Africa Update: Zimbabwe Political Strife Zimbabwe's increasingly violent political tug-of-war has left the nation wondering who the next president will be. The results still haven't been released, and there are questions about a recount, a re-vote, and a Chinese arms deal.
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Africa Update: Zimbabwe Political Strife

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Africa Update: Zimbabwe Political Strife

Africa Update: Zimbabwe Political Strife

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. This week on Africa Update, we're going to take a look at the escalating situation in Zimbabwe. It's been three weeks since the voters cast ballots for president. The results still haven't been released and the plot thickens with questions about a recount, a revote and an arms deal. For more, we've got Bill Fletcher, he's a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and former president of TransAfrica Forum. Hey, Bill.

Mr. BILL FLETCHER (Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies): Hey, glad to be back.

CHIDEYA: Yes, always great to have you on. So let's dig into the election part first and then the arms deal. So the Zimbabwe election commission is keeping mum on these presidential ballots. They started recounting the ballots for 23 legislative seats. Now the opposition party says the ruling party wants to rig the recount, so what's the state of this right now?

Mr. FLETCHER: Well it's a very odd situation, Farai. The electoral commission has refused to release the results, despite not only the request of the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, but an international call for the release of the results. But the electoral commission has been completely mum on this. And what makes this odder is that the government of President Mugabe then demanded a recount. So they demanded a recount on votes, yet they did not release the actual results. So the question is, what are they recounting and why? So that becomes a big problem. Secretary General Ban from the United Nations was recently meeting with the leader of the opposition Morgan Tsvangirai, and he also put out a call for the Mugabe government to please release the results of the election.

CHIDEYA: Now, Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, has called on African leaders to acknowledge that he won the election. He also called President Mugabe a liberation hero and promised an honorable exit for him. But do you think that Mugabe or the military that still supports him is ready for any kind of exit?

Mr. FLETCHER: I think that it was important that Morgan Tsvangirai acknowledged that President Mugabe had been a liberation hero. I think that it is difficult to imagine that the group around President Mugabe is prepared to exit. I don't think that there's any indications that they are. The problem is that there's very little that African governments - first of all let me back up. African governments cannot acknowledge that Morgan Tsvangirai won the election in part because they don't know.

They actually do not know whether he won the election. What they can do, however, is demand the release of the election results, and I think that that's very important. But the group around President Mugabe is - has very deep vested interests in remaining in power. And this is not simply ideological. We're talking about interests that include wealth, the results of Zimbabwe intervention in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example. They are very reluctant to step down.

CHIDEYA: Now, has there been any kind of unrest or political violence since the elections in March?

Mr. FLETCHER: There's been a great deal. And even the Zimbabwean police will acknowledge violence. They won't say who was behind the violence. The MDC claims that at least 10 of their members and supporters have been murdered. There have been reports from other groups like Human Rights Watch that there are detention centers that have been set up by the Zimbabwean government. Many of these are not confirmed, but it is fairly obvious that there's a great deal of violence, there's a great deal of fear that the violence will escalate and that we'll have a rerun of the situation in Kenya. And that's what makes this whole incident around the guns coming from China all that much more important.

CHIDEYA: So Zimbabwe's also making headlines for a related but different reason. There's a shipment of small arms coming from China that was scheduled to dock in South Africa, so tell us what happened to that shipment.

Mr. FLETCHER: Well, this is fascinating. The Chinese ship loaded with 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, 3,500 mortars and mortar tubes and 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades was supposed to dock in Durban, which is on the east coast of South Africa. And form there the arms would be transported overland into Zimbabwe. And the South African Dock Workers Union - and we're talking about black workers, and I emphasize that because in the United States, sometimes the Zimbabwe situation is misreported in some significant ways.

These are black dock workers refused to unload the ship. And they took a stand which was consistent with the stand that the South African trade union movement has taken that the situation in Zimbabwe is deplorable, and that violence must cease. The Chinese ship then attempted to secure docking in Mozambique and Tanzania and the governments there denied that. The ship was then reported to be heading towards Angola, and just moments ago it was reported that the ship may turn around and go back to China.

CHIDEYA: You know, the arms that we're talking about are valued at over a million dollars. And it strikes me that Zimbabwe, the currency devaluation has been so severe there has to also be a question about where that money came from compared to money that could be used for other purposes. I mean, when you look at the big picture of how this is playing out, what does it say about some of the struggles not just in Zimbabwe, but the struggles about leadership and decision-making that are plaguing various African nations?

Mr. FLETCHER: Well, there's a couple things about the arms. One is that these are the arms of the - the munitions that would be used by infantry that is ground forces, against other ground forces. So in other words, this may sound like a strange point. These are not weapons to defend against aircraft that might be attacking Zimbabwe from another country, for example. So the idea that this might be used in case the United States or Britain was trying to overthrow President Mugabe. No, these are weapons to be used on the ground and I think that's what got the South African dock workers particularly on edge, unnerved by the possibilities this would be used to fuel a civil war.

I think that the - it's not that there is no money in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has a runaway inflation of over 100,000 percent, I mean, it's astronomical. But there is money in Zimbabwe, and there is money that's been collected by segments of the leadership. I think that what's so damaging about this obviously is that while the mass of the people of Zimbabwe are definitely suffering, there are those in the government who are putting away resources into their coffers, or in this case putting away money that could be used for military operation.

CHIDEYA: Do you think there could be an actual civil war? I mean, unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe did have a guerrilla war that ultimately overthrew the colonial government. Do you think that there could at some point be a civil war between factions in Zimbabwe?

Mr. FLETCHER: I think that it's certainly possible. I think that what is more likely would be something that was along the lines of what took place in Kenya a few months ago with the type of semi-organized violence, but not conventional militaries involved. I think, though, that Zimbabwe, which is a very wealthy country in the sense of resources their land, can step away from the precipice. But it will necessitate a real united front by African nations to meet with the parties and to impress upon President Mugabe that there must be democratic change, there must be a transition and that this current situation simply cannot be allowed to continue. Because in this situation, what you'll have then is heated, more heating rhetoric, particularly from the United States and Britain that can be encouraging people towards war.

CHIDEYA: All right, Bill, thanks so much.

Mr. FLETCHER: My pleasure.

FARAI CHIDEYA: Bill Fletcher is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and a former president of TransAfrica Forum. He spoke with us from NPR's Washington headquarters.

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