|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
ITS TIME TO COMPLETE THE CHANGE: A NEW YEAR’S MESSAGE
In June 2001 I wrote that the political tide in Zimbabwe had turned and that the process of change was inevitable. Nothing has happened since then to alter my view except that we are now only two months away from a watershed election that will enable Zimbabweans to vote into power a man who has a vision for a new non violent, peaceful, transparent, democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe. That man is Morgan Tsvangirai. Because of the hardships that virtually all Zimbabweans are experiencing at present there are many who find it hard to believe that Morgan Tsvangirai can become President of Zimbabwe, much as they desire that to happen. Mugabe has, after all, said that Tsvangirai will "never, ever" rule and is doing all in his power to make that prediction a reality.
2001 has been a very tough year for most Zimbabweans. We knew it would be that way, and warned of it. The last few months have been the toughest: rampant inflation, increased violence, politically motivated detentions, selective application of the "law" and the passing of new unjust laws and policies have combined to plunge many into the depths of depression.
Very little that ZANU (PF) has done has come as a surprise to us. The events of this year have not been random or unplanned. On the contrary they have been part of a deliberate campaign by Mugabe and to subdue the Zimbabwean people. Mugabe has used a combination of physical and psychological measures to crush opposition to his tyrannical rule. The physical measures are fairly obvious: bombing the Daily News, threatening the Judiciary, murdering, beating and detaining members of the MDC, forcing farmers off the land, assaulting and displacing thousands of farm workers and raiding businesses and industry.
The psychological measures are less obvious but far more effective in undermining morale. And there have been many; indeed the pervasiveness of all the measures is staggering and requires listing. The passing of the Citizenship Act mid year and its deliberate misinterpretation by the Registrar General ("requiring" people to renounce a mere entitlement to citizenship of another country) has thrown many into a frenzy. The insidious threat of immediate eviction of farmers, and the barring of them from reaping their crops already planted, posed by Statutory Instrument 338 in November caused many farmers to lose all hope. The termination of Radio 1, and its subsequent replacement by first "Sport" and then, ridiculously, "Spot" Radio was deliberately done to depress people who enjoyed their programmes. Then there are all the rumors deliberately fed into the system: "10000 Libyans in the country as part of hit squads", "arms imported to deal with the opposition" and even the pathetic "Coltart evacuates family". All of these are designed to depress and to induce a sense of panic.
One would have thought that, having introduced such a wide array of measures, he would have succeeded in crushing opposition to his rule. However the last few weeks have seen Mugabe’s regime resorting to new, and increasingly desperate, measures. They have murdered their own as a pretext to detain, and brand, the MDC as "terrorists". The Public Order and Security Bill, "POSB", has been introduced in Parliament to prevent criticism of the President, to stifle peaceful forms of protest (such as civil disobedience) and create State of Emergency conditions without actually having to declare a State of Emergency. Likewise the "no" Access to Information Bill has been introduced with the clear intention of silencing independent journalists and the media. Finally, in a complete negation of the liberation struggle cry of "one person one vote", ZANU (PF)’s proposed amendments to the Electoral Act will make it harder for Zimbabweans to register as voters and more difficult for Zimbabwean civil society to observe and monitor the elections. All of these betray Mugabe’s sense of panic – he is are no longer confident that he can win an election even if it is fought in the extremely unfair conditions, which prevailed in the 2000 Parliamentary election. As draconian as these measures are, more than anything else they constitute an admission by ZANU (PF) that their violent and unlawful strategies have failed and they are now in deep trouble in the run up to the Presidential election.
For all the depression felt by many Zimbabweans the fact remains that this regime would not be resorting to such extreme measures if Mugabe were confident of winning the election. If those committed to democracy feel depressed it is nothing compared to the desperation and paranoia prevailing in the Mugabe camp, which is due to three critical factors working against them.
In summary these are: (1) the incredible turn around and support of the international community in the course of 2001, (2) the amazing courage and determination of Zimbabweans to secure change in the face of violence and tyranny and (3) the emergence of a government in waiting, led by a charismatic and competent leader, ready to lead Zimbabwe to a peaceful and prosperous future.
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
It may seem trite but Zimbabwe cannot survive without the support of the international community. Zimbabwe is relatively weak, landlocked and oil-less. Correspondingly both ZANU (PF) and the MDC cannot survive without the support of the international community. ZANU (PF), because it cannot hope to restore the economy and govern in the long term without that support. The MDC, because it does not have the physical power itself to guarantee a free and fair election. The views of the International Community regarding what is happening in Zimbabwe are therefore equally important to the MDC and ZANU (PF). ZANU (PF) needed the international community to buy its argument that land is the core issue and that it is an innocent actor. The MDC needed the international community to buy its argument that good governance is the core issue.
It was with this in mind that Mugabe selected his cabinet. For example his choice of Jonathan Moyo as Information Minister was not made with Zimbabweans in mind but rather with the international community, and especially SADC, in mind. When ZANU (PF) came within a whisker of losing the June 2000 election they realized then that they would battle to win the first-past-the-post-countrywide Presidential election. To win they would have to implement the fast track land programme and increase levels of intimidation and violence. But it recognized early on that it would have to create elaborate smokescreens because it could not embark on such schemes with impunity unless ZANU (PF) could portray itself as a relatively innocent actor. Mugabe knows that he will still have to govern Zimbabwe after the election and that he will not be able to do so without international assistance. In other words not only did ZANU (PF) have to get the international community to buy its argument as to what the cause of the strife within Zimbabwe was, but also it had to get the international community to turn a blind eye to abuses of human rights so that Mugabe’s government would be recognized and aid would flow after the election. And so Jonathan Moyo’s task has been to convey to the world that ZANU (PF) is merely responding to people pressure for land and that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC are unreconstructed "terrorists". If the international community, and especially SADC, bought into ZANU (PF)’s argument, ZANU (PF) could subvert the electoral process with impunity. Mugabe cynically calculated that the West would apply a different standard to Zimbabwe ("African elections are violent") and that African nations would be sympathetic to the argument that the land invasions were uncontrollable and that in any event the MDC was just as violent as ZANU (PF). In other words he calculated that he would be able to get away with bludgeoning his way to electoral victory and that the international community would simply forgive and forget after he resumed the presidency.
The MDC has had to counter massive internal and international propaganda of ZANU (PF) that land was the core issue, that the violence was not of ZANU (PF)’s making but part of "spontaneous demonstrations" by landless people and that the MDC was a violent neo-colonial outfit designed to return Zimbabwe to Rhodesia
The MDC has faced a daunting task to overcome this strategy. Not only is Zimbabwe a tiny country with an inconsequential economy on the world’s forgotten continent, but also it had to contend with western skepticism and ignorance. Added to that it was up against a government that was prepared to use millions of taxpayers’ money to employ lobbyists. But the MDC has won this battle.
