As the debate and controversy over Zimbabwe’s presidential election results continue, one analyst warns that rising tensions will make any run-off difficult.
Simon Roughneen is a former humanitarian worker in Africa and an analyst for the International Relations and Security Network. From Dublin, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
“You can’t take at face value election results that have been withheld for almost a month now. The next step apparently is to leak what might be the actual results, but again nothing conclusive. And this from a regime that has presided over the virtual destruction over southern Africa’s most prosperous country, when you recall that when (President) Mugabe took over in 1980 Zimbabwe was referred to as the ‘breadbasket of Africa.’ Life expectancy was in the 60’s, sort of close to Western levels at the time, and now life expectancy is down to the mid 30’s. I mean that is phenomenal. Three million people have left the country. Inflation is running at mind-boggling figures of 100,000 to 150,000 percent. A barrel of money wouldn’t buy you a loaf of bread, if you get a loaf of bread, that is,” he says.
Roughneen says there are many obstacles to the smooth running of a possible runoff election. “As we have seen since the (March 29th) election, there’s been a major government-led clamp-down on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Video, photos coming out of the country (show) activists being arrested, being beaten up, having burning plastic poured on their back, all these type of things, and a number of people killed as well. And when a runoff election comes around, you can expect the tension to ratchet it up even more and even more violence to accrue,” he says.
He says the MDC and civil society are “not as cowed as they were in previous elections in 2000 and 2002, when Mugabe pretty much got away with rigging the whole process in stealing the election.”
Roughneen thinks the best solution to the political crisis is a “negotiated exit plan” for Mugabe. “It might be distasteful. He might have to be offered some sort of immunity or guarantees that he won’t be arrested for, say, the Matabeleland massacres in the 1980s,” he says.
There are similarities between Zimbabwe and Kenya, according to Roughneen, such as corruption at high levels. But he says the ethnic lines may not be drawn as sharply in Zimbabwe as they are in Kenya, where violence after December’s disputed elections led to well over one thousand deaths.
Once a political solution is found, he says the international community will have no choice but to come to Zimbabwe and help. “Zimbabwe is destroyed economically to such an extent that it will not get back on its feet in the immediate term without swift and decisive international assistance,” he says.
Roughneen adds that had Zimbabwe still been the “breadbasket of Africa,” it might have been able to help ease current high food prices.