Emily Mellgard co-authored this post. Emily is the Africa research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Robert Mugabe retains his grip on Zimbabwe for another five years. The swearing in ceremony for his seventh term as the nation’s leader took place on August 22 at a stadium in the capital Harare. It was attended by forty visiting heads of state and busloads of supporters brought in from the provinces to show their loyalty to the “fearless revolutionary.”
The elections on July 31, which drew scathing criticism from many western nations and human rights activists based on election observers’ documented evidence of rigging, allegedly gave Mugabe a two-thirds majority. Stretching credulity, his Zanu-PF party also succeeded in winning in regions that have previously solidly supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). There are now little to no constraints on Mugabe, and he has already announced his intentions to continue implementing his controversial “indigenization” policy, the essence of which is to transfer ownership of the few remaining foreign-owned enterprises to black Zimbabweans.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), after working with Zimbabwe following the violence of the previous, 2008, elections to ensure freer and fairer elections in 2013, has proved a paper tiger. At the post-Zimbabwean elections summit in Malawi, not only did they not discuss the accusations of voting irregularities, but they elected Mugabe as the deputy chairperson of SADC. They also called on western nations to lift the sanctions regime targeted against Mugabe and Zanu-PF elite. Malawi’s president Joyce Banda said “Zimbabweans had suffered enough,” perhaps conflating the elites with the people.
There is, however, no basis to lift the sanctions against Mugabe or his inner circle. The evidence is clear that he rigged himself into power for what will probably be his final term. It is uncertain what will develop over the next five years. Mugabe struck a more conciliatory note to his rivals–who boycotted the ceremony–in his inaugural speech than in his first public appearance after the elections. His comments toward the west however, remained hostile.
Significant political change in Zimbabwe will have to wait until Mugabe, who is eighty-nine years of age and reportedly suffers from cancer, leaves the scene. When he does, the subsequent jockeying for position among his inner circle may open up the political space.