Should the US take a more active stance on Zimbabwe?

Mugabe (left) pals around with fellow African leaders at the AU summit.
Mugabe (left) pals around with fellow African leaders at the AU summit.
GovernmentZA

Zimbabweans waited in long lines yesterday to vote for their president. Longstanding President Robert Mugabe faced off against Prime Minister and longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai. A power-sharing deal was devised in 2008 after Mugabe, who has now led the country for 33 years, ignored the election results and declared himself the winner. Conflict over the results led to violence in the country which ended when an agreement placed Tsvangirai in the Prime Minister post.

Five years of what was at best a tenuous relationship did not lead to much change. The two ran again for the office of president and it looks like Mugabe will manage to hold on to power. In a rare press conference earlier this week, Mugabe said that he will accept the results of the election whether he wins or loses. If he does not win, Mugabe assured that he will step down from office, unlike last time.

A day after the vote there are already accusations of vote-rigging by Mugabe’s opponents. Tsvangirai said today that the election is “null and void” due to manipulation by the ruling Zanu-PF party.

“The shoddy manner in which it has been conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis,” Tsvangirai said, reports the AP.

An uneven playing field and lessons learned from the last election makes it likely that Mugabe will retain power, says Simukai Tinhu in the African Arguments blog. At the same time, the United States has done little to help the situation over the past few years, says the Center for Global Development’s Todd Moss in Politico.

“The U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel, haggling over minor election details and impotently calling for everyone to behave. Worse, the United States is sending worrying signals of future indifference,” writes Moss.

He says that the US needs to take a new approach to Zimbabwe and lays out three things that can be done.

  1. Do not accept flawed election results.
  2. Maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe until actual reforms are made.
  3. State department must take an active stance to enable change in Zimbabwe.

“If U.S. officials are seen as quietly accepting a deeply flawed election, it will damage America’s reputation at just the time the United States needs to be standing on principle by helping the country turn away from the hatred and fear of the past and toward a new Zimbabwe based on openness, prosperity, and freedom,” he concludes.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.