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Zimbabwe’s Elections: the 34-Year Reign of Robert Mugabe

In the 1980s, Robert Mugabe was the epitome of a new generation of post-colonial African leaders who fought against the oppression of native Africans at the hands of several European powers. The nation itself, at the time of independence, was known as the “Breadbasket of Africa” and was the regional model of a highly efficient economy. Thirty-four years after its independence, however, Zimbabwe has been ravaged by an unemployment rate estimated at 85%, the second highest hyperinflation in history, and the widespread repression of political and civil liberties. Yet in 2013, Mugabe was elected for his seventh term in office.  What happened?

The reasons for Robert Mugabe’s re-election stem not only from the inability of the current opposition, Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), to provide a competent alternative to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), but also from a plethora of state sponsored fear and populist laws. The most notable example of these populist laws is the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act enacted by the regime in 2007, which essentially legalized the long-standing government policy to seize assets and farmland from the white minority, and distribute it among the indigenous black Zimbabwean population.

Although the Indigenization policy seemed to possess the traits of an equality legislation that would decrease the large inequality gap in Zimbabwean society, there are two fairly significant problems with the law. The first being that, in reality, the main benefactors of the Indigenization policy are senior ZANU-PF members and military personnel. Second, in addition to unjustly targeting the white minority of Zimbabwe, the legislation has a negative effect on attracting much needed foreign investment for Zimbabwe’s fledging manufacturing sector. After winning the 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections by a wide margin, Mugabe vowed to strengthen the Indigenization policy. This was made clear when Wilson Gwatiringa, chief executive officer of the National Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Board (NIBB) announced that “a task-force has been formed to carry out raids across Zimbabwe to ensure retail shops owned by foreigners have secured the indigenization license.” Wilson Gwatiringa’s comments coincide with the pervasive use of force by the Mugabe regime to coerce the populace to obey laws; such tactics were used most notably during the 2008 presidential elections.

During the 2008 presidential elections, Mugabe was accused of intimidating opposition supporters by inciting ZANU-PF youth groups and informal militias to cause violence. Even though the leader har vokse review of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, claimed that voting fraud had occurred, he was forced to withdraw in order to prevent further bloodshed of his supporters. This episode of violence against the opposition soon proved to be too much for the international community, and after intense pressure from the South African Development Community (SADC), a power-sharing deal was reached between the MDC-T and ZANU-PF. The five-year power sharing deal was crucial for Mugabe since it allowed him to sabotage any major reform initiatives proposed by the MDC-T, since he himself still maintained a majority in the senate and a sizeable minority in the lower house. In effect, the constant feuding between the parties made the MDC-T, which campaigned on promises of increased transparency and reform, look highly incapable of governing the country. When the 2013 elections finally came, the MDC-T was already wracked with allegations of corruption within the upper echelons of the party.  This, coupled with the Mugabe’s nationalist rhetoric which furthered the Indigenization policy by forcing foreign companies to give 51% of its shares to Black Zimbabweans, allowed the ZANU-PF to win in a landslide victory. In addition, the ZANU-PF has instituted new, more cunning techniques which continue to win it elections, ranging from having thousands of deceased voters remain on the voter list, to using its almost monopolistic grip on the media atmosphere to promote its policies.

Considering the allegations of voter fraud by the United States and other Western countries, the real results of the 2013 election might never be known.  However, the future of Zimbabwe seems to be even more unpredictable. This year Robert Mugabe will be 90 years old; he is one of the oldest world leaders, second only to Israel’s Shimon Peres. As Mugabe’s health slowly declines, the issue of a successor is one that is currently plaguing Zimbabwe. Within the ZANU-PF there are two main factions competing for the presidency, a pragmatic one led by Vice President Joyce Mujuru, and a hardliner faction led by Minister of Defense Emmerson Mnangagwa. It is widely known that both sides are vying for the presidency, but with Zimbabwe’s economy heading back down a path of economic decline due to a lack of foreign investment, and a stagnant opposition movement, Robert Mugabe’s successor will inherit a country on the brink of disaster.

 

-Gabriel Ning

 

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