbabwe has been previously linked to conflict diamonds; senior officials were
named in a 2003 U.N. report for profiting from illicit diamond trade during
Zimbabwe’s military operations in the DRC.120
“Look East” Policy
Blaming the United States, the United Kingdom, and other western governments
for the country’s economic crisis, Mugabe has sought to engender investment and
trade opportunities with Asia, particularly China. Dubbed the “Look East” policy,
Mugabe’s efforts have been criticized by his own party as insufficient to address the
economy’s slide. In December 2006, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on
Budget, Finance, and Economic Development, chaired by a ZANU-PF MP, accused
the central bank governor of exacerbating inflation with “quasi-fiscal activities” and
warned the administration that “the Far East destinations be viewed as a market in
its infancy and that the traditional market of the West should not be neglected as the
nation moves toward regularizing relations with the international community.”121
The Military and the Economy
Critics contend that President Mugabe has bought the continued loyalty of the
country’s security forces through patronage and bribery.122 Some observers suggest
that loyalty of the security forces may come at a heavy cost to the economy. In 2006
the government reportedly spent more than $20 million to purchase new cars for
119 “Zimbabwe Clarifies Nationalization Legislation,” Financial Times, March 11, 2008.
120 Zimbabwe is a signatory of the Kimberly Process. For more information, see CRS Report
RL30751, Diamonds and Conflict: Background, Policy, and Legislation, by Nicolas Cook.
121 “Zimbabwe: Parliamentary Body Urges State to ‘Normalize’ Trade Ties with West,” BBC
Monitoring Africa, December 8, 2006.
122 “Militarization of State Firms Cause for Worry,” Zimbabwe Independent, May 26, 2006.
police, military and intelligence officers. The security forces and civil service also
reportedly received an almost 300% pay raise to counter record desertion rates.
Observers continue to speculate on how the government will pay for its military
purchases from China, including $240 million in fighter jets.
In addition to allegations of land and housing handouts to security personnel,
critics of the government highlight a significant number of current and former
military officers who have been appointed to civilian government positions. Current
or former military officers currently control the Ministries of Energy and Industry,
the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (in charge of tax collection), the electoral
commission, the state railway, the Grain Marketing Board, and the parks authority,
and several have served in the Senate and ambassadorial posts abroad.
As the economy continues to collapse, there have been signs that the
government may be running out of funds to maintain its security forces. During a
parliamentary hearing in mid-2007, the Defense Secretary reportedly suggested that
soldiers were dissatisfied with their low salaries and that the forces were running out
of food and might have to suspend training if new funds were not released.123 Later
that month, Zimbabwean intelligence officials reportedly uncovered a coup plot led
by several senior military officials. Unconfirmed reports suggest that as many as 400
members of the army, air force, and police may have been involved in the plan,
which allegedly aimed to remove Mugabe and to install Emmerson Mnangagwa as
president. Mnangagwa, who has reportedly long sought to succeed Mugabe, denied
any knowledge of the plot. Other sources suggest Vice President Joice Mujuru and
her husband were behind the coup attempt and used Mnangagwa's name to discredit
him. At least five men, including a retired army captain, were arrested and charged
with treason.124 The accused denied the charges. Neither Mnangagwa nor the
Mujurus were officially accused of involvement, although some reports suggest
Solomon Mujuru may have been placed under house arrest for a limited time.125
The international community has been divided on how to respond to
Zimbabwe’s persistent crises. In general, Western nations and institutions have
expressed opposition to Mugabe’s methods of rule, and have pursued policies
intended to pressure the Zimbabwe government for reforms. In contrast, the Mugabe
government has enjoyed considerable sympathy in Africa, where he is viewed as an
elder statesman and a leader of the anti-colonial struggle, and among the Non-
Aligned nations generally. This is changing to an extent, however, with some
African leaders concluding that the Zimbabwe situation is damaging to Africa’s
interests and that political and economic reforms are needed. Nevertheless, African
countries supported Zimbabwe in its successful bid to chair the United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development in May 2007, allegedly to show African
solidarity against American and European opposition. AU member states were
123 “Soldiers Go Hungry,” Financial Gazette, May 23, 2007.
124 “Five Accused of Plotting Coup to Topple President,” The Herald, June 16, 2007.
125 “Army Investigates Reports of Coup Plot,” SW Radio Africa, June 14, 2007.
unable to come to a conclusion on how to address Zimbabwe’s political situation in
a more recent 2008 AU Summit in Egypt, despite election observer reports from the
AU, SADC, and the Pan-African Parliament that found that the June runoff was not
free or fair.
