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Zimbabwe Institute Hopes to Give Voice to New Policy Agenda - 2004-02-26


A leading Zimbabwean political analyst has started a policy research institute in South Africa to give Zimbabweans a voice in shaping a new policy agenda. He says the country's political culture has become violent and coercive.

The founders of the Zimbabwe Institute say they are trying to create a research center that will help open the political debate in Zimbabwe, and act as a force for change.

Through workshops, conferences and research, they hope to "add a new dimension to the struggle for social liberation in Zimbabwe and the collective pursuit of social justice."

Political scientist Brian Raftopoulos will chair the institute. He says the current political environment in Zimbabwe is closed and repressive.

"Clearly, there is an urgent political solution needed in Zimbabwe," he said. "That is a solution that can only come out of a dialogue between the two major political parties. And, at the moment, the major force deciding the pace of that dialogue is President Mugabe himself. That does not mean that there is not room for other forms of engagement about a future process, about discussing alternative visions of what's necessary in Zimbabwe."

The institute will not say where its funding comes from, citing privacy agreements with some of its major donors. Its director, Isaac Maposa, says the initial budget will be between $200,000 and $300,000, mostly going toward research and consultants in Zimbabwe.

At the institute's launch in Johannesburg, Mr. Raftopoulos sat between two officials from Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. He acknowledged that the institute's secret funding and its links to the opposition party could leave it vulnerable to criticism, particularly from the Zimbabwean government.

But Mr. Raftopoulos says he is not concerned about how the government might perceive the institute, and he thinks it would be painted as pro-MDC no matter what he says. But he insists that the Zimbabwe Institute will be independent and non-partisan.

"The institute emerged out of initial discussions with the MDC, but the idea is that it should not be an instrument of the MDC," Mr. Raftopoulos said. "It should also be critical of issues within the MDC. So, the idea is to try and get a broader debate within Zimbabwe, because at the moment there is real closure of debating space and political space in the country."

Although the Zimbabwe Institute aims to foster debate on policy matters within Zimbabwe, for the time being at least, it will actually not be located there. The institute's headquarters is in Cape Town. Mr. Raftopoulos says that is only temporary, because of what he calls operational problems in Zimbabwe.

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