Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

African Multilateral Responses to the Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Responsibility to Protect Perspective

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

African Multilateral Responses to the Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Responsibility to Protect Perspective

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The 21st century dispensation in Zimbabwe may be described as the crisis decade because the country moved from one crisis to another. Certain policy miscalculations escalated both economic, political, and social crises in the Zimbabwean state. Zimbabwe's adoption of anti-inflationary economic policies in the 1990s such as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP) and privatisation of public enterprises led to massive redundancies, a decline in the income of workers and worsening living standards (Parsons 2007; Saunders 1996). While shrinkage in public service jobs seriously affected school-leavers and graduates from colleges and universities, the introduction of user-fees in educational institutions and the health sector further impacted on most urban working-class families, and the peasantry. Thus, a reversal of social sector gains in the early years of independence became obvious. Nationwide discontent, particularly between 1996 and 1999 resulted in food riots, looting and disruption of economic activities (Onslow 2011). The Zimbabwean state responded to these developments with brutal force, characterised by beating, torture and arbitrary arrests of striking citizens. The consequence of this brutal reaction was political mobilisation by the opposition and the fatal eroding of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)'s political dominance in the 2000 elections (Reeler 2009; Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum 1998).

Beside series of trade union strikes, the Zimbabwean state also wrestled with meeting continued demands of the War Veterans' Association, whose members felt marginalised and excluded in the political and economic processes of the state. Intense pressure from the war veterans forced the ZANU-PF led government to concede to their demands in 1997 through populist policy response whereby large and unbudgeted pay-outs of Z$50 000 and a monthly pension of Z$2 000 were awarded to each of the estimated 70 000 former liberation fighters (Mlambo and Raftopoulos 2010). This policy produced a serious negative effect on the Zimbabwean political economy. Furthermore, military intervention in the protracted conflict of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1998 further stressed Zimbabwe's budgetary and fiscal capacities. As Simba Makoni succinctly noted Zimbabwe spent the equivalent of US$200 million on the DRC intervention. This represented a significant percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP). As a result of poor economic and political choices, the government of Zimbabwe's legitimacy was slowly but surely eroded.

Worsening standards of living and growing dissatisfaction with the Zimbabwean government, cemented a civil society coalition to challenge Mugabe's legitimacy as leader of the country (Gevisser 2009). The need for collective action among civic groups, such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), student union groups, and the business community, culminated in the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 1999 (Bratton and Masunungure 2008). The emergence of the MDC as an equal power contender forced the Mugabe regime to use military force as a strategy for forcing civilian compliance. Increased militarisation of governance structures led to increased crises especially electoral violence during the 2002, 2005 and 2008 elections. The destruction of what were deemed illegal housing structures in major cities in May 2005 under the guise of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order was among scorched earth policies meant to punish perceived MDC supporters. Operation Murambatsvina and the 2008 pre- and post-election violence did not only result in forced displacement of people, destruction of urban sources of living and property, but also politically related killings, beatings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions of perceived 'enemies of the state'.

The Zimbabwe crisis degenerated into a serious humanitarian catastrophe and this occurred concurrently with the fast-moving and highly politicised debate on the RtoP. …

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