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Nonviolent Action in Zimbabwe’s 2008 Elections

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           For those concerned with ensuring free and fair elections in the world, the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe draw immediate attention. In the election, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC party challenged the longtime authoritarian President Robert Mugabe of the ZANU-PF party. However, after multiple rounds of voting and suspected election fraudand corruption by the Mugabe government, Mugabe stood again as the President of Zimbabwe. This investigation will seek to answer two important questions: what methods and tactics did each side employ in this electoral struggle, and what strategies might have worked against Mugabe as he sought to oppress the opposition? Below is a summary of the findings.

  • Methods and Tactics Employed by Mugabe and the ZANU-PF:
    • Scare-tactics and force against opposition candidate campaign and any supporters.
    • Media control and careful management of information dispersed in education system and political networks.
    • Election fraud and suspicious tampering of the results.
    • Inclusion of a weak and biased election monitor, the South African Development Community (SADC)
  • Methods and Tactics Employed by Tsvangirai and the MDC:
    • Non-mainstream media communication
    • Rallying of support through external organizations and entities like Human Rights Watch and the United Nations.
    • Message against Mugabe’s economic and public policies
  • Potential Strategy Going Forward:
    • Use of Laughtivism campaign and campaign for transparency directed at SADC
    • Inclusion of international actors in favor of reforms to electoral monitoring and SADC
    • Redirection of campaign from an attack of Mugabe to a call for transparency.

History, Causes, and Nature of Conflict

            After years of colonial rule and limited self-governance, the Republic of Zimbabwe emerged as a sovereign state in 1980. At this time, however, the people and their government did not take democratic control of their nation-state. Instead, Robert Mugabe assumed authoritarian control of the government and seven years later, of both state and government. Although Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic, many do not believe that President Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic (ZANU-PF) have been freely elected over the last 30 years.[1] From the beginning of his rule, Mugabe exercised oppressive tactics to ensure his opponents and dissenters would remain silent. He originally fought against white minority rulers and establishednational dominance. According to Human Rights watch, in the early 1980’s Mugabe “ordered the Zimbabwe National Army to conduct counter-insurgency operations against “dissident” ex-guerrilla fighters in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.”[2] The army killed at least 10,000 civilians and ensured any sort of threat to Mugabe would be stifled quickly.

President Mugabe’s tight rule continued steadily into the 21st century. Most election monitors view elections in the first decade to be corrupt and unfair due to the tense conflict between Mugabe and his opposition. Mugabe continually employed violent tactics to ensure political control. Additionally, the media has been wholly in state ownership and control. As a result, information and reporting has been biased and skewed unfairly in the direction of Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party.[3]In addition to the people’s low trust in the Mugabe government and electoral transparency, Zimbabweans have also contested Mugabe’s failure to meet promises over his many terms in office. For example, after seizing land from white elite, Mugabe guaranteed land redistribution to ameliorate some of Zimbabwe’s inequalities. However, Mugabe failed to enact these policies and instead unfairly assisted his own supporters, friends, and family.[4]Out of these tensions, Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) stood against Mugabe’s political and economic failures in the 2008 elections.

Regional and Geopolitical Context and Type of Conflict

The forces of democratization were active across Africa from the post-Soviet era into first decade of the 2000’s. In fact, a look at the region indicates, “more than half of the forty-seven states of sub-Saharan Africa undertook reforms leading to more competitive and pluralist political systems after 1989.”[5]However, Zimbabwe was one of many one-party and dominant-party regimes to survive the wave of democratization in the post-Soviet world.[6]Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index ranks some of Zimbabwe’s close neighbors as far more fair and free, including Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. Others, such as Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi, are still plagued with political and civil oppression.[7]Among its regional peers, Zimbabwe’s population has suffered economically, socially, and politically. Approaching the 2008 elections, the nation was facing rising inflation, lingering inequality in land distribution, and stiff limitations on political and civil liberties; many Zimbabweans even emigrated to other parts of the region, causing a burden for the region.[8]Mugabe has remained in strict control of the state and government, unwilling to allow for capitalism or western influence.