To demonstrate this it is appropriate to start with the United States of America. Both ZANU (PF) and the MDC recognized that the approach of the USA was critically important, not just because it is so powerful but in particular because it holds so much sway in South Africa. That is why ZANU (PF) employed American lobbyists Cohen and Woods and subsequently Andrew Young to do its bidding in Washington. Cohen and Woods had much fertile ground to work with when they started. Successive MDC delegations to Washington in 2000 found that many influential members of the all-important Congressional Black Caucus still viewed Mugabe as a "liberator". Others had bought into the ZANU (PF) line that the chaos was the result of an unresolved colonial, and racial, legacy.
The tragic events of September 11th initially appeared to make the MDC’s task harder. The international media turned its attention elsewhere and it seemed to many hoping for democratic change in Zimbabwe that Mugabe had the perfect cover. But our fears have not been realized for, far from it going off the radar screen, Zimbabwe has come into sharp focus in the minds of many influential Americans since the 11th September.
The first inkling of this was given when United States District Judge Victor Marrero handed down his 130 page judgment on the 30th October 2001 in the case brought against Mugabe for damages by Adella Chiminya, Maria Stevens and others who have lost loved ones at the hands of Mugabe’s thugs. Judge Marrero found that Tapfuma Chiminya, David Stevens and the other loved ones were, because of their support for the MDC, "extra judicially murdered …by operatives of ZANU (PF) operating in concert with or significantly aided by high-ranking Zimbabwe government officials acting outside the color of state law". However the Judge found that he could not grant judgment against Mugabe because he enjoyed head-of-state immunity. The Judge was clearly pained by this and as he said "the enormity of the atrocities". Accordingly he qualified his judgment by stating:
"resort to head-of-state immunity as a shield for private abuses of the sovereign’s office is wearing thinner in the eyes of the world and waning in the cover of the law. The prevailing trend teaches that the day (will) come to pass when those who violate their public trust are called upon…to render account for the wrongs they inflict on innocents."
Then significantly the Judge, who sits in New York, made a telling link between the case at hand and the events of 11th September by stating:
"Today, events around us bear witness almost daily to the destructive power of individuals whose chosen way of life is to do wrong by inflicting harms of mass proportions. With modern means, the hands of one or a few persons hold the force sufficient to wreak in moments wanton destruction and horror of a magnitude that it once took whole armies to inflict….(t)o iniquity’s purpose of propagating large-scale grief, as evidenced by the case at hand, its capacity for injustice is virtually limitless because it honors none of the self-imposed restraints that contain the conduct of the civilized world within decent bounds."
Having made that link of terror the Judge concluded by calling for the law to "stand ready to adapt as appropriate, to shape, redress and remedy so as to answer measure for measure the particular evil it pursues" and granting judgment against the only entity he could, namely ZANU (PF). I have dwelt on this judgment because it illustrates what informed ordinary apolitical Americans think about what is going on in Zimbabwe, who is responsible for terror in this country and what should be done about it. The judgment also decisively placed Mugabe on the wrong side of President Bush’s fence dividing those who oppose and those who support terrorism throughout the world.
Ironically both Mugabe and Jonathan Moyo have further compounded their predicament since the beginning of November. Mugabe, in an emotional speech given on the 18th November, said that he would not be dictated to by those "in their tall towers" in the West and accused Tony Blair of being involved in acts of terrorism in Zimbabwe. In mid November the ZBC, which falls under Moyo’s command, started mimicking CNN’s by-line "The fight against terrorism" to describe ZANU (PF)’s crack down on the MDC. These actions demean America’s legitimate fight against real terrorists and lost Mugabe any remaining friends he might have still had in America.
The first sign of this loss of support was given in the photograph of Jesse Jackson congratulating Daily News editor Geoff Nyarota (who had just received a press freedom award in Washington) on the 28th November. Jackson, it will be recalled, has been in the past a Mugabe apologist. Jackson’s action in meeting Nyarota was a harbinger of things to come. In early December the House of Representatives was called upon to vote on the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill. ZANU (PF) thought that the Congressional Black Caucus would vote against it. But in a truly historic vote the Bill passed by 369 votes to 11. Not a single member of the CBC voted against it and the 369 affirmative votes included every informed and influential member of the CBC. So much for Mugabe’s assertion that this is only a racist Jesse Helms Bill! The action of the CBC in this regard demonstrates the determination of all Americans to fight terrorism in whatever forms it appears and is a damning indictment against Mugabe. The strong language used by highly respected former Chairperson of the CBC, Donald Payne, in supporting the language must have shaken Mugabe and ZANU (PF) to the core.
The signing of the Zimbabwe Democracy Economic Recovery Bill (ZIDERA) into law by President Bush just before Christmas completed the transformation, in the minds of Americans, of Mugabe from African statesman to tyrant and marked the beginning of a new chapter. The Act in itself is graphic evidence of the failure of ZANU (PF)’s propaganda campaign and an acceptance that the lack of good governance in Zimbabwe is at the core of Zimbabwe’s crisis. More worrying for Mugabe and his henchmen is the fact that ZIDERA signals America’s determination to assist in the democratization of Zimbabwe. If Mugabe does not hold free and fair elections there will be dramatic consequences for the ZANU (PF) elite in the form of personal sanctions. Gone too is Mugabe’s argument that the Zimbabwe crisis is simply a spat with its former colonial master, Britain. Finally, America’s lead will have, and already has had, a powerful influence over the way the EU, SADC, and the Commonwealth deal with the problem.
The transformation of the EU’s approach to the Zimbabwean crisis over the last year has been equally remarkable. At the beginning of 2001 France, Belgium and, to a lesser extent Spain, were not convinced that the MDC’s version of what lay at the core of Zimbabwe’s problems was correct. That attitude was complicated by the fact that France and Belgium appeared to be reluctant to jeopardize their relationship with Mugabe because of concerns related to Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo. Without the support of France and Belgium, forthright action against Zimbabwe in the EU would have been difficult if not impossible. The turn around of France and Belgium on the 29th October, when they voted with the rest of the EU to invoke Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement (the precursor to sanctions against Zimbabwe) surprised many of us in the MDC and was deeply shocking to ZANU (PF) – they just never believed that their erstwhile friends would do such a thing. The depth of their shock was displayed when Mugabe walked out (in a huff) of a meeting with senior EU ambassadors in Harare on the 23rd November. This is the man who used to be able to charm world leaders and who has successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of democratically elected leaders for decades. He finally lost his cool and let his guard down because he realized that the game is up. The bottom line is the EU is now also an avowed enemy of ZANU (PF) and former supporters of the party such as Sweden are vilified. The reason: the EU also has firmly rejected ZANU (PF)’s propaganda line and is demanding that there be free and fair elections and good governance. If there are not Article 96 will be pursued vigorously.
Zimbabweans have been extremely critical, with good cause, of the Commonwealth over the last two years. It all started with Secretary General McKinnon’s disastrous assurance given just before the June 2000 election that Mugabe would act decently. Since then there have been a succession of wishy-washy Commonwealth statements and actions (or more appropriately inactions) that have discredited the organisation. It is not surprising that ZANU (PF) until recently were happy to have the Commonwealth monitor Zimbabwean elections. The strongly worded statement, that the situation constituted a "serious and persistent violation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values", emanating from the Commonwealth Ministers’ Action Group (CMAG) on the 20th December would have shocked ZANU (PF). CMAG resolved to review the situation at its next meeting, to be held on the 30th January 2002, and Zimbabwe has been placed on the formal agenda of the meeting, in itself a statement that the Zimbabwean crisis is now sufficiently serious to merit special attention. Not even the Commonwealth now buys into ZANU (PF)’s agenda.
