Why signs for transitional justice in Zimbabwe don’t look promising



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EPA-EFE/Kim Ludbrook

Mia Swart, University of Johannesburg

When the first reports appeared of military tanks approaching Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, questions started flooding my mind: would this mean a transition in power? And would it be a transition of the kind regarded as “model” transitions – transition from dictatorship to democracy?

Ever since it became clear that Emmerson Mnangagwa would be inaugurated as the next president, there are fears that the country wouldn’t go through a genuine transition, that one dictator might simply replace another as was the case in Egypt.

Transitional justice is a term coined by the scholar Ruti Teitel in 1990. She defined it as a form of justice that could address the legacy of human rights violations and violence during a society’s transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one. Transitional justice refers to the ways in which countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression address large scale human rights violations so numerous and serious that the normal justice system is unable to provide an adequate response.

Transitional justice has become a vital part of modern peace building efforts alongside disarmament, security sector reform and elections. The United Nations views it as the full range of processes associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses with a view to ensuring accountability, serving justice and achieving reconciliation.

It encompasses issues such as whether the perpetrators of serious human rights violations under a previous regime should be prosecuted or pardoned. It also involves looking at reparations, institutional reform, public recognition of violations and whether and how investigations should be initiated to uncover the truth about past violations.

It’s still unclear whether Zimbabwe will manage an effective transition to participatory democracy and freedom. But the current signs are not encouraging.

Transitional justice in Zimbabwe

After three decades of state sponsored violence, there is an acute need to break the culture of impunity that has become entrenched in Zimbabwe. The steady erosion of human and political rights has further led to a lack of faith in the rule of law.

Early excitement about prospects of transitional justice in Zimbabwe has already been dampened by the agreement struck between the military and the outgoing president. The deal entails exempting Robert Mugabe from prosecution for crimes committed during his 37 years in office. The immunity deal reportedly covers numerous members of Mugabe’s extended family, including his stepson and nephews. It may also include senior ruling party officials detained by the military as well as those who are currently overseas.

This immunity agreement creates grave doubts about the legitimacy of the foundation on which the new Zimbabwe will be built.

It’s clear that the agreement violates international law. Under Mugabe’s rule opposition supporters suffered harassment, intimidation, forced removal and death. Crimes against humanity were also committed. There are also strong allegations that Mugabe ordered his opponents to be tortured. International law holds that to be guilty of torture, it isn’t necessary that a person should have directly participated in torture. Ordering torture is sufficient to warrant conviction.

There are other reasons to doubt whether Zimbabwe’s new leadership is interested in pursuing transitional justice. For example, would they be prepared to look back at post-independence crimes such as the Gukurahundi massacre in Matabeleland that claimed the lives of 20 000 people? Given Mnangagwa’s prominent role in this massacre it’s highly unlikely that official attempts will be undertaken to uncover the truth of this massacre.

Measured against the South African transition, it is already clear that the “transition in Zimbabwe” is imperfect. This is because it lacks democratic legitimacy. Unlike the wave of transitions from socialism to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Zimbabwean transition, at this stage, does not look as if it has the potential to truly liberate Zimbabwean citizens and to convey them into a state in which human rights are supreme.

Free passage for Mugabe

Former Zimbabwe finance minister and opposition party member Tendai Biti said in a recent interview with South Africa’s Sunday Times that there was no point in prosecuting Mugabe. He said:

we cannot let the past continue to hold the future, and Mugabe is in the past… He must be given the right of free passage…

But Mugabe does not deserve a “right of free passage”. To award him this right would be to make a mockery of the principles of international law, transitional justice and the ongoing suffering of millions of Zimbabweans.

The ConversationBiti emphasised the importance of economic growth and transformation. As a former finance minister he should know that financial prosperity cannot be separated from social cohesion and respect for the rule of law.

Mia Swart, Professor of International Law, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Will Mnangagwa usher in a new democracy? The view from Zimbabwe



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Emmerson Mnangagwa, President-elect of Zimbabwe.
Filckr/UN

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham

Zimbabwe has a new leader. Robert Mugabe is out. His former ally turned rival, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is in. What now?

After ecstatic celebrations to mark Mugabe’s resignation thoughts have began to turn to what comes next. Mugabe may have exited the political scene, but it remains dominated by the same political party – Zanu-PF – that sustained his rule.

Moreover, the country’s president-elect, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is hardly a breath of fresh air. Having held a series of cabinet positions under Mugabe, and served as first vice president between December 2014 and his sacking in November 2017, he looks more like a force for continuity than change.

As a result, talk in Harare quickly turned to what kind of leader Mnangagwa will be, and the system of government that would best serve ordinary Zimbabweans.

