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Zimbabwe: A Regional Solution?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Sep 23, 2007 (070923)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Six months before scheduled elections, Zimbabwe is closer than ever to complete collapse. ... An initiative launched by the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to facilitate a negotiated political solution offers the only realistic chance to escape a crisis that increasingly threatens to destabilise the region. But SADC must resolve internal differences about how hard to press into retirement Robert Mugabe ... and the wider international community needs to give it full support." - International Crisis Group

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the executive summary and recommendations from the latest International Crisis Group report on Zimbabwe. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains a call for Africa to take the initiative in supporting a solution in Zimbabwe, rejecting the opportunistic appeals to support President Mugabe out of a mistaken sense of loyalty for his past achievements.

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins and additional background and links on Zimbabwe, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Zimbabwe: A Regional Solution?

Africa Report N|132

International Crisis Group

Pretoria/Brussels, 18 September 2007

Executive Summary and Recommendations

Six months before scheduled elections, Zimbabwe is closer than ever to complete collapse. Inflation is between 7,600 per cent (government figures) and 13,000 per cent (independent estimates). Four out of five of the country's twelve million people live below the poverty line and a quarter have fled, mainly to neighbouring countries. A military-led campaign to slash prices has produced acute food and fuel shortages, and conducting any business is becoming almost impossible. An initiative launched by the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to facilitate a negotiated political solution offers the only realistic chance to escape a crisis that increasingly threatens to destabilise the region. But SADC must resolve internal differences about how hard to press into retirement Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's 83-year-old president and liberation hero, and the wider international community needs to give it full support.

Following a government crackdown on the opposition in early March 2007, SADC mandated South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki to mediate between the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), with the objectives of securing agreement on constitutional reform ahead of March 2008 elections and ending the economic crisis. The SADC initiative is fragile but South Africa and the other regional countries are the only external actors with a chance to make a difference. Western sanctions - mainly targeting just over 200 members of the leadership with travel bans and asset freezes - have proven largely symbolic, and general condemnations from the UK and U.S. if anything counterproductive because they help Mugabe claim he is the victim of neo-colonial ambitions.

The regime needs external financial support to maintain its patronage networks and shore up the economy before risking elections (or before desperate people riot), and its request for a rescue package gives the regional initiative crucial leverage if SADC is willing to use it. Nevertheless, the challenges are daunting. Mugabe outmanoeuvred rivals in March 2007 to gain the ZANU-PF nomination for a new term. The party seeks to bypass Mbeki's mediation by advancing a unilateral constitutional amendment that would tighten its hold on power by rigging the electoral process and ensuring it can name an eventual successor to Mugabe without a new popular vote. The MDC is bitterly divided and appears unable to mobilise effective opposition.

South Africa and the SADC mistrust the MDC, especially its larger faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, and would like to see a government of national unity emerge led by a reformed ZANU-PF. Some SADC leaders remain Mugabe supporters, and there is a risk the organisation will accept cosmetic changes that further entrench the status quo. The ultimate objective of the reform process, however, is not regime change as such but to guarantee that all adult citizens can freely and fairly choose their rulers and that an electorally legitimated government can reengage with donors to turn the economy around. There is little likelihood that the opposition - so long as it remains badly fractured - can win an election in 2008, so the political risks the ruling party and SADC members who distrust the opposition are being asked to take are relatively limited.

It is critical that all international actors close ranks behind the Mbeki mediation. SADC should use its leverage and extend the desperately needed aid package and ask the West to lift its sanctions - such as they are - only in exchange for full ZANU-PF cooperation with the mediation process and implementation of reforms that will allow free and fair elections as early as possible in 2008. If such cooperation is not forthcoming, Mbeki should candidly and promptly acknowledge failure, and SADC should refuse to endorse any election not a product of the mediation and be prepared to isolate Mugabe and his regime.

The regional body should also enlist a panel of retired African presidents to help Mbeki prevail on Mugabe to accept and implement reforms and most critically convince him to retire in 2008. The wider international community should make detailed preparations to contribute to Zimbabwe's recovery if the mediation succeeds but also be ready to apply tougher sanctions if it collapses.


