Zimbabwe in Crisis: Finding a Way Forward
Zimbabwe is in a state of free fall. It is embroiled in the worst political and economic crisis of its twenty-year history as an independent state. The crisis has negatively affected virtually every aspect of the country and every segment of the population. It has exacerbated racial and ethnic tensions, severely torn the country's social fabric, caused fundamental damage to its once-strong economy, dramatically increased the suffering of Zimbabwe's people, accelerated a damaging brain drain, and increased the use of state-sponsored violence, the perpetrators of which operate with impunity. An HIV/AIDS epidemic only adds to the catastrophe. Significant post-independence achievements in racial reconciliation, economic growth, and development of state institutions have already been severely eroded. Zimbabwe, which after independence was one of Africa's best hopes for establishing a healthy democracy and prosperous economy, is now descending into a cycle of poverty and repression. The crisis has not only been an unmitigated disaster for Zimbabwe. Erosion in the value of the South African currency and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is blamed on events in Zimbabwe. Neighbouring Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi have also been hurt economically by the drop in investor interest. Zimbabwe's involvement in the Congo war in August 1998, driven by Mugabe's ambition both to assert his leadership in the region and to gain access to the Congo's resources, has externalised the country's internal problems. As Zimbabwe's troubles intensify, they increasingly will destabilise the entire southern African region. And the high profile nature of the assault on what has been an internationally linked private sector is having negative repercussions on perceptions of the investment potential for the entire continent. Responsibility lies with President Robert Mugabe's government, which has mismanaged the economy, institutionalised state violence, and moved further toward autocratic rule. When the people of Zimbabwe began organising to change the government through democratic means, the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) responded with widespread and systematic violence and intimidation. In a remarkable irony, the actions taken by the government are based on the very same laws - still on the books - Ian Smith's white minority regime used to repress opposition in the 1970s. The law now being used to prosecute opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is the same law under which Mugabe and his comrades were imprisoned during their liberation struggle. Confronted with plummeting popularity and a diverse coalition seeking fundamental reforms, the ZANU-PF leadership appears willing to do anything to stay in power. Using war veterans, police, army, and other ZANU-PF supporters to suppress violently all opponents, the party's only objective is to maintain its hold on power. Robert Mugabe has institutionalised an authoritarian system in Zimbabwe that is aimed at ensuring ZANU-PF controls the keys to the doors of power even if it means the entire house may burn to the ground. Since the end of the 90s, a political opposition, based on the transformation of the trade union movement, has been growing in response to the mismanagement of the economy and the country. Civil society groups, a new political opposition party, and a well educated, entrepreneurial population have combined to form a significant coalition to challenge the government's authoritarian rule directly. The southern African region and the broader international community must refocus their efforts in support of positive change in Zimbabwe.