Accordingly by the end of 2001 a broad coalition of the United States, the EU and the Commonwealth emerged. All are determined to ensure that Zimbabwe has free and fair Presidential elections. The only apparent source of comfort to ZANU (PF) was the statement issued by some SADC Ministers on the 12th December welcoming the "improved atmosphere" in Zimbabwe. ZANU (PF) has made much of this statement, which has led many to believe that SADC is going to look the other way and allow ZANU (PF) to abuse the electoral process. Whilst there is no doubt that some SADC countries, which are themselves undemocratic, support ZANU (PF) it would be wrong to assume that the SADC Ministers’ statement represents the views of the most influential countries in the region. It is pertinent to note that Ministers from Angola and Namibia dominated the SADC meeting and that Ministers from South Africa and Botswana left the meeting prior to its conclusion.
Indeed far from SADC looking the other way there are signs that democratic leaders in the region are increasingly concerned about Zimbabwe. Festus Mogae, the President of Botswana, openly criticized Mugabe and his war veterans in an interview in the Sunday Times on the 11th November. During the week commencing the 26th November President Mbeki spoke out against what was happening in Zimbabwe on no less than 3 separate occasions. On the 20th December a high ranking ANC delegation arrived in Harare for talks with ZANU (PF) and prior to its arrival the SABC announced that part of its mission was to secure free and fair elections. It is highly significant that neither party at the conclusion of the talks made any press release and save for one article in the Herald claiming, without any supporting statement from the ANC, that the ANC was in solidarity with ZANU (PF), the ZANU (PF) propaganda machine has been remarkably quiet about the visit. If anything the government controlled media and Jonathan Moyo have spent most of December criticizing South Africa. In the December 18th edition of the Chronicle there was a vicious cartoon portraying Nelson Mandela as a lackey of Bush and Blair. In Parliament on the 18th December Jonathan Moyo said: "Those who see the likes of the BBC, CNN and SABC as voices of democracy are either naïve or plain mad". Subsequently Moyo stated in a press conference that the South African media were still under the control of apartheid forces. Throughout December there was a sustained attack on the ANC in the Herald implying that it was now being influenced by, and had sold out to, the New Nationalist Party. Clearly ZANU (PF) now perceives the ANC as an enemy because it too is insisting on a fair electoral process.
The real test of who is in control of SADC and what the most powerful States in SADC think about the Zimbabwean situation will be shown when the SADC Heads of State meet in Malawi on the 13th January. Whatever happens there however what is now clear is that a very powerful coalition comprising the United States, the European Union, an overwhelming majority of democratic Commonwealth countries and the two most powerful neighbours of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana, has emerged during the course of 2001. This coalition is determined to ensure that free and fair elections take place and has come to the conclusion that whilst the land issue is an important unresolved issue, the principal problem is the absence of good governance. The MDC now has the most powerful and influential countries on earth singing from the same hymn sheet as it and this particular hurdle is now firmly overcome. There will be no going back on the international community’s insistence that free and fair elections be held in compliance with the SADC Electoral Norms and Standards as passed by the SADC Parliamentary Forum in Windhoek in March 20001. ZANU (PF) will only snub that insistence at its peril.
One final thought: once a politician, or a political party for that matter, is marked as a pariah the stain is indelible. There is now nowhere for Mugabe to hide. Either he complies with the international community and holds elections in compliance with the SADC Standards, in which case he will lose by a mile, or he does not, in which case if he manages to win the result will not be recognized by the countries which count in the region and the world in any event.
SUPPORT OF THE PEOPLE
Of course it doesn’t matter what the international community thinks if an overwhelming majority of people within the country concerned back the policies of its government. History shows us that regimes, which enjoy the backing of a significant majority of its people, can ride the storm of international opprobrium for some time, especially if they have strong economies. Zimbabwe, to put it mildly, does not have a strong economy and so if Mugabe is to fly in the face of world opinion he will need the support of a significant majority, not just to win the election but also to endure the hardship of international isolation.
In the run up to the 2000 Parliamentary election I speculated about three possible scenarios. The first, and most negative from an MDC perspective, was that the MDC would win a majority of seats in the cities but because of intimidation would only win a smattering of rural seats and as a result would only win about 30 seats countrywide. The second was that the MDC would win convincingly in the cities and in certain rural areas that were traditionally anti ZANU (PF) and would garner between 50 and 60 votes. The third was that the MDC would win the cities and all rural areas aside from ZANU (PF)’s heartland and in doing so would win a Parliamentary majority of between 80 and 90 seats. In all my talks given at the time I believed that the second scenario was the most likely. The reason I mention this is that at the time I did not make outlandish predictions. I firmly believed, from the evidence before me at the time that ZANU (PF)’s intimidation of certain areas was still effective and as a result we could not win in those areas. Furthermore it was apparent that ZANU (PF) was still sufficiently unified to retain substantial support in its heartland.
From the evidence before me now I believe that, despite intimidation, electoral fraud and dirty tricks, there could well be a landslide victory in favour of MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai. I say so for the following reasons:
The net result of this painstaking exercise of going through the country Province by Province is that it demonstrates that the MDC and its President Tsvangirai now enjoy majority support in some two thirds of the physical area of Zimbabwe and the support of some three quarters of the population. If one takes a map of Zimbabwe and one draws a line eastwards starting at Lake Kariba, on the north eastern boundary of Binga constituency, continuing up the eastern boundary of Gokwe in a north westerly direction to eventually encircle Harare, continuing in a southerly direction (to exclude Chikomba Constituency) and thereafter northeastwards to end at the Mozambique border north of Nyanga, one will see the extent of MDC’s support. An overwhelming majority of people who live south of that line now supports the MDC and President Tsvangirai. Everything below that line includes all the cities and most the rural areas. North of the line only includes the Gokwe area of Midlands Province and the three rural Mashonaland Provinces.
In the face of this, and only just over two months away from the Presidential election, all ZANU (PF) has to offer the people is violence. ZANU (PF)’s principal campaign platform of land to the people has been exposed for what it is, a sham. During the Christmas recess I have personally witnessed in two entirely separate areas, hundred of kilometers apart, occupiers having moved off land already occupied to plant crops in their communal land fields. Whilst that is obviously not the case countrywide even taking ZANU (PF)’s distorted figures only some 100,000 people have "benefited" from the so-called fast track land programme. Even those have simply been dumped on land without being given title, without the provision of water, schools, clinics and roads. In other words the vast majority of the some 6 million eligible voters have not benefited one iota from what is the nub of ZANU (PF)’s platform, indeed they are struggling more than ever before. In recent weeks it has emerged that many of the best farms have been reserved for Mugabe’s cronies. So much for "land to the people"!
