Feeling Out of Options? Try a Boycott.

October 28, 2009

Update: Amnesty International warns of deteriorating human rights conditions in Zimbabwe. 

Amnesty International warned today that Zimbabwe is on the brink of sliding back into the post-election violence that erupted last year, risking the stability brought about by the creation of the unity government in February. The organization called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) foreign ministers, visiting Zimbabwe on Thursday to assess the eight month-old unity government, not to ignore the worsening human rights situation. Amnesty International also challenged SADC and the African Union (AU) to tackle human rights violations by government bodies under the control of ZANU-PF.

The civil rights boycotts that occurred in the southern US during the 1950’s are some of the most famous and successful examples of this pressure tactic. In the last two weeks, boycotts have suddenly became en vogue again. Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s embattled Prime Minister, declared his political party, MDC-T, would boycott the compromise government formed following contested elections last year. This seemingly courageous attempt to force compliance with the negotiated agreement by his opponent, President Mugabe, was promptly undercut in its significance and boldness when accused war criminal Karadzic declared he was boycotting his trial at the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Awkward…

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) negotiated a compromise government where Tsvangirai would assume a newly created position of Prime Minister and Mugabe of ZANU-PF would retain the Presidency. Under the agreement, there is to be a new Constitution voted on by the people and the Presidency and Prime Minister’s office would share governance duties. (There is a third guy, Arthur Mutambara of the MDC-M, who is officially also a party to the agreement and serves as Deputy Prime Minister; but most people tend to forget about him.)

Since the compromise government was sworn in February 2009, Tsvangirai and Mugabe continue to battle over key sticking points in the implementation of the agreement. Human rights violations, although occurring at lesser rates than at the violent peak of May 2008, continue unabated. The proverbial straw for Tsvangirai came when Roy Bennett, named as Agricultural Secretary but refused to be sworn in by Mugabe, was rearrested on charges of treason.

In the 10 days since Tsvangirai’s boycott began, violence is reported to have increased with teachers in rural areas particularly targeted, civil society members arrested, a ZANU-PF member declared Bennett a Nazi, an MDC-T office was raided, a ZANU-PF Minister said the MDC-T was acting like babies, a meeting between the three signatories to the agreement resolved nothing, and Mugabe accused Tsvangirai of being overly emotional.

Additionally, Britain announced another $100 million in humanitarian relief will be dispersed to Zimbabwe, but there are fears that any further collapse of the fragile peace in Zimbabwe will lead to a retraction in promised aid. However, the National Security Minister declared that the promised Western humanitarian aid relief was really intended to fund regime change, the same argument used to expel aid organizations last year.

Despite Tsvangirai’s tour of several key SADC players last week, and concerns over the situation expressed by the Heads of State of Botswana, Angola and South Africa, optimism is not high that SADC will finally step up to the plate in its role as guarantor. The SADC troika on politics, defense and security will be in Harare Thursday in an attempt to break the impasse, but some view this as too little too late as ministers, not heads of state, will represent Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia. At this rate, Karadzic will see greater success from sitting out his trial than Tsvangirai will from sitting out of the Zimbabwe government.