Mugabe’s Succession and Zimbabwe’s Landmines

There are whispers that Robert Mugabe’s iron-fisted reign over Zimbabwe may be near an end.  A leaked draft of the new constitution reveals a term limit on the presidency that would exclude Africa’s longest-serving ruler.  Would this end the violence and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?  Doubtful, since the most likely replacement for Mugabe is not the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, but rather a Mugabe loyalist of one form or another who would protect Mugabe from any international investigations in his retirement.  Mugabe has several generals, all with their own histories of human rights violations, he could choose from to succeed him; those generals would want to protect Mugabe as much to save their own skin as to save his.  Power in Zimbabwe will remain with the ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s party that has essentially functioned as the state since the 1990s. 

The recent and highly suspicious death of General Solomon Mujuru, a leading member of ZANU-PF and husband of Vice President and potential Mugabe successor, Joyce Mujuru, removed a threat to Mugabe and his inner circle.  General Mujuru was thought to be courting support from the MDC, and his supporters accuse Mugabe of having Mujuru killed.  Had Mujuru been able to consolidate support from MDC and elements of ZANU-PF which remember Mujuru’s service in the liberation war against Rhodesia, Mujuru would have been able to mount a significant and likely successful challenge to Mugabe or any successor Mugabe suggested.

Matters are coming to a head in Zimbabwe.  New elections must be held by June 2013 and a Wikileaks report claimed that Mugabe, who celebrated his 88th birthday on February 21st, is suffering from prostate cancer which was diagnosed in 2008 or earlier.  If he is very ill, Mugabe may not be able to participate in a long campaign or even have until June 2013 to complete the succession (Globe and Mail).  Mugabe insists he is healthy (BBC), however, any sign of weakness from Mugabe would likely mean electoral victory for Tsvangirai (and reports suggest that Tsvangirai and MDC have already bested Mugabe and ZANU-PF once at the polls in the 2008 elections, elections that were essentially voided by ZANU-PF and resulted in the killing and torture of thousands of MDC members and leaders; see Peter Godwin’s The Fear for a brutal description of the aftermath of the 2008 elections), as would the candidacy of any ZANU-PF member other than Mugabe.  Therefore, Mugabe must run again to ensure he will be able to choose his successor.

In all reality, any election held in Zimbabwe will result in an announced ZANU-PF and Mugabe victory.  The question is what will be left of the country in the aftermath of the election.  In 2008, the post-election violence dwarfed what happened in Kenya, even though the violence in Kenya led to International Criminal Court proceedings.  In the next election, look for the violence to occur long before the balloting takes place in an effort by ZANU-PF to pre-empt any possibility of MDC being able to participate or field candidates.  This is the model taken by Rwanda: effectively decide the election before it occurs so that on balloting day, “free and fair elections” take place by completely excluding any opposition.  The difference will be that in Rwanda, the regime was able to achieve this by carefully targeting a few opposition leaders, in Zimbabwe look for widespread politicide as MDC members and supporters face arbitrary arrest, torture and assassination.  In 2008, ZANU-PF and Mugabe failed to grasp how little support they had and that’s why they were forced to conduct the post-election frenzy of violence; they won’t make that mistake twice. ZANU-PF has already secured nearly unlimited financial resources thanks to the control of diamond fields in the country and the lifting of EU embargoes on diamond sales.  Global Witness rightly quit the Kimberley process in protest to the Mugabe regime’s ability to sell diamonds internationally, realizing that the proceeds would fund widespread violence and human rights abuses, beyond those already occurring in the mines themselves (The Journal).

The thaw has already begun in relations between Zimbabwe and the international community.  Last week, the European Union lifted sanctions on dozens of Zimbabwe’s and ZANU-PF’s leaders, although not Mugabe himself or his closest allies (BBC).  Also last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defence to provide training and equipment to Zimbabwe’s military deminers.  This represents the most significant international assistance to Zimbabwe’s demining activities in more than a decade and is crucial if Zimbabwe is to meet its Man Ban Treaty-obligated deadline for mine clearance of January 1, 2013.  Currently, there are 600 kilometers of minefields to be cleared in just over 10 months; considering that in the previous twelve years, Zimbabwe only managed to clear 250 kilometers, this is a very tall order (All Africa).  (This estimate of 600 kilometers is more than double the estimate produced by the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center as reported in the 2011 Landmine Monitor report, but is consistent with the information in Zimbabwe’s Article 5 Extension request [The Monitor; Implementation Support Unit, pdf]).

In 2010, Zimbabwe submitted an Article 5 Extension request which was approved at the Tenth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  This extension provided the current demining deadline of January 1, 2013 and was the second such extension awarded to Zimbabwe, the first having passed without Zimbabwe meeting its obligations.  In the 2010 extension request, Zimbabwe noted that it would need $100 million in international assistance to clear the known and anticipated minefields.  Zimbabwe’s landmines are a remnant from the liberation war against the Rhodesian government and the government of Zimbabwe’s demining focus is on the minefields along the Mozambican border which had been partially mapped by the HALO Trust when that organization was assessing the landmine contamination in Mozambique.  This need is extreme, especially considering the fact that Zimbabwe attributed its failure to meet its Article 5 demining obligations to the following causes:

a)      As a result of economic sanctions, Zimbabwe was been unable to access funds from the international financial institutions and was unable to import equipment and contract commercial demining companies;

b)       Zimbabwe experienced a shortage of demining equipment and current equipment is ageing;

c)       Zimbabwe was unable to fully fund demining operations on its own and its national commitment was limited by other pressing budgetary concerns such as food, power and fuel imports; and

d)      Zimbabwe had not received support from the international community since 2000 and had been isolated from developments in demining techniques and standards.

Should international assistance not be available – in other words, if Zimbabwe remained a pariah state and under sanction by the international community – Zimbabwe pledged to continue demining activities using its existing capacity, but estimated that the process would take 50 years to complete (Implementation Support Unit, pdf)

Considering the fact that Zimbabwe was estimating that there were as many as 5 million anti-personnel landmines that would need to be cleared, the need for international assistance is extreme in order for Zimbabwe to meet its mine clearance obligations.  Therefore the ICRC’s assistance to Zimbabwe’s demining program is most welcome.  Hopefully, this is the start of significant humanitarian assistance to the country and a recognition by the government and the international community of the needs present.  However (and this is a HUGE however), the continued leadership of Zimbabwe by Mugabe, or worse by one of Mugabe’s military leaders who are still subject to EU sanctions and travel bans, limits the prospects that the thaw in international relations.  The coming elections are expected to be accompanied by violence that could result in any assistance, like the ICRC’s being withdrawn.  Efforts are in place to force Mugabe to accept a succession by placing term limits in a new constitution that would bar him from running for President for another term. Mugabe has pledged to veto any such measure (The Standard) virtually ensuring that he will be the President of Zimbabwe after the next election and that a ZANU-PF loyalist – one who will protect Mugabe and other ZANU-PF members from international prosecution under crimes against humanity charges – will be his successor.

So, I am grateful to hear that ICRC has come through to help the people of Zimbabwe; now, if only the government of Zimbabwe will follow suit and place its people before the regime.

Michael P. Moore, February 23, 2012.

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One Comment on “Mugabe’s Succession and Zimbabwe’s Landmines”

  1. […] in almost a decade and believed that $100 million was needed to cover the proposed activities (Landmines in Africa, 23-Feb-2012 post).  When the Meeting reviews Angola’s request, it must review the financing […]


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