The fork in the road

My conversations with people on the streets of the capital, Harare, about the political system the country needs suggests that two distinct camps are emerging: those who want elections to be held as soon as possible, and those who say the polls should be postponed and a transitional government established.

Both of these options have genuine “pros” but also strong “cons”. As is so often the case, there is no perfect answer that solves all problems.

It is understandable that many Zimbabweans want a period of calm and orderly government after the twists and turns of recent weeks, and believe that it would be better to form an inclusive government that would feature representatives of all of the main political parties – a kind of power sharing in all but name.

Even though I have consistently argued in favour of the value of democracy and elections in Africa, I have to admit that the “transitioners” have some viable arguments.

The most obvious is that a period of stability and more consensual government might facilitate much needed reform of the economy and also the wider political and legal system. After all, rival parties are unlikely to come to agreement on these issues if they are immediately thrust into an election campaign.

The “transitioners” also have a point when it comes to democracy. Few people in Zimbabwe believe that it’s possible for elections to be free and fair if they are held between July and August next year, as currently scheduled. Given this, and the current divisions within the opposition, a rush to elections is likely to result in a convincing victory for Zanu-PF under problematic circumstances.

A transitional arrangement would allow for much needed electoral reforms to be put in place, creating the potential for a better quality process and a more consensual outcome later on.

Testing the Crocodile

But there is also another camp that wants to see Mnangagwa, popularly known as The Crocodile, to face an election as soon as possible.

Just like their counterparts in the “transitioner” camp, “electioneers”, have some strong arguments. Whatever one wants to call Mnangagwa’s rise to power – from a coup to an internal party squabble – it is clear that it has not been a high quality democratic transition. And while it is clear that the overthrow of Mugabe was hugely popular, we don’t know if the same applies to a Mnangagwa presidency. An election would settle that question.

It would also give the new government a popular mandate to undertake economic reforms, whoever wins power. This could be important to the success of the reform project, because things are likely to get worse before they get better, and the country’s economic medicine may prove to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Holding elections would also do one thing that postponing them will not; it will test the commitment of the new government to democratic norms and values from the get-go. One of the main reasons that Zimbabwean elections have been poor quality is that Zanu-PF and the military have intervened to make sure this was the case. As another friend put it, “If they are really committed to doing the right thing, they can do it right away and the elections will not be too bad”.

Learning from the past

“Electioneers” are also motivated by scepticism that an inclusive transitional government would get much done. Both Zimbabwe and Kenya have had power-sharing governments in the recent past, and while they both introduced new constitutions they also saw high levels of corruption and limited security sector reform. They also both led to elections that were denounced by opposition parties as being unfree and unfair.

It’s fair to ask: why would it be different this time?

The question is particularly pertinent given the current composition of parliament. Because Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change boycotted a series of by-elections on the basis that they would not be free and fair, it has lost many of the seats it won in 2013. As a result, any transitional arrangement that deferred elections and “froze” the current parliament for the next three years would have a big legislative advantage to Zanu-PF.

It is also important to keep in mind that economics cannot be divorced from politics: Zimbabwe’s current economic difficulties stem precisely from an unaccountable political framework that ignored the interests of the people. Given that recent events have emboldened the military and given them an even stronger voice within government, this is a pressing concern.

Deferring electoral reforms in order to focus on economic recovery may therefore prove to be a self defeating strategy.

Next steps

Ultimately, the form of government that evolves in Zimbabwe will not be a product of popular dialogue. One of the distinctive features of this process is that for the most part it has been conducted behind closed doors by a small elite.

Don’t be fooled by the pictures of tens of thousands of people marching on Saturday – all sides have invoked popular support, but none have actually encouraged ordinary people to say what they want, or given them a seat at the table. This is a worrying sign if strengthening democracy is the long-term goal.

Recent public statements by the main parties at the time of going to press suggests that they are not converging on an interim administration, and so the “electioneers” may get their wish. That could still change because talks are ongoing and both sides would gain something from a delay. But if it doesn’t the people will be able to have their say on how they want their country to be run.

The ConversationOf course, voting will not actually equate to “having a say” unless the country’s new leader follows through on his promise to build a “new democracy”, and the ruling party can kick the habit of a lifetime. Watch this space.

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why a Mnangagwa presidency would not be a new beginning for Zimbabwe


Hazel Cameron, University of St Andrews

Despite claims to the contrary by the Zimbabwean military spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe is in the throes of its first coup d’état since independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe, the only head of state the country has known in its 37-year existence, is today under house arrest, and the former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has long aspired to succeed Mugabe, has returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, after having fled on November 6.

