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zim panel

*I will publish part 2 tomorrow on the comments of Shannon Smith, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.  I took great exception to her diplomatic speak, so please indulge my venting in a dedicated post.

Alas, work commitments today meant that I missed most of the ‘Beyond the Elections in Zimbabwe‘ conference convened at the National Endowment for Democracy and co-sponsored by a variety of local organizations.

I arrived late, in the middle of the 2nd panel, and had to leave early (fortunately, I still got a delicious lunch).  This meant that I missed the first panel, on civil society, which was what I most wanted to hear.  Fortunately, I did get to speak with Jenni Williams of WOZA Zimbabwe (Women of Zimbabwe Arise).  Ms. Williams is a mixed race Zimbabwean from the country’s second city, Bulawayo, who leads one of the most resolute and well organized civil society action groups in the country.

Of the round two panelists, who spoke on ‘Building Democratic Institutions’, I heard the most from Dewa Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch.  I also heard him speak before Congress not too long ago when the date of the Zimbabwean elections were still up in the air.  I did not know then that he was a Zimbabwean national.

Mavhinga faulted SADC, which he described as ‘crumbling under pressure from ZANU-PF and Mugabe’. for failing in its role as a guarantor of the global political agreement that brought Zimbabwe an inclusive government and some measure of stability.  He spoke of a meeting with Simon Khaya Moyo, the national chairman of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU – PF party, where he was informed that it was impossible for Zimbabwe’s security forces to be apolitical given the heritage of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.  He criticized the judiciary as ‘compromised’ and faulted the MDC (the main opposition party) for relying on it and SADC.

Irene Petras, the Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), offered something of a rebuttal to this perspective during the Q&A.  She said that she is often asked why ZLHR takes cases before the ‘compromised’ courts.  Her answer?  ‘Going to court exposes the way that systems have been corrupted’.  She added that people will look at her litigation in the future and that it will cause perpetrators of illegal acts to ‘answer for things that have been done.’

The other two panelists were Martin Rupaya of the African Public Policy & Research Institute (which is based in South Africa) and Jabusile Shumba of the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe.

The conference had a good turn out and it was nice to see DC get geared up for the Zimbabwean elections, although 8 days before the elections is a little late in the game (which is precisely what upset me with Smith’s comments).

Dedicated Africa in DC readers may find it amusing to note that just as I entered the conference room, a lady I previously blogged about at a NED event left through the door I was entering.