Zimbabwe and Political Transition (IDEAS Strategic Updates)

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In the United States, members of Congress and the U. State Department have issued statements of concern. A3: There is speculation that a divide is growing between Mnangagwa and his vice president, coup mastermind and former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Constantino Chiwenga. It has proved difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. Under Mnangagwa, the military has been on the ascendency , with Chiwenga and former generals securing key cabinet posts. Alternatively, some have suggested that the president and his deputy are engaged in a good-cop, bad-cop routine aimed at both stifling dissent while simultaneously positing to the international community that Mnangagwa is indeed the reformer he claims to be.

Chiwenga and other senior military figures certainly wield significant influence. Either way, as commander in chief, Mnangagwa is accountable for the actions of his military, and stakeholders everywhere should hold him to it. This, combined with recent signals that he seeks the international validation long denied his predecessor, gives the donor community more leverage than it has had in at least a decade.

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With its significant voting power at the international financial institutions and the perennial carrot of lifting related restrictions under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, first passed in and recently amended, the United States holds particular influence—an opportunity for leadership it has not yet seized. As tensions heighten across the country, the international community should first and foremost act as a unified front to demand Mnangagwa immediately withdraw the military from the streets and stop the ongoing clampdown on opposition supporters and civil society.

Similarly opposition parties should urge their supporters to refrain from violence.


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Until these basic democratic conditions are met, international actors would be wise to hold firm on reengaging with Zimbabwe. They should demand that election results be validated and that political, economic, and security reforms be implemented, including the repeal of draconian legislation like POSA. The international community must act accordingly. Critical Questions are produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies CSIS , a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary.

CSIS does not take specific policy positions.

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Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author s. All rights reserved. Skip to main content. Critical Questions. Digressions, personal attacks, hateful language and unsubstantiated claims will be removed — as will comments tied to false email addresses, impersonations and copyright-protected material. To truly be effective, we need to stay in the game even when violence occurs. Peace and justice organizations, as well as universities, publish their own independent content on Waging Nonviolence.

This Community section offers just a sample of their latest stories. Visit their individual pages to see more. ARTUZ members taking part in the pockets out campaign. The front page of a Zimbabwean state-controlled newspaper last week. Phil Wilmot Phil Wilmot is director of Solidarity Uganda , an organization that trains and helps organize East African movements for civil resistance. More By Phil Wilmot. Ambazonians struggle for independence from Cameroon amid military takeover. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published.

Sarah Freeman-Woolpert. Kate Aronoff. Ashoka Jegroo. Peter Rugh.

History of Zimbabwe

Despite crackdown, teachers in Zimbabwe keep pressure on a regime in transition Phil Wilmot Thank you for your interest in republishing this story. Consequently, it was suggested that the public put pressure on the state to open up political space for civil society and that efforts be made to promote a society that includes broad cross-sections of the community.

The basis of civil society is common interests, independent of the state, through which people can organize themselves and relate to one. The major institutions through which civil society has reemerged in modern Africa are religious organizations, notably the churches; trade unions; and professionals—lawyers, journalists, academics.

Participants identified varying perceptions of the state in African countries. In Tanzania, for example, as pointed out by one participant, the state is referred to as "big daddy.

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In other countries, the state is linked with statism, taking over everything, including how one ought to think. There was agreement that it would be incumbent upon civil society to promote socialization by moving people away from thinking about the state and encouraging them to think what they want without fear. One participant observed: "Under Jomo Kenyatta, there was an entrenchment of democratic institutions; but, under Daniel arap Moi, there has been a concentrated destruction of institutions.

Happily, the people of Kenya are beginning to ask what went wrong.

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According to a number of participants, the extreme frailty of civil society in some African countries has left the citizenry with only the voice and exit options. Using the voice option, some individuals and organizations confronted the state and questioned state interference in their personal and family lives. In so doing, they had to contend with constant harassment from the state, which often led to violations of their individual and collective rights.

