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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 10:46 GMT
Six forum: BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar
You put your questions to the BBC's Rageh Omaar on the Zimbabwean-South African border, in a live forum for the BBC's Six O'clock news, presented by Manisha Tank.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has won a fifth term in office, in a poll dominated by accusations of ballot-rigging and intimidation of voters.

His rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, says Mr Mugabe stole the vote through systematic cheating and has yet to concede defeat.

There are fears of a violent backlash by opposition supporters, who are expected to challenge the result in court.

But Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has said that anyone criticising the election was "spreading malicious propaganda".

What are the implications of the Zimbabwe election result? How should the world react?


Transcript


Newshost:

We have an e-mail from Tracy Beckley in Ireland: I'm a Zimbabwean living in Dublin. No human being can say that the election was free and fair. Someone has to make Mugabe account for his actions - but who?

With that we have a text message from David in Nottingham: The elections were blatantly fixed. Why are we not doing something about it? Mugabe should be imprisoned - not left in charge.


Rageh Omaar:

On the first question - who is going to make President account? I think the focus is now going to go to the international community - particularly to the Commonwealth where there was a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government about a week ago and where they didn't quite answer what to do about Zimbabwe. They delayed a decision in which they said - Zimbabwe faces the possibility of being suspended from the Commonwealth and further down the road perhaps other sanctions. But in order to do that they need the recommendations of Commonwealth observers who've been monitoring the elections in Zimbabwe - and the key thing they want to know is whether the elections were free and fair.

That's a critical question because some African countries within the Commonwealth - whose observers are on the ground - have already said that as far as their concerned, the election was legitimate and others have even used the phrase - free and fair. So that would seem to suggest that the Commonwealth is going to basically be divided between, on the one hand, African countries, who feel that these elections were free and fair and no further action needs to be taken and on the other hand countries like Britain, like Australia, Canada and New Zealand who feel very much that this election was not free and fair. They point to other independent observers - the free press who've been there in Zimbabwe - not the BBC of course who is banned and I'm having to report from the border with Zimbabwe, in South Africa and there is going to be that split.

There is also the question of what the European Union is going to do. They've imposed targeted sanctions - looking particularly at President Mugabe and leading members of his government. But those are fairly - some would say - quite weak sanctions. They impose things like travel bans and people ask what kind of real effect is that going to have. I think that the international community doesn't have a consensus at the moment about what to do with Zimbabwe. But it's going to need to have a firm and broad based policy - particularly as many people in the country and abroad are seething and feel this election has been robbed.


Newshost:

While they are seething though there are some who have written into us who say we should perhaps stay out of this. There's one text message here from Patrick: the Commonwealth quite simply is a waste of our money, time and efforts - let's quit. By stopping registered voters to vote showed a hidden agenda and elections were totally rigged.

We have an e-mail here looking to the future. James in the UK asks: Is it likely that President Mugabe will be able to stand against the will of the people for the full six year tenure of his new term, or do you believe that the country will be destabilised by this "victory" and Mugabe will fall?


Rageh Omaar:

I think the country could be destabilised and it really depends what opposition supporters are going to do in the wake of Mugabe's victory and they reject his victory. But also it's a real test, as that earlier question was referring to, for the Commonwealth because they could lose real legitimacy if they're not seen to tackle this fundamental question which matters to Britain and to other members of the Commonwealth.


Newshost:

Lauren, UK: Regarding the policy of seizing white-owned land and turning it over to landless blacks - was the land issue a ploy to gain votes?


Rageh Omaar:

I think there is firm evidence that it was. People might say - look President Mugabe has been in power for 22 years, why has he suddenly got interested on the land question? Why didn't he begin land reform years ago? I think that gives the answer to the question. It has been used as a ploy, as has been the whole racial question. There are white Zimbabweans - a minority - and black Zimbabweans and President Mugabe tried to paint the whole thing as black Zimbabweans demanding land held by the few whites. But it's been used as a smoke screen to reward his supporters.


Newshost:

Per Fagereng, USA: What would the opposition have done about the white-owned farms?


Rageh Omaar:

The opposition hasn't answered that question. Zimbabwe does need land reform and it has not been answered for a long time. Four thousand white farmers own 75% of the best arable land in the whole country and I haven't met anyone, during my travels in Zimbabwe before I was banned, who feels that that is a situation that can continue. But the opposition say they would go through land reform but it would be done by the rule of law. People's land just wouldn't be seized from them, as has been the case.


Newshost:

Vivien, Scotland: Are the political opponents of Robert Mugabe in real danger of retribution now?


Rageh Omaar:

I think they very much are. In fact even before the voting had begun, several of the leading opposition members in Zimbabwe had treason charges laid against them where the government said that they'd been plotting the assassination of President Mugabe.