ZANU (PF) has simply not addressed the key issue that is affecting everyone in the country, namely the collapsing economy and increasing poverty. Ironically even the ZANU (PF) campaign advertisements published in the last few days acknowledge this: "Say no to artificial shortages!" – "Vote for price controls!" The advertisements are an admission that under Mugabe’s government there are shortages and high prices which need controlling. Hardly a great reason to vote for the person responsible!
Finally violence is increasingly counter-productive for ZANU (PF). The people of Zimbabwe have simply had enough and their level of anger now far surpasses their level of fear. In short they simply want a change and a new start, not the same old man for another 6 years. And for those who agree with my assessment but who fear that the election will be rigged let me say the following. Rigging the election is undoubtedly part of Mugabe’s plan but can only succeed if the margin is only a few tens of thousand votes. There were strange figures that came out of some of the rural Mashonaland rural constituencies in 2000 where the ZANU (PF) vote appeared to have been bolstered. However even with that rigging ZANU (PF) had a deficit of some 70,000 votes against the combined total of the opposition. We are now two years on and the actual margin of defeat for Mugabe is going to be much more than 70,000 (it will be hundreds of thousands if Masvingo Province votes either for Tsvangirai or simply does not vote at all). A deficit of several hundred thousand votes makes rigging enormously difficult.
A final word is necessary regarding the mood of the Zimbabwean people. The MDC has, in the last few weeks, brought a succession of cases to the High Court to level the playing field. As a result of case we have managed to get the numbers of new prospective voters who have registered. There are some 700,000 new registrations! One of the arguments advanced by the Registrar General’s office for their inability to supply us with a copy of the voters’ roll was because they had only managed to process to date some 80,000 of the these new registrations! Rest assured that the vast majority of these 700,000 new voters are not particularly happy with the present regime and they have not registered for fun. Why else do think government has made it so difficult for people to register? The people are ready.
The people being ready is one thing; having a decent candidate to vote for is another thing entirely. Which leads me to the coup de grace in the form of Morgan Tsvangirai. Whilst I have known MDC President Tsvangirai since 1992 I have only got to know him well since being invited by him to join the MDC in 1999. Getting to know him has been a sheer pleasure. He is a man of great intellect, integrity, courage, compassion and humour. In fact I firmly believe that in Mr. Tsvangirai we have a truly great leader who will become a statesman of world renown. I have consistently impressed by his wisdom in tackling tricky issues and by his commitment to a vision of a non-racist, non-sexist, democratic Zimbabwe.
It is hard to convey why I have so much admiration for Tsvangirai. A few random examples of his character may help. When our child Bethany was born in September Tsvangirai took time off his hectic schedule to phone me to say "makorokoto" (Shona for congratulations). When I was concerned in November by the death threats I had received a meeting with him restored my equilibrium. When some of our younger members went over the top in campaigning for positions last year in Harare, bringing the MDC into disrepute, Tsvangirai dealt with the issue quickly, resolutely but fairly and put the party back on track. When he was ambushed twice last year he remained absolutely calm and focused. He does not have an ounce of racist blood in veins. He is truly a great leader and Zimbabwe will be blessed to have him as President.
Some skeptics may argue that my own experience is all very well but Tsvangirai is not known by the Zimbabwean people and we may well end up like the Zambians, lumped with a President very few people want. After all the people of Zambia were also ready for change. Over 80% of those eligible to vote turned out to vote in the recently held Parliamentary and presidential elections. Over 70% of those who voted, voted against the so-called ruling party candidate, Levy Mwanawasa. The will of the people was denied however because, despite all the opposition’s claims of rigging, even on the Zambian government’s own figures Mwanawasa won with only 28,7% of the vote. The dreaded "Kenya syndrome", namely the inability of the opposition to coalesce around a single candidate, did in the Zambian people. The "Kenya syndrome" is more likely to occur in countries where ethnicity is a major factor or where the opposition is unable to produce a single candidate who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the opposition candidates. The latter problem is exacerbated when a good opposition candidate does not have the backing of a strong party behind him or her.
Fortunately Zimbabwe does not suffer from any of these blights. Ethnicity will not be a factor in our elections as far as the MDC is concerned. The MDC team of President Tsvangirai and Vice President Sibanda attracts support countrywide and in both urban and rural settings. Ndebele people have thronged President Tsvangirai’s meetings in Matabeleland in 2001 and Shona people have done the same for Vice President Sibanda in meetings held recently in, for example, Zaka in Masvingo. If anyone will have a problem attracting support from specific ethnic groups it will be Mugabe whose chickens are coming home to roost. Mugabe will battle to attract support in regions he has alienated such as Matabeleland, Masvingo and Manicaland. Indeed Mugabe was the MDC best candidate ZANU (PF) could have offered because he is so intensely disliked by various ethnic groups throughout the country. We were absolutely delighted that the ZANU (PF) Congress decided to stick with the soon-to-be-78 year old Mugabe. The problem for ZANU (PF) is compounded in Matabeleland in that his only possible Ndebele Vice President running mates, Msika or John Nkomo, did not even dare to contest seats in Matabeleland in the 2000 elections cognizant of their inability to win. Both are deeply unpopular in Matabeleland in stark contrast to Vice President Gibson Sibanda who won his seat with a majority of over 80%.
What then of the prospect of multiple candidates from other parties as happened in Zambia? In the 2000 elections ZANU (PF) secured 48% of the vote, the MDC 46% and the balance went to a variety of small opposition parties, the main one being ZANU Ndonga which secured the only other opposition seat of Chipinge South. There are only three other political parties of any consequence namely, the UANC led by Bishop Muzorewa, ZAPU and the Liberty Party (both regional parties based in Bulawayo). All three attracted minimal votes and many of their candidates lost their deposits in the 2000 elections. ZANU (PF) has been desperately trying to promote candidates from these parties and it has been intriguing to see how, for example, the government controlled Chronicle newspaper in Bulawayo has been promoting the fortunes of Paul Siwela, the Secretary General of ZAPU who appears to have desires to contest the Presidential election. His plans to contest were dealt a bit of a blow when the ZAPU Central Committee recently decided that it would not field a candidate in the election. Since that decision was taken the Chronicle has done its utmost to discredit Agrippa Madlela, the ZAPU President who, one would have thought, would be ZAPU’s logical candidate, but who believes that ZAPU should not contest the election.
The same tactic is being employed, with similar lack of success, to get Wilson Khumbula MP to stand as ZANU Ndonga’s Presidential candidate. Khumbula until recently was the President of ZANU Ndonga. He has been suspended from the party and there are strong indications that ZANU Ndonga will not want to field a candidate. So despite ZANU (PF)’s best efforts to split the opposition vote by assisting the campaigns of a multiplicity of opposition candidates they will not succeed. If anything President Tsvangirai will pick up votes from the supporters of these small parties, especially from the largest of them all, ZANU Ndonga. In sum this will in essence be a two horse race. In any event our electoral laws are different to Zambia in that in Zimbabwe the winning candidate has to win a majority of votes cast and if a majority is not achieved in the first ballot then the two top candidates have to contest a second ballot against each other. So at the end of the day this will be a straight contest between Tsvangirai and Mugabe.
