A Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe – Strategic Communication Overview

Project Overview

To anticipate the eventual change of leadership in Zimbabwe this document has been created for communicators and foreign policy analysts as a predictive tool for how the different external stakeholders will go about using strategic communication to complement Cover Page Zim Projecttheir diplomatic missions in Zimbabwe. A document based on prognostication means there are certainly gaps in understanding and predicting how humans will drive interactions. However, using a theoretical framework from the discipline of International Relations will provide guidance on constructing this forecast. Of course, not every actor is welded to a particular theory of IR, and thus below is a starting point for analysis, not the end.

The document has been divided in three different possible scenarios that could see Robert Mugabe leave office: an election, a military coup, and his death. Each scenario is broken into the actions taken by each external actor engaged with Zimbabwe: the African Union, China, the European Union, South Africa, and the United States. For each scenario the goals, strategies, and tactics for each country are outlined, leading to where each country would target their message. Some focus on the people of Zimbabwe, the military, or the other countries in the region. For each target, the message is determined by the set of objectives each country is trying to achieve in the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. While some covert or diplomatic action is specified, the aim of this document is to predict the public diplomacy or overt strategic communication each actor takes towards its targets. The last piece of each country’s communication plan is the way the actor will engage or react to the actions of the other 5 international entities. This is to account for the fact that no communication plan exists in a vacuum and that the best laid plans will need revising based on the actions and counter-actions of the other players on the scene.

Historical Background:

Robert Mugabe has led the Republic of Zimbabwe, first as Prime Minister then as President, since the country’s internationally recognized independence in 1980. Now 89 years old, the one time freedom fighter looks set to loose the stranglehold over his office in the coming years, whether by the ballot box, a military coup, or death. With international actors having only engaged with Zimbabwe with Mugabe as its leader, the change in leadership will open the doors for reengagement by some in the international community, while others will seek to sustain the lucrative relationships build up during the Mugabe incumbency.

This spring, a new constitution was confirmed by referendum after the three major parties in Zimbabwe agreed on the text of the document during a regionally mediated process that began after the fraudulent elections of 2008. The Global Political Agreement, a comprehensive power sharing agreement between Mugabe’s Zimbabwean African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) political party and Morgan Tsvangarai’s rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its splinter group, has meant a split government for the past 5 years with Tsvangarai as Prime Minister and Mugabe as President. Now with elections to come this year after a successful referendum for a constitution, there’s another chance for political change. However, Mugabe has closed off external actors from aiding in the preparation from the polls and has excluded South Africa President Jacob Zuma, the region’s point man for the crisis. Zimbabwe has also targeted foreign and domestic journalists in an attempt to clamp down on reporting of deals to hold off a military coup. With this move to shield the election from international and regional scrutiny, it hints at ZANU-PF moving to secure an electoral win regardless of the vote count.

The potential for conflict is substantial based on Zimbabwe’s history of undemocratic and non-transparent elections that have seen opposition parties harassed, beaten, and killed. Thus, the post-Mugabe era will be a moment for external actors to exert their influence through strategic communication in order to achieve a favorable result for their interests.

International Actors

African Union

The AU has taken a much stronger role in conflict situations perpetrated by military coups. The organization has suspended Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau, and Central Afrifcan Republic in recent years for political or military coups. However, in Zimbabwe the AU has ceded much the political engagement with Zimbabwe to the Southern African Development Community and has given the South African Presidency, first under Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, the lead in mediating any crisis in the region. SA leadership resulted in the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which saw a Government of National Unity (GNU) assume power in Zimbabwe, and has stabilized the economy after the US Dollar and South African Rand were adopted as national currency. With a South African as the current head of the AU Commission, any future crisis will likely see the South Africa Presidency remain the AU’s primary representative to the country.

People’s Republic of China

China’s relationship with Zimbabwe resembles many other African countries: government projects paid for with resource backed loans. With Zimbabwe’s production of diamonds as collateral, China mostly recently backed the founding of a military academy in Zimbabwe. Famously, a Chinese shipment of arms to Zimbabwe before the election crisis of 2008 was forced to return home after no Southern African nation would allow it to unload its shipment in their ports. When UN Security Council members tried to pass an arms embargo against Zimbabwe, China and Russia vetoed the draft resolution. There has been no clear evidence for how Zimbabwe pays for the arms, including assault rifles, fighter planes, and riot gear, but news organizations have speculated that access to Zimbabwe’s rich agricultural growing land and other minerals is the government’s payment. China has reason to fear for the security of these deals as Morgan Tsvangarai has declared that he will renegotiate the terms with China after the terms were highlighted during a visit from Hillary Clinton to the region.

European Union

The EU has been a supporter of the agricultural sector recently, saying that its importance stems from the critical source of livelihood that it provides to a large majority in the country. Since the formation of the GNU after the Global Political Agreement, the EU and its members have contributed over USD 1 billion in development assistance. This has included health, education, food security and sectors that promote good governance. This has resulted in some remarked harvest yields, and a reduction in school dropouts due to a irrigation program to support rural communities. The EU also recently withdrew the majority of their sanctions on Zimbabwe.

The investment and faith placed in the GPA by the EU means that a return to the violence that was witnessed in 2008 would be a strong black mark on the  EU programs and funding. Thus the EU would place high priority on reaching a stable political and economic agreement after any crisis.

