Monday, June 23, 2008

Zimbabwe crisis update

=> This Associated Press article doesn't have any new information, but it does provide a clear & concise round-up of the political situation right now, both within Zimbabwe and internationally:
"Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Pulls Out Of Election Due To Mounting Violence, Intimidation Against Supporters"

=> And an article from yesterday's New York Times brings home vividly why opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai finally concluded that enough was enough:
"Assassins in Zimbabwe Aim at the Grass Roots"

=> With respect to the changing international context, what is most striking is that even among other African governments and political figures, the taboo against publicly criticizing Mugabe and his regime is breaking down. Some people still buy the propaganda line that there is something "anti-imperialist" about Mugabe's tyrannical, destructive, and increasingly violent rule--yes, such people do still exist--but they no longer dominate public discussion. Here are some relevant highlights from the AP article:
Mugabe has shrugged off mounting international condemnation. But never before has he faced such criticism from other African leaders who now openly say Mugabe is an embarrassment.

Even one of Mugabe's staunchest allies, Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, urged him to end "all acts of intimidation and violence," while current African Union chair Tanzania said it doubted the elections would be free and fair. The leaders of Rwanda and Kenya--which have both suffered deadly political violence--have been especially scathing.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said Sunday that the runoff must be postponed. Mwanawasa, who currently holds the rotating chair of the Southern African Development Community and has long been among Mugabe's most outspoken critics in the region, said Zimbabwe had failed to meet minimum election standards.

He voiced particular frustration that he had been unable to reach South African President Thabo Mbeki, the region's designated mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, and criticized Mbeki for not sharing information.

Mbeki is increasingly isolated both abroad at at home for his appeasement of Mugabe and his refusal to flex South Africa's economic muscle against his neighbor.
Within South Africa, incidentally, one major factor is that Zimbabwe's democratic opposition has been solidly supported by the politically influential Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)--which is not entirely surprising, the Movement for Democratic Change has strong roots in Zimbabwe's union movement and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was formerly the head of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

But isolated or not, Mbeki still plays a crucial blocking role in preventing any constructive action by South Africa and other countries in the region, as well as by the UN. His continued support for Mugabe may seem almost inexplicable, and it is certainly indefensible. But in terms of the internal dynamics of South African politics, and of the ruling African National Congress in particular, Mbeki's growing isolation on the issue of Zimbabwe may actually help to reinforce his intransigence.

As for the rest of the world:
The European Union on Friday threatened to step up sanctions against Mugabe's government, and the United States and Britain want a special U.N. Security Council meeting.

"The government of Zimbabwe has failed to put in place the conditions necessary for free and fair run-off elections," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an unusually blunt statement. "The campaign of violence and intimidation that has marred this election has done a great disservice to the people of the country and must end immediately."
From a realistic perspective, Ban Ki-Moon's statement is actually euphemistic and blandly understated. But coming from a UN Secretary-General, this really is "unusually blunt."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also voiced sympathy for the opposition decision.

"It's evident Morgan Tsvangirai was left with no choice as he wanted to preserve the life and limb of his people," Miliband told the British Broadcasting Corp. "What's clear is that his (Mugabe's) rule has no legitimacy."
Facing reality and telling the truth about it is often a good first step. But will this growing wave of international condemnation of Mugabe and his regime actually produce any useful concrete results--especially since the South African government, which is the key player in the region, continues to equivocate? It's hard to feel optimistic.

=> Meanwhile, the latest report is that Morgan Tsvangirai has sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare.

--Jeff Weintraub

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