Foreign Policy Blogs

Zim Elections

[Reuters. Robert Mugabe signs Zimbabwe’s new Constitution into law in Harare in May 2013.]

In the wake of a court order mandating that Zimbabwe hold Presidential elections by the end of July, President Robert Mugabe has vowed to do just that. Many opposition figures hoped the court would allow for a delay, believing that the country does not have safeguards in place to prevent the sort of corruption, violence, and all-around venality that carried Mugabe to a dubious victory in the 2008 election process.

Elections are not intended to be social science experiments. The consequences are too great, the potential human toll too dear. Yet I cannot help but think that it is time for elections, that Zimbabweans do deserve to go to the polls, and that with 2008 as a baseline we can get a strong sense of where the country is politically.

I am well aware of what is likely to follow. Much of the country is cowed based on the experiences of 2008 (and thus the tyranny of that awful election cycle proves to be its own awful, enduring legacy). Those who are resilient in the face of previous ruling party  ZANU-PF thuggery are likely to get a renewed dose of violence and menacing from the so-called “war veterans” who populate the ZANU-PF front lines (and possible thuggish opposition MDC responses). But when will any of this not be the case? Allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the  good, or even the good to become the enemy of the flawed, just allows Mugabe to hold on to power indefinitely until he dies, creating a power vacuum the consequences of which are nearly unimaginable.

Mugabe has consolidated power in the last five years and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has probably not done himself all that much good by participating in the unity government that the last elections created. (At least this is the impression I am getting from some of my sources on the ground in Zim; I’ll see for myself sometime in late June/early July). Still, this might be Tsvangirai and the MDC’s last best chance to steer Zimbabwe in a new and better direction. The circumstances are not ideal. But let us hope they make the most of the next two months.

 

Author

Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid

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