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Home | ZimCrisis#64 -- Testimony before the US Subcommittee on Africa

Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2000 02:15:50 -0700
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From: Zimbabwe Crisis
Subject: ZimCrisis#64 -- Testimony before the US Subcommittee on Africa
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Hi everyone,

The testimony below was brought to my attention yesterday, although it is now 11 days old. There are transcripts of the testimony of others, as well as policy statements at http://www.state.gov/www/regions/africa . Some interesting points, and it's nice to see the US government sit up and take notice, even if much of the testimony seemed to be couched in diplomatic double-speak, and numerous lovey dovey references to the wonderful "friendship" between Zimbabwe and the US.

I have yet to receive any reports directly from Zimbabwe, but if and when I do I will issue them as they come in in the form of election bulletins, which I will do for the remainder of this weekend and up until the final vote is counted and the official results announced.


Chester A. Crocker, Former Assistant Secretary
Bureau of African Affairs
Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee
Subcommittee on Africa
Washington, DC, June 13, 2000


Situation in Zimbabwe

It is a pleasure to appear before this committee to discuss the dramatic and tragic situation in Zimbabwe. I have a few opening comments and then will be happy to respond to questions. I first visited Zimbabwe some 33 years ago, at about the time when the national liberation war against minority rule was getting started. I've been there many times since then. Zimbabwe has often seemed a troubled land. The battle over majority rule was bitter and bloody. Shortly after independence in 1980 there were other bloody episodes as the governing ZANU-PF party consolidated its rule, using foreign troops to smash the power base of another, rival political party. While the country's political life has featured the trappings of democratic practice, the reality of its elections has frequently included the arbitrary use of official power, an uneven playing field for opposition candidates, and the occasional resort to tactics of intimidation. But until the late 1990s, these practices remained within certain limits. Gradually, it seemed that a semblance of tranquility and decency came to Zimbabwe. This may have been due, in part, to the fact that until recently Zimbabweans have not been in a position to mount a serious challenge to the de facto one-party rule they have lived under for the past 20 years (a situation reflected in the parliament where ZANU-PF controls all but 3 seats out of 150).

The situation today is quite different. I said earlier that it is dramatic: we are some 10 days away from one of the most important elections in modern African history. Opposition candidates will run in all 120 open constituencies. Hundreds if not thousands of local and foreign observers will be watching, including representatives from Zimbabwe's important civil society and from such organizations as the EU, SADC, the Commonwealth, the OAU and a range of external civil society bodies--some of which will testify this morning. There is excitement in the air because a government-sponsored constitutional referendum failed a few months ago, suggesting the possibility of a real challenge to ZANU-PF domination.

The upcoming election will take place against a backdrop of government-sanctioned and sponsored violence directed against farm workers (that is rural African voters), farm owners, and opposition leaders in which there have been some 28 deaths and a widespread pattern of brutal intimidation by so-called "veterans" of the struggle for majority rule. The situation is so severe that one stands in awe of the sheer courage and conviction of unarmed oppositionists who have the guts to stand up to a regime which increasingly lives by the gun.

These impressive leaders have come together from a wide range of backgrounds--the free trade union movement, the law, journalism, grass roots human rights advocacy, women's groups--united in the belief that it is possible for Zimbabwe to have peaceful, democratic political change. Yet, as Amnesty International has reminded us in recent days, there is "a pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation which in turn is hampering the rights to freedom of assembly, association, movement and expression"; the National Democratic Institute has declared that conditions for a credible democratic election do not now exist.

Mr. Chairman, I said earlier that this is a tragic as well as a dramatic situation. This need not have happened. Zimbabwe is a beautiful land with rich resources, most especially its people, who are skilled and accomplished in many fields. Zimbabwe's industrial and commercial farming sectors have, until recently, been a source of regional dynamism, making the country a significant commodity and food exporter and a key economic partner for all its neighbors, including South Africa. Zimbabwe's political leadership which has been in power since 1980 also had a record of some accomplishment, at least until recently.

While economic growth has been uneven during these 20 years and the government has never been what we would call "market friendly," there was a pragmatic streak to government policies in the political and economic arena. We are talking, after all, about the second most important economy in the subregion, a pivot for regional integration and development, and a nation whose institutions have at times played an important and constructive regional role. Sadly, those legacies have gone out the window. Zimbabwe's policies of pragmatism, reconciliation and regional cooperation have been replaced by the politics of greedy adventurism in the region--most notably, of course, in the Congo--and the politics of envy and racial scapegoating at home.