Another important reason why the opposition vote will not be split sufficiently to usher Mugabe back into power by default is because in MDC President Tsvangirai Zimbabwe has got a charismatic candidate the opposition and civil society can coalesce around. Having been a highly successful Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) prior to his election as President of the MDC, Tsvangirai has a very high and positive profile that transcends the ethnic, class, racial and gender divide. My personal experience of Tsvangirai is shared by hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans countrywide. In a word he is Presidential and it is not hard for Zimbabweans to conceive that he would be a good President. Even if other opposition candidates do stand none will have the presence or profile of Tsvangirai.
But it is the backing of an effective party that is the most compelling reason why our election will be different to the Zambian election. The MDC since its formation in September 1999 has been subjected to a literal baptism of fire at the hands of ZANU (PF) and its surrogate police force and CIO. We have now had over 90 of our supporters murdered by ZANU (PF) thugs; virtually every single MDC MP has been either detained, or assaulted, or had his or her house searched, or received death threats. The MDC has been subjected to the most bizarre selective application of the law. Charges have been fabricated against MDC leaders and prosecuted vigorously whereas ZANU (PF) leaders who openly advocate murder are not even arrested. The electronic media is brazenly the mouthpiece of ZANU (PF). And so it goes on. But the reality is that, despite all of this harassment (in fact perhaps because of the harassment) the MDC is now stronger than it was in June 2000. Not only do we now have elected structures countrywide but also we now have the capacity and ability to govern.
Unlike ZANU (PF) which is trapped in its one-track mind of its disastrous "fast track land programme" the MDC has developed comprehensive policies to turn Zimbabwe around. President Tsvangirai has spent the last six months progressively unveiling the MDC’s economic, health, education and labour policies (to mention a few). All these policies have been formulated in consultation with experts from the relevant sectors of Zimbabwean society and have been hailed by serious commentators within Zimbabwe. The MDC has unveiled a three-year recovery plan that President Tsvangirai will start to implement as soon as he has been inaugurated in April.
But the MDC is more than just a body with good structures and policies - most importantly it has spirit! I have just had the pleasure of attending the MDC’s Annual Conference that was held in Gweru on the 22nd December. I have three words to describe the Conference: joyous, hilarious and constructive! There was absolute (and heartfelt) agreement that Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda shall comprise our Presidential team unlike the deep divisions within the ZANU (PF) camp regarding Mugabe’s candidacy. Most of the meeting was devoted to debating and agreeing on key policy issues such as tackling the economy, dealing effectively with the Aids pandemic and restoring the rule of law unlike the ZANU (PF) Congress which only seemed to discuss Mugabe’s declaration of war on the Zimbabwean people. In stark contrast to the tone of the ZANU (PF) meeting prayer and a recommitment to the principle of non-violence marked the MDC Conference. As a white Zimbabwean I felt profoundly privileged to be part of the proceedings of a movement that is non-racist and has a vision for not only a new democratic Zimbabwe but also a new beginning for Africa. I feel excited about the prospect of serving under Morgan Tsvangirai’s Presidency.
THE FINAL LAP
I have always said that this battle to bring genuine democracy to Zimbabwe would not be easy and that the more cornered Mugabe and ZANU (PF) felt the more vicious they would become. That holds true now more than ever before and we are under no illusions how tough this final stretch will be. But we are now on the final lap. Before the end of this week Mugabe is obliged, in terms of the Electoral Act, to announce the date of the election. The election has to be held by the 17th March and Mugabe’s present term of office expires, come what may, State of Emergency or none, at midnight on the 31st March. In other words as I write the election is less than 70 days, or 10 weeks away.
Anyone who has run a marathon will tell you that the final few kilometers are the hardest; every joint aches and one cannot believe that one will finish, but finish we will, and that is all we have to do now. The international community now understands clearly what is going on in Zimbabwe and will do all in its power to assist the transition to democracy. The people are ready, silently and patiently waiting to cast their ballots. And finally the next President of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, is ready. All we have to be make sure that we are registered and ready and able to vote in March.
Many people ask in meetings whether Mugabe will allow President Tsvangirai to take office once he wins pointing to Mugabe’s oft repeated statement that the MDC and President Tsvangirai will "never, ever" govern. Not only has Mugabe not learnt from Zimbabwe’s own recent history (Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith said there would "never be majority rule in a thousand years only to be proved wrong a short time after making that statement), but he also commits the terrible mistake of assuming that he is god and able to guide the course of history. History is replete with examples of dictators who believe that they will rule forever. In just the last 60 years Mussolini, Hitler, Idi Amin, Ceuscescu, Mobutu and Milsovic spring to mind. All had grand plans, all were extremely vicious and irrational at the end, but all were swept from power. Mugabe can plan as much as he likes but ultimately he has to deal with the people and God.
I will conclude by quoting verses from my favourite book of the Bible. These verses from Isaiah 40 have sustained me for many years:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind
sweeps them away like chaff.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
It is not easy being in the middle of a whirlwind as this dictatorship is swept away and I understand fully how many in Zimbabwe, especially those in the farming community, feel completely at the end of their tether. But I believe with all my being that if we remain steadfast, do what is right and trust in the good Lord we will be sustained and our strength will be renewed sufficiently to see us through this transition to democracy. God bless you and keep you all this New Year.
David Coltart MP
7th January 2002.
The views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views of the MDC.
SA HAS started readying itself for a "meltdown" in Zimbabwe as the March presidential election draws closer, designating a disused military base near the border between the countries as a potential handling centre for refugees.
Intimidation and violence in Zimbabwe have taken on what observers say are alarming proportions ahead of the election, in which President Robert Mugabe is seeking to extend his 22-year rule in the face of his toughest challenge yet, from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Home Affairs department spokesman Leslie Mashokwe said yesterday that a committee including government, intelligence, police and defence officials had been set up to monitor the situation in Zimbabwe.
"They have identified Artonvilla, an old SA National Defence Force complex near Messina, to provide accommodation for refugees should the situation in Zimbabwe reach meltdown." Health workers, immigration officials, police and soldiers could be called up at any moment to help handle a sudden influx of refugees.
"We cannot yet say how much we have budgeted for the possible influx from Zimbabwe because we don't know what the magnitude of the problem might be," Mashokwe said.
He could not give details on the number of people who could be accommodated at the base, but said it might need some renovations before it could be used. Defence spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said the monitoring committee would respond to requests for assistance from other departments, but not take the lead in managing a refugee crisis.
Fidellis Swai, regional spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, said the organisation was in touch with the governments of all Zimbabwe's neighbours and would assist where necessary.
The demonstrations are set to take place on Saturday at the American Embassy and the Zimbabwe High Commission.
Speakers from the Movement for Democratic Change and experts on human rights are likely to attend both venues.
Previous protests in London by Britain's Zimbabwean community have called for the UK to help halt violence in their homeland and have included petitions being handed in to Downing Street.
They have appealed to Prime Minister Tony Blair to exert more pressure on President Mugabe's regime amid fears that the situation in Zimbabwe may be spiralling out of control.
As lawlessness and intimidation spread across the country, the current holder of the union's presidency, Spain, said Harare had not replied to last Friday's EU demand for detailed plans on observers and media access within seven days.
