Will Africa take action against Zimbabwe's Mugabe?

The African Union is expected to discuss the issue in Egypt Monday, one day after Mugabe declared a 'sweeping victory' in Friday's presidential runoff, which was widely condemned as a sham.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Mugabe's 'sweeping victory': Two women looked at the results of Friday's presidential election posted outside a polling station in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Saturday.

President Robert Mugabe has long been able to count on African leaders to sympathize with his goals of ridding Zimbabwe of the vestiges of white colonial rule.

But with his brutal tactics in what's widely seen as a sham runoff presidential election Friday, Mr. Mugabe may have squandered his last shred of credibility even in Africa.

Monday, at a meeting of African leaders in Egypt, Mugabe faces a critical personal test. Will the African Union join the international community in pushing for new sanctions, even military intervention, in Zimbabwe?

"We are saying we want the African Union to send troops to Zimbabwe," Kenya's Prime Minster Raila Odinga said on Saturday. "The time has come for the African continent to stand firm in unity to end dictatorship."

This call is echoed by retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, while East African nations are calling on Mugabe and his opponents to negotiate a peaceful power-sharing deal.

Mugabe, who lost the first round of elections on March 29 against the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, 47 percent to 43 percent, ran unopposed on Friday after Mr. Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff last week. Tsvangirai says that Mugabe's supporters, including the Army, the police, and private militias, have killed some 80 of his supporters, injured or tortured thousands more, and displaced at least 20,000 in the lead-up to the election.

Some observers say Friday's electoral exercise – complete with voters trucked in to polls and forced to vote under the watchful eyes of Mugabe's police or Army supporters – was merely an effort in crowd control, a warning to opposition leaders that whatever Mugabe's legitimacy on the global stage, he still has control of the Army, the police, and all the levers of government.

"Since liberation, [Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party] has seen elections as a ritual that has to be gone through to give them legitimacy in the eyes of the region, the continent, and the international community," says Ozias Tungwarara, a senior analyst for the Open Society Institute in Johannesburg. "If you give the people even 20 percent of a chance to express themselves, there is no way the Mugabe regime would survive a vote."

Mugabe's regime uses violence to seal off any chance of legitimate political expression, but that level of repression carries its own dangers, says Mr. Tungwarara. "What we are facing now is that most of the methods of expressing oneself are closed out, and in this very repressed environment, it makes a very volatile and dangerous situation," he says.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure says Mugabe's win spells doom for the country.

"Obviously, this means more problems for the country because he will not be accepted as the leader of Zimbabwe, neither locally nor internationally," says Mr. Masunungure. "There should be talks to break the impasse between Mugabe and [Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change]."

Reconciliation coming?

Patrick Chinamasa, head of the ZANU-PF media committee on elections, said his party is geared to reconcile with the MDC, but will only seek political accommodation that does not undermine the gains of the liberation struggle.

"Our president has made it clear that ZANU-PF is open to negotiations on the future of the country and the possible cooperation between us and those in opposition," Mr. Chinamasa said. "ZANU-PF is fully conscious of its historic duty to unite the people of Zimbabwe around common goals. We are committed to taking measures that reconcile our population, put behind the divisions of the past."

But MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the MDC will not engage with a rogue president who was not elected by the people of Zimbabwe. He said the "presidential question" remains unsolved and that Mugabe has imposed himself as the leader of the country.

"We need to hold presidential elections in a free and fair environment," Mr. Chamisa says. "You cannot have a pope without the endorsement of the Catholics. Mugabe has just gone berserk."

Electoral observers from the Pan-African Parliament announced on Saturday that the "elections were not free and fair." Members of the Southern African Development Community also expressed dismay about the manner in which the elections were conducted – and they sent a rather stinging signal to their appointed mediator on the Zimbabwe issue, South African President Thabo Mbeki, by not inviting him to a conference this week in Swaziland to discuss the Zimbabwe issue – but they stopped short of the harsh criticism used by Britain and the US, in favor for a call for more dialogue.

"There's quite a substantial shift in Africa on the subject [of Zimbabwe]," says Steven Friedman, a senior analyst at the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa in Tshwane, formerly known as Pretoria. "I would expect pressure to build up, and isolation to build up."

Across the country on Friday, voters turned out in low numbers, if at all. In the opposition stronghold of Matabeleland in the south and west, voter turnout was estimated to be around 14 percent by the independent civil society group, Bulawayo Agenda. In the towns of Gweru, for instance, polling stations opened at 7 a.m., with not a voter in sight. During the first round on March 29, voters in Gweru had queued up for hours before the polling stations opened.

Voters deliberately spoiling ballots

In other regions, voters dipped their fingers in indelible ink and then spoiled their ballots deliberately once inside the polling stations.

In Harare, members of the ruling ZANU-PF youth militia and war veterans moved from house to house, ordering people to go and vote for Mugabe.

In most parts of the country, those who would have voted were required to go to "a ZANU-PF base" and submit their names and the serial number from ballot paper.

"The youth militia were saying if I don't submit my serial number and identification number I will be in big trouble, so I did as they wanted," a young voter who resides in the Highfield neighborhood of Harare told the Monitor. "This is persecution, it should not be allowed to happen in a civilized country like Zimbabwe."

Outside the Mhiza polling station in Highfield, people could be heard urging each other to spoil their ballots, voting for both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, in order to render the ballot paper unusable.

"What I wanted is to dip my finger into the ink so that when the militia come they will not beat me because I would have voted," said one voter who did not want to be named for fear of violence from Mugabe's loyalists.

However, despite the widespread intimidation, some people, especially in Harare's high density suburbs, did not vote saying they did not want to waste their time participating in any election whose outcome is predetermined. Many stayed home. Even Harare's central business district was deserted.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US and Britain would present a resolution to the UN Security Council calling for tougher action against Mugabe and his supporters. "Its time for the international community to act," she said. "It's hard to imagine that anybody could fail to act given what we're all watching on the ground in Zimbabwe."

Yet South Africa, which has a seat on the Security Council, vowed to block the resolution, and Zimbabwe's neighbors said they believed a less confrontational approach was more likely to bear fruit.

Reporters who could not be named for security reasons contributed from Harare, Bulawayo, Mashvingo, and Mutare, Zimbabwe.

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