restricted access 8. The International Community and the Crisis in Zimbabwe
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C h a p t e r 8 The International Community and the Crisis in Zimbabwe The deepening crisis in Zimbabwe became an international issue as early as 2000, both within the region and in terms of Europe/Africa relations. Not only were some of the white farmers who were victims of violence foreigners, with their plight attracting sympathy in the Western press and chancelleries, but also the Zimbabwean internal unrest generally became the source of a major diplomatic rift between the United Kingdom, United States, and European Union on the one side, and most African countries on the other, especially in the SADC region. The parties differed strongly in their reading of the situation on the ground and on what was really at stake. As a result, the cooperation between Africa and the European Union was impeded. The Western countries took a principled stance on the violence, human rights abuses, and cynical electoral manipulation, while Mugabe’s African peers opted for ostentatious solidarity and denial. If this confrontation along geopolitical fault lines was not totally unexpected, it was also stirred up by Mugabe’s maneuvers, especially his recourse to anti-colonialist/anti-imperialist discourse to legitimate his abuses and portray the Western resolve as attempts at regime change. However, the Zimbabwean saga was understandably perceived and treated, for most of the current decade, as a low-intensity crisis in comparison with other hot spots on a continent not short of crises and wars—such as the DRC, Liberia, Ivory Coast, or Darfur. Yet, many in Zimbabwean civil society and in the MDC entertained naive illusions that once Mugabe’s crimes would be exposed properly global and regional powers would intervene, and these activists felt betrayed by the 222 Chapter 8 world leaders’ complacency. While the Westerners moved toward a tougher attitude against Mugabe’s regime after the 2002 presidential election, it took until March 2007, if not mid-2008, for the SADC and AU to acknowledge Mugabe’s political treachery and exert significant pressure on the old autocrat. This chapter will explore the motives and consequences of the international community’s delayed action in the constraining context of twenty-first-century international society. The Western Reaction: From Mixed Messages to Ineffective Sanctions Western powers, starting with the United Kingdom, never followed a consistent policy line on Zimbabwe as they moved back and forth from an attitude of engagement to one of withdrawal (and subcontracting to South Africa). Phases of vitriolic statements against the human rights violations and the sheer brutality alternated with unwarranted optimism on expected political reform. Such weak policies were initially rooted in a partially inaccurate assessment of the political situation in Harare: for instance, the unfounded hopes of a ‘‘reformist’’ or ‘‘moderate’’ wing within ZANU-PF imposing policy changes, or recurrent beliefs of some imminent ‘‘retirement plan’’ for Mugabe—as early as 1999. Indeed a consensus emerged among Western countries, following the 2002 presidential election, on the impact of Mugabe’s tactics to retain power by all possible means on his country and the region at large. As the primary source of instability in the southern Africa region, he should be removed from power to allow an internal solution to emerge. However, few practical steps were taken to stop Mugabe and put sufficient pressure on his regional backers. Not only have ‘‘smart’’ sanctions been largely ineffective but they have also inadvertently played into Mugabe’s hands and antagonized other African leaders. Eventually, unfortunately, the United States and European Union leaders put all hopes in Mbeki’s alleged ability to rein in Mugabe and bring about a settlement of the crisis. The British government reacted strongly in April 2000 against the farm occupations and denounced both the violence and the breach of legality. Tony Blair’s Cabinet also criticized vehemently the electoral violence in the run-up to the parliamentary elections and all the subsequent ones. However, British minister of foreign affairs Robin Cook and his minister of state for Africa Peter Hain were heavily criticized in many quarters for their strong language. Obviously they tried to put into practice the New Labour promise of an ‘‘ethical foreign policy,’’ to which Cook was certainly more committed than Prime Minister Blair himself. Nonetheless, their obvious disgust at Mugabe’s actions played into The International Community 223 Mugabe’s hands while his propaganda was busily portraying London’s attitude as neocolonial and motivated primarily by the protection of white farmers’ interests, a line of argument that proved...


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Subject Headings

  • Mugabe, Robert Gabriel, 1924-.
  • Zimbabwe -- Social conditions -- 1980-.
  • Zimbabwe -- Economic conditions -- 1980-.
  • Geschichte 1980-2009. -- swd.
  • Zimbabwe -- Politics and government -- 1980-.
  • Zimbabwe -- History -- 1980-.
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