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Lingering Problems In Zimbabwe
(Posted April 6, 2002)

Nearly a month after Zimbabwe's controversial presidential election, tensions between Robert Mugabe and the citizenry remain high.

Hundreds of activists, including children, have been arrested for organizing anti-government marches. The protests, coordinated by the National Constitutional Assembly, are aimed at rewriting Zimbabwe's constitution to reduce presidential powers. Using the recently passed Public Order and Security Bill to justify their actions, policemen have declared demonstrations to be illegal and are jailing participants for 24 hours.

These arrests come on the heels of an announcement from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party that lost the contested election, that over 430,000 votes are not accounted for. The MDC claims a discrepancy between its figures and those of the government sponsored Electoral Supervisory Commission. Considering that MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai lost by a margin of less than 427,000 votes, this development lends credence to the widely held opinion that the elections, held from March 9 - 11, were manipulated in order to keep Mugabe in power.

A contentious two years of violence preceded the elections, in which more than 100 people were killed. International interest in the situation centered around Mugabe's controversial land reform measures, which confiscated farms owned by whites and redistributed them to blacks. While many praised the move as an example for other African nations to follow, critics felt it was a desperate move to shore up support amidst economic troubles. Since his victory, Mugabe has placed restrictions on the media, charged Tsvangirai with treason, and postponed naming his cabinet pending negotiations with the MDC.

In response, Zimbabwe has come under international criticism. The Commonwealth, a group of 54 countries that emerged arose out of the ashes of the British empire, suspended Zimbabwe's membership in March. The United States, no stranger to controversial elections, has barred Mugabe and his cabinet from traveling to America. Other nations are considering sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Observers are hoping that neighboring nations like South Africa and Nigeria can broker a compromise that will allow Zimbabwe to move forward without the threat of further violence. The 77 year old Mugabe has been the only ruler the nation has ever known, and the transition to a new era of leadership is paramount to the nation's success.  With Mugabe's threat to "get tough" with critics in the near future, intervention is critical to keep Zimbabwe from a diastrous civil war.

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