The post-Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe continues to struggle to establish its legitimacy. While this is the case the terms of its future international re-engagement will continue to occupy the ZANU-PF government.
The government’s problems are compounded by the international outcry over its brutal response to the protests against massive fuel price hikes in January. At least 16 people died and hundreds were wounded from ‘gunshots, dog bites, assaults and torture”.
The events of January once again underscored the fault lines in Zimbabwe’s foreign relations. On the one hand the Southern African Development Community came out in support of a member state in the face of clear evidence of state brutality against its citizens. It even went so far as to condemn the continuing “illegal sanctions” against Zimbabwe.
In contrast, the UK, EU and the US all condemned the human rights abuses of the Zimbabwean state. They called for a return to the commitment to political and economic reforms. And they renewed their calls for as inclusive, credible national dialogue to map the way forward.
These responses once again show how polarised regional and western government policies are on the Zimbabwe crisis. This has had another consequence – the sidelining of efforts to reach a consensus on economic and political reforms.
There have been at least three efforts at some sort of reconciliation over the past decade. The first was during the Global Political Agreement (2009-2013), again in the aftermath of the November 2017 coup, and then again in the run up to the 2018 elections.
Another consequence of the fallout from January is that Mnangagwa’s government has reached out further to its authoritarian economic and political partners in Eurasia.
The problem with this is that linkages with other autocratic regimes provide some protection against forces pushing for democratic change. In addition, these relationships tend to consolidate those in the military and business sectors who see any prospect of serious economic and political reform as a threat.
A statement issued by the current head of the Southern African Development Community repeated the official position of the Zimbabwe government. It criticised “some internal players, in particular NGOs, supported by external players (who have) continued to destabilise the country.”
Early signs of this position were clear in South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech at the International Labour Organisation in January. He claimed that sanctions against the country were no longer necessary because the government had “embarked on democracy”.
Once again the regional body has conflated genuine concerns over imperial interventions in the developing world with the fight for democratic and human rights by national forces. Like ZANU-PF – both under former President Robert Mugabe and Mnangagwa – Southern African Development Community has affirmed its support for a selective anti-imperialist narrative by an authoritarian nationalist regime that conflates the fight for democratic rights with outside intervention.
Continued next page