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May 3, 2013 | 12:04 GMT

Zimbabwe's Opposition Struggles for Regional Support

JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images
Summary

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is on a multi-country tour of southern Africa seeking political support for his national election campaign. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change will probably not garner much regional support, but even if it did, the party's inability to counter opposition from Zimbabwe's ruling regime and especially its powerful security services will make a successful election campaign unlikely.

On May 3, Tsvangirai will visit Namibia, following his visits to Tanzania and South Africa. The Zimbabwean opposition leader and prime minister is visiting members of the Southern African Development Community ahead of national elections that may take place as early as June 29.

While Tsvangirai is afforded courtesy visits to keep with protocol, these meetings do not mean that southern African governments support Tsvangirai or his movement. Governments in the region may have differing opinions on Zimbabwe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, but the liberation-era political parties that govern most of the southern African region are resistant to Tsvangirai's urban, labor-oriented party. Political ties that were developed during these countries' struggles for independence from white minority regimes remain significant factors in shaping relationships between them.

Furthermore, most governments in southern Africa do not want similar movements in their countries to be inspired by a potential change of government in Zimbabwe. The core of Tanzania's currently ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party has ruled the country since its independence in 1962. It is thus not surprising that following Tsvangirai's meeting with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the Zimbabwean prime minister could not obtain a statement either supporting the opposition or criticizing the ruling party's handling of Zimbabwe's economy or elections preparations. For Tsvangirai's visit to Namibia, the Namibian government is not committing to a presidential meeting with the Zimbabwean prime minister. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front harbored and supported Namibia's ruling South West African Peoples Organization during its struggle for independence from South Africa's apartheid-era government.

Even if Tsvangirai could attract regional political support, this support would be negated domestically as long as the ruling regime is not willing to yield power to the Movement for Democratic Change. Were they to cede power, officials in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front would fear losing not only control of the government and the associated perks and patronage but also their liberty if they were investigated and prosecuted for possible crimes committed during their rule. Zimbabwean officials have undoubtedly seen other African leaders prosecuted at the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed during their rule or time in government.

Closer to home, Zimbabwean officials have surely noted the prosecution in neighboring Zambia by President Michael Sata's administration against former President Rupiah Banda and other members of the previous Movement for Multiparty Democracy government — a labor-based government that Sata was part of before he broke off to form the Patriotic Front. Sata is likely prosecuting his former colleagues so that these now-opposition parties cannot mobilize an effective movement to recover power.

It is thus Tsvangirai's challenge to extend a credible guarantee to the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front leadership that their liberties — political, security and business — would not be compromised were the Movement for Democratic Change to become the next Zimbabwean government. Tsvangirai attempted such an outreach during Zimbabwe's 2008 elections and could not gain the confidence of the security services that underwrite control in the country. It is likely that Tsvangirai has attempted to extend an offer of guarantees again. State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and Defense Minister Emerson Mnangagwa (himself a presidential aspirant) have all recently stated that any efforts by the Movement for Democratic Change to approach them — such as calling for security sector reform efforts — is variously misguided, aimed to sow confusion, reflective of malcontents or an effort to bring about illegal regime change.

There will eventually be a change in government leadership in Zimbabwe, because Mugabe is 89 years old and in declining health. Mugabe's eventual retirement or death will trigger the resolution of a successor competition between Vice President Joyce Mujuru and Mnangagwa. Either prospective leader will be under regional political pressure to begin a liberalization process to support economic recovery and a political normalization process. While the Movement for Democratic Change informs these political processes, the opposition party is too significant a threat to entrenched political and economic interests within Zimbabwe and within the southern African region for it to be permitted to gain elections support.

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