Could a UN Transitional Authority rescue Zimbabwe from a failed state?
By Clifford Chitupa Mashiri
Inspired by Ndamu Sandu’s “Giants feel the heat as economy tumbles,” The Zimbabwe Standard, 19 July 2015, the author argues that a UN Transitional Authority could rescue Zimbabwe from a failed state. A brief review of the literature could help set the pace.
In her essay, Roxanne Juliane Kovacs (2012) rightly cites Bratton and Masunungure’s (2011) assertion that Zimbabwe was once one of Africa’s most promising economies and has unexpectedly drifted into deprivation and decay. Kovacs (2012) rejects Maundeni’s (2002) thesis that the political causes for Zimbabwe’s state failure lie in its inherited political culture and shows why the country’s failure is connected to its current political regime.
Geoffrey Ingersol and Brian Jones (2013) underscored the thesis that Zimbabwe is now a failed state and could not believe how life could be so bad after Foreign Policy came out with its annual list of the most failed states on the globe in the summer of 2013, including Zimbabwe based on 12 metrics including social, economic, and political and military indicators.
Davison Madenyika (2014) argues that Zimbabwe is already a failed state, but its failure is unique. Madenyika asserts that countries that failed at one point in history for example, Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda share one thing in common – widespread violence and conflict, but Zimbabwe did not experience conflict of the magnitude and scale witnessed in the afore mentioned countries.
While there is a consensus that Zimbabwe is now a failed state, the government of Zimbabwe rejects that assertion arguing that it’s made by agents of regime change. But not much has been suggested as the way out, other than the individual or family decision to migrate into the Diaspora.
Many writers are also very frustrated that there has not been a violent uprising in Zimbabwe but don’t say who should face the riot police on their behalf after nearly all protests have been violently crushed.
But for a change, this opinion piece argues that a UN Transitional Government for Zimbabwe could be a viable option to a violent uprising. Using two case studies of Cambodia and Namibia the author argues that all that it takes is for Zimbabwe to eat the humble pie and be saved from catastrophe.
One of the most complex operations, the United Nations in Cambodia oversaw a transition that led to the restoration of the rule of law after years of civil war and foreign intervention (United Nations Peacekeeping undated online file).
After the intervention in Cambodia by Viet Nam in December 1978, the General Assembly in 1979 called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces. In 1981, the Assembly requested the U N Secretary General to exercise his good offices to contribute a comprehensive political settlement.
In 1988, after comprehensive consultations with the Governments and parties involved through his Special Representative, the Secretary General submitted a settlement framework to the General Assembly. In November 1990 the UN Security Council agreed on a draft text on Cambodia which covered a proposed mandate for a UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia.
In November, the “Five” Security Council members agreed on a draft text on Cambodia which covered a proposed mandate for a United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC); withdrawal, ceasefire and related measures; elections; repatriation of refugees; and principles for a new constitution.
After a ceasefire went into effect in May 1991, following the signing of the famous Paris agreements, the Security Council in February 1992 authorised the establishment of UNTAC comprising between 15,000 and 20,000 UN personnel, including human rights, civil administrative and military components, as well as a police component of some 3,600 police monitors.
UNTAC assumed control of key sectors of the country’s administrative structures – foreign affairs, defence, security, finance and communications – in order to build a stable environment conducive to national elections. At the same time UNHCR oversaw the successful repatriation and settlement of some 360,000 refugees and displaced persons.
UNTAC oversaw the electoral campaign and registration of voters, as well as the elections in May 1993 in which twenty parties took part. Over 4.2 million people – nearly 90 per cent of the registered voters – cast their ballots to elect a Constituent Assembly. The head of UNTAC declared the elections free and fair. In September 1993, the Constitution was proclaimed and a new government, led by two prime ministers was inaugurated.
A major step towards normalization occurred with the elections of May 1993. Twenty parties took part in the elections. UNTAC oversaw the electoral campaign and registration of voters, as well as the elections.