"The non-response is a sort of response," a Spanish official said. "They are sending us a clear signal."
EU diplomats said sanctions were likely to be decided by a meeting of foreign ministers on January 28, unless there was a change in the next few days. One said: "They've really got to come up with something fairly quickly or there will be smart sanctions," aimed at leaders of the regime.
The likely options include a travel ban and an assets freeze for members of the regime, as well as an arms embargo. EU governments say they want to avoid hitting innocent people.
Officials said that Zimbabwe was trying to split the union by inviting observers from most of its 15 members but excluding Britain, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
EU missions in Harare are expected to report on the situation next week before ambassadors meet in Brussels to rec ommend policy options to the foreign ministers. But pressure is mounting for action after criticism that previous threats have come too late.
"I would be surprised if the Zimbabweans responded anywhere near the deadline, and I would be gobsmacked if they were to respond positively to the [EU] requests," the MEP Glenys Kinnock said.
"Mugabe is trying to divide and rule," Geoffrey van Orden, a Conservative MEP, said. "The EU should take a robust stand and not let him decide who makes up our election monitoring teams."
Latest events in Zimbabwe have confirmed fears of dangerously escalating climate of violence.
Late on Thursday, supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were abducted and beaten by supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF. Several youths escaped and were being treated at a Harare hospital.
Thomas Tawanda Spicer, 17, the son of a Zimbabwean film-maker, Edwina Spicer, was tied to a tree and beaten and kicked throughout the night.
He was later taken to a police station in the northern city of Marondera where he was reportedly arrested on charges of kidnapping. After first denying any knowledge of him, the police confirmed that he was in their custody, but denied him access to his family or a lawyer.
Mr Spicer is an active MDC member and his fluent Shona and trenchant criticism of the Mugabe government has delighted opposition rallies.
Violence has also been used by the Zanu-PF militia to stop the distribution in rural areas of all independent newspapers, including the Daily News, the Financial Gazette and the Zimbabwe Independent. Distributors and vendors of the papers have been beaten and threatened with death if they continue to sell them, the publishers said.
"It is clear from the number of cases coming to us that there has been a substantial increase in state-sponsored violence," said Tony Reeler, director of the Amani Trust, which cares for the victims of violence. "We are concerned by the number of reports of deaths which we are having trouble confirming because we do not get responses from the police. Torture appears to be increasing substantially."
Militants rampage in Zimbabwe
Harare - Ruling party militants rampaged through farming districts in northern Zimbabwe Friday, in what the opposition said was an attempt to shut down the areas to its campaigners ahead of presidential elections. Militants stormed white-owned farms, while members of the ruling party youth militia in green government-issue uniforms manned roadblocks to seal off districts to supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Welshman Ncube, the opposition party's third ranking official, accused President Robert Mugabe's party of creating ``no go areas'' for opposition supporters ahead of the vote scheduled for March 9 and 10. "Such areas are being systematically extended ... there is no prospect of the elections being free and fair," he said. Mugabe, fighting for his political survival after nearly 22 years in power, has cracked down on the opposition and pushed through legislation tightening security and electoral laws that favor his party.
On Friday, at least 100 slogan-chanting militants stormed a white-owned farm near Karoi, 130 miles northwest of Harare, the capital, demanding white owners immediately leave the property. Three of nine black workers on the property were assaulted by assailants who smashed down fences and hurled stones at approaching vehicles, said farmer Terry Smit. Other properties in the Karoi corn and tobacco district were targeted by militants who demanded owners pack up and go, some by the end of Friday, officials of the Commercial Farmers Union said. Smit said militants drove workers from their homes and threw their belongings onto the road after accusing them of supporting the Movement for Democratic Change. "They told me they were evicting me today. They are about 30 yards from my door," said Smit, speaking by telephone from his besieged farmstead. Drumbeats, singing and pro-government slogans were audible on the line. Smit said threats of violence from militants intensified since an announcement earlier this month of presidential elections.
Some farm workers bought ruling party membership cards to help them pass through the militia checkpoints. Without a card, "you are humiliated. We were made to kneel in the road and beg to be let through and sing slogans,'' said an elderly white farm manager who asked not to be identified. The youth militias have ignored government assurances that only police are permitted at roadblocks. Police have not prevented the militias throwing up checkpoints. Since the start of the year government-backed militants have embarked on a fresh looting campaign of white-owned farms, forcing at least 23 landowners from their homes, the mainly white farmers' union says. Police were on Friday unavailable for comment on violence. Militants have invaded hundreds of white-owned farms since early 2000 with the tacit support of the government, which called their actions a justified response to inequitable land ownership left by colonial rule. Most of Zimbabwe's commercial farmland is owned by whites who make up less than half a percent of the population.
From The Financial Gazette, 17 January
Would-be farmers yet to see new plots
Confusion surrounded the government’s fast-track land reforms this week as would-be beneficiaries said they were still landless because of bureaucratic delays which some analysts said were an attempt by the government to buy time ahead of the crunch March presidential election. A snap survey by the Financial Gazette this week revealed that most of the properties on which new settlers are being allotted plots are being contested or are already occupied by self-styled independence war veterans and other ruling Zanu PF party supporters, which means that the beneficiaries cannot move onto the land. As a result, most of the people whose names have appeared in the state media in the past few weeks as having been given land are still in the dark about the specific location of the plots other than general information such as the province and district.
Most of the beneficiaries said they had been told that the farms on which their plots are located are not yet ready for occupation because war veterans had already planted maize on the properties and would only leave after harvesting. "That is the tragedy of the whole issue because you will find that some of those people who invaded farms when the land crisis started were not allocated land under the scheme and are still living illegally on the occupied farms," said one beneficiary who was allocated land in the Murewa district of Mashonaland East. More than 27 000 individuals had by Tuesday this week been listed in the state media as having been successful applicants under President Robert Mugabe’s fast-track land reform programme. Efforts to get comment from Lands and Agriculture Minister Joseph Made or Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, whose ministry is in charge of the actual placement of the resettled farmers, were fruitless this week.
"By rushing to announce the names of people before the farms are ready for occupation, the government could create conflict between the people who have been allocated land and those who have planted on the farms because some of us are keen to start working on our farms immediately," said another would-be farmer. All the interviewees preferred not to be named for fear they could lose their farms or plots or face retribution from marauding Zanu PF militia. This newspaper also found that another impediment had been an apparent breakdown in communication between Made’s ministry and its district offices, which had resulted in several successful applicants being turned away after inquiring about the exact location of their plots. "When I went to check at the local district office, I was told they were waiting for information from head office before they could write to me stating where I had been allocated land," said another successful applicant who was given a small-scale farm in Makonde district of Mashonaland West province.
The analysts accused the government of trying to hoodwink the electorate ahead of the crucial March 9-10 ballot in which Mugabe faces a stern challenge from opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The move is also seen as an attempt by Mugabe to mislead the international community that an orderly land redistribution programme is taking place in Zimbabwe. A rural and urban planning lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an orderly programme should have involved a coordinated approach between the various government departments involved in the exercise. "The procedure should be fairly standard. Once new settlers get letters from the district office, the district administrator’s office should be able to take them to the respective piece of land allocated to them," the lecturer said.
