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Renewed Violence in Zimbabwe Raises Fresh Election Concerns

Robert Mugabe's pre run-off election crack-down has been extended aid groups, which the president calls foreign spy organizations. A panel of experts discuss the new reports of violence and what this means for Zimbabwe's future.

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    The Zimbabwe government of President Robert Mugabe has extended its pre-election crackdown to cover international aid groups. Some were told to curb their activities, and CARE was ordered to cease its operations altogether.

    Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans depend on foreign groups for food.

    Yesterday, at a food conference in Rome, President Mugabe accused nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, of interfering in the politics of his country.

    In addition, Zimbabwe police today detained opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. He and Mugabe face each other in a runoff presidential election on June 27th. He was later released.

    For more on all this, we turn to Nicole Lee, executive director of TransAfrica Forum, an advocacy group based in Washington; and Clarence Lusane — am I saying that right? — professor of political science and international relations at American University.

    We invited Zimbabwe's ambassador to join the discussion, but the embassy did not respond to our request.

    And welcome to you both.

    Nicole Lee, beginning with you, what's really behind Mugabe's order to these international aid groups to either cease altogether or cut back on their operations?

  • NICOLE LEE, TransAfrica Forum:

    Well, this is actually not unprecedented. There has been times when the Mugabe regime has asked aid organizations to cease and desist their operations.

    But at this point, given the situation with the runoff, given the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai's party, the MDC, Movement for Democratic Change, have really shown that they do have a foothold in this country, it's pretty clear that the Mugabe regime is nervous about people, organizations, international aid groups, meddling in the affairs of Zimbabwe.

    And this is one way that they can control the population. Certainly, if you can't eat, you're not going to be so concerned about the vote.


    What would you add to that?

  • CLARENCE LUSANE, American University:

    It's important to look at this in the broader context of what the long history of the Mugabe regime leading up to the elections launching these attacks.

    Unfortunately, but predictably, what we're seeing is that the embarrassment that the administration is suffering from, the fact that it has to deal with a food crisis, and that what was once one of the prime countries in all of Africa, in terms of producing food, has been reduced to literally dependence on the global community and on these NGOs and on the United Nations.

    So there's an embarrassment element that's there, but there's also a hostage element that's there, that if people know that now they're going to be depending on the Mugabe government to deliver food, that will put a big check on the degree to which people will express support for the MDC.


    Now, Human Rights Watch also said that they really want to eliminate witnesses to what's going on. Do you think that's a factor?


    Absolutely. There are many factors coming together right now.

    You have an inflation rate that is about 100,000 percent. You have a situation where 80 percent of the people are unemployed. And this is a situation that has been perpetual, so people have remained unemployed for years and years. People have been now malnourished for years and years.

    Now you have a situation where people in Zimbabwe are beginning to say, "Enough is enough." And while they believe in the liberation movement that took place 25 years ago, they do want change right now today.


    That Mugabe's party and Mugabe was central to.


    Absolutely. Absolutely. And yet that is still very important, not just historically, but in today's Zimbabwe.

    But the truth for the people on the ground in Zimbabwe is that many of the reforms the Mugabe's regime has put forth have not worked for them. And so they are looking for change.

    And so, certainly, these factors have compounded upon each other. And now we're seeing the government's response really is to ensure that there are no witnesses to what's going on.