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Recent History of Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) began the year 2006 racked by internal divisions. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai lost considerable support owing to his opposition to constitutional change in 2005 and to what his critics described as his dictatorial behaviour.


Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe's security forces continued to deal summarily with antigovernment demonstrations. Arthur Mutambara, leader of the anti-Tsvangirai faction of the MDC, responded by promising that the opposition would create a formidable challenge to Mugabe by democratic means. Even the churches found themselves dividing into opposing political camps; some supported Mugabe, while some backed one or the other faction of the MDC.

The trouble forced the Mugabe government to declare election in 2008. The recent election and the delay in declaring the results were utilised as an excuse to make a major push towards regime change in this Southern African nation. According to the MDC, the ruling party lost the elections held on March 29. Yet the actual figures from the first tabulation and the recount only place the MDC slightly ahead of Zanu-PF in the Lower House of Parliament.

Zanu-PF has speculated that the results of the presidential elections would not give a majority to either the ruling party or the opposition MDC. The Zanu-PF Politburo in a recent meeting stated that they were prepared for a run-off election, while the MDC has rejected the idea of a second round in the elections which is mandated by the Constitution if no party wins more than 51 percent in the race for head of state.

All of the major Western corporate and governmentally-controlled Press agencies have come out in support of the opposition MDC. The leaders of this party are given prime coverage through interviews and the publicising of their unsubstantiated accusations related to vote rigging, alleged violence committed by the Zanu-PF Government and its neo-colonial schemes purportedly designed to restructure the economy of Zimbabwe.

Since 2000, Zimbabwe has experienced precipitous hyperinflation and economic ruin. By 2008, inflation skyrocketed to nearly 100,000%, up from 7,000% in 2007, unemployment reached 80%, and the Zimbabwean dollar was basically worthless.

According to the World Health Organization, Zimbabwe has the world's lowest life expectancy.

Zimbabweans, clearly fed up with the economic collapse and the lack of available necessities in Zimbabwe, expressed their anger at the polls in March 2008's presidential and parliamentary elections. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won a majority of the seats in Parliament, a remarkable defeat for Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF. Four days after the vote, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Movement for Democratic Change, declared himself the winner by a slim margin. Mugabe refused to concede until the vote count was complete. More than a week after the election, however, the vote was not yet complete, and Zimbabwe's High Court delayed a ruling on a petition filed by the Movement for Democratic Change to force the government to release the results. Observers from human rights groups speculated that Mugabe ordered the delay in releasing the results to either intimidate election officials or to rig the results in his favor.

Several factors cause widespread unease about Zimbabwe after twenty years of independence. Prime Minister Mugabe's policy of reconciliation was generally successful during the country's first two years of independence, as the former political and military opponents began to work together. Political opponents are persecuted. Sithole, for example, is evicted from his farm in 1994 and is arrested in 1995 for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe. It is widely suspected that the underlying purpose in each case is to dissuade him from standing as a presidential candidate in 1996.

The land problem is likely to remain on Zimbabwe's political agenda rather longer than Mugabe himself, whose dictatorial behaviour and attempts to cling to power become increasingly extreme as the new millennium progresses.

The white community is unsettled by frequently announced plans to appropriate many of their farms without compensation, for redistribution to Africans. And there are allegations of financial corruption in senior government circles.

The underlying tensions flare up in dramatic fashion during the first half of 2000. In February Mugabe is defeated in a referendum designed to increase his hold on power. His immediate response is to escalate his long-standing campaign to appropriate the larger commercial farms owned by white Rhodesians. Mugabe's armed supporters, described as veterans of the war for independence, forcibly occupy some 500 farms (out of a total of 4500 owned by whites).

Meanwhile a new opposition party - the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change), formed in January and led by a trade unionist, Morgan Tsvangirai - shows signs of being able to mount a very serious challenge to ZANU-PF in forthcoming elections.

