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Zimbabwe: whose responsibility to protect? February 6, 2009

Posted by veraquina in Uncategorized.
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By Vera Quina

As I am writing this article, the Zimbabwean parliament is approving a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai that will supposedly solve the almost year-old crisis.


Last March there were general elections in Zimbabwe and the party of Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seems to have won the first round. However, the elections were tampered by the ZANU-PF party of Mugabe who asked for a second round, denying Tsvangirai an outright victory. Moreover, they unleashed a violent intimidation campaign against the supporters of the opposition; Mugabe’s brutal tactics surely paid-off as he was declared the winner of the June run-off election.

Needless to say that the 84 year-old Mugabe has been the uncontested leader of Zimbabweans for the last 28 years, and that he feels most comfortable in that position; he even went on saying that “only God” can remove him as the head of Zimbabwe. In the meantime, the majority of his 9 million fellow-countrymen are starving (90% of the population is poor), unemployment is massive (over 85%) and there is a rampant inflation (11 Million percent?!), not to mention the recent surge of cholera.

So, is Zimbabwe a case to invoke a responsibility to protect? If so, whose responsibility is it?

Why not a “Kenya bis”?

I followed with great interest the developments of the political and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, and could not help thinking that some sort of responsibility to protect would emerge, such as it did in Kenya after the rigged electoral competition between the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga, that unleashed such an unexpected wave of violence. There, as soon as ten days after the outbreak of the crisis John Kufuor, at the time the Ghanaian President and African Union Chairman started a mediation; then, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan took over, solved the crisis by diplomatic means and Kenya was hailed allover the world as a responsibility to protect (R2P) success story.

In fact, the international community had actually recognized at the UN 2005 World Summit a responsibility to protect (R2P) populations from imminent and massive human rights abuses and other humanitarian crises (such as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity), and Mugabe´s indifference at his own population surely seems like a crime against humanity to me.

Unfortunately I did not see the flurry of diplomatic activity (regional and international) that I expected and hoped for towards Zimbabwe. At the same time, vivid debates occurred at the UN and among scholars to decide if Zimbabwe was a responsibility to protect case or not and whether it should be on the agenda of the Security Council. Months -compared to the few days in Kenya- passed by and the situation remained inconclusive. Of course, Zimbabwe is not a major international hub like Kenya, gateway for the Great Lake Region and the platform for UN operations in Somalia; it is actually a landlocked country with a decaying economy and where westerners are unwelcomed for quite a long time. Actually Mugabe has been somewhat indifferent to international pressure, partly because of the indulgence of some of his southern Africans counterparts. So what can be done, and by whom to?


Implementing R2P

The United Kingdom and the United States tried, last summer after the run-off election, to bring the Zimbabwean crisis onto the Security Council´s agenda invoking the responsibility to protect (R2P) norm in the name of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country, but were over-ruled by one of the veto-wielding states (yes, China is always here to help nasty dictators to stay untouched). 

But let´s not put all the blame on the United Nations realpolitik security organ. Even if the matter was in fact discussed by the Council, what actions could we effectively expect? Some people mistakenly take R2P to be some sort of humanitarian military intervention, where the international community would rush to save all the oppressed people of the world. Actually, R2P is a multiple tool-box of the international community, to be understood and used militarily only as a “last resort”, meaning after all other diplomatic means have been used and abused to get the government to take its “sovereignty as responsibility” to protect its citizens seriously.


In the meanwhile, when crisis occur, other aspects of R2P are to be put into action, such as diplomatic pressure, mediation or even economic sanctions. By the way, the United States and the European have long inflicted strict economic sanctions against Mugabe´s regime acting accordingly to the diplomatic procedures. But as the negotiations talks stalled around September, my question was: what about Africans? What are they doing to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe?


What about Africans?

The R2P of the international community is in fact residual, a “fall-back responsibility” and when it comes to intervening in the domestic affairs of a given country, we should not amalgamate the international community to the “West”. When Western countries do intervene, they do so as “neo-colonizers” or “neo-imperialists”, and when they actually hand over the stick to regional actors, they are deemed “indifferent”… So what have fellow Africans concretely done?

Do not get me wrong, some Africans actually had some brave initiatives. In November, Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, Jimmy Carter, former United States President, and Graça Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela and an advocate for the rights of women and children, tried to enter the country to allow humanitarian aid, but were barred by Mugame who denied them travel visas.

But at a political level, the leaders of the largest African regional organization, the African Union could have perfectly delegitimized the “sham” re-election of Robert Mugabe. However, they not only failed to do so, but actually welcomed Mugabe open arms at the 11th Summit of the AU in Egypt (Sharm el-Sheikh). Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who was holding the rotating presidency of the African Union, only mentioned the “challenges” Zimbabwe was facing.

On another hand, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a sub-regional organization that involves most countries of southern Africa could also have taken a firmer stance in Zimbabwe. Almost two-years ago they appointed Thabo Mbeki as a go-between and for his acumen on the situation. However, as Jimmy Carter rightly states: “I think he’s (Mbeki’s) always been in bed with Mugabe pretty much, and pretty timid about contradicting his old friend, who was one of the first revolutionary freedom fighters who was successful in southern Africa ”The result is the stalemate we have been reading on the news: a dire humanitarian situation and a blocked political environment.


Some prospects for stabilization?

Nonetheless, last month, Thabo Mbeki and other SADC leaders announced a “breakthrough”. After 14 hours of intense negotiations between SADC officials, Mugabe and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara would have reached an accord for an “inclusive government”.

Actually, this power-sharing deal was struck several months ago, in September 2008, but the two parties fail to agree on the details of its implementation. The September deal -now being implemented- provides that Mugabe will retain the presidency, while Tsvangirai would serve as prime minister in a government in which the MDC would have majority in parliament. Nevertheless, over the following months, the two parties were unable to agree upon the allotment of specific ministerial portfolios, with Mugabe insisting on retaining control of the army and security forces. So what has changed? Well this time, the MDC was granted that the governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, the one has presided over the disastrous 8-digit inflation rate and the subsequent destruction of the Zimbabwean currency, will be sacked (at least something). For the rest, things remained unchanged.

One last, but important issue: will this accord hold? “It’s a question of when, not if, this thing will collapse,” Sydney Masamvu, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told the New York Times last week.  Let´s hail the African´s responsibility to protect.





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