Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

IWPR Launches Zimbabwe Elections Report

By Anthony Borden in London. (Zimbabwe Elections No 01, 21-Jan-05)
By IWPR Srdan

The ruling ZANU PF is angling to win the two-thirds majority necessary to give it a free hand in amending the constitution - to suit the personal designs and desires of President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Achieved with a sheaf of fresh legislation that enables the government to crack down on civil society and independent media, together with continuing restrictions placed on political opposition, such a result would be particularly disappointing to those who have placed hopes in some kind of “African solution”. The African Union, the Southern Africa Development Community, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and key regional players such as Nigeria and (albeit far too softly) South Africa have each expended diplomatic energy in prodding Zimbabwe towards a more inclusive democracy.

All of these institutions have identified the March elections as a key test. If the vote is deemed a failure, that failure will be broad. As the International Crisis Group has predicted, “The best prospect in sight is a C-minus election that is fairly clean on the day but deeply flawed by months of non-democratic practices.”

Yet the political scene may be more dynamic than is often understood within the region, and internationally. Mugabe is ageing, and cohesion within the ruling party is increasingly strained by political jockeying for position.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has faced a true dilemma - whether to legitimise a questionable process through participation or to boycott the poll and lose any parliamentary role. For the moment, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is not in jail. He and his followers still have to decide whether or not to boycott what they believe will be a deeply flawed election. Whatever the MDC’s decision and whatever any possible predetermined official results, the situation will remain highly volatile and events on the ground are likely to drive the formation of new grass-roots political constellations with long term consequences.

Regional actors may not have made a decisive difference, but they have engaged and promulgated protocols, statements and reports against which Harare will be judged. Critically, South African civil society, and especially the trades union movement, is increasingly active, which could raise pressure on President Thabo Mbeki to play a more positive role.

This is the context of IWPR’s special Zimbabwe reporting project. IWPR is an international not-for-profit training and media development organisation. Winner of numerous awards for development and human rights reporting in conflict and crisis areas from the Balkans to Iraq, it has extensive history in frontline reporting.

Edited in Johannesburg by Fred Bridgland, a distinguished foreign correspondent and author who has reported on Africa for 25 years, the project will gather a network of correspondents from throughout Zimbabwe. Distinguished contributors, including Michael Holman, former Financial Times Africa editor, and Gugulethu Moyo, a former Zimbabwe human rights lawyer now working for the International Bar Association, will provide essential commentaries. Daily photographs will also be produced on the website.

With the local independent press clamped down, and the international press shut out, IWPR reporting will provide a unique window on a troubled country at a critical moment.

IWPR’s Zimbabwe elections reporting is available via email subscription and online.

IWPR is widely known for providing an international platform for local voices. But in the Zimbabwean circumstances, dissemination within the region is the priority, and IWPR reports are available to African media for republication. For information, contact the editor.

This project is the first initiative of the newly incorporated South African not-for-profit organisation IWPR Africa, under the chairmanship of Mail and Guardian proprietor Trevor Ncube. The central aim of the effort is to contribute to increased awareness of the situation within Zimbabwe among the broader African regional audience. It seeks to highlight unheard Zimbabwean voices, and thus truly contribute to an African solution.

Anthony Borden is executive director of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.

More IWPR's Global Voices