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Zimbabwe: small reasons to hope?

If you’ve been following recent news out of Zimbabwe, you know that the leadup to the June 27th run-off election has featured shockingly violent intimidation, flagrant disregard for international election laws and norms, and provocations of the international community. Add that to the underlying misery in Zimbabwe, where the government no longer publishes the inflation rate and outside estimates put it at over 1 million percent, and you’d expect the upcoming elections to be irretrivably rigged in favor of the ruling party.

Political humor from our friends at Kubatana

Which, I suspect, is the case. But here’s two small, strong reasons for hope.

As my friend Tawanda Mutasah has observed, Mugabe’s legitimacy has historically depended on the argument that he was fighting neo-colonialists who wanted to reconquer Africa, and that his actions were supported by other African leaders. Tawanda took hope from the refusal of neighboring countries to allow a Chinese ship filled with weapons to dock and unload. It was a clear message that African governments didn’t unconditionally support Mugabe, and that they would press back against blatant attempts to overthrow an election through violence.

I’m taking hope today from a letter, signed by a number of prominent African leaders, demanding that Zimbabwe allow election observers and address reports of voter intimidation. The signatories include former UN secretaries Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, several former presidents, as well as international luminaries like Mo Ibrahim, Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour, Wangari Maathai and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Unfortunately, the list doesn’t include any current African heads of state. And I was surprised to discover Nelson Mandela’s name absent from the list.

You probably can’t convince Thabo Mbeki to sign. But you can add your name... and, especially for my African readers, I would urge you to do so.

A second, small note of hope comes from a BBC interview with opposition party members who’ve been forced to flee their homes to escape political violence in Zimbabwe. The reporter was threatened by notorious war veteran Joseph Chinotimba before reaching a camp where hundreds of people had been forced to flee for “voting wrongly”. S/he reports:

I have spoken to people with deep gouged wounds in their buttocks and their feet, broken limbs, burnt down homes, even the bereaved.

Almost all are scared but they are also defiant.

Robert Mugabe’s thugs may well have over-stepped the mark and actually stiffened people’s resolve.

One woman who had lost everything was emphatic.

She told me that her beating had made her stronger. “It is my certificate,” she said, like some perverse badge of distinction.

Now she would go and use it to vote again for change.

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