Bleak prospects for Zimbabwe coalition

by Scott A Morgan

For six years, the West has attempted to ensure democracy in Zimbabwe through the use of economic sanctions. The situation came to a climax last year when President Mugabe called a second round of voting after it appeared that had in fact LOST the elections. The rate at which the results were released gave ample reason for both concern and skepticism.

Currently there is a GNU (Government of National Unity) in place between the long ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) and the main opposition party, the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) which itself has split into two factions. However there are two factors that could determine how long the GNU will last and whether or not it will be successful.

First of all is the cholera epidemic. It was announced that there were 100,000 cases in the country. Accordingly, there are roughly 3,000 fatalities to this waterborne Disease. Part of the reason for the spread of the disease was that most water treatment plants in Zimbabwe ran out of water treatment and purification chemicals. This meant that while both parties were bickering over which party would be in charge of certain ministries, people were getting sick. After the GNU was formed, the EU and the United States flew these chemicals into Zimbabwe. The rate of infection has been decreasing which is a good sign.

The second factor and the one that appears to have the likelihood to derail the GNU is the status of the JOC (Joint Operations Command). This is a body comprised of the heads of the Army, Air Force, Intelligence, the National Police and the Prison Service. While President Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai were preparing for their July run-off following the controversial March 2008 elections, the JOC took charge of Zimbabwe. This body actually organized the run-off and effectively was the de facto Government of Zimbabwe for that period of time.

Part of the GNU wants the JOC replaced by a new body called the NSC (National Security Council). It is essentially the same as the JOC but will have a seat for the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. This position is currently being held by Morgan Tsvangirai. At this time, the NSC has not met according to reports from Zimbabwe. However President Mugabe is reluctant to disband the JOC. There is some loyalty by the service heads to the President as well.

So how will these factors impact Zimbabwe? As long as the efforts to rein in the cholera epidemic continue to bear fruit, there probably will not be any long term negative impact in the eyes of the international community. The governments of Norway and Australia have announced that they will restore their aid programmes that were frozen to protest human rights abuses by Mugabe.

The status of the security forces will most likely be the main issue of contention in the eyes of most critics. The fact that the security chiefs are meeting in privacy without the Prime Minister can be seen as a veiled attempt to drive the Prime Minister out of office. This indicates that a coup may be possible in the future. The chances of a coup will probably increase after President Mugabe vacates the scene for whatever reason.

Officially, the United States has conducted a policy review when it comes to Zimbabwe. The US has noticed improvements in Zimbabwe but has not rescinded the economic sanctions placed on Zimbabwe by the Bush administration. The Obama Administration has stated that the GNU needs a chance to work. However, there is little optimism on the future prospects of the GNU. What will this Obama do if things go sour in Zimbabwe?


The author publishes Confused Eagle on the internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle can be found at

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