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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s militia has threatened to increase attacks on businesses to settle labor disputes.

The self-styled war vets have also threatened diplomatic missions and non-governmental organizations for supporting the opposition.

Facing a deteriorating economy and presidential elections next year, the administration will use the militia to win the election, but the increased radicalization will isolate Zimbabwe and split the ruling party, concludes STRATFOR, the independent global intelligence company.

Violence in Zimbabwe is driving the international community away, the analysts report. The International Red Cross has already begun withdrawing its expatriate workers, and two German aid agencies have also shut down, Zimbabwe’s newspaper the Daily News reported May 1.

Zimbabwe is moving toward economic and political isolation due to the radical actions of the government and supporters of Mugabe. Prompted by looming presidential elections and a downward-spiraling economy, the administration is promoting the use of violence as a means of undercutting the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, and its growing popularity.

For example, the Mugabe-backed extra-governmental militia, which invaded white-owned commercial farms last year, is now invading businesses and attacking employers. It is also threatening foreign non-governmental organizations and aid agencies.

On April 26, militia leader Chenjerai Hunzvi warned in a local weekly that, “Our next target after solving workers’ problems in factories and companies will be to deal once and for all with foreign embassies and nongovernmental organizations who are funding the MDC,” reported Agence France-Presse.

The measures will alienate Zimbabwe internationally. Foreign nations and foreign investors are already reducing their relations with Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s government has said it cannot guarantee the security of foreign diplomats and embassies. This abrogation of the Vienna Convention, which requires all nations to ensure the security of foreign diplomats, may force Western nations to sever relations with the government in Harare. Zimbabwe’s largest aid donor, the European Union, has already cautioned the government against threatening foreign diplomatic missions.

The resulting isolation will further damage Zimbabwe’s already declining economy and could ultimately lead to a fracture within the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF.

Zimbabwe’s economic decline will resonate throughout the southern Africa region. The country is a member of the regional economic-political grouping, the Southern African Development Community, which fosters integration. Neighbors with economic ties with Zimbabwe will see a decline in trade and investment.

The nation’s political turmoil has already damaged Zimbabwe’s economy. Unofficial estimates place unemployment at 60 percent. The cost of doing business in the country has skyrocketed due to high inflation and a weakening currency. A reported 400 businesses have closed down within the last year due to the political instability, reports the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, the country’s trade union.

The turmoil has also damaged the tobacco sector, which accounts for nearly half of Zimbabwe’s foreign exchange earnings. This year’s tobacco harvest dropped by 47 million kilograms compared to last year, reported IRIN April 24. This will also damage Zimbabwe’s relations with foreign investors, like U.S. firms, which play a leading role in the country’s tobacco processing industry.

Moreover, as one of Africa’s leading industrialized nations, Zimbabwe’s foreign exchange shortage and political instability will also force price increases on industrial products it sells to its neighbors. This may create an opportunity for foreign investors to pick up bankrupted businesses at rock bottom prices in the southern African region. But in the short to midterm, it will undercut the entire region’s chances for economic growth.

Zimbabwe’s