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Former US ambassador to Zimbabwe urges Washington to work with whoever wins coming elections

Moving forward, his first priority will be to reassert control over ZANU-PF, a party that has fractured along generational lines, with many of those in their 40s and 50s, known as the G-40, supporting Grace Mugabe against the older liberation-era party members. A united ZANU-PF is essential if the party is to retain power. This won’t be an easy task for Mnangagwa, as the rift between the two demographics was worsened by some of the actions and rhetoric during September-November of last year. The issue is further complicated by the presence of former ZANU-PF number two, Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First (ZIM-PF) Party. Mujuru, until Grace Mugabe engineered her ouster, was first vice president, and at the time was in competition with Mnangagwa, a successor to Mugabe. A veteran of the liberation struggle, as a fighter with a fierce reputation, she also enjoys some military support, although probably not as much as Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa’s second priority, I believe, will be to ensure ZANU-PF’s continued control of the reins of power in the country. If he can somehow pull all the ZANU factions together, and overcome the possible threat from Mujuru, he will have to decide whether or not to proceed with elections in July 2018. He has indicated that he will do so. While violence and chicanery are still possibilities that can’t be cavalierly dismissed, a united ZANU-PF is likely to be able to do well against the current opposition party lineup. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is still split between the faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the one led by Welshman Ncube. As the parties that pose the greatest challenge to ZANU-PF in the urban areas, if they were united, they might do well, but it is unlikely that they will merge. The remainder of the opposition parties, with the exception of ZIM-PF, will only take votes away from MDC, which is to ZANUPF’s advantage. In the rural areas, ZANU-PF has, in the past at least, had an advantage, and Mnangagwa is sure to capitalize on this.

So, while it’s too early to predict that the 2018 elections will be free, fair and nonviolent, let us assume, for the moment that they will be.

Where do we go from that point?

During my time as US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, one of the most frequent topics of conversation was US sanctions. Put in place in response to the violent land seizures and electoral violence of the late 1990s, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act was enacted in December 2001, and a presidential executive order, targeting individuals and entities involved in the violence and antidemocratic acts was issued in March 2003. Both actions were intended to encourage a return to democracy, something that had not happened by the time of my arrival in 2009. After the MDC won the 2008 elections, although without the necessary 51% majority, there was more violence, but under South African pressure, a coalition government was formed. That government, with the MDC in a subordinate position to ZANU-PF, lasted until the 2014

The sanctions, in my view, were clearly not having the desired effect, and Mugabe’s party hardliners were using their existence as an excuse for all of the country’s ills.

My response to the many queries of, ‘when will sanctions be lifted/’, was, ‘when there is a return to nonviolent elections and democracy. In fact, during one of my final media interviews before my departure in 2012, at the end of my tour, I said, “Sanctions were a response to a violent electoral process. A credible electoral process, free of violence, would make our current policies irrelevant.”

If this year’s elections are head, they are determined to be credible, and there is no violence, the ball will be in our court.

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