The United States has been critical of the Mugabe regime for its poor human
rights record and lack of respect for the rule of law. Key elements of U.S. policy
toward Zimbabwe include the imposition of targeted sanctions against high-ranking
ZANU-PF members and their affiliates, support for South Africa to spearhead an
African effort to restore democracy, and the provision of assistance intended to help
the country’s poor and strengthen civil society. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her 2005 confirmation hearing,
that Zimbabwe was one of six “outposts of tyranny” worldwide and that the United
States stood with the oppressed people there.126 These remarks provoked an angry
personal response from Mugabe.127 Thomas Woods, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary
of State for African Affairs, was similarly critical, suggesting that Zimbabwe “has
now become a textbook case of bad and illegitimate government.”128
Sanctions. The Mugabe administration has routinely blamed its economic
crisis on sanctions from the west. The United States does not currently have trade
sanctions against Zimbabwe, with the exception of a ban on transfers of defense
items and services to the country. The U.S. government has, however, cancelled all
non-humanitarian government-to-government aid. In 2006, Zimbabwe was found
to be in violation of crimes related to human trafficking and was subject to sanction
under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-386) for FY2007.129
In 2007, the State Department found that Zimbabwe was “making significant efforts”
to combat trafficking, and Zimbabwe was moved from a “Tier 3” to a “Tier 2”130
designation. Zimbabwe is not eligible for trade benefits under the African Growth
and Opportunity Act (AGOA) because and its poor record of economic management
and human rights abuses.
President Bush has annually renewed U.S. sanctions against ZANU-PF leaders.
The sanctions are intended to punish those responsible for Zimbabwe’s difficulties
126 “Rice Targets 6 ‘Outposts of Tyranny,’” Washington Times, January 19, 2005. The
others were Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, and Belarus.
127 “Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Lashes Out at Rice, Blair at Campaign Launch,” AFP, February
128 DOS, “Zimbabwe a Textbook Case of Bad Governance, U.S. Official Says,” February
129 For information on human trafficking and related legislation, see CRS Report RL30545,
Trafficking in Persons: The U.S. and International Response, by Clare Ribando.
130 A Tier 2 rating means that the government still does not meet the minimum standards for
the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. For more
information, see U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2007, available
without harming the Zimbabwe population at large. The initial sanctions, imposed
in 2003, ban travel to the United States by “senior members of the government of
Robert Mugabe and others ... who formulate, implement, or benefit from policies that
undermine or injure Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions or impede the transition to
a multi-party democracy.” Persons who benefit financially from business dealings
with such individuals are also banned, as are the spouses of people in either group.
In 2003, the President issued an executive order freezing assets held in the United
States by 75 high-ranking Zimbabwe officials and Mugabe’s wife, Grace.131 Nine
firms and farms were added in 2004, and the list was further expanded in November
2005 to block the assets of 128 individuals and 33 entities. The President’s executive
order also allows the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of
State, to go beyond previous authority and block the property of additional persons
who “have engaged in actions or policies to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic
processes or institutions,” their immediate family members, and any persons assisting
them.132 President Bush added an additional 38 names to the travel ban list in
Congressional Response. Congress made clear its opposition to Mugabe’s
policies in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (P.L.
in Zimbabwe. This legislation called for consultations with allies on economic
sanctions and a travel ban. In the 109th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives
passed H.Res. 409 in December 2005, condemning Operation Murambatsvina, which
the resolution termed a “humanitarian disaster that has compounded the country’s
humanitarian food and economic crises.” The resolution also called on the U.N. and
African regional bodies to investigate the impact of the demolitions and requested
that the Administration use its influence to advocate further action by the IMF against
the Zimbabwean government. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S.Amdt.
1254, which was included in the final version of the FY2006 foreign operations
appropriations bill (P.L. 109-102). This amendment provided $4 million for
democracy and governance activities in Zimbabwe. The Senate Subcommittee on
African Affairs held a hearing on Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis in June
2001 The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its most recent hearing on
Zimbabwe in July 2008. The House Subcommittee on Africa has likewise held
hearings on challenges to democracy in Zimbabwe: in June 2000 prior to the
parliamentary elections, in February 2002 prior to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections,
and in April 2005 following the parliamentary elections.
The 110th Congress has been active on Zimbabwe. On April 17, 2007, the
House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res. 100, sponsored by Representative Tom
Lantos, condemning the Zimbabwean government’s recent actions against opposition
and civil society activists. In June 2007, the Senate passed parallel legislation,
S.Con.Res. 25, introduced by Senator Barack Obama. Senator Hillary Rodham
Clinton has introduced S. 1500, the Support for Democracy and Human Rights in
131 Seventy-seven individuals are named in the executive order (EO 13288), but one of these,
Vice President Simon Muzenda, has died.
132 The text of this annex to EO 13288 can be found at [http://www.whitehouse.gov].
Zimbabwe Act of 2007, which would authorize up to $10 million to support
democracy and human rights programs in the country.
Several Members of Congress issued statements highly critical of the Mugabe
Administration surrounding the 2008 elections and the ongoing political violence.
Some have written letters to Bush Administration officials or African leaders. On
April 25, the Senate passed S.Res. 533, introduced by Senator John Kerry, calling for
the immediate release of the presidential results, an end to the political violence and
intimidation, and a peaceful transition to democratic rule. The resolution also
supported calls for an international arms embargo and other targeted sanctions
against the Mugabe regime, and encouraged the creation of a comprehensive political
and economic recovery package in the event a democratic government is installed.