But let us be very clear about the real problem. No matter what President Mugabe and his lieutenants may declare publicly, Zimbabwe's troubles are of their own making. The problem is not land ownership or colonial legacies or the continuing place of whites in the agricultural economy. The problem is that Mugabe and his key associates fear losing power in a democratic election in which their adversaries are fellow black Zimbabweans. Everything else is a pure and simple cover story, the playing of race cards by an embattled regime. This is not the way Robert Mugabe began his career as Zimbabwe's first elected leader in 1980 when he sent signals of reconciliation to all his fellow citizens. I have known Robert Mugabe and have met with him on and off over these 20 years. I respect him. He has made substantial contributions to his nation's liberation, its development, and that of the Southern African region. We have often differed on some major issues. But this is a man of substance, intelligence, and deep conviction. It is tragic that his fear of losing power is crowding out those other qualities.

Mr. Chairman, events in Zimbabwe need to be understood in their full regional significance. This drama has the potential to shape the evolution of an entire subcontinent, just like the earlier events which we so badly mishandled in Rwanda and then those in Congo, which flowed from Rwanda and which--not coincidentally--started us down the slippery slope with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's intervention there appears based on a mixture of classic state motivations in a power vacuum situation and the motives of an adventurous, greedy and somewhat isolated regime.

Today, Zimbabwe's possible implosion into autocratic disorder affects Africa's fragile state system and the highly vulnerable economies across the Sub-Saharan region. Already, events in Zimbabwe are having dire regional consequences as its capacity to export commodities and minerals declines and its capacity to import vitally needed oil, spare parts, electric power collapses. Tourism, a major regional driver, is drying up. The awful reverberations of Zimbabwe's official race-baiting and threats to property have literally driven down South Africa's rand by 10% to 15%. The climate for business is heading south through Sub-Saharan Africa, and fast.

Well, if the stakes are large, what are we doing about it? My impression is that we are wringing our hands, hoping the South Africans will somehow rescue the situation, talking the talk about democratic norms and principles, and avoiding doing anything much to shape events either alone or with our partners in Africa and Europe. One senses a palpable preoccupation with not giving offense to anyone who might be offended by plain speaking. I would suggest to you that things have deteriorated to a point where there are no easy and attractive options left. There are two avenues we could follow:

* One, we could do our best to press for an open and fair election process but resign ourselves in practice to the likelihood of a stolen or substantially bent outcome. Of course, we might get lucky and witness an electoral upset in which the ZANU-PF-dominated parliament is replaced by a genuine multiparty result and the regime respects that outcome and shares power. I would not bet on this scenario, Mr. Chairman.

Assuming that violent intimidation and police state tactics work, we could accept that reality and decide to work with it. This would mean actively engaging Mugabe and his team with a conditional strategy, using both stick and carrot to move them back from the edge of their self-destructive orgy. This will not be easy to do and it may not be pretty to watch. The goal, of course, would be to salvage a regionally dangerous situation and move the country's leadership back within the pale of minimally acceptable conduct. However unappealing such a strategy in terms of our political values, this course is strongly to be preferred to one of self-isolating, petulant ostracism which only marginalizes our own voice and influence.

* the other choice is to work through all appropriate channels for a change in power in Zimbabwe after a flawed election, resigning ourselves to the likelihood that Zimbabwe is slated to become Africa's Romania and Mugabe its Ceausescu. That regime, it will be recalled, was ended by the actions of the people of Romania, and the same may ultimately happen in Zimbabwe if the recent patterns of official conduct continue. Hence, our role under this approach ought to be maximally discreet and low-key in order to avoid giving the Mugabe regime the sort of external adversary which dying, authoritarian regimes crave in order to stave off their inevitable demise. Under this approach, we would treat Zimbabwe like the pariah it appears almost to want to be, disengage from official relationships and government-to-government programming of any sort, and wait for the pressures to mount ... helping where we can without distorting the political equation.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I have outlined the setting and a couple of ways of thinking about it. My own instincts are toward engagement because there is a lot at stake and I have limited confidence that letting nature take its course will produce early, positive change. But, whichever course we adopt, it must be only after the most careful, practical and detailed consultation with our British allies, whose knowledge and influence probably exceed our own, as well as with the South Africans, Zambians, Mozambicans, and others in the region. This is a case where the current American penchant for sloppy unilateralism and photo-op foreign policy making needs to be brought under some semblance of control so that we can work effectively with others.

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