Zimbabwe Returning to Normal?

Good news from Zimbabwe has been a rare commodity in recent years. The thugocracy of Robert Mugabe has made what should be a rather rich country into the basket case of southern Africa. Various powers imposed sanctions in 2002 for the nation’s human rights abuses, and the Mugabe regime has stolen more than one election. Now, however, things could be looking up. Last month, the nation held a “peaceful, successful and credible” referendum on a new constitution. In response, the EU has lifted sanctions against 81 officlals and 8 firms in Zimbabwe. This might mean the tide has turned.

zimbabwe-flag-300x300The content of the new constitution is not as important as the fact that the referendum held to approve it was clean despite 95% approving of the new arrangement. Such a high figure makes one suspicious, but in truth, there was little to recommend the old constitution that the actions of the regime has so thoroughly discredited. While a formality, it is a positive sign that a fair vote can be held in Zimbabwe at all. Now, the trick will be to transfer that experience to a ballot that has some controversy.

The EU’s action should encourage the powers that be in the country to stay on their best behavior. “The EU congratulates the people of Zimbabwe on a peaceful, successful and credible vote to approve a new constitution,” the EU said in a statement. The EU added the referendum “represents a significant step” toward democracy via general election. Now, 10 individuals including Mr. Mugabe and two firms remain on the sanctions list, and one can conceive of them being removed if the elections expected some time this year.

Despite the good news, the same sad nonsense persists in Zimbabwe. The BBC reported:

Earlier on Monday, court in Zimbabwe granted bail to prominent lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who was detained a day after the referendum. She was charged with obstructing justice after she intervened in a raid on the offices of Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in which three computers are alleged to have gone missing. Four MDC members were also arrested during the raid. They all deny the charges and say they were compiling information on corruption. Allies of Morgan Tsvangirai say the arrests are a sign that critics of President Mugabe will face intimidation ahead of the elections.

Old habits die hard, and Mr. Mugabe’s supporters will probably misbehave during the election campaign and the counting of ballots. Nevertheless, optimism is not entirely groundless. The new constitution limits the president to a pair of five-year terms, meaning a total of 10 years. Mr. Mugabe is 88 years old. Presuming he succeeds in winning or stealing two more elections, he will be just shy of 100 when his constitutionally allowed terms are over. Even some of his closest friends and supporters will be concerned about the succession.

Part of what has let Mr. Mugabe retain power is his role in creating a majority-controlled Zimbabwe from white-run Rhodesia. As the founder of the nation, it is hard for many to admit he’s been a lousy ruler who needs to go. However, it could be that the ticking clock is creating conditions for improvements in Zimbabwe.