The House passed H.Res. 1230, sponsored by Representative Donald Payne and all
the House Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, among others, condemning
the violence and calling for a peaceful resolution to the political crisis. H.Res. 1270,
sponsored by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was also passed, calling for an
international arms embargo, urging the United Nations to deploy a special envoy to
Zimbabwe and encouraging the parties to discuss the creation of a government of
national unity. Prior to the June runoff, Representative Adam Schiff introduced
legislation calling on the Zimbabwe government to postpone the election.
Representative Tom Tancredo also introduced legislation, H.Con.Res. 387, calling
for the United States to sever diplomatic ties with Zimbabwe.
U.S. Support for African Diplomacy. During President Bush’s visit to
South Africa in 2003, he praised the work of Thabo Mbeki as the “point man” in
seeking a Zimbabwe solution. The statement suggested to some that the United
States was stepping back from a lead role on the Zimbabwe issue and would accede
to Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” (see “South Africa” section, below) as the best means133
of achieving reform in Zimbabwe. Mbeki reportedly assured President Bush at that
time that he would be able to bring about talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC,
which did not occur until 2007. In 2004, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
for Africa and then-Ambassador to South Africa, Jendayi Frazer, called for the
formation of a “coalition of the willing” to deal with Zimbabwe. Ambassador Frazer
reiterated South Africa’s position of leverage, and insisted more needed to be done134
by African states to return Zimbabwe to democracy.
U.S. Assistance. The United States remains the leader in humanitarian relief
aid to the Zimbabwean people, supplying more than $500 million in food aid and
disaster assistance since 2002. In addition to food aid, the United States provided
$23.2 million in bilateral assistance for Zimbabwe in FY2007 and an estimated $22.9
million in FY2008. The Administration requested $45.4 million for FY2009. The
State Department stated in its FY2008 Congressional Budget Justification (CBJ) that
supplemental assistance will be requested if elections are held during the fiscal year
133 “Bush Backs Mbeki on Zimbabwe,” The Guardian (London) July 10, 2003.
134 “US Seeks ‘Coalition’ to Force Zimbabwe Regime Change,” The Independent (UK),
August 25, 2004.
that result in the election of a "reform-minded" government.135 Similar language was
used in the FY2009 request, which states,
If elections do not occur in 2008, or if elections continue the status quo, FY 2009
programming... will be reassessed to determine the most promising course to
assist the democratic opposition to survive and to deepen its voice, thereby
maintaining pressure on the GOZ to reform. Additionally, under a no-change
scenario, the United States will promote a continuing dialogue with domestic and
regional audiences on economic mismanagement, political manipulation, and
human rights abuses.
Zimbabwe is not among the countries eligible to participate in the Millennium
Challenge Account program, nor is it a focus country for the President’s Emergency
Plan for AIDS Relief.
USAID continues to support local democracy advocates in Zimbabwe through
a variety of programs aimed at ensuring media freedom and strengthening civil
society and the legislative process. USAID partners were reportedly instrumental in
documenting the demolitions and human rights violations during Operation
Murambatsvina and assisting in relief efforts. Legal restrictions continue to limit the
ability of journalists and independent newspapers to provide alternative source for
news, and the Zimbabwean government controls all domestic radio and television
broadcasting stations. USAID provides funding for Voice of America to broadcast
Studio 7, a daily program on shortwave and AM radio that USAID describes as “the
principal source of independent electronic media in the country.” Studio 7, along
with UK-based Shortwave (SW) Radio Africa and the Dutch-funded Voice of the
People (VOP) have had their broadcasts periodically interrupted by the Mugabe
government using Chinese jamming equipment.
The U.S. State Department warns that travelers suspected of having a “bias”
against the government may be refused entry to Zimbabwe.136 In 2006, a delegation
of the U.S. Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), led by AFL-CIO Vice
President William Lucy, was expelled from the country. Then-U.S. Ambassador
Christopher Dell said,
Clearly, the Zimbabwe government’s decision not to honor the delegation’s visas
is the result of the events of 13 September, when security forces brutally
suppressed planned peaceful demonstrations by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions.... This transparent attempt to deflect international attention from the
vicious beatings is itself an example of the Zimbabwean government’s repression
and of its fear of the truth.... There is increasing acknowledgment that a man who137
was regarded as a liberator of his people is an oppressor.
135 Department of State, FY2008 Foreign Operations Congressional Budget Justification.
136 DOS’s Consular Information Sheet for Zimbabwe is available at [http://travel.state.gov/].
137 “EU Demands Probe into Congress of Trade Union Attacks,” Zimbabwe Standard,
September 24, 2006.
