The announcement on 23 July 2012 by the European Union (EU) and Australia to end sanctions on Zimbabwe with the exception of those against President Robert Mugabe has come as a late achievement for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The latter figure began his toughly attained leadership in 2008 with hopes that renewed cooperation between his party and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF (Patriotic Front) could foster fresh economic recovery and international investment in his country. Unfortunately for the Zimbabwean people and his party, the international community has remained rightly mistrusting of Mugabe’s continuing presidency.
Numerous individual accounts from within Zimbabwe and the region portray the President, his party, and vast domestic intelligence apparatus as one with absolutely no tolerance for dissent and an easy willingness to use armed force to crush such opposition. Indeed, this characteristic of his leadership was evident at the very start of his term in the early 1980s when he fought off his original rival, Joshua Nkomo. However, Western governments, in particular the UK, have not always taken the heavy-handed attitude towards the Zimbabwean government as they have over the past decade. Some have attributed this to their sympathy with Mugabe as the leader having helped end Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government, which had frustrated London in 1976 with its unilateral declaration of independence. However, a more robust analysis reveals a certain ambivalence on the part of the Commonwealth to the effects of their policies on Zimbabwe’s economy, politics and people.
The purpose of this article is to determine the degree of involvement that can and should be applied by Commonwealth governments towards bringing about political change and economic recovery in Zimbabwe. It does so by examining the stance taken by US administrations to Mugabe’s regime over the past decade, the shifting rhetoric and policies pursued by Commonwealth governments over the past thirty years and the role played by South African leaders in bolstering the Zanu-PF regime. Ultimately, it becomes clear that a more consistent and thoughtful destabilisation of Zanu-PF by the Commonwealth combined with the EU has been and remains the most viable means to help Mugabe’s rivals revitalise Zimbabwean prosperity.