Republic of South Africa

As the economic powerhouse and political heavyweight of the continent, South Africa has significant economic interests in Zimbabwe as well as being acutely tuned to the spillover effects of political or economic crisis in their northern neighbor. As South Africa received the majority of refugees following the violence in 2008, South Africa will be primarily interested in securing political and economic stability in the country. This will also benefit the significant business interests of the governing African National Congress and their allies. South African mining companies have had a relationship with Zimbabwe since the time of Cecil Rhodes, but recently the massive diamond find at the Marange diamond fields has seen a joint venture between a South African company and the Zimbabwean government begin to operate the mine. Since 2009, South African companies have committed over 50% of the total Foreign Direct Investment in the country totaling USD 13 billion. Thus, South Africa may be more interested in devising a communication plan that secures stability rather than fulfillment of democratic processes. With significant economic agreements formed under the GNU, South Africa would be wary of any political disruption.

United States of America

With little material interest in Zimbabwe, the US government is able to remain true to its belief in transparent democratic processes to elect a government. The United States will need to bolster its image in the region to compete with China for business and strategic partners over the next few decades. Thus, mending the image as a neo-colonial hegemon will be of critical priority. Bolstering the region’s stability will benefit Zimbabwe’s neighbors, allowing for the US to cast itself as a friend of the people rather than linked to authoritative regimes. The United States also has an interest in weakening China’s relationship with emerging African nations, as well as inhibiting their support for autocratic regimes through loans-for-resources deals. The narrative of neo-colonialism is powerful, and by creating the appearance of China as the neo-colonial actor, the United States can secure partners in the region to act as a bulwark of Chinese intervention in the region and help rehabilitate the image of the US. Securing international support from Africa will be more crucial in coming years, whether it be UN Security Council votes, or the opening of new markets for American goods and services.


Ballot Box:

This scenario portrays the actions of the six countries and organizations if Mugabe was to leave office through an election that sees an opposition party take the vote in an election that is deemed credible by the international community. 

Details: Some opinion polls have the MDC winning the upcoming election with 60% of the vote. Despite this, the outcome will be based on the effectiveness of the MDC’s campaigning to get out the vote and the level of intimidation Mugabe and ZANU-PF ramp up in the weeks leading to the election. However, the possibility still exists that Morgan Tsvangarai could win the vote and be sworn in as President. Guarding against Mugabe’s resistance to leave or the military intervening before the handover will be important for Zimbabwe, and will cause different countries to approach their post-election communication strategies differently. Importantly, nations who have had friendly relations with Mugabe will have their interests under threat of retaliation by the MDC and will need to secure a relationship with the new government as soon as possible.

Military Coup:

This scenario depicts an overthrow of the National Government, either before or after the 2013 election, by military forces. This could be a seizure against a frail Mugabe, or a Tsvangarai-led government that the military sees as a threat to their ‘ideals’.

Details: With the Zimbabwe Defense Forces seeking to keep their influence in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, they will have a keen interest in the results of an internal ZANU-PF succession struggle or the results of an election. If the military was to sense that either outcome would be detrimental to their interests, a coup, like the one that is said to have been foiled in 2007, is possible. It could then set off a power struggle between the MDC, and the ZANU-PF aligned military. MDC would be unlikely to put up much of a military resistance. If the military does assume power, a successful communications plan will be necessary to expel them from power or to shield them from international pressure.

Mugabe’s Death:

This scenario presents the strategies of the six actors in the immediate aftermath of Mugabe’s death. It assumes that the new constitution has been passed in Parliament, and that Mugabe has won reelection in the 2013 vote. The scenario will respond to the political in-fighting and chaos that will ensue if Mugabe has not yet appointed his 1st Vice-President. However, this scenario is valid even if a successor assumes the office, as it will result in an unelected office holder assuming the Presidency.  

Details: Mugabe’s death would see his 1st Vice-President taking the office of President with the Second Vice-President moving to the first position. However, Mugabe is not required to have a running mate on his ticket, and has thus pushed the decision on his successor till after the election. Thus, political competition for that post is intense between current Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Vice President Joice Mujuru, wife of the late General of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces.

His death has the chance cause the most chaos in the country of the three scenarios. Even if a successor is chosen before his death, there is a possibility that recognition of this person would be questioned not only by the opposition parties, but also rivals in ZANU-PF. The strategic communications objectives of each actor would vary between a wait-and-see approach while gauging internal opinion and those would seek to play an active, but covert role, in the succession fight between ZANU-PF members.


2 thoughts on “A Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe – Strategic Communication Overview

  1. Funny how you have a long, boring and often repeated story of the racist white Rhodesian minority. How many white soldiers did SWAPO and the racist Mugabe have??? I’ll tell you none! But Rhodesia had plenty and even had officers that were black Africans, but you will never call out racist of other colors only whites can be racist… Ask yourself how many African slaves Arabs took and killed but only whites that owned slaves are studied

  2. Jody – Unless you’re referencing another article, this piece isn’t about the white minority in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. This was an attempt to simulate how different actors would respond to Mugabe losing/leaving power – which I think we can all agree would be a good thing for the country. The focus of my studies rarely dealt with racism, black or white, but focused more on the economic, political, and developmental effects that it had.

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