Other International Perspectives
United Kingdom. In 2002, in conjunction with the United States and the
European Union, the British Parliament imposed targeted sanctions on leading
members and affiliates of the ZANU-PF regime, as well an arms embargo and an
asset freeze. The UK has imposed travel bans on over 100 members of the ZANU-
PF and close affiliates of the party. Britain continues to provide humanitarian aid in
Zimbabwe. Concurrently, the UK maintains its willingness to release funds to
Zimbabwe to pay for parts of an orderly land redistribution program if Mugabe retires
and the rule of law is returned. With Mugabe remaining in office under the
September 2008 power sharing agreement, it is unclear whether Britain will concede
to release such funds. Mugabe was extremely hostile toward former British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, a persistent critic. Speaking at his 81st birthday celebration,
Mugabe said the upcoming election would “kill once and for all the machinations of
that man in Number 10 Downing Street, who for some reason thinks he has the
divine power to rule Zimbabwe and Britain.... On March 31, we must dig a grave not
just six feet but 12 feet and bury Mr. Blair and the Union Jack.”138 Current Prime
Minister Gordon Brown has maintained his predecessor’s position, boycotting the
December 2007 EU-Africa Summit to protest Mugabe's attendance. In an April 23
speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for
an international arms embargo against Zimbabwe, accusing the government of
rigging the 2008 elections and calling the political situation "completely
unacceptable." Britain's Queen Elizabeth stripped Mugabe of an honorable
Knighthood he received in 1994.
European Union. The European Union was among the first to take action
against Mugabe’s regime. The EU imposed targeted sanctions on 19 members of
Zimbabwe’s elite and their spouses after pulling the EU election observer team out
of Zimbabwe in February 2002. These “light” sanctions were upgraded by the EU
to target 35 Zimbabwean leaders, and have been renewed yearly, most recently in
February 2007. Current EU sanctions include a travel ban on 130 members and
beneficiaries of the ZANU-PF, an arms embargo, and an asset freeze. Mugabe defied
the travel ban in 2005 to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The EU continues
to provide humanitarian assistance to benefit Zimbabwe’s poor.
France has generally been seen as favoring more engagement with the Mugabe
regime than Britain or other EU members, and it lifted travel restrictions against
Mugabe for a visit in 2005. France justified the move by arguing that the inclusion
of Mugabe rather than isolation would provide a quicker path to easing the crisis.
Cynics suggest that France may see engagement with Zimbabwe as a means of
extending French influence in southern Africa, where it has historically not had a
major role. Nevertheless, France has publicly stressed the need for dialogue with the
opposition before Zimbabwe can improve relations with the international community,139
and it declined to invite Zimbabwe to the Franco-Africa Summit in 2007.
138 “Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Marks 81st Birthday With Attack on Opposition, Blair,” AFP,
February 26, 2005.
139 “France, US Say ‘No Zimbabwe-UK Dispute, Call for Internal Dialogue,” BBC
Commonwealth. The Commonwealth of Nations sent a team of observers
to the March 2002 presidential election in Zimbabwe, and the group found “that the
conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for the free expression of the will
of the electors.”140 Consequently, a special committee appointed to monitor and
respond to the vote, consisting of Australia, South Africa and Nigeria, determined
that Zimbabwe would be suspended from the Commonwealth for one year. The
suspension was the first public action against Mugabe by a body that included
influential African countries. In December 2003, the Commonwealth, including 19
other African members, voted to suspend Zimbabwe indefinitely. On this occasion,
the decision was strongly criticized by South Africa’s President Mbeki, who had by
then committed to his policy of quiet diplomacy, and by other governments in
southern Africa. Mugabe responded by withdrawing Zimbabwe from the141
Commonwealth and ruling out any further discussions or a possible return. Some
speculated, as a result, that the Commonwealth’s action had backfired by placing
Zimbabwe fully outside the bounds of its influence. Others argued that indefinite
suspension by a body including many African members had important symbolic
value in Africa and worldwide.
China and Iran. While many western governments have moved to isolate the
Mugabe regime, China and Iran strengthened ties and deepened their involvement in
Zimbabwe’s economy. China, which became active on the continent in the 1950s
and 1960s to gain global influence, now looks to Africa for natural resources to meet
the needs of its growing population. A longtime ally of ZANU-PF, which it backed
during the liberation struggle, China is reported to be Zimbabwe’s second largest
trading partner and its largest investor.142 Many observers see Zimbabwe’s platinum
concessions as a major draw for Beijing, and Chinese firms are playing roles in the
cell phone industry, as well as in television, radio, and power generation. China holds
controlling interest in the country’s only electricity generator.
Some critics worry China’s investment in Zimbabwe comes without the “strings
attached” that Western governments might require, such as commitments to human
rights, accountability, and anti-corruption. Arms agreements between China and
Zimbabwe have attracted considerable attention in recent years, as most Western
governments continue to enforce an arms embargo against the country. Zimbabwe’s
$240 million purchase of twelve Chinese fighter jets has drawn questions from
analysts as to why a country that faces no immediate external threat from its
neighbors would need such an air force.143 Reports indicate that Zimbabwe also
ordered riot gear, water cannons, armored vehicles, and AK-47 rifles from China.