It appears that Mugabe’s decision to sack Mnangagwa – possibly at the behest of his wife, Grace Mugabe – may turn out to have been his last major decision as president.

These events have provoked much interest and anticipation around the world, and not least from Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, the UK. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, stated in the House of Commons on November 15 that:

this House will remember the brutal litany of [Mugabe’s] 37 years in office; the elections he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents … Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa.

Johnson also warned against any transition “from one unelected tyrant to the next”.

For the past three years, the British government has displayed an interest in reengaging with Zimbabwe. It is an open secret that Britain’s re-engagement identified Mnangagwa as the candidate they could best work with. When the current British ambassador in Harare, Catriona Laing, took up her post in September 2014, her mission was to “rebuild bridges and ensure that re-engagement succeeds to facilitate Mnangagwa’s rise to power”. In September 2017, it was reported that British diplomats were working to secure a Mnangagwa succession “with a US$2 billion economic bail-out underwriting the project”.

According to diplomats with direct knowledge of succession discussions surrounding the rebuilding of post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, Laing has not wavered in her support for Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe and, since Mnangagwa’s hasty retreat to Pretoria on November 6, it seems the British have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to facilitate Mnangagwa’s unhindered return to Zimbabwe and installation as president of the ZanuPF government. It has been reported that plans to take over the country by force have been in place for some time – and that Mnangagwa was instrumental in those plans

There are unconfirmed reports that a new post-Mugabe deal is under discussion. Under its terms, Mnangagwa would lead a transitional government in Zimbabwe with the support of other political parties leading to full elections in five years’ time. There are suggestions that Mnangagwa has the backing of the Chinese – who recently met with the commander of the coup, General Constantino Chiwenga – while the South African government allowed him to return to Zimbabwe unimpeded on November 15.

So it seems the end of the Mugabe era has come. But one has to ask whether a Mnangagwa presidency would really be a new beginning.

The Crocodile’s credentials

Mnangagwa, known as The Crocodile, has throughout the history of Zimbabwe been complicit in the manipulation of the ZANU-PF election process by promoting violence, intimidation and repression as well as illegal administrative strategies to ensure ZANU-PF election success. He has also long faced allegations of corruption and diamond looting in both Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 2012, the NGO Global Witness released an investigative report that revealed how ZANU-PF and the military elite used the proceeds from looted diamonds to fund human rights abuses. The report specifically points to the complicit conduct of Mnangagwa and his ally Chiwenga.

Mnangagwa has also been accused of playing a pivotal role in the Matabeleland Massacres of 1982-1987. In January 1983, Mugabe launched a massive security clampdown on the unarmed citizens of the Matabeleland region, violence that was both politically and ethnically motivated. This episode of relentless and persistent state-orchestrated violence, known as Gukurahundi, was perpetrated by an elite army unit known as the Fifth Brigade. It is estimated that 20,000 people were massacred and many hundreds of thousands of others tortured, beaten or raped. Mnangagwa has denied involvement and has blamed the army.

On March 4, 1983, at a rally held not far from Lupane in Matabeleland, Mnangagwa publicly conflated being a citizen of Matabeleland with being a political dissident. According to news reports at the time, he told his audience the government had “an option” of “burning down … all the villages infected with dissidents”, saying “the campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure which nurtures them is destroyed”.

He described dissidents as “cockroaches” and the Fifth Brigade as “DDT” brought in to “eradicate” them. In short, he made it clear that the destruction of the civilian population of Matabeleland was part of a deliberate state policy – and the very next day came the country’s worst massacre yet, on the banks of the Ciwale river, when 62 people were killed.

The crimes against humanity perpetrated in Matabeleland left hundreds of thousands traumatised – many still don’t know where their loved ones are buried. The victims of Gukurahundi are deeply divided, stigmatised and discriminated against. Their plight will go unaddressed if the person who succeeds Mugabe is himself responsible for appalling political crimes and harms to which millions of Zimbabweans have been subjected.

If Zimbabwe is to step back from the brink of state failure, it must find a way to address the Mugabe regime’s crimes, including Mnangagwa’s role in Gukurahundi. At the very least, Zimbabwe’s neighbours and the international community alike must stand in the way of those responsible for state-sponsored atrocities and corruption that have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s government for 37 years obtaining or maintaining positions in the post-Mugabe government of Zimbabwe.

The ConversationIn order to promote a stable, secure and reconciled Zimbabwe, the crimes of the regime of Mugabe must be addressed, and this includes Mnangagwa’s crimes and his role in Gukurahundi. The British government seems to have other plans.

Hazel Cameron, Lecturer of International Relations, University of St Andrews

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.