To South Africa and Other SADC Member States:


  • Pursue mediation to obtain ZANU-PF and MDC agreement on constitutional revisions and related legislative and regulatory measures that permit free and fair elections in 2008 consistent with the August 2004 SADC principles and guidelines, including:

    (a) repeal of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and other repressive legislation such as the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO), so as to create a level playing field for all parties;

    (b) an independent Electoral Commission and a new electoral law that provides in particular for:

    i. return to the 2000 constituency boundaries for parliamentary elections, with repeal of subsequent gerrymandering and rejection of ZANU-PF's proposal to create an additional 90 seats;

    ii.merger into one body, with clear responsibilities, of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Election Supervisory Commission, the registrar-general's office and the Electoral Delimitation Commission;

    iii. inter-party consultations and clear procedures for consensual appointment of electoral commission members with secure tenure as well as civilian returns and polling officers; repeal of Electoral Commission Act provisions for secondment of military, police and prisons service personnel for election tasks; and

    iv. extensive voter education;

    (c) review of the voters roll by the new independent Electoral Commission, to include removal of ghost voters and enfranchisement of citizens in the diaspora;

    (d) independent adjudication of electoral disputes by judges who are vetted in advance by an agreed procedure and have secure tenure; and

    (e) unrestricted access to the media for all political players during the election period.

    2. Inform President Mugabe, the ZANU-PF delegation at the mediated talks and the Joint Operational Command (JOC) that unless constitutional and related legal reforms as listed above are adopted and implemented, SADC will at the very least not endorse the elections as free and fair and will refuse to extend economic assistance.

    3. Establish a team of retired African heads of state and senior military officers to discuss with the ZANU-PF leadership and President Mugabe the terms and conditions for his retirement in 2008 and the guarantees necessary for him and the military establishment to accept democratic institutional reforms.

    4. Extend economic assistance to Zimbabwe and call for the lifting of targeted Western sanctions on establishment figures only if ZANU-PF and President Mugabe cooperate fully with the mediation process and implement the agreed reforms so as to allow free and fair elections in 2008.

    5. Facilitate agreement by the parties to postpone the March 2008 elections to a date later in the year if necessary to put in place and implement the constitutional reforms and other changes required to ensure a free and fair process.

    To President Mugabe, the Government of Zimbabwe and ZANU-PF:

    6. Declare officially the end of the “Third Chimurenga” (struggle period) and dissolve the JOC.

    7. Engage without reservation in the South African-led SADC initiative and support the above reforms in order to provide Zimbabweans with free and fair elections in 2008 and to end the political and economic crisis.

    To the MDC Factions Led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara:

    8. Maintain a united front in the South African-led talks, form a coalition for the 2008 elections, agree on a mechanism to choose common presidential and parliamentary candidates and rebuild consensus with civil society organisations on a joint strategy to promote democratic change.

    To the U.S., the European Union (EU), EU Member States and the Wider International Community:

    9. Support the SADC initiative by publicly clarifying commitments to assist Zimbabwe's economic recovery once democratic reforms are implemented and a democratically-elected government is in place and by refraining from statements undermining that initiative.

    10. Consider taking the following steps in the event that the SADC initiative fails:

    (a) expand existing limited sanctions from measures targeted solely at senior members of Zimbabwe's government, ruling party and supporting business establishment to bars on their own nationals and national banking and commercial establishments' engaging in specified business and financial activities beneficial to the regime;

    (b) refer Zimbabwe for discussion at the United Nations Security Council as a first step towards finding a UN-backed solution to the crisis;

    (c) insist on renegotiating procedures that require all humanitarian aid monies to be exchanged at the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank for local currency at wholly unrealistic rates that allow the regime to siphon off large profits for its own ends;

    (d) if the government is unwilling to renegotiate, explore the readiness of national and international humanitarian organisations operating in the country to cooperate in acquiring humanitarian funding directly without complying with the exploitive Zimbabwe foreign exchange law; and

    (e) if this proves impractical, consider reducing humanitarian aid programs by the percentage which is expropriated by the regime through its manipulation of the difference between the official exchange rate and the free market rate.
    To the Commonwealth Secretariat:

    11. Establish a working committee or an eminent persons group, with predominant African membership (from both SADC and non-SADC countries) and including former senior officials and technical experts, to explore land reform options that are acceptable to key stakeholders and would allow donors to reengage on the issue.

    AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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