Monitoring Africa, July 21, 2006.
140 “Commonwealth Observer Group’s Preliminary Report on Zimbabwean Presidential
Elections,” March 14, 2002. Available at [http://www.afrol.com].
141 “Mugabe Rules Out Zimbabwe’s Return to the Commonwealth,” AFP, December 16,
142 “Beijing Quietly Cools Relations With Mugabe,” Financial Times, June 5, 2007.
143 Defense analysts describe the K-8 as a trainer jet with light ground attack capabilities.
Zambia and Namibia have likewise purchased K-8s from China.
How impoverished Zimbabwe could pay for arms from China is a subject of much
speculation; Defense Ministry officials have admitted to being in arrears for the 2005
arms purchases. Some observers suspect that the acquisitions are covered in some
way by China’s growing economic role in Zimbabwe.144
In the face of Western condemnation and isolation, Zimbabwe has also found
an ally in Iran. During a 2006 visit to Tehran, President Mugabe reportedly secured
commitments from Iran for direct aid and Iranian assistance to its energy, agriculture,
and mining industries. Reports indicate that Iran or one of the Gulf countries may
also provide technical assistance to Zimbabwe to revive the country’s only oil
refinery, built 40 years ago to process Iranian crude. Most of Zimbabwe’s fuel comes
by road from South Africa; the country has insufficient foreign currency to import
fuel in bulk through a pipeline from the nearest port, Beira, Mozambique to
In spite of Mugabe’s assurances of Iranian assistance, some observers suggest
Iran may not meet his expectations. Despite an agreement signed by the two countries
in 2005, little financial assistance appears to have been provided. As one economic
advisor points out, “At the end of the day, whether its China or Iran, investors want
one thing: a return on their investment and they do not seem to believe they can get
that return (from Zimbabwe).”145 Likewise, Mugabe, traveling to Beijing in 2005 to
request assistance to deal with the country’s foreign exchange shortfall and fuel
shortage, received a scant $6 million for grain imports reportedly because Zimbabwe
was deemed unworthy of significant investment.146 Although Mugabe did secure a
$200 million buyer credit loan from China to promote agricultural production
(reportedly the largest loan to Zimbabwe since western donors ceased lending in
1999), China has dismissed reports that the countries were negotiating a much larger
$2 billion loan meant to revive the country’s flagging economy.147
In addition to investment and economic assistance, Zimbabwe’s Asian partners
have offered diplomatic support. A Chinese official visiting in 2004 said that his
government “appreciates the reasons for the land issue” and was opposed to any
interference by foreign governments.148 China played a lead role in trying to quiet
U.N. efforts to condemn Zimbabwe for Murambatsvina, and has vetoed proposed
sanctions against the Mugabe Administration by the Security Council. Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed support during Mugabe’s visit, saying
“We believe Zimbabweans have every right to defend their sovereignty and land. We
are happy that Zimbabwe has once again taken control over its resources and we
144 EIU, “The Government is to Buy More Jets from China,” September 15, 2006.
145 Excerpt from South Africa-based website ZimOnline in “Zimbabwe Leader ‘Frantically’
Seeking Allies,” BBC Monitoring Africa, November 23, 2006.
146 “China Aid ‘Snub’ to Enable South Africa to Extract Concessions from Zimbabwe,” BBC
Monitoring Africa, August 1, 2005.
147 “Zimbabwe, China to Negotiate $2 Billion Dollar Loan Deal,” AFP, December 22, 2006
and China and “Beijing Cools on Mugabe China in Africa,” International Herald Tribune,
May 4, 2007.
148 “Chinese Envoy Supports Zimbabwe’s Land Reforms,” AFP, November 2, 2004.
support the land redistribution programme ... We strongly condemn the bullying
tactics of a number of (Western) governments against Zimbabwe.”149
Nigeria. Although an observer team from Nigeria endorsed the 2002
presidential election in Zimbabwe, Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo,
attempted to mediate the country’s crisis. He was reportedly concerned about the
consequences of the Zimbabwe situation for the credibility of the New Partnership
for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). NEPAD is an initiative aimed at demonstrating
Africa’s capabilities for resolving its own problems in exchange for increased aid,
trade, and investment.150 Obasanjo supported Zimbabwe’s suspension from the
Commonwealth, and in 2004, he held a long discussion with Tsvangirai and an MDC
delegation in the Nigerian capital. The Nigerian leader then took the Zimbabwe151
visitors on a personal tour of his farm — an unusual privilege. After the 2005
elections, Obasanjo met again with Tsvangirai, and the government-owned Herald152
newspaper accused the Nigerian president of funding the MDC. The country's new
president, Umaru Yar’Adua, has expressed his own concern with the situation in
Zimbabwe, telling journalists at a German-African summit in October 2007 that
developments in the country were “not in conformity with the rule of law.”153
South Africa. Former President Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” toward
Zimbabwe drew criticism from some for its slow pace, although both sides credit
Mbeki with playing a critical role in the September 2008 power sharing agreement.
