Preventing Armed Conflict In Zimbabwe

Preventing Armed Conflict In Zimbabwe

Year(s): 2008 – 2009.

Location: Zimbabwe.

UN Regional Group: Africa.

Type of Conflict: Risk of a Vertical (state-based) Intrastate Conflict.

Type of Initiative: Diplomacy and the mediation of a peace agreement.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The African Union, Southern African Development Community, and the Government of South Africa.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: The diplomatic intervention of the Southern African Development Community and South African President Mbeki helped to avert an armed conflict in Zimbabwe following a contested election in 2008.   

Description of Case 

When the 2008 elections were held in Zimbabwe, the country was suffering from a decade-long economic crisis, food and fuel shortages, and a cholera epidemic.[1] President Robert Mugabe, who had been in power since 1980, was facing growing opposition; his proposed constitutional amendments had been resoundingly defeated in a referendum, while the violent conduct of his administration was met with condemnation at home and abroad.[2] The opposition won the parliamentary contest, but the first round of the presidential election proved inconclusive, leading to a run-off. As the Zimbabwean people waited to return to the polls, security services and militias loyal to Mugabe launched a brutal crackdown.[3] As the polls drew nearer, Mugabe openly threatened widespread violence should he lose the election. His rhetoric was given an extra sting when British intelligence discovered a major arms shipment en route to Harare from China.[4] While the opposition movement maintained a peaceful campaign, it too began organising militias and preparing for a violent resolution of the conflict.[5] Thus, Zimbabwe stood at the precipice of a major civil war.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) convened an extraordinary summit in response to the escalating crisis, attended by opposition candidates and officials from Mugabe’s government, which culminated with a joint statement calling for the elections to go ahead peacefully.[6] This was followed by a visit to Zimbabwe by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who served as the official mediator of the SADC for the conflict in Zimbabwe.[7] After weeks of negotiations mediated by Mbeki, the parties signed the Global Political Agreement, which expressed the shared commitment to the prevention of violence and established a Government of National Unity (GNU) in which Mugabe retained the presidency and the opposition candidate became prime minister.[8] The African Union backed the Agreement, viewing the transitional administration as an effective means of containing the conflict until fresh elections (mandated in the Agreement) could be held in a free and fair environment monitored by international observers.[9] In February 2009, the GNU came to power and managed to curtail some of the worst hardships affecting the Zimbabwean population.[10] Although tensions remained high in Zimbabwe, the timely diplomatic intervention prevented the outbreak of war in 2008.

[1] Human Rights Watch. Zimbabwe: Events of 2008. (HRW, 2009) Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[2] Bryan Sims. Zimbabwe: a conflict history. (Peace Insight, 2015) Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[3] Chris McGreal. “This is no election. This is a brutal war.” The Guardian. (2008) Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[4] Obonye Jonas, David Mandiyanike, & Zibani Maundeni. “Botswana and Pivotal Deterrance in the Zimbabwe 2008 Political Crisis.” The Open Political Science Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1. (2013) p.2

[5] Ibid. p.3

[6] IRIN News. “SADC disappoints civil society.” The New Humanitarian. (2008) Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[7] James Sturcke. “Mbeki visits Zimbabwe in mediator role.” The Guardian. (2008) Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[8] Agreement between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Formations, on Resolving the Challenges Facing Zimbabwe, 2008. Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[9] Martin Revayi Rupiya. “A review of the African Union’s experience in facilitating peaceful power transfers: Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Libya and Sudan.” African Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 12, No. 2. (2012) Available at: (Accessed 25/11/2020)

[10] Martha Mutisi. “Beyond the signature: Appraisal of the Zimbabwer Global Political Agreement (GPA) and Implications for Intervention.” ACCORD Policy and Practice Brief, No. 4. (2011) p.3