Since its March 2008 elections, Zimbabwe has been a state of political turmoil and unrest. When opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC garnered enough votes to require a run-off election, incumbent Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party employed a campaign of organized violence to intimidate his opponents into submission. On July 21, the two parties finally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established guidelines for power-sharing talks. At a recent Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing, Primrose Matambanadzo of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors of Human Rights and Jacob Mafume of USAID offered insight into the current situation in Zimbabwe as well as the future of peace talks.
While the violence rates have decreased since the June 27th run-off election, supporters of Tsvangirai's MDC opposition party remain in danger. Mr. Mafume specified that the most persecuted are lower level, "rank and file" members of MDC. Mugabe and Zanu-PF are trying to intimidate ordinary voters with brutal physical torture and tactics, such as "community killings" that seek to make an example of opposition supporters to their entire village. Furthermore, many victims of election-related violence can not access proper medical care because there is virtually no freedom of movement within the country.
One potentially bright spot amongst the chaos in Zimbabwe is the newly-signed Memorandum of Understanding.This will eventually lead to peace talks between Zanu-PF and MDC parties. Mr. Mafume stressed that outside groups, including civil society and foreign governments must place pressure on both parties to ensure that the outcome of the talks reflects the will of the people. He also stressed that reconciliation will not be effective until those who carried out violence face retribution. Although the MOU specifically excludes this issue from the negotiations, it must be addressed in the near future.
Another important element to the peace talks is the relationship between Zimbabwean civil society and MDC. Civil society groups are pessimistic about the outcome of negotiations because previous opposition parties have conceded important demands to Mugabe. In an effort to maintain their support, MDC has drawn up an agreement of important values to uphold in the negotiations. Although the groups recognize that their cooperation is necessary to craft an agreement that reflects the will of the people, such a task will require continued effort and communication.
Although some audience members hinted that Mugabe may take a deal and flee the country, both panelists insisted that Mugabe is still very powerful and in control of his party. Despite the deep-rooted differences between Mugabe and his challenger Tsvangirai, the Memorandum of Understanding still represents hope and possibility for reconciliation.
Sponsor: Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC)
Date: July 24, 2008
Time: 2:30-3:30 pm
Representative Attending: Kate Lonergan