Zimbabwe’s opposition calls for African action

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images At a live video conference sponsored by Freedom House today, members of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a number of civil society groups gave updates on the unfolding political standoff with President Robert Mugabe. MDC’s chief spokesman George Sibotshiwe, who has been lobbying from the sidelines at the African Union ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
594354_080630_mugabe25.jpg
594354_080630_mugabe25.jpg

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

At a live video conference sponsored by Freedom House today, members of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a number of civil society groups gave updates on the unfolding political standoff with President Robert Mugabe. MDC's chief spokesman George Sibotshiwe, who has been lobbying from the sidelines at the African Union summit in Sharm El-Sheik, called in to say that although unanimous AU action against Mugabe may be impossible, a number of countries, particularly in West Africa, were pushing the MDC's cause.

Sibotshiwe said the MDC is looking for a permanent AU envoy to Zimbabwe, since the mediation efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki have been disappointing (to say the least):

ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

At a live video conference sponsored by Freedom House today, members of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a number of civil society groups gave updates on the unfolding political standoff with President Robert Mugabe. MDC’s chief spokesman George Sibotshiwe, who has been lobbying from the sidelines at the African Union summit in Sharm El-Sheik, called in to say that although unanimous AU action against Mugabe may be impossible, a number of countries, particularly in West Africa, were pushing the MDC’s cause.

Sibotshiwe said the MDC is looking for a permanent AU envoy to Zimbabwe, since the mediation efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki have been disappointing (to say the least):

We’re pushing for the apointment of a permanent envoy from the African Union to assist — diplomatically we have to say “assist” — President Mbeki. But what we actually need is for the AU to take control of the mediation efforts. You can’t get rid of President Mbeki at this stage, but we need someone who is permament, someone who is not a head of state, because what we are finding is President Mbeki has been having to deal with the problem of Zimbabwe part time.

The panelists also discussed the idea of forming a Zanu/MDC “unity” government, which Mbeki and others have proposed. This would presumably be along the lines of the compromise reached after Kenya’s disputed election earlier this year. Speaking from Johannesburg, Xolani Zitha, director of the NGO coalition CRISIS, dismissed the idea as “a good deal for Zanu” but not the Zimbabweans who want them brought to justice. I asked Zitha whether a resolution of the crisis would have to include Mugabe and his cronies being brought to justice. He responded that it was high time the African community stop treating Mugabe with “kid gloves”:

If the African Union and SADC [Southern African Development Community] are very soft on Zanu-PF, they lend it legitimacy… It’s a very sticky situation. The AU and SADC need to set a precedent for how they deal with the impunity of Robert Mugabe. They don’t have a record of condemning Robert Mugabe. They’ve shown him respect — respect that he doesn’t deserve — to the point where he feels he can work his way out without being taken to task.

All the participants were still hopeful that a political compromise could be reached but noted that with inflation in the millions, conditions are ripe for civil unrest. The last thing the AU wants is the violent overthrow of Mugabe, but years of defending him while Zimbabwe deteriorated may have made it all but inevitable.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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