Foreign Policy Blogs

Zimbabwe Elections: Why Should We Care?


Editor’s Note:

Ralph Black is a Zimbabwean political refugee and the U.S. Representative for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC-T. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is the largest political party in the House of Assembly of Zimbabwe. 


by Ralph Black

Zimbabwe is important to U.S. strategic interests from political, security and economic perspectives. The country is currently at a crossroads faced with the most important elections of a lifetime set for next week.  Zimbabwe’s future could be bright with promise and opportunity or continue to be an isolated, insolvent country whose government robs the people of their rights, prosperity, and of their dignity. These elections in one week’s time will decide which way our country will go.

Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party have ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 33 years.  During that time, the majority of Zimbabweans have seen their country go from vibrancy to decay with the government stealing everything from Zimbabwe’s natural resources to elections. In classic dictator style, he uses money to buy loyalty, state-sponsored violence to instill fear in society, and engages in secretive relations with other pariah states while blaming the “evil west” for the troubles of the nation.

In 2008, Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) inspired millions of Zimbabweans to stand up to the aging dictator and handily defeated Mugabe in the first round of that year’s national elections.  Unfortunately, Mugabe and his ZANU PF party unleashed a tidal wave of state-sponsored violence against the citizens so ruthlessly that Morgan Tsvangirai was forced to pull out of the run-off election to prevent further bloodshed. With engagement from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the MDC formed a unity government in an attempt to stop the country’s economic free-fall. Despite subversion from ZANU PF, the MDC dollarized the economy and reduced inflation from a laughable 231 percent to less than five percent, stabilizing the country and bringing food and goods back to the shelves. The MDC-led reforms have shown Zimbabweans light at the end of the tunnel. We have been able to generate some advancement, but there remains much more to be done.

After unilaterally calling for elections, Mugabe and his ZANU PF vote rigging machinery have been working overtime. Millions of names on the voters roll have been manipulated, the voter registration process has been an absolute chaos, and Mugabe’s security forces have begun their notorious voter intimidation tactics throughout the country. Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC are participating in these elections because of the overwhelming groundswell of support for change from the Zimbabwean people. The people’s hunger for democratic change and a government that cares for them is stronger than ever. The MDC is working tirelessly to offer Zimbabweans the opportunity for the change they so desperately want and deserve.

Additionally, we understand how critical it is for our country to dissolve its international Pariah status. We recognize the challenges posed by the country’s poverty, debt levels and lack of economic discipline. We are prepared to tackle those challenges with a pragmatic economic plan that addresses our debt, reduces our staggering 85 percent unemployment and opens Zimbabwe up to legitimate international investment. The MDC has detailed plans to bring responsible fiscal and natural resource management that will include sound investment policies to reinvigorate Foreign Direct Investment, a lifeblood must for Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe is well aware that these principles are important to any nation, but he and his Zanu PF “comrades” are steeped in the tradition of their own power. That tradition is one of personal gain, capricious policies dealing with our vast natural resources, and creating indignation about Zimbabwe with most governments around the world. President Mugabe’s regime has diverted more than US$2 billion in illicit diamond revenues from the government’s treasury to the private coffers of several ministers, military generals and other government officials. This revenue is used to finance brutal crackdown on political opponents, activists or even the general public during elections, confirming the ‘blood diamond’ is still very much a reality in Zimbabwe four years after the adoption of the Kimberley Process.  Mugabe has also cozied up to rogue states such as Iran and North Korea who represent significant interest in Zimbabwe’s vast uranium reserves. Additionally, China and Russia are supporting Mugabe’s sinister efforts to retain power in return for shady deals for infrastructure, diamonds and other commodities.

Recently rated by Foreign Policy Magazine as “Africa’s Worst Political Leader”, President Mugabe’s reputation is well known.  The aged despot is 89 years old and has been in power for an entire generation. If he and his Zanu- PF cronies prevail on July 31, he will likely give way to more regress with further, if not complete, influence of Zimbabwe’s generals. These are rigid, corrupt men, who care little about the nation’s progress; rather they are dedicated to their own self-interests. Several of them own houses around the world. They routinely pledge their allegiance to Mugabe rather than the state and have stated they will never salute or even meet with Prime Minister Tsvangirai, calling him a “malcontent.” Of course, the prime minister has called for broad reform in the military and security apparatus in Zimbabwe, demanding more transparency and rule-of-law responsibility from both sectors. The generals have already usurped significant executive power and a transferal to them of more would augur extremely poorly for Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, and the entire region.

So, next week’s elections in Zimbabwe have tremendous significance for the United States. The United States has said it is prepared to revisit its bilateral relationship with Zimbabwe, but “only if Zimbabwe implements needed political reforms, allows civil society organizations to operate freely, and holds elections that are peaceful, credible, and represent the will of the Zimbabwean people. The State Department has also said the U.S. sanctions policy with regard to Zimbabwe has not changed and “that further reductions in sanctions will only occur if the next elections are credible, transparent, and again, reflect the will of the people.”

Zimbabweans need help in building their democracy. We need Members of Congress to express their support for free-and-fair elections. Insertions in the Congressional Record, letters to President Mugabe, pressuring SADC officials to not accept sham election results, for example, would all help the cause of the Zimbabwean people. Together we can make it work, if we are allowed to choose our own leadership fairly. The U.S. Congress has the power and the ability to help Zimbabwe move in the right direction at this critical juncture. We hope all will stand with us and bring freedom and democracy to Zimbabwe.