Elections in Zimbabwe are underway as prime minister/presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, of rigging the process. The opposition is claiming that that there are deceased people on the voter registry lists. The voter rolls contain over a million people who are dead or left the country, and 116,000 centenarians Moreover, the prime minister has accused election officials of discarding 70,000 votes from security forces, that were in favor of Tsvangirai.
The political landscape of the south African country is starting to change. In March, Zimbabweans, went to the polls to vote in a referendum for the new constitution contain many democratic elements, including limits presidential terms, a bill of rights banning torture, and cruel punishment, and the creation of a constitutional court to protect the rights of citizens enshrined in the new constitution.
One group in particular looking to benefit from the new constitution are women. For years Zimbabwean women had been stigmatized for being childless. Some women were beaten by their husbands if they were found to have taken contraception. However, the fight for reproductive rights in Zimbabwe started to change as the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, funded by the United States government started a campaign to decrease the birth rates. The campaign involved 800 women who rode their bikes throughout Zimbabwe reaching 70 percent of the population. As a result, the population has leveled at 13 million, and proportion of women taking contraception (43%) is higher than the average in sub-Sahara Africa.
In addition to reducing population growth, Zimbabwe has made significant economic progress in the last few years. most of the progress is attributed to finance minster, Tendai Biti, whose policy choices cut inflation to single digits after getting rid of Zimbabwean currency and replacing it with the American dollar and other strong currencies. This is remarkable, given the fact that at one point inflation had risen to 231 million percent!
Still, Zimbabwean officials should precede precariously with any new economic policies. In the early 90s Zimbabwe implemented Structural Adjustment policies, which cut the budget in half but also reduced social services such as medical care, food subsidies and free education. The effects of making poor economic decisions were especially acute in 2000 during the food riots. Moreover, Mugabe's failed land reform policy also contributed to the volatility of food prices. In an effort to give land back to black farmers, Mugabe took land away from white farmers without compensating them. Many white farmers were killed and over 300 were arrested.
This incident caused international consternation and resulted in economic sanctions. This wasn't the last time Mugabe received criticism. During the last election in 2008, the world watched as supporters of the Tsvangirai, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were attacked by Mugabe supporters. In the aftermath of the violence, 200 people were killed and 5,000 tortured.
Former United States president George W. Bush criticized Mugabe for making Africa look like a land filled with autocratic leaders:
“African leader’s good example, stood in stark contrast to the African leader dominating the headlines, Robert Mugabe of
Zimbabwe. Mugabe had stifled democracy, subjected his people to hyperinflation, and turned the country from a net food exporter to a net importer. His disgraceful record was proof that one man could ruin a country."
Zimbabwe's relationship to the United States has always been shaky. In the 1980s Mugabe held conferences for the non-aligned conferences in which heads of states critical of American foreign policy attended. Moreover, Mugabe is not known for making the most diplomatic comments. Recently he called South Africa's International Advisor to the president, Lindiwe Zulu a prostitute for questioning his political readiness.
Still, Mugabe has survived several round of “elections” since he came into power, ever since the British Crown lost its hegemony over Zimbabwe. Mugabe faced no competition during the first two elections in the 80s, but the political dynamics in Zimbabwe started to change as it become one of 9 African countries to include a provision in the constitution for multi-party elections. However, given what happened yesterday, it doesnt look like ZANU-PF will relinquish its power anytime soon.