Time For West To Back Zimbabwe

By Bruce Mutsvairo

SYDNEY-   If Western governments are sincere about political reforms in Zimbabwe, then they have to support President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new government.

There are no two ways to it.

Long-time followers of Zimbabwean politics will tell you that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for right or wrong reasons will struggle to claim power at least until 20 years from now when most of the country’s heroes of anti-colonial bush wars would have either retired or died.

Even then, there is no evidence the ruling ZANU PF party will throw in the towel.

It is difficult to see someone with no liberation war credentials running the show in Zimbabwe. The West may disagree but that’s the reality.

Zimbabwe is no exception. Liberation war parties, starting with the Botswana Democratic Party, in power since 1965, have dominated much of the southern African region’s political landscape. Indeed, Robert Mugabe’s ejection from power late last year set off a renewed international interest albeit with cautious optimism in Zimbabwean affairs.

But an election internationally endorsed and rejected in equal measure has left the country crippled.

African observers validated Mnangagwa’s win while Europeans and Americans expressed concern at the post-election violence, which left six people feared dead.

Still, anyone who expected a perfect election in Zimbabwe needs his or her head examined.

The country is emerging from several years of brutal dictatorship.

Mnangagwa’s decision to invite election observers demonstrated his willingness to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation. That was a very important step because his former boss Mugabe wasn’t bothered by isolation. He kept his doors open only for observers from “friendlier countries.”

Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions need support from the West. Isolation, starting with US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to renew the sanctions, will see the country sink deeper into an abyss.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s refusal to accept defeat has nothing do with Mnangagwa’s legitimacy. Instead, he knows as long as he digs in, Mnangagwa will not receive the much-needed support from the West, which if granted would see the firebrand politician disgraced to the dustbin of Zimbabwean history.

If Mnangagwa succeeds, Chamisa will not be needed.

He obviously doesn’t want that. His strategy for political survival is to continue playing political games by refusing to accept Mnangagwa’s win. After all, that’s the only way he can remain relevant.

But Zimbabwe is burning.

A cholera outbreak has so far killed 25 people in and around the capital Harare, the economy is in doldrums and while the unemployment rate continues to rise. Mnangagwa deserves nothing but praise for allowing political dissent to flourish. Those opposed to his ruling have been allowed to express themselves openly.

He has appointed individuals with an international appeal into his cabinet while most of the Mugabe-era ministers have been sent packing. Mthuli Ncube, a former Oxford University professor is Zimbabwe’s new minister while former Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry has been handed the sports and youth ministry in a move that will likely appeal to the country’s White minority.

If Western governments can support Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, a leader known for notoriously cracking down on independent journalists and opposition politicians, then surely they should also embrace Mnangagwa.


Bruce Mutsvairo (PhD, Leiden) is a professor in the School of Communication at the University of Technology Sydney.


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