The MDC's first opportunity to test opposition to the Mugabe government came in February 2000, when a referendum was held on a draft constitution proposed by the government. Among its elements, the new constitution would have permitted President Mugabe to seek two additional terms in office, granted government officials immunity from prosecution, and authorized government seizure of white-owned land. The referendum was handily defeated. Shortly thereafter, the government, through a loosely organized group of war veterans, sanctioned an aggressive land redistribution program often characterized by forced expulsion of white farmers and violence against both farmers and farm employees.

The election campaign is marred by high levels of violence and intimidation from Mugabe supporters, resulting in thirty or more deaths. Even so, the result is close. ZANU-PF wins 62 seats in the new assembly, with MDC just short of victory with 57.

Immediately after the election, in June 2000, Mugabe publishes a list of 804 large commercial farms (most, but not all, white-owned) which are to be appropriated by the state for the resettlement of peasants. He insists that compensation is the responsibility of the British government.

In 2002, with elections pending, the European Union (EU) appointed election observers to oversee the process. With negative coverage by the media, parliament passed a law restricting media liberties. Shortly after, the EU team leader was sent home and the EU imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, joining the World Bank and IMF in their concerns over the disintegrating conditions. Despite this, Mugabe was re-elected, but the election was controversial and marred by scandal. That month Mugabe was reelected president for another six years in the alleged rigged election.

As a result of this election, the United States, the EU, and other European countries imposed travel restrictions against senior Zimbabwean officials and embargoed the sale of arms to Zimbabwe. The U.S. and the EU also froze the financial assets of selected ruling party officials. The Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe from council meetings for one year after its election observer team found the election neither free nor fair.

At the mid-term suspension review in March 2003, the three-country committee charged with deciding Zimbabwe's fate decided to continue the suspension until the next Commonwealth meeting in December 2003. At this meeting, despite vigorous campaigning by South Africa, Zimbabwe was not invited to attend the meeting and the Commonwealth decided to continue with the suspension. Immediately after this, Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth.

When the suspension was carried over in 2003, Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth altogether, further alienating the country.

In 2003, inflation hit 300%, the country faced severe food shortages, and the farming system had been destroyed. In 2004, the IMF estimated that the country had grown one-third poorer in the last five years.

Parliamentary elections in March 2005 were judged by international monitors to be egregiously flawed. In April, Zimbabwe was reelected to the UN Commission on Human Rights, outraging numerous countries and human rights groups.

Mugabe managed a two-thirds majority and hence won the ability to change Zimbabwe's constitution and pave the way for a successor of his choice. Part of the changes made in the constitution was to create a senate. The senate also saw the acrimonious division of the opposition over whether or not to contest the 'elections'.

Mass protests are continually planned against the government, but people appear more concerned with feeding their families than fighting the well-armed state.

In May 2005, the government began Operation Murambatsvina (also known as Operation Restore Order), ostensibly to rid urban areas of illegal structures, illegal business enterprises, and criminal activities. A UN Special Envoy sent to Zimbabwe to assess the scope and impact of operation estimated that some 700,000 people nationwide lost their homes, their source of livelihood or both.

Families and traders, especially at the beginning of the operation, were often given no notice before police destroyed their homes and businesses. Others were able to salvage some possessions and building materials but often had nowhere to go, despite the government's statement that people should be returning to their rural homes.

Thousands of families were left unprotected in the open in the middle of Zimbabwe's winter. The government interfered with non-governmental organization (NGO) efforts to provide emergency assistance to the displaced in many instances. Some families were removed to transit camps, where they had no shelter or cooking facilities and minimal food, supplies, and sanitary facilities.

The operation continued into July 2005, when the government began a program to provide housing for the newly displaced. As of September 2007, housing construction fell far short of demand, and there were reports that beneficiaries were mostly civil servants and ruling party loyalists, not those displaced. The government campaign of forced evictions continued in 2006 and 2007, albeit on a lesser scale.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008