WASHINGTON, D.C. — Panelists at a VOA discussion on the future of Zimbabwe painted a bleak picture of a country facing enormous political and economic challenges as it heads into elections planned for later this month.
Panelists included Lauren Ploch, an Africa specialist with the Congressional Research Service, Vukasin Petrovic from Freedom House, Admonish Deda, a Zimbabwean youth leader studying in the U.S. and Dr. Priscilla Ndlovu, who fought against white rule in the 1970s.
“We, as Zimbabweans, w
ant to be independent, want a better future for our children, we want to get back to work, and we want our schools to work and to be educated enough to vote without fear,” Ndlovu told the panel. She said she hoped the parties would begin to talk about issues in a way that will give people a reason to vote for them.
Freedom House analyst Vukasin Petrovic told the panel that the elections could bring needed change, but he said deeper reforms would likely take more than a decade.
“I would say pretty much everything needs to change. Zimbabwe is one of the poorest performing countries when it comes to human rights in sub-Saharan Africa,” Petrovic said. Even if President Robert Mugabe were to lose the election, he said, the country would likely face a divided legislature and reforms to the judiciary and legal system would take time.
Lauren Ploch told the panel there were some lawmakers in the United States who would like to take a fresh look at the issue of longstanding sanctions against Zimbabwe, but she said that would be impossible until the government improved its record on the rule of law and respect for property rights.
“Some things could change quickly. Other things – corruption, land reform – these are very difficult issues. Land reform is something continent-wide that is very difficult to deal with,” Ploch said.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the U.S. declined an invitation to participate.
In less than two weeks, Zimbabweans will go to the polls for the first time since a violent, disputed vote in 2008 forced President Robert Mugabe to form a unit government with his main rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Voice of America has a long history of reporting on Zimbabwe and in 2003 launched Studio 7, a news program in English, Shona, and Ndebele. Research shows VOA is one of the most popular foreign broadcasters in the country, with a radio listenership of more than 1.6 million adults each week.