Zimbabwe is marking 30 years of independence this month, in ceremonies organized by the leaders of the nation's transitional coalition government. Zimbabwe has come far since the British government ended decades of colonial rule there in April 1980. But continued resistance by President Robert Mugabe to fully implementing the Global Political Agreement establishing the transitional government show that it still has far to go to realize the promise of an free and open democratic society.
Newly independent Zimbabwe was quickly embraced by the international community. The United States was the first nation to open an embassy there, and along with other nations supported the new government's program of cooperation and reconciliation with its former political rivals. After the first signs of resistance, however, Mugabe moved quickly to assert his control, quashing political and human rights and imposing policies that ruined the nation's once vibrant economy.
Hope was reborn last year when the transitional government was created to resolve the long-running political crisis. With long-time adversary Morgan Tsvangirai serving as prime minister and key ministries headed by other members of the Movement for Democratic Change, the transitional government has largely stabilized the economy and re-opened most schools and hospitals. In national elections in March 2008, the MDC gained a narrow majority in Parliament, restoring some political stability there. Parliament has not been allowed, however, to fully exercise its legitimate role.
Change has been slow in other areas, too, leaving many citizens frustrated with the slow pace of economic recovery and democratic reforms. Work on a new constitution has dragged, appointments have been blocked to important government posts, arbitrary detentions and arrests still occur, and farm seizures continue unabated. Little wonder, then, that the week's freedom celebrations have a top-down air with muted public enthusiasm.
If Mugabe truly wants to celebrate an independent Zimbabwe, he should act in good faith and fully implement the Global Political Agreement that he signed, foster democracy, and respect the rule of law and human rights in his nation. He should also formalize plans for new elections with international support and monitoring.