Only yesterday, the number two in the opposition was arrested and charged with treason and detained for several hours. There is that possibility, certainly and the Zimbabwean government has made it clear that they feel that leading members of the opposition have been plotting with people outside of the country to try and assassinate President Mugabe. That's a real worry - what happens in the aftermath now, particularly if the opposition calls for mass action on the streets - will these people be picked up and worse?


Newshost:

So far as the movement for democratic change is concerned, what action is open to them as they're obviously saying that the election was rigged?


Rageh Omaar:

Very, very little in a nutshell. They've got two options, as I see it. One, is basically to hunker down and say, look we'll pursue legal means - and that means going to the courts to try and get the whole electoral process overturned. But that seem incredibly unlikely because President Mugabe has ignored what the courts in Zimbabwe have ruled and sometimes they have ruled against him. It is critical that they do this within the next few days - to say this election was stolen, people were defrauded of their democratic rights and we call on Zimbabweans to take to the streets to register their anger and their protest. But they haven't done that yet and they need to move very quickly before people give up.


Newshost:

Kinjunta, UK: The world should not have knee-jerk reaction to this - economic sanctions will not work. They will only worsen the already precarious living conditions of the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe. I don't think the MDC is the solution to the problem of the Zimbabwe. These problems are due in part to western organisations, such as the IMF.


Rageh Omaar:

That does broaden it out. There's no doubt that if you look at bit longer than at what's just happened in the last couple of years in Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe's economy has gone to hell in a basket - to put it mildly. It is out of foreign exchange, inflation is at about 110%, 40 - 60% of the workforce is out of a job. Zimbabwe has found it very hard to get international lenders and international monetary agencies to lend it money. But the critics of President Mugabe point out that's as a result of his policies - by creating this land crisis and seizing white-owned farms - that's had a disastrous effect on the agricultural economy. It is political reasons that's driving this not so much international bodies like the International Monetary Fund. I think the rot has begun at home and that is what the critics of Mugabe say.


Newshost:

Maria, Southampton: What form of sanctions would have the most effect against the Mugabe regime?


Rageh Omaar:

I think a really properly free and fair election. President Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 22 years - this is the first time he's really faced a credible opposition that has mounted a significant challenge to him and we've got a lot of reports that clearly say that this poll wasn't free and fair. The only sanction I feel at the end of the day is for the people of Zimbabwe to go to the polls in free and fair election and judge who they want to govern them - that is the ultimate sanction I think. But we're not at that stage and we haven't had that option open. Beyond that I think it's going to be stiff economic sanctions that target President Mugabe's government directly and not the people of Zimbabwe.


Newshost:

A lot of people writing in seem to be thinking that we should stay out of Zimbabwe, as I mentioned before. Chitumba Maronda, USA asks: Why has the British Government concluded that the elections in Zimbabwe were stolen when they do not have an observer there? Don't you think they should listen to views from all observers in Zimbabwe before coming to a conclusion?

We got the views of the observers from South Africa who didn't seem to see the same problems that the British did.


Rageh Omaar:

That's a very good point but an election is about a lot more than just the days of voting - it's a whole process. What international human rights groups and other election monitors say is that even the two or three days of voting, because it had to be extended, does not sum up the whole election. There was six months of violence and intimidation of the opposition where they weren't allowed to go around campaigning fairly - where their supporters were harassed, where treason charges were laid against them. How can you have a free and fair election if you've had six whole months of this run-up where you've had violence and intimidation against the opposition?

Why should Britain be concerned? Because there about 25,000 British passport holders who live in Zimbabwe - they have dual citizenship - they are Zimbabweans who live there. But if there is a nightmare scenario, then this is why it is so important to Britain - you'd find possibly thousands of people landing at Heathrow and Gatwick to start their lives again and that will have an impact on Britain.


Newshost:

John in Birmingham asks: Should the European Union evacuate people, many without funds - as Mugabe is unlikely to be removed?


Rageh Omaar:

We're not there yet. But if things get really bad, we may reach that point. But the problem is, as I've spoken to people across the racial and political divide in Zimbabwe, when you speak to white Zimbabweans - they say look I was born in this country, I feel this to be my country, I don't want to go anywhere, I want to try and stay here - circumstances allowing. So I think that whole question of evacuation or intervention on that score would have to take those kind of views into account. It just depends if things got so bad whether those scenarios would have to be contemplated.


Newshost:

Alexander, Sirbu, Romania: Could the result trigger an uprising?


Rageh Omaar:

It may do but as I say it's a really critical window that the opposition have. Many people didn't get the chance to vote in Zimbabwe and they were in the main opposition strongholds and they say because the government, on purpose, made sure that there were very few polling booths and there were huge queues. They are angry - they feel that they haven't had their chance to express themselves at the polling stations. The question is whether the opposition capitalises on that and says - look, this election has been stolen from you - you've got to go out onto the street and demand your democratic rights. But President Mugabe has the security forces behind him, the army, the police and the whole state system - so I don't believe it's really possible. But there is an inkling that the opposition may try and go down that path.


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13 Mar 02 | Media reports
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