- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, currently is engaged in a ferocious effort to win re-election at all costs so that what he envisions as his legacy can be assured. There also are concerns about post-election prosecutions of Mr. Mugabe and members of his government for actions taken in office if he loses the election. Thus, Mr. Mugabe and his cohorts apparently feel they have everything to lose if they cannot hold on to power, and their actions demonstrate a determination to go forward despite international condemnation.
In its drive to maintain power, the Mugabe administration restrains journalists from reporting on embarrassing issues by jailing, legal suits and other tactics. Political opponents who may have a good chance to win are stymied from campaigning freely, beaten, or worse. Traditional leaders who are not supporters of Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party are harassed or removed. Commercial farms are invaded by alleged civil-war veterans, and the owners and farm workers are chased away, brutalized or even killed. So-called labor leaders and their thugs invade factories, extorting money to prevent violence against presumed opposition supporters.
In parliament, ZANU-PF members promulgate laws they know violate their constitution, as well as international law. Surely they realize that the international community is increasingly unwilling to accept the direction in which the country has headed. Unfortunately, America's Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) was to be only the leading edge of what was expected to be a flood of international measures designed to punish a recalcitrant Zimbabwean leadership. Unfortunately, other nations have not followed suit thus far.
The European Union is still considering possible sanctions after issuing threats since December. Some African leaders have firmly expressed opposition to Zimbabwe's actions, but the Southern African Development Community sent in an assessment team in December that more or less gave the Mugabe government a passing grade due to presumed progress on human rights issues.
So, of course, Mr. Mugabe's government thinks it can get away with its current policies. In fact, there is a very logical plan under which it appears to be operating.
The presidential election in Zimbabwe is scheduled for March 9-10. Targeted or smart sanctions, such as those contained in ZDERA, take time to have an impact. Other international sanctions likely would be targeted or delayed until after the elections. Even internal constitutional challenges to legislation in Zimbabwe would not be heard and decided on by any court before the elections.
The Zimbabwe government appears willing to tough out international and domestic criticism and worry about what will happen after it has won. While the international community should continue to press for changes before the March elections, a parallel focus should be on what happens next. The international community must be ready to deal with a situation in which Mr. Mugabe and his military and paramilitary supporters refuse to accept a loss after violating their own constitution to win one more time. On the other hand, the Zimbabwe opposition may not accept a tainted election and, if not, there should be concern about how far it will go to redress a situation that has become increasingly desperate.
There are indications that Mr. Mugabe believes the international community will accept his re-election, even under questionable circumstances. After all, donor nations have tolerated a lot from other African strongmen who promised to do better. Even among the opposition, post-election change in a Mugabe government is widely expected to take place. Many Zimbabweans believe that it is very likely that a re-elected President Mugabe would get rid of the thugs and accept constitutional changes. After all, at the age of 78 next year, he is not likely to run again in the next elections and may feel he can now do without some of the thugs. So where does that leave the international community if a re-elected Mr. Mugabe agrees to reform?
Equally important is finding a way to resurrect commercial farming, the backbone of Zimbabwe's agriculture, and still provide for land redistribution under a lawful, equitable system. White farmers now accept the principle of land redistribution, but not in the manner in which the Zimbabwean government is now operating. This and other important issues must be addressed now before answers are more urgently required.
Zimbabwe is collectively holding its breath until the elections are over. The international community cannot afford that luxury.

Gregory Simpkins is vice president of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa, a Washington-based non-governmental organization.


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