In the 21st century, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a political institution in sub-Saharan Africa, was responsible for monitoring Zimbabwean elections and ensuring its political, economic, and social advancement.[9] However, many believe the SADC is biased to Mugabe and unwilling to pressure the government to implement free and fair changes. Demonstrating this support, “in 2007, SADC called for an end to sanctions against Zimbabwe and international support for a post-land-reform recovery programme.”[10] Western election monitors, NGOs, and international organizations stood against this perspective.

Ultimately, the conflict was political at its core. The Mugabe government was still actively oppressive of civil society organizations and citizens involved in the political arena. Mugabe also neglected economic peril; 80% of the population was living on less than £1 a day.[11]However, as 2008 approached, the opposition against Mugabe emerged again in conflict.[12]Originally founded in 1999 to oppose the ZANU-PF, the MDC selected Morgan Tsvangirai to run against President Mugabe and head the electoral battle. Tsvangirai and Zimbabweans against Mugabe challenged him on his oppressive political actionsand economic inadequacies. 

Sources of Power and Institutions

            Understanding the sources of power and institutions is important to gaining an awareness of the Mugabe’s dominance and charting the path forward to a free and fair Zimbabwe. In 2008, Mugabe and ZANU-PF maintained power and institutional leverage through their long-time authority, which consisted of control over political mechanisms such as the economy, the media, and laws on civil participation. Mugabe was unafraid to exercise violence with his authority to gain his way. Although they held suspicious electoral record throughout the 2000’s, the ZANU-PF’s favor with the SADC allowed them to claim electoral integrity despite these practices. With this support and their careful deployment of tactics and methods against the opposition, the ZANU-PF sought to preserve the institution of government. Failed economic policies and harsh crackdowns on civil liberties remained mostly unchallengeable, given these factors. 

            Power for the opposition MDC party and Morgan Tsvangirai stems from Mugabe’s failure, international support and the weakness of the SADC. The MDC was competitive in the elections due to unrest with Mugabe’s policies and his failure to fulfill promises on many fronts. The people had previously shown displeasure with Mugabe, as evidence of contested elections in the earlier years of the 2000’s shows.[13]Even the white elites were against Mugabe and could be sources of power for the opposition. Although the MDC was supported for these reasons, a challenge of Mugabe on these grounds would be risky, given the ZANU-PF’s power. Importantly, the opposition party could gain support in the conflict from international bodies like the United Nations. Before the 2008 elections, many actors both inside and outside of Zimbabwe opposed Mugabe due to his record to date. Additionally, the weakness of the SADC as an institution would provide an opportunity to challenge the authority of the ZANU-PF.

Tactics & Methods Used in Conflict and Their Efficiency

            In the first round of elections in March 2008, Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC challenged President Mugabe and originally believed they won a majority of the vote, meaning a presidential victory. However, without any questions form the SADC, Mugabe released the election results a month later showing that Tsvangirai won a plurality of the vote at 47%, requiring a run-off election that would decide the Presidency in the summer of 2008. This section explains the methods and tactics used by both sides in the conflict leading up to the first election.

Over the course of the early 2000’s, Mugabe demonstrated an ability to host competitive elections but still “cheat.” According to Susan Hyde, Mugabe stands as an example of a leader that can“invite international observers and cheatopenly.”[14]To maintain power, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF primarily stifled opposition with scare tactics, media propoganda, and electoral opaqueness. Human Rights Watch documented “widespread atrocities by the military, state security agents, war veterans,and ZANU-PF supporters, including the killing of at least 200 people and the beating and torture of 5,000 others.”[15]Military authoritycontributed to Mugabe’s ability to scare the opposition leading up to the first election in 2008. Mugabe kept the military happy and willing to serve him throughout the election cycle by paying them favors and ensuring their wealth. As a result, “military supporters, who stood to lose wealth and influence if Mugabe bowed out, were not prepared to relinquish their authority simply because voters checked Tsvangirai's name on the ballots.”[16]They practiced scare-tactics and limited any political action.

