Poll Wars: The Zim Case

The EU, Britain and the US have mounted tremendous pressure against the Zimbabwe government mainly due to the land redistribution exercise, the military involvement of Zimbabwe in the DRC conflict, Zimbabwe's denunciation of the IMF/World Bank economic adjustment programme, and Zimbabwe's pursuit of an autonomous/nationalist development model and a foreign policy path perceived to be in contradiction with Western interests.
It was, indeed, as part of the political pressure to ostracise Zimbabwe that the US passed a piece of legislation styled “the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act” aimed mainly at exerting various forms of pressure, including curtailing development aid and imposing economic sanctions against the country.
The “Zimbabwe Democracy Bill” was piloted in the US House of Representatives by the chair of the Africa subcommittee, Ed Royce, and passed by a vote of 396 to 11, supported by the State Department and ultimately signed by President George Bush.
That this legislation is indeed only part of a grand scheme by the US and EU to mount political and economic pressure on Zimbabwe is clearly revealed in Royce's statement that “…the US House of Representatives acted against tyranny in Zimbabwe. I foresee the US working closely with the European Union, South Africa and the other regional states to address this crisis.”
The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act will formalise the veiled economic sanctions that the US has imposed on Zimbabwe since the late 1990s.
Through spirited and protracted lobbying by the British government, the EU also geared itself up for imposition of sanctions.
Paradoxically, as the EU was contemplating imposition of “smart sanctions” against Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF government also used the elections observation issue to significantly reduce the influence of the British and the EU in the 2002 Presidential election.
The government made it clear that the British would not be allowed to participate in the election observation process.
Furthermore, the government would only accredit a combined EU/ACP international observation mission, which was to be led by any ACP country/leader.
For Dr Ibbo Mandaza, the Zimbabwe-EU diplomatic debacle over election observation should be used by the ACP countries to push for a review of the Cotonou Agreement and other neo-colonial arrangements, to build genuine partnerships based on mutual respect and equality rather than imposition of the weight of the powerful over the weak and prioritisation of Western hegemony over sovereignty (Mandaza, 2002).
SADC has dismissed the EU's sanctions as a veiled imperialist imposition by Britain to maintain its neocolonial domination and safeguard its strategic interests in the region in general and in Zimbabwe in particular.
Besides the imperialist ambitions of Britain and the EU in Southern Africa, the political and economic pressure by Britain, the EU and the US also smacks of global racial bigotry aimed at undermining the sovereignty of the developing countries, including Zimbabwe.
As the diplomatic tug of war continued, the EU sent a six-member advance team of international observers as part of the preparations to send a fully-fledged observation mission of about 150 people prior to the March 2002 Presidential election.
The accreditation of the EU observer mission was to be conditional upon proper procedures being followed, including exclusion of the British from the team and the leadership of the mission by an ACP country/leader.
Besides Britain, the Zimbabwe government also banned election observers from five other EU member states, allegedly for interfering in the internal affairs of the country by providing various forms of support to the opposition MDC and allowing anti-government radio stations to broadcast anti-ZANU-PF propaganda from their capitals.
These were Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.
As the diplomatic wrangling intensified, on February 10, 2002 the Swedish Ambassador to the UN, Pierre Schori arrived in Harare purportedly to lead the EU observer mission.
On February 12, 30 more EU observers arrived in Harare amidst a diplomatic tussle between the government and the EU regarding accreditation of Pierre Schori, who had entered the country on a tourist visa.
Whereas the government insisted that it would not accredit Schori, it did extend accreditation status to most of the 30 observers, excluding those from the six countries that had been barred from election observation.
* This article has been excerpted from a paper titled “Election Monitoring and Observation in Zimbabwe: Hegemony versus Sovereignty”, originally published by the African Association of Political Science and the Southern Africa Political Economy Series Trust.

As the government progressively geared up for a political battle with the EU, prospects for the expulsion of Schori and retaliatory economic sanctions by the EU became more real by the passing day.

Indeed, ultimately, the government ordered Schori to leave the country for violating his visa conditions as a tourist by making political statements.

Schori left Zimbabwe on February 16, 2002.

This development brought the diplomatic row to a climax and the probability of the imposition of sanctions became greater.

It did not surprise keen observers of the deteriorating relations when EU foreign minister unanimously agreed on the imposition of sanctions.

A day after the EU decision, the United States decided that it would impose sanctions too.

The US economic squeeze on Zimbabwe also included financial sanctions, most of which were already in place and being meted out by multilateral and bilateral financial/donor donor agencies.

This development is a harbinger of the pressure that other developing countries are bound to face if they are seen to defy the interests of the West and threaten their strategic interests anywhere in the world.

The remaining invited international observers included mainly organisations from African and other Third World countries.

This article has been excerpted from a paper titled “Election Monitoring and Observation in Zimbabwe: Hegemony versus Sovereignty”, originally published by the African Association of Political Science and the Southern Africa Political Economy Series Trust.

March 2013
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