Over 4.2 million people — nearly 90 per cent of the registered voters — cast their ballots to elect a Constituent Assembly. The head of UNTAC declared the elections free and fair. In September, the Constitution was proclaimed and a new government, led by two prime ministers, was inaugurated and UNTAC withdrew.
In April 1989, the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was appointed as the UN’s Special Representative to head up the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia which supervised the apartheid South African appointed Administrator-General Louis Pienaar, and to oversee the decolonisation of one of Africa’s last colonies.
It was not an easy job. On 1 April 1989 – D-Day” for the peace plan UNTAG units had not been fully deployed and those that were (mostly civilians and monitors) lacked equipment for both communication and transportation.
Despite this, hopes were high, as an informal ceasefire had held for nearly seven months. After some skirmishes between South African and Swapo forces, the UN Security Council forced Pretoria to demobilise some 1,600 members of the controversial Koevoet (Afrikaans for crowbar) paramilitary unit. Koevoet continued to deploy in the north in armoured and heavily armed convoys.
However, the 11 month transition period ended relatively peacefully after South Africa withdrew all its forces and some 42,000 refugees returned home safely under the auspices of the UNHCR. Almost 98 per cent of registered voters cast their ballots to elect a Constituent Assembly in November 1989 with SWAPO taking 57 per cent of the vote, while the opposition Democratic Turnhalle Allaince received 29 per cent.
The polls were certified as free and fair by the UN Special Representative. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia on Independence Day 21 March 1990, watched by among others dignitaries, Nelson Mandela who had just been released from prison.
Since then Namibia has changed leaders through peaceful transfer of power with the most recent on 21 March 2015 from President Hifikepunye Pohamba to his successor Dr Hage Geingob, a move that represents victory for democracy in Namibia.
An important lesson for Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole from Namibia is that it became the first African country to successfully use fool-proof electronic voting machines to choose its leaders in November 2014.
Now back to Zimbabwe’s failed state thesis, with the economy proving invincible for rigging, amid an estimated 90 per cent unemployment rate, there is a compelling case for a UN Transitional Authority in Zimbabwe (UNTAZ).
A starting point could be a request by Zimbabwe to the UN Secretary General for the appointment of a Special Representative to initiate comprehensive negotiations with all the parties as a matter of utmost urgency ahead of the 2018 elections.
Headed by a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, the UN Transitional Authority in Zimbabwe (UNTAZ) could work along the experience of UNTAC in Cambodia by assuming control of key sectors of Zimbabwe’s administrative structures – foreign affairs, defence, security, finance and communications in order to ensure a level playing field conducive to credible national elections.
Arguably, governance would change in Zimbabwe by virtue of a UN Security Council resolution giving mandate to the UN Transitional Authority in Zimbabwe (UNTAZ) which will only withdraw after free and fair elections have been conducted.
Any acts of corruption to do with electoral and/or financial frauds would be under subject to UN sanctions and FBI as well as Interpol’s jurisdiction during UNTAZ mandate. Nobody is suggesting the UN is a panacea to all problems, but what is?
Clifford is a PhD Candidate at London South Bank University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Bratton, M. & Masunungure, E.(2007). Public reactions to state repression: operation murambatsvina in Zimbabwe. African Affairs, 106, 21-45.
Ingersol, G. and Jones, B. (2013) “The 25 Most Failed States On Earth,” The Business Insider, 1 Jun. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-25-most-failed-states-on-earth-2013-6?op=1#ixzz3gLBSRg54 [Accessed 19/07/15].
Kovacs, R.J. (2012) “What Makes a Failed State? Examining the Case of Zimbabwe,” 31 May. E-International Relations Students.
Madenyika, D. (2014) “A failed state and its failed people,” Nehanda Radio, 4 Mar. Available at: https://nehandaradio.com/2014/03/04/failed-state-failed-people/#sthash.xpGw1HbH.dpuf [Accessed 19/07/15].
Murphy, G.A. (2013) “Robert Mugabe’s Africa: Zimbabwe as a Failed State,” Available at: https://library.tulane.edu/journals/index.php [Accessed 19/07/15].
United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia. United Nations. Available at: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/untacbackgr1.html [Accessed 19/07/15].