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On Tuesday morning, after attending Rep. Karen Bass’ Africa Policy Breakfast Series, I headed over to the Dirksen Senate Building for my first Congressional hearing, Examining Prospects for Democratic Reform and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe.  The title aside, the hearing was primarily an inquiry into Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections.  Two members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs presided over the hearing.  Chris Coons (D – DE, he apparently studied in Kenya as an undergrad), the Committee Chair took the lead with support from Jeff Flake (R – AZ).  Flake had spent time in Zimbabwe in 1982 – 83 as a Mormon missionary.  His Wikipedia page says that he speaks Afrikaans and opposed sanctions on South Africa in the 1980s.  He was also Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Namibia (no idea what that is).

The session consisted of two panels, one with prominent US government officials (State and USAID) and another with key civil society Zimbabwe watchers (in that order).  I’ll discuss the latter panel here and will cover the first panel in a post on Thursday.

The experts convened for panel 2 were Dewa Mahvinga, a Zimbabwean national with Human Rights Watch, Mark Schneider, the Senior VP of International Crisis Group, and Todd Moss, VP of the Center for Global Development (the last two speakers being white Americans).  I left at the conclusion of their opening remarks and missed the Q&A.

Mahvinga suggested that there was a ‘slim chance’ for credible elections in Zimbabwe.  He spoke of his concern at the lack of security sector reform and the state control of radio and tv broadcasting.

Schneider, a former Peace Corps Director, warned of a ‘looming electoral crisis in Zimbabwe.’  He argued that the playing field was tilted even more in favor of ZANU – PF for this election than it had been in 2008, when Mugabe lost the first round.  Echoing Mahvinga, he stated that aside from concerns with the compressed time frame for the elections, his ‘single greatest concern is the conduct of Zimbabwean security forces.’  To help level the playing field, he suggested that the US increase its support for SADC mediation and support the deployment of SADC election monitors (if I recall correctly, the 2002 election in Zimbabwe shows us the fallacy in relying on African election monitors) and SADC police personnel.

Todd Moss rounded out the trio and delivered the most abrasive remarks, with which I wholeheartedly agree.  Going beyond the concerns of Schneider and Mahvinga, he suggested that the US is ‘sleepwalking down the wrong path’ and that Zimbabwe’s elections cannot possibly be free and fair, given the ongoing intimidation and lack of genuine reform that has been a characteristic of the country’s political scene since the flawed 2008 contest.

He also made the logical point that Mugabe had been defeated in 2008 and refused to step down, which would indicate that he would not be willing to leave office in 2013.  According to Moss, elections are ‘a form of political theater only grudgingly tolerated by Mr. Mugabe’ (interesting that he declined to use the word ‘President’).

As for my prediction on Zimbabwe’s future, I think that Mugabe will win elections and that if the MDC ever does control the executive branch, it will not be until Mugabe has been deceased for several years.

A lot of summer interns were in the audience

A lot of summer interns were in the audience