Mugabe’s control of the media allowed him to use information dispersion to influence the election and work against the opposition. Additionally, the party had support from entities like the ZANU-PF Women’s League, who supported the installation of Mugabe as President for life.[17] This group, along with many others, sought to influence the education system and other mediums of information dispersed to the Zimbabwean public. After the first election, however, Mugabe was not successful in forcibly persuading opposition supporters and the voters more broadly to vote in his favor. Thus, he would have to exercise his control of elections and good relationships with the SADC to secure a run-off election in May and June. In this time frame, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF would escalate violence and oppression against Tsvangirai and the MDC. How this might have been combatted will be discussed in the next section.

            The opposition sought to win their campaign by exercising methods of civil resistance and non-violent action. Popovic notes, “The primary purpose of protest and persuasion actions is to convey the message that something is wrong and that people are willing to do something about it.”[18] The MDC rallied individuals to express low-risk support of the opposition and vote in the polls during the election. In light of the economic failures of Mugabe, the campaign appealed to these failures and sought to spread information on Mugabe’s policy issues. To do this, the opposition harnessed new technology to spread the message to Zimbabweans across the country. Scholar Dumisani Moyo proposes that the use of Internet and mobile communication, specifically SMS text messages, were important factors electoral information and monitoring by the opposition in the 2008 election.[19] The opposition mobilized poor Zimbabweans and the rich white elite that were still upset with land redistribution to stand against Mugabe.

Interaction with supporters outside of Zimbabwe was also important for the opposition. As an example, Human Rights Watch published a Call to Action in 2007 in hopes that the international community would respond to the crisis in Zimbabwe and support the opposition.[20] The opposition received support from international electoral monitors, the United Nations, and international NGO’s working on democracy and governance. As the electoral battled waged, the telegraph reported, “For MDC supporters, such outside support could be crucial.”[21] The funding supplied by internal and external actors helped the MDC put its methods and tactics into action. Additionally, pressure applied helped to keep Mugabe at bay, at least for a little. Unfortunately, however, Mugabe’s corrupt practices prevented Tsvangirai’s victory and opened a run-off.

Strategy Forward

                Pausing after the first election, how might the opposition have strategized against Mugabe to either release the real election results or bring in a independent election monitor for the run-off election? In reality, Mugabe was declared the winner in June 2008 after Tsvangirai withdrew.[22] Building on the methods and tactics of civil disobedience, this section will investigate potential strategies a hypothetical group called Zimbabweans for Free and Fair Elections(ZFFE) could have used tochange this result. Scholars Bunce and Wolchik contend that in many cases, “the successful defeat of authoritariansdepended heavily on the extent to which oppositions andtheir allies were able to use novel and sophisticated strategies to maximizetheir chances for winning power.”[23]Broader strategy must ensure mobilization of supporters, distraction of the opponent, or a change of sides by the general public or opponent.[24]

In light of Mugabe’s stiff control, violent action and media suppression, “Theelectoral environment was grossly skewed in favor of ZANU-PF. Morgan Tsvangirai was givenhardly any space to campaign for support.”[25]Mugabe embraced methods and tactics of violence and repression against any followers of the opposition. For this reason, the ZFFE would avoid any targeting of the opponent, Mugabe, as they sought to ensure a free and fair election. Instead, the strategy would focus on the weak SADC and the need for truly fair election monitoring. To do so, the ZFFE would call for the SADC to first oversee the election properly and release the real election results in the name of transparency. The ZFFE would conduct laughtivism campaign to make fun of the SADC with fake election booths and a public campaign for transparency to paint the SADC as the area of improvement in these elections.