Some analysts point out that Mbeki’s reluctance to openly confront or condemn
President Mugabe is understandable on a number of grounds. Mugabe lent aid and
shelter to the African National Congress (ANC), now the ruling party in South
Africa, during its long struggle against white minority rule, creating a bond of
gratitude. Mugabe enjoys considerable popularity around Africa and in South Africa
itself, not least because of his moves to seize lands owned by comparatively wealthy
white farmers, and this may have constrained Mbeki as well.
Nonetheless, many have been dissatisfied that South Africa, which is immensely
more powerful than neighboring Zimbabwe, and which has extensive control over
Zimbabwe’s transport links to the outside world, as well as over its electricity
supplies, has not been able to do more to improve the Zimbabwe situation. As
Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner, many consider South Africa in a position to exert
substantial leverage. At the same time, South Africa must weigh the unintended
effects of such leverage — state collapse across its northern border could produce a
sharp increase in illegal migration and have a substantial impact on South Africa.
149 “Iran Slams Sactions Against Zim,” AllAfrica, November 22, 2006.
150 See CRS Report RS21353, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), by
151 September “Nigeria Rolls Out Red Carpet for Tsvangirai,” Zimbabwe Standard,
November 15, 2004.
152 “The SA, Nigeria, and MDC Connection,” The Herald, November 6, 2005.
153 “Hotfoot from Harare,” Africa Confidential, Vol. 48, No. 24, November 30, 2007.
Some estimate that three million Zimbabweans have fled into the country.154 In May
2008, Zimbabwean and other African immigrants became targets of xenophobic
violence throughout South Africa. At least 60 were killed.
Through his policy of engagement, President Mbeki repeatedly brought the
Zimbabwean government and the MDC together to discuss Zimbabwe’s future.
Mbeki’s offer of economic incentives and an exit strategy for Mugabe in exchange
for negotiations with the opposition and a commitment to free and fair elections have
been unsuccessful until recently. In 2005, as the IMF threatened to expel Zimbabwe
from the Fund for debt payment arrears, the country requested a loan from South
Africa for fuel, food, and electricity, as well as to address the IMF payments. Amid
rumors that the South African government would make any loan conditional on
economic and political reforms, the negotiations stalled and Mugabe found another
source from which to repay the IMF dues.155 In early 2006 speech, Mugabe warned
Mbeki that he should “keep away” from interference in Zimbabwe’s affairs.
Mbeki’s Zimbabwe policies drew criticism from within his country; former
President Nelson Mandela, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former
opposition leader Tony Leon, and even the ANC’s ally, the Congress of South
African Trade Unions (COSATU), have been vocal detractors. COSATU, South
Africa’s powerful labor confederation, strongly opposed the quiet diplomacy policy.
A certain sympathy on the part of COSATU toward the MDC may be inevitable,
since the MDC has its roots in the union movement. COSATU delegations have been
forcibly expelled from Zimbabwe twice, first in 2004 and more recently in late 2006,
when COSATU members traveled to Harare to express their support for the ZCTU
after the incidents of police violence. One COSATU leader remarked, “we are not
quiet diplomats,” and “we will not keep mum when freedom does not lead to respect
for workers and human rights.”156 When the Mbeki government issued a terse initial
statement following the March 2007 arrest of MDC and civil society activists,
COSATU criticized the government for a “disgraceful” response, “in the face of such
massive attacks on democracy and human rights, especially coming from those who
owed so much to international solidarity when South Africans were fighting for
democracy and human rights against the apartheid regime.”157
Defenders of President Mbeki’s approach have argued that he is the only leader
with the influence and prestige needed to sway Mugabe. Some claim that Mbeki and
South African diplomats have already made a contribution in Zimbabwe — helping
to prevent the country from slipping into anarchy in 2002, for example.158 Some
observers expressed hope for Mbeki’s mediation role when the President and Morgan
154 Michael Wines, “Influx from Zimbabwe to South Africa Tests Both,” New York Times,
June 22, 2007.
155 “Zimbabwe Pays Part of IMF Debt,” Washington Post, September 2, 2005.
156 “We Are Not Quiet Diplomats,” Daily Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg), November
157 “South Africa Ends ‘s ‘Silence’ on Zimbabwe, Urges Harare ‘to Respect Rule of Law,’”
BBC Monitoring Africa, March 14, 2007.