The exit option has become common in countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, and Rwanda, where there was a forced exodus of outspoken individuals or organizations.


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  6. It was argued that Africans have been conditioned to exercise the exit option because the state has been regarded as a hostile force. In order to build an animated civil society, participants advocated recapturing the population that has distanced itself from authoritarian power. In southern Africa, for example, civil society has been exposed, restricted by law, or formed in secret, but it has maintained a role in articulating public values, while resisting state control.

    In single-party states, such as Tanzania, independent civic groups generally were regarded as subversive and therefore had been wiped out over 28 years. In several countries, including Madagascar, Zambia, and South Africa, organizations that taught elements of civic culture initially were established secretly by concerned citizens and emerged only when they gained sufficient strength and perceived a political opening.

    Churches united in ecumenical movements, however, have been able to resist state control, playing a major role in articulating public values in much of the southern Africa region. They also have served to integrate ethnically diverse regions. In the three workshops, the capacity of institutions of civil society to organize upward in public life was linked to the crisis of the African state and to the ability of entrenched rulers to resist change. In Malawi, for. In Zambia, by contrast, the catastrophic economic record of the government of Kenneth Kaunda led to a crisis of authority, which prompted public institutions to assert themselves.

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    In South Africa, the churches and popular movements associated with the United Democratic Front were able to take advantage of the crisis of apartheid, which was revealed by the succession of F. In these openings, participants noted that civil society had to provide new alternatives as well as leaders whose authority was rooted in their own record. Some cited President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia, whose experience in the trade union movement, political detention, and refusal to be coopted by the previous regime bears striking resemblances to President Lech Walesa of Poland.

    It was also pointed out that a new and vibrant local leadership had arisen in South Africa. Several suggestions were put forward by participants about how to build civil society in order to enhance democratic culture. One participant proposed that an active citizenry together with nongovernmental organization, which play a role independent of government or political parties, could take center stage in public life: "The public must fully participate in the affairs of state, with the state protecting their rights to be recognized.

    In this context, the value of the role of citizens and civil society is to organize and articulate the interests of local communities and the grass roots to the highest levels—even bringing about the change of laws—by serving as effective pressure groups. These groups have acted as pressure points to democratize government. For the most part, these groups have acted in isolation.

    Concerted action would have made them more powerful. There ought to be more coordination of action among groups. Yet, groups must be autonomous organizationally and financially, so as not to be coopted during the process. In this manner, democratic culture will emerge in civil society.

    Zimbabwe Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform

    Although the formation of civil society was considered a positive process in democratization, several participants cautioned that it happens only when people take risks, investing their time, energies, and lives. In the words of one participant, "many governments are not willing to create an enabling environment. I have no illusions about this. But, by standing up, individuals can insist and force government to create a space. One participant advocated not relying on the "father state" to engineer the process: "National commissions set up by the state in some countries to help build civil societies can be useful, but should not be a reason for civil society not to assume its responsibilities.

    The community must keep the culture of resistance alive and question authority. Maybe we Africans have resigned from our responsibilities, as we rely on Amnesty International and other international organizations to do our work for us. Are we prepared to start something on a pan-African basis to be a moral force? In sum, a strong civil society in Africa was believed to be an essential prerequisite for successful transitions to democracy.

    Participants thought that the increasing presence of civic groups would be good indicators of where a government stands regarding the rights of expression and assembly as well as democracy in general. It has been argued by some scholars that democracy is built only around democrats. As one participant put it, "Without a sizable minority of democrats and constitutionalists, the quest for democracy in Africa would come to naught" if the impetus is to be provided only by the state.

    Another participant spoke of citizen responsibility and emphasized the role of academics and intellectuals, arguing that "the enlightened sectors of society have to assume their responsibilities with humility and patriotism. They must initiate a constituent group in favor of constitutionalism and democracy. These individuals must be committed to liberty and justice, irrespective of the machine gun, acting as catalysts for society as a whole.

    Some participants raised questions regarding the assertion that intellectuals should lead the struggle toward democracy.