Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Passing the Buck in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is better off without Mugabe at the helm. Might this call for a strategic excisation of the beleaguered leader by a covert team of black-masked assassins? Empedocles votes no. The CIA has a tentative mandate to carry out "clandestine operations" against unsavory individuals ("CIA Weighs 'Targeted Killing' Missions"), but such an operation would likely leave an open door for widespread ethnic violence in its wake. What is needed instead is a UN or SADC (South African Development Council) peacekeeping deployment to coordinate humanitarian aid and a slow political transition; unfortunately however, neither the the UN Security Council with its R2P mandate (Responsibility to Protect) nor the African Union (whose silence has been roundly condemned by governance and human rights groups around the world ) has risen to the challenge.

But today a private(non-state) actor has taken decisive action on the political crisis in Zimbabwe by withdrawing its support, threatening to staunch the flow of life-blood to the Mugabe regime: $$money$$.

The LA Times reported this morning that a German company, concerned by the violence and illegitimacy surrounding Mugabe's election, has stopped supplying bank note paper to Fidelity Printers & Refiners, the state owned company in Zimbabwe that literally prints new money daily to prop up Mugabe's government (a non-strategy that has caused the price of a beer to skyrocket to 500 billion Z dollars, the equivalent of 4 US dollars). The withdrawal of support by this German paper-maker has been more effective than economic sanctions against the regime. The paper will run out in two weeks, after which time the flow of money into Mugabe's coffers will cease.

Informal interventions of non-state actors, particularly those in the private (business) sector, are becoming more and more prevalent in international crises. Harnessing the diversity of peacebuilding actors is called "multi-track diplomacy" and includes governments, professional organizations, the business community, churches, media, private citizens, training and educational institutes, activists, and funding organizations in the early prevention and detection of conflict.

Yet the key to harnessing the interventions of non-state actors is to recognize the tipping points and entry points that they (sometimes) create for international intervention on a grander scale. The German company (unnamed in the LA Times piece) has tipped the economic crisis in Zimbabwe into overdrive, generating an impending "implosion" (unless Mugabe can find bank note replacements). If international players do nothing now, they expose Zimbabwe to an even greater humanitarian and political crisis. Indicators (not-so-early warning signs) of deteriorating of inter-group relationships in Zimbabwe include increases in violent crime, vandalism, threats and ethnically motivated attacks.

If international players act now, they can take advantage of this 'opening' to introduce African-led mediation to resolve this crisis. (This May 2008 report by International Crisis Group sheds light on a preventive strategy for Zimbabwe.) Theories of third-party intervention timing focus on identifying these`ripe moments' in the evolution of a conflict when it can be most successfully dealt with by mediation. Mugabe's incentive to enter into mediation may be greater now, faced with impending full-scale economic collapse. Furthermore South Africa's Mbeki, a neccesary main player in these talks (but a close friend of Mugabe), can frame his role as one of 'rescuing' or 'crisis prevention' (helping to offset an even greater humanitarian disaster) rather than coming down on one side or another.

Informal talks between Tsvangirai and Mugabe may already have laid the groundwork for another push at talks over powersharing, since pre-negotiation dialogue sometimes encourages parties to view mediation as a not-so-dangerous alternative.

However two notes of caution regarding powersharing between Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC. First of all, power-sharing arrangements do not neccesarily help to prevent future ethnic conflict; in fact, ethnic conflict is more likely to re-occur in democracies and transitional (semi) democracies than in authoritarian states (as James Melton summarizes). Secondly, mediation over powersharing is no panacea. The actual conditions under which we should expect a powersharing arrangement to successfully manage ethnic conflict in Zimbabwe (see Carnegie Commission on the Prevention of Deadly Conflict) include:

(1) Support for the arrangement by a core group of moderate political leaders
(2) Flexible practices and allowances for equitable distribution of resources
(3) Ownership over the agreement by the indiginous parties themselves, not as a result of excessive external pressures

In other words, the nature of the agreement (not merely coming to agreement) and the process of conducting talks (not merely the talks themselves) are both critically important. The ethical German paper-maker may have 'taken the bucks' from Mugabe and opened the door for broader third party intervention, but we do not yet know if the responsibility will be successfully passed to those who can act on this ripe moment.


Charli Carpenter said...

Hmm. I don't know if I buy that a peacekeeping mission would work, if only there were political will for one. UNAMIR didn't stop the Rwandan genocide. What is probably needed here is not peacekeeping but a military intervention to enforce the election results. Of course, we're back to the problem of political will.

Roy said...

Political will and, unfortunately (fill this blank with any African nation) hardly belong in the same sentence, as evidenced by world governments' reaction to South Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia (and our "good riddance" escape from that mission), Rwanda, Sudan/Darfur, Zimbabwe, and more crises to come.

Charli, I think you're spot-on with the idea of military intervention as well as the problem that is is lack of political will. As always with Africa, intervention of some kind is the right thing to do. I just don't want to do it.

Okay, I admit to overstating the world's blind eye, but hey, thousands upon thousands of dead people can't be wrong. But I'm just a pessimist.

Roy said...

And Empedocles, I enjoyed your initial entry and look forward to those that follow.

JSN said...

1. It wouldn't be "ethnic" violence. Both ZANU-PF and MDC are principally Shona-led groups. Only one other ethnic group in Z nears 10%, and it has been decades since there was major Shona-Ndebele violence. MDC does get a lot of support from the Ndebele, though, since it was ZANU fighting them, those years ago.

2. ICG is, I think, what these people say it is.

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