158 ICG, Zimbabwe: Another Election Chance, 14.
Tsvangirai met in October 2004, after Tsvangirai’s acquittal. Tsvangirai, who had
been critical of quiet diplomacy in the past, said after the meeting that he welcomed
President Mbeki’s efforts to mediate.159 But Mbeki stunned the MDC and many
supporters of democracy in Zimbabwe in March 2005, when he told a press
conference that he had “no reason to think that anyone in Zimbabwe will militate in
a way so that the elections will not be free and fair.” He insisted that “there will be
a free and fair election in Zimbabwe” and that “things like access to the public media,
things like violence-free election have been addressed.”160 Earlier, he had termed
Secretary Rice’s description of Zimbabwe as an outpost of tyranny as “an
exaggeration.”161 These remarks have left critics questioning the substance behind
The future of South Africa’s policy toward Zimbabwe may be determined by
Mbeki’s successor, should the 2008 power sharing agreement falter. Mbeki, who
resigned in late September 2008, has been temporarily succeeded by ANC Deputy
President Kgalema Motlanthe. Former Deputy President Jacob Zuma, among the
possible candidates to represent the ANC in the next elections, was elected as
president of the ANC in December 2007.162 Zuma has referred to the Zimbabwean
president as “a monster,” but has defended Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy.163 Following
the March 2008 elections, Zuma did not call for Mbeki to step down as mediator, but
said “I imagine that the leaders in Africa should really move in to unlock this
logjam,”164 and called for African leaders to “assist” Mbeki as mediator, “given the
gravity of the situation.”165
The African Union. The African Union (AU) and its predecessor, the
Organization of African Unity (OAU), have been supportive of Mugabe in the past.
In 2002, an OAU observer team labeled Mugabe’s election victory legitimate, free,
and fair. In July 2004, when the AU allowed a report critical of the Mugabe regime
to be circulated at its annual summit, some believed the regional body might be
indicating a change in its approach. The 114-page report, prepared by a delegation
from the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) that visited
Zimbabwe in 2002, reportedly criticized the Zimbabwe government for police166
abuses, press censorship, and compromising the judiciary. The AU tabled the
report at the summit, however, and declared it would keep its contents secret until
159 “Tsvangirai Changes Tune on Mbeki’s Quiet Diplomacy,” Business Day, October 29,
160 “Mbeki Pays Tribute to Zimbabwe, Says Polls Will Be Free and Fair,” AFP, March 2,
161 “Mbeki Criticizes U.S Over Zimbabwe,” BBC, February 22, 2005.
162 For more information on challenges to a possible Zuma presidency, see CRS Report
RL31697, South Africa: Current Issues and U.S. Relations, by Lauren Ploch.
163 “I’m No Mugabe, but I Have Sympathy for What He Has Done,” The Sunday Telegraph
(London), November 26, 2006.
164 “Africa Shows Impatience on Zimbabwe Crisis,” Reuters, April 22, 2008.
165 “Zuma Ratchets Up Rhetoric Over Zimbabwe,” Financial Times, April 22, 2008.
166 “AU Report Slams Erosion of Rule of Law,” Zimbabwe Independent, July 16, 2004.
Zimbabwe has had a chance to respond in detail. According to some media reports,
the Zimbabwean government used procedural regulations and technicalities to
prevent its release.167 The ACHPR passed a resolution in December 2005 calling on
the “government of Zimbabwe to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of
expression” and to allow a second fact-finding mission to enter the country. The
ACHPR resolution was hailed by human rights advocates, who suggested, “This will
exert a lot of pressure on Zimbabwe - this is the first time such a significant body, so
close to African heads of state, observes and condemns such defiance of human
rights compliance.”168 But like the previous report, the second mission’s findings
were rejected by the AU’s Council of Ministers in 2006 because of “irregularities and
Some observers and international human rights organizations such as the
International Press Institute (IPI), suggest that the AU’s repeated rejection of ACHPR
resolutions on Zimbabwe tarnishes the integrity of the body. As one AU official
warned, “If we continue to throw out every human rights report that comes before us,
people out there will stop taking us seriously.”170 IPI also suggests that refusal of the
AU to act on the ACHPR resolutions or to condemn human rights abuses in
Zimbabwe damages the credibility of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)
initiative, a vital part of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).171
Should ZANU-PF fail to abide by the terms of the power sharing agreement,
criticism from the AU may have little effect, unless it is accompanied by more
substantial policy changes toward Mugabe's administration. Zimbabwe has routinely
ignored its detractors and frequently denies those who might be critical of the regime
access to the country. In 2005, AU Commission Chairman Alpha Konare sent Tom
Nyanduga, Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, and
Asylum Seekers in Africa, as his envoy to investigate Operation Murambatsvina.
The Zimbabwean government prevented Nyanduga from conducting his assessment
and deported him, accusing the envoy of “western collusion and agenda adoption.”172
SADC. Many of the 14 members of the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) are linked to Zimbabwe by a common historical experience, as
well as cultural and economic ties, and the organization has been seen as disinclined
to condemn the actions of President Mugabe’s regime. At its August 2004 summit
in Mauritius, SADC approved new electoral principles and guidelines for all its
167 “It’s the Very Leaders Who Are Denying the People Their Justice,” Financial Gazette,
July 20, 2006.
168 “African Union Slams Human Rights Record,” IRIN, January 3, 2006.