From The Financial Times, 18 January
Only intervention by the country's neighbours can prevent catastrophe in the forthcoming elections, says Robert Rotberg
Dictators eventually overreach themselves. Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, has been pushing his country and his neighbours towards the abyss for several years. With a decisive presidential election looming, he has just forced legislation through parliament that is intended to make opposition campaigning impossible, destroy the last smidgin of accountability, prohibit objective poll-watching and encourage continued physical intimidation of voters. Pending is an attempt to emasculate the independent media. Washington, London, Brussels and Pretoria have been wringing their hands over Zimbabwe's descent into chaos, economic catastrophe and impending famine for many months. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa summoned the leaders of the Southern African Development Community to consider Zimbabwe's case this week. The result was yet more hand-wringing.
Nothing short of action by South Africa and Zimbabwe's other neighbours will save a denial of justice from becoming a broader tragedy. Mr Mbeki and the SADC need to intervene in Zimbabwe to help the country save itself from further economic and political strife and possible civil war. Mr Mugabe's intention is to control the election and the critical period before it with his own lackeys. That clearly will not do. The best alternative, and one that nearly all Zimbabweans would welcome, would be an election run by a team of experts from the SADC. Botswanans, Namibians, Malawians and South Africans (not Zambians) have all managed responsible, fair elections in the recent past. If they were to organise the election, starting now, all Zimbabweans would believe the result. The role of Washington, London and Brussels would be to help pay for the SADC's services.
Mr Mugabe would not welcome such interference. But South Africa controls the supply of electricity and petroleum to Zimbabwe and can also limit many of its imports and exports. If Mr Mbeki could rally SADC support for such a bold initiative, Mr Mugabe would have little room for manoeuvre and might accede to an SADC-run election. The need for outside intervention extends to the campaign as well as to the conduct of the balloting itself. The SADC will need to ensure that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is allowed to seek support freely throughout the country. Observers believe that it has backers everywhere and could win a fair poll.
That is precisely why Mr Mugabe has been - and is intent on - ensuring that potential MDC voters know that they will be attacked now and later by the president's paramilitary legions (the so-called war veterans and newly armed sets of thugs) and, sometimes, by the police. That has been the pattern for more than a year. Without an impartial protecting force, many Zimbabweans will fear showing support for the opposition, or will refuse to vote. For that reason, South Africa and the SADC need to do more, with moral and political backing from Washington, London, Brussels and the United Nations. The SADC should send troops into Zimbabwe - preferably with Mr Mugabe's acquiescence - to keep the pre-electoral peace. Most of those troops would be South African and Botswanan but others could be recruited as well. Small detachments of troops stationed throughout Zimbabwe could prevent high levels of local intimidation. They would also provide a degree of confidence for rural and urban voters.
This kind of intervention is normally unthinkable. But there are no limits to Mr Mugabe's ruthlessness and no end to his preying on his own citizens for personal gain. As Mr Mbeki has said, Mr Mugabe has lost the moral authority to continue to lead. Indeed, from the perspectives of the European Union and parts of the British Commonwealth he has become a pariah and Zimbabwe is deserving of various kinds of sanctions. The UN Security Council could declare Zimbabwe worthy of humanitarian intervention under the UN Charter, thus supporting any SADC initiative. The SADC charter also permits interventions to preserve peace, even within the sovereign borders of its members.
Zimbabwe is bankrupt. Its people are suffering from the power-hungry exactions of Mr Mugabe and his ilk. Everyone concerned pins their hopes on a fair election that will reflect the desires of most Zimbabweans. But everything that Mr Mugabe has done since early 2000 suggests the impossibility of such a test without SADC control and intervention. If ending dictatorship is a worthy goal, and if ending the palpable harm that Mr Mugabe is doing to southern Africa is another objective, action is imperative. Sitting back and continuing to pray that Zimbabweans will somehow be able to vote according to their hearts and minds, whatever Mr Mugabe does, is an exercise of pious futility.
The writer is director of the programme on intrastate conflict at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He is president of the World Peace Foundation
|Last updated: 19-01-02, 21:58|
Britain has drawn up plans to evacuate
up to 25,000 British passport holders from Zimbabwe, says a report. According to
records in the Irish Embassy in South Africa, there are an estimated 2,000 Irish
passport holders also resident in the country.
The British Foreign Office sought to play down the claims, saying that its
contingency plans to assist British nationals were a routine part of its work.
But according to the Sunday Telegraph, British Foreign Secretary Mr
Jack Straw last month ordered an emergency planning committee to finalise plans
for a mass evacuation after receiving alarming reports of the deteriorating
The evaluation envisaged either a repressive crackdown before the elections
or a civil war afterwards if Mr Mugabe uses fraud to cling to power.
Widespread reports from human rights organisations, the opposition Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) and commercial farmers say that thousands of youths
have been deployed in rural areas all over the country with orders to drive out
the MDC by force.
Although Ireland does not have a resident mission in Zimbabwe, the Minister
for Foreign Affairs Mr Brian Cowen TD has instructed that an officer of the
Irish Embassy in South Africa (which is accredited to Zimbabwe) remain in Harare
to provide the necessary consular protection for the Irish community there.
It is not known whether the government has formalised contingency plans for
an evacuation of Irish citizens in the event of an emergency.
Mr Cowen said "all possible steps will be taken to ensure the safety of our
citizens in Zimbabwe."
The British Foreign Office sought to play down the claims, saying that its contingency plans to assist British nationals were a routine part of its work.
But according to the Sunday Telegraph, British Foreign Secretary Mr Jack Straw last month ordered an emergency planning committee to finalise plans for a mass evacuation after receiving alarming reports of the deteriorating situation.
The evaluation envisaged either a repressive crackdown before the elections or a civil war afterwards if Mr Mugabe uses fraud to cling to power.
Widespread reports from human rights organisations, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and commercial farmers say that thousands of youths have been deployed in rural areas all over the country with orders to drive out the MDC by force.
Although Ireland does not have a resident mission in Zimbabwe, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Brian Cowen TD has instructed that an officer of the Irish Embassy in South Africa (which is accredited to Zimbabwe) remain in Harare to provide the necessary consular protection for the Irish community there.
It is not known whether the government has formalised contingency plans for an evacuation of Irish citizens in the event of an emergency.
Mr Cowen said "all possible steps will be taken to ensure the safety of our citizens in Zimbabwe."
A spokesman said the government "has contingency plans for most countries in the world to assist British citizens in case of emergency".
"It's a routine part of the work of our overseas posts, but this does not mean we are actively or imminently preparing to evacuate British nationals from Zimbabwe."
The Foreign Office evaluated that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe - facing presidential elections in March - was unlikely to relinquish power without a violent struggle, the paper said.
The assessment envisaged either a repressive crackdown before the elections or a civil war afterwards if Mugabe uses fraud to cling to power.
On Friday, pro-democracy figures in Zimbabwe claimed President Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF had launched a new phase in its violent campaign for the presidential elections and was in the process of declaring all the country's countryside a "no-go zone" to the opposition.