This strategy of mobilizationstrives for transparency without attacking Mugabe. This strategy is low risk, distributed in time and space, and ultimately dispersed across the public. It would provide Mugabe the opportunity to support transparency in either the first election or in the run-off. This would also enable the international community to pressure the SADC and ensure either a release of information or a fair run-off occurs. In either case, the campaigns would call for the participation of a legitimate and unbiased international monitor, like the United Nations, to check the SADC. With this in place, the violence and corruption might have been avoided and the opposition would have been more able to freely and fairly campaign in the election. ZFFE’s strategy would seek to achieve transparency by sidestepping confrontation with Mugabe and approaching the problem via a different avenue.

Conclusion

            In this investigation, I have provided background on the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, explained the methods and tactics in the conflict, and proposed a hypothetical strategy after the first round of the election. Mugabe’s opposition would succeed in implementing a creative strategy with a detailed knowledge of the conflict and an awareness of the avenues to gain support and attack the opponent’s weakness. 

 

Works Cited

"A Call to Action: The Crisis in Zimbabwe." Human Rights Watch. 14 Aug. 2007. Web. <http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/08/14/call-action-crisis-zimbabwe>.

Bunce, Valerie J., and Sharon L. Wolchik. "Defeating dictators: Electoral change and stability in competitive authoritarian regimes." World Politics 62.01 (2010): 43-86.

Chan, Stephen. Robert Mugabe: A life of power and violence. University of Michigan Press, 2003.

Hyde, Susan D. "The observer effect in international politics: Evidence from a natural experiment." World Politics 60.01 (2007): 37-63.

Individual Country Ratings and Status, FIW 1973-2015 (EXCEL). Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world#.VRmndMZeQzW

Joseph, Richard. "Democratization in Africa after 1989: Comparative and theoretical perspectives." Comparative politics (1997): 363-382.

Makumbe, John Mw. The impact of democracy in Zimbabwe: assessing political, social and economic developments since the dawn of democracy. Centre for Policy Studies, 2008.

Mamdani, Mahmood. "Lessons of Zimbabwe: Mugabe in Context." CONCERNED AFRICA SCHOLARS 82 (2009): 3-13. Web. <http://www.concernedafricascholars.org/docs/acasbulletin82-1mamdani.pdf>.

Masunungure, Eldred V. "Zimbabwe's Militarized, Electoral Authoritarianism." Journal of International Affairs 65.1 (2011): 47.

McDowall, Angus. "Zimbabwe: Death Toll Rises in Robert Mugabe's Reign of Terror before Election." The Telegraph. 21 June 2008. Web.

<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/....

McGreal, Chris. "Zimbabwe's Inflation Rate Surges to 231,000,000%." The Guardian. 9 Oct. 2008. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/09/zimbabwe>.

Moyo, Dumisani. "The new media as monitors of democracy: mobile phones and Zimbabwe's 2008 election." Communicare: Journal for Communication Sciences in Southern Africa:

Special Edition 1 29 (2010): 71-85.

"NGO Law Monitor: Zimbabwe." International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. 16 Dec. 2014. Web. <http://www.icnl.org/research/monitor/zimbabwe.html>.

"Perpetual Fear." Human Rights Watch. 8 Mar. 2011. Web. <http://www.hrw.org/node/96944/section/4>.

Ploch, Lauren. Zimbabwe: 2008 Elections and Implications for U.S. Policy. Rep. Congressional

Research Service, 22 May 2008. Web. <http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/106142.pdf>.

"SADC Overview." South African Development Community. 2012. Web. <http://www.sadc.int/about-sadc/overview/>.

Srdja Popovic. Powerpoint presentation. February 23st, 2004.

Timberg, Craig. "Inside Mugabe's Violent Crackdown." The Washington Post. 5 July 2008. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/04/AR200807....

"2008 Human Rights Report: Zimbabwe." Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

 United States State Department, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. <http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/af/119032.htm>.

"Zimbabwe’s Contested Victory." PBS News Hour. PBS, 13 Mar. 2002. Web. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa-jan-june02-elections_3-13/>.

"ZIMBABWE: ZANU-PF Wants to Make Mugabe President for Life." IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis. 30 July 2007. Web. <http://www.irinnews.org/report/73493/zimbabwe-zanu-pf-wants-to-make-muga....


