After recent events in Tunisa and Egypt, where mass public protest has led to profound changes in their governments, many people are asking where it could spread to next. Many people have asked me of the likelihood of similar events in Zimbabwe, which I believe it is highly unlikely.
There are reasons to think that these protests could spread south, as the situations have their similarities. Both countries have presidents who have been serving for 30 years, neither have histories of democratic elections, and both are in Africa. That is where the similarities end.
The Zimbabwean population has proven itself to be a passive one. As the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated, mass protests did not appear frequently and when they did they were met with a brutal response from the police. With an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans having fled the country in recent years, this has prompted an image of them fleeing rather than fighting. Egyptians have the Palestinian cause to align themselves to, but Zimbabweans have been the black sheep of the region with no neighbours to which to align their plight to.
One significant aspect that has allowed the Egyptian protests to reach its high attendance levels is the apparent acquiescence of the army. The police did not fare so well, and were sent scampering by the protesters early on, but images of soldiers hugging protesters shows the sympathy that exists between these to elements. So far any sort of public action, of which I’m sure the brave women of WOZA! will testify to, has been met with utter brutality from the police who show no quarter to their fellow countrymen and women. Apart from occasional rumours of police striking in protest to their pay, their loyalty to the government has shown little strain in recent years.
Lastly, Zimbabwe does not occupy and geopolitical position of any significance. Egypt is the centre of the Arab world, it’s fragility threatens the entire peace process in the Middle East. There are tens of thousands of foreign tourists in the country at this time and Egypt is seen as a more moderate government in a volatile region. Although the protests thus far have been effective, the stern words from the US undoubtedly had a say in Mubarak’s two step downs. No such climate exists in Zimbabwe, where the only state with motivation to react is South Africa, which has done little thus far.
But if protests were needed to change the government, they were need not today but three years ago during the disputed elections of 2008. The fragile equilibrium that exists there now has gone some way to repairing the damage done in recent years. But if an election is called too soon and the campaign of terror is resumed by ZANU-PF, then perhaps it will be our last option.