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I have previously committed to analyzing several of the CSIS Africa notes, monthly updates on a single issue from the CSIS Africa program that were distributed between 1982 and 2006.  In honor of my personal interest in Zimbabwe and the forthcoming elections, I will begin my review with an analysis of the November, 1983 note on ‘Whither Zimbabwe?’ by Michael Clough, a political scientist who has had affiliations with the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the University of California – Berkeley (note: I had never heard of him before reading this piece).

What instantly struck me about ‘Whither Zimbabwe?’ is how relevant the questions that Clough asked 30 years ago are today and how presciently he identified the major issues that could bring Zimbabwe down, mere years after the end of minority settler rule.  Clough’s piece evaluates Mugabe’s governance in light of the demands of four major constituencies.

1.  ZANU – PF militants

Much as the media today speculates about multiple factions within ZANU-PF (such as the hawks led by Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and the doves led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru), Clough identifies cleavage within those in ZANU-PF vying for varying speeds of remorm.  He states that Mugabe “genuinely believes..a one-party state would best serve the long-term interests of Zimbabwe.”

2.  Grass-Root Expectations

Clough states that improvements in the standards of living of the African masses is “the most difficult challenge facing Mugabe.”  Given that the rise of Zimbabwe’s most successful opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, paralleled the collapse of the country’s economy, this is certainly an apt observation.  Clough suggests that the governments record after three years of independence is mixed.  He cites successes in health and education, but points to a slow rate of resettlement on white-owned farms.  All Africa in DC readers should know what has later transpired in regard to that issue.  Clough even suggests that “militant populists in ZANU – PF can use popular dissatisfaction…to push for more radical economic policies.”

3. The PF-ZAPU Factor

Although Zimbabwe’s minority Ndebele ethnic group is not much of a significant force on the political scene these days, they represented the greatest threat to Mugabe’s dream of a one-party state in Zimbabwe throughout much of the 1980s.  Along with the increasing disdain for Mugabe in the late 1990s came renewed attention on the 1980s massacres of Ndebele people by the Fifth Brigade, a Shona dominated military groups (these massacres are collectively known as Gukurahundi).

Clough does not ignore these events and refers to the “exceedingly brutal tactics” of the Fifth Brigade that “resulted in significant numbers of civilian casualties.

4. The White Community

Clough asks if Mugabe’s good relations with whites through 1983 is likely to hold.  He gives a murky answer, which can be best interpreted as a highly qualified no.  However, it is doubtful that he would have expected the role of whites to ever decline in Zimbabwe as precipitously as has happened under Mugabe.

Clough suggests that the white population of Zimbabwe (150,000 at the time of his writing) would probably stabilize at around 80,000.  I have read estimated of Zimbabwe’s white population numbering about 20,000 currently.  Based on my time in Harare, that figure seems way too low, but I doubt the estimates can be off to the extent that the population approaches 80,000 today.

The author does presciently suggest that the rise of the political fortunes of militants in ZANU-PF could alter the equation (which has happened) and he points to the continued existence of parallel institutions serving blacks and whites in the early years of independence, a scenario which undoubtedly caused resentment of whites to continue to flourish.


The piece concludes with an analysis of US – Zimbabwe relations.  At first read I did not find it too interesting, but during my writing of this piece I have changed that stance.  In regards to possible US actions to take over Zimbabwe’s state sponsored Gukurahundi violence, Clough suggests that a tougher US position “could be satisfying in the short run but self-defeating in the longer run.”

While I am not old enough to have closely followed the Zimbabwe situation when the MDC emerged, I suspect that Clough’s advice would hold up well under the lense of a Zimbabwe two decades later, dominated by invasions of white farmlands and unfair elections.

Once can take two perspectives on this.  Either the international community erred in not sanctioning Zimbabwe in the early 1980s, ennobling Mugabe to embark on more violence decades later, or the error came in putting sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002, which pushed Mugabe further towards a radical path.

All in all, Clough’s piece holds up well under the passing of time and would be useful to policymakers of today.