169 International Press Institute, “IPI Disappointed By African Union’s Slow Progress in
Criticizing Zimbabwe’s Record on Human Rights, Press Freedom,” April 4, 2006. IPI is a
global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 110 countries
that promotes press freedoms and journalistic standards.
170 “Mkapa Has a Long Shot at Moving ‘Bad Boy’ Mugabe,” AllAfrica, August 25, 2006.
171 For further information on the APRM and NEPAD, see CRS Report RS21353, New
Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), by Nicolas Cook.
172 “Harare Raps African Union Human Rights Body,” U.S. Fed News, July 6, 2005.
member nations.173 Analysts were hopeful that these rules might motivate meaningful
democratic reforms in Zimbabwe, particularly since they laid out detailed guidelines
for SADC observer missions.174 The signatory countries, including Zimbabwe, are
pledged to allow SADC observers freedom of movement and access. As noted
above, the SADC observer delegation’s favorable report for Zimbabwe’s 2005
elections was considered by critics of the Mugabe administration to be disappointing.
Although Mugabe’s neighboring leaders have not singled him out for criticism,
they do appear increasingly concerned with the impact of Zimbabwe’s crisis on their
own countries. Southern African leaders blamed Zimbabwe and Swaziland for
undermining economic growth in the region at a SADC Summit in Lesotho in 2006.
Botswana has spoken out in the past on regional problems attributed to Mugabe’s
policies, including the burden placed on the country by Zimbabwe’s refugees. In
March 2007, following the arrest of Tsvangirai and other opposition members,
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete traveled to Harare to discuss the incident, and
after the SADC summit, President Mbeki was nominated as mediator. SADC's
election observer mission to the June 2008 runoff found that the election "did not
represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe," and called for dialogue among all
political stakeholders toward a negotiated solution.175 Botswana refused to recognize
Mugabe as President after the June 2008 runoff.
Prospects for the Future
The future of Zimbabwe, in the short term, remains grave. Inflation and the cost
of living continue to rise, and the country’s agriculture industry shows little sign of
recovery. Prospects for Zimbabwe’s youngest generation are equally grim. Primary
school attendance has reportedly dropped dramatically since 2000, and the cost of
school fees has risen exponentially. Many families are unable to afford basic food
items, not to mention medicines or doctors. Analysts have cited a number of reasons
for Zimbabwe’s economic problems, including recurrent drought, difficulties
encountered in implementing economic reforms, and industrial competition from
comparatively cheap South African imports.176 At the same time, analysts place
considerable responsibility for Zimbabwe’s problems on the policies adopted and
actions taken by the government since 1997. The government has taken some fiscal
measures to reverse the economic downturn, but as hyperinflation continues to rise,
they have been largely ineffective. As the implementation details of the September
2008 agreement are discussed, it remains unclear how much influence the MDC will
have in pressing its economic policies under a unity government.
173 SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (Adopted by the
SADC Summit, Mauritius, August 2004). Available at [http://www.iss.co.za].
174 ICG, Zimbabwe: Another Election Chance, 13.
175 Preliminary Statement Presented by the Hon. Jose Marcos Barrica of the SADC Observer
Mission, issued on June 30, 2008.
176 Teddy Brett and Simon Winter, “Origins of the Zimbabwe Crisis,” Focus (Helen Suzman
Foundation), June 2003.
The government of Robert Mugabe has displayed little respect for the rule of
law, which has, according to reports, in turn deterred desperately needed foreign
investors. While President Mugabe’s allies may maintain their diplomatic solidarity,
financial support could dwindle if they do not see a return on their investments.
Likewise, the African solidarity on which Mugabe has relied has waned as countries
consider the impact of his policies on their own countries. Nigeria, Botswana,
Kenya, and Zambia, for example, have become increasingly critical.
The country's GDP continues its decline, and Mugabe's inner circle has found
itself with dwindling resources from which to draw to maintain support from its civil
servants and its security forces. The country's teachers and doctors have gone on
strike several times in recent years. Over 1,000 soldiers have reportedly deserted,
fleeing to South Africa.177
As Zimbabwe’s economy continues to collapse and its government has found
itself increasingly isolated following the 2008 elections, the country’s political
situation is now at a critical juncture. The international community has expressed
support for the recent power sharing deal, but its implementation will require
considerable concessions from both sides. Should it stall or collapse, foreign
governments may consider tightening sanctions or other punitive measures until an
acceptable compromise is reached. Should the unity government be established, the
opposition’s role in Zimbabwe’s political future may depend on its ability to present
a unified and credible alternative to ZANU-PF, while at the same time demonstrating
its willingness to work with moderate elements and put the country's economy on the
path toward recovery.
177 “Zimbabwe Army’s Deserters Underscore Country’s Economic Troubles,” Christian
Science Monitor, April 25, 2007.
Figure 1. Map of Zimbabwe
Source: Map Resources. Adapted by CRS.