[1]"2008 Human Rights Report: Zimbabwe." Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. United States State Department, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. <http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/af/119032.htm>.

[2]"Perpetual Fear." Human Rights Watch. 8 Mar. 2011. Web. <http://www.hrw.org/node/96944/section/4>.

[3]Moyo, Dumisani. "The new media as monitors of democracy: mobile phones and Zimbabwe's 2008 election." Communicare: Journal for Communication Sciences in Southern Africa: Special Edition 1 29 (2010): 71-85.

[4]Chan, Stephen. Robert Mugabe: A life of power and violence. University of Michigan Press, 2003.

[5]Joseph, Richard. "Democratization in Africa after 1989: Comparative and theoretical perspectives." Comparative politics (1997): 363-382.

[6]Masunungure, Eldred V. "Zimbabwe's Militarized, Electoral Authoritarianism." Journal of International Affairs 65.1 (2011): 47.

[7]Individual Country Ratings and Status, FIW 1973-2015 (EXCEL). Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world#.VRmndMZeQzW

[8]Ploch, Lauren. Zimbabwe: 2008 Elections and Implications for U.S. Policy. Rep. Congressional Research Service, 22 May 2008. Web. <http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/106142.pdf>.

[9]"SADC Overview." South African Development Community. 2012. Web. <http://www.sadc.int/about-sadc/overview/>.

[10]Mamdani, Mahmood. "Lessons of Zimbabwe: Mugabe in Context." CONCERNED AFRICA SCHOLARS 82 (2009): 3-13. Web. <http://www.concernedafricascholars.org/docs/acasbulletin82-1mamdani.pdf>.

[11]McGreal, Chris. "Zimbabwe's Inflation Rate Surges to 231,000,000%." The Guardian. 9 Oct. 2008. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/09/zimbabwe>.

[12]"NGO Law Monitor: Zimbabwe." International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. 16 Dec. 2014. Web. <http://www.icnl.org/research/monitor/zimbabwe.html>.

[13]"Zimbabwe’s Contested Victory." PBS News Hour. PBS, 13 Mar. 2002. Web. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa-jan-june02-elections_3-13/>.

[14]Hyde, Susan D. "The observer effect in international politics: Evidence from a natural experiment." World Politics 60.01 (2007): 37-63.

[15]"Perpetual Fear." Human Rights Watch. 8 Mar. 2011. Web. <http://www.hrw.org/node/96944/section/4>.

[16]Timberg, Craig. "Inside Mugabe's Violent Crackdown." The Washington Post. 5 July 2008. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/04/AR200807....

[17]"ZIMBABWE: ZANU-PF Wants to Make Mugabe President for Life." IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis. 30 July 2007. Web. <http://www.irinnews.org/report/73493/zimbabwe-zanu-pf-wants-to-make-muga....

[18]Srdja Popovic. Powerpoint presentation. February 23st, 2004.

[19]Moyo, Dumisani. "The new media as monitors of democracy: mobile phones and Zimbabwe's 2008 election." Communicare: Journal for Communication Sciences in Southern Africa: Special Edition 1 29 (2010): 71-85.

[20]"A Call to Action: The Crisis in Zimbabwe." Human Rights Watch. 14 Aug. 2007. Web. <http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/08/14/call-action-crisis-zimbabwe>.

[21]McDowall, Angus. "Zimbabwe: Death Toll Rises in Robert Mugabe's Reign of Terror before Election." The Telegraph. 21 June 2008. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/....

[22]"2008 Human Rights Report: Zimbabwe." Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. United States State Department, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. <http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/af/119032.htm>.

[23]Bunce, Valerie J., and Sharon L. Wolchik. "Defeating dictators: Electoral change and stability in competitive authoritarian regimes." World Politics 62.01 (2010): 43-86.

[24]Srdja Popovic. Powerpoint presentation. February 23st, 2004.

[25]Makumbe, John Mw. The impact of democracy in Zimbabwe: assessing political, social and economic developments since the dawn of democracy. Centre for Policy Studies, 2008.