Widespread reports from human rights organisations, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and commercial farmers say that thousands of youths have been deployed in rural areas all over the country with orders to drive out the MDC by force.
In London on Saturday, hundreds of people joined protests against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, with the organiser Albert Weidemann, calling on the Commonwealth to suspend the nation.
The Foreign Office said that for obvious reasons the government did not discuss details of contingency plans.
The FCO estimated there were around 40,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe, of whom around 25,000 had registered with the British High Commission.
Observers say that with elections only seven weeks away, Mugabe is not about to dismantle the massive apparatus of repression.
With the economy in tatters and widespread famine looming, violence appears to be the only way he can beat MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the elections on 9-10 March.
The ruling party strategy is being reinforced by the arrest of hundreds of MDC politicians, officials and supporters all over the country on what human rights organisations say are spurious grounds.
Police in southeastern Zimbabwe today arrested 13 supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, after the bodies of two suspected opposition members were found, a police spokesman said here.
Meanwhile political violence in the region was reported to have closed at least 30 schools, as teachers refused to work for fear of being attacked.
Police spokesman Tarwireyi Tirivavi said 13 supporters of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party had been arrested in Zaka district, where the bodies were found yesterday.
Zaka has been the scene of recent political tensions between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence 22 years ago but faces a tough challenge in elections next March, has recently been under strong international pressure to curb violence by his supporters, and to ensure a free and fair election.
A press report said at least 30 schools had been forced to close in Zaka and the neighbouring district of Bikita this week, as teachers refused to work due to fear of the political violence.
The headmaster of one of the schools was stripped naked and beaten by a mob of around 40 ZANU-PF supporters, the privately run Daily News reported.
Zaka and Bikita districts are traditionally ZANU-PF strongholds.
In a separate incident, seven MDC youths were arrested in northern Zimbabwe today after an attack on farm workers, Tirivavi said. "They had forced the farm workers to hand over ZANU-PF cards," he added.
There have been political clashes in several areas of Zimbabwe since dates for the presidential elections were announced last week. Elections are just seven weeks away, on March 9-10.
Political violence is meanwhile reported to be disrupting NGO operations in the country, according to the state news agency ZIANA.
The director of the National Association for Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), Jonah Mudehwe told the agency that staff had had to be recalled from various rural areas and some were being told to produce party cards.
Also today, journalists working in Zimbabwe condemned a tough media bill which is expected to be passed next week.
They vowed to petition parliament against the bill, which could ban foreign journalists altogether and place heavy restrictions on local reporters.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill is set to be debated on Tuesday, just weeks ahead of presidential elections in March.
Funerals are important in African society, so when Elizabeth Mujaji heard last week that her brother-in-law had died in the Chikombe area of rural Zimbabwe, she made plans to travel from Harare to attend the ceremony.
First, however, she needed to buy a membership card from Zanu-PF, Zimbabwe's ruling political party. President Robert Mugabe's "war veterans" and youth militias have set up illegal roadblocks between most of Zimbabwe's towns, where they assault anyone failing to produce a Zanu-PF card and send them back to where they came from to get one.
But the main party headquarters in Harare had run out of cards. Mrs Mujaji (not her real name) then sent her three sons into Harare's townships to try to buy one for her, but all returned empty-handed, forcing her to give up her plan to get to yesterday's funeral.
On Friday, an elderly, white, farm manager whose area has been closed off by militia checkpoints explained why he had acquired a party card. Without one, he said, "you are humiliated. We were made to kneel in the road, beg to be let through and sing slogans." He asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.
Without the vital card, rural Zimbabweans are finding it impossible not only to travel but to get medical treatment, seeds and other agricultural aid for peasants, or school places for their children. People hoping to be assigned property confiscated from white farmers under Mr Mugabe's controversial land policies have no hope of succeeding unless they produce proof of Zanu-PF membership.
In some of the areas worst affected by political violence, such as Gutu and Zaka, traditional headmen and chiefs are asking shopkeepers to sell goods only to those who can show Zanu-PF cards. Those who sell to "opposition renegades" risk having their premises burnt down.
Last week Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said Zimbabwe was already engaged in a "low-intensity civil war".
Such forms of intimidation, affecting almost every aspect of daily life, are commonplace in the more remote parts of Zimbabwe, where most of the country's 12.5 million people live. As the March presidential election approaches they are spreading to the towns, creating far more public concern than the controversial bills now going through parliament which will muzzle the press and make criticism of Mr Mugabe a crime.
"At this rate Zanu-PF cards are now an equivalent of the water that we drink and the air that we breathe," said a business executive who was humiliated at an illegal roadblock when he failed to produce a card while driving his children to a boarding school.
Apart from acquiring a Zanu-PF card, Zimbabweans are also finding it prudent to learn party slogans and liberation war songs from the 1970s. Many who have been unable to chant these on demand have been beaten up.
The rush to acquire cards has cut supplies to vanishing point. Officials at Zanu-PF headquarters said that while they were doing their best to print more to meet demand, they could not cope. A "parallel market" has sprung up in which cards are changing hands for up to nine times the official price: while the party is supposed to charge Z$34 (about 45p), unscrupulous Zanu-PF officials are charging up to Z$300 (about £3.70).
Although many Zimbabweans are buying the cards purely for convenience and are unlikely to vote for Mr Mugabe at the 9 and 10 March presidential election, their money will boost the coffers of a ruling party that also enjoys the use of state funds.
The Zimbabwean government says redistribution of commercial farmland to members of the black majority is needed to redress imbalances from colonial times.
The journalists' groups said on Saturday that, besides lobbying legislators to reject the media bill, they would also organise demonstrations against the government.
''This is one of the most draconian pieces of legislation one can ever see,'' Independent Journalists' Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) president Abel Mutsikani told the meeting.
''No such bad law has been formulated anywhere else in the world in recent years, not even in Mullah Omar's Afghanistan,'' he added.
Saturday's meeting was called by the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.
Apart from IJAZ, bodies represented were the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Federation of African Media Workers' Association and the Foreign Correspondents Association of Zimbabwe.
About 600 people demonstrated outside the American Embassy while another 150 were protesting at the Zimbabwe High Commission, according to organiser Albert Weidemann
The demonstrators want an end to attacks on white farm owners and the repression of journalists and opposition parties under President Robert Mugabe's regime.
They have appealed to Prime Minister Tony Blair to exert more pressure on President Mugabe's regime amid fears that the situation in Zimbabwe may be spiralling out of control.
Mr Weidemann told BBC News Online the Zimbabwe Human Rights Campaign had called the demonstration to thank the United States for imposing "smart sanctions" targeting Mr Mugabe and the ZANU -PF ruling party rather than the country as a whole.
But he added: "Unless the international community do something the people of Zimbabwe will continue to be persecuted.
"And we want to know why the UK Government and the European Union have not done enough."
Mr Weidemann is also calling on the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe and the United Nations to send a peace-keeping force to the country.
Previous protests in London by Britain's Zimbabwean community have called for the UK to help halt violence in their homeland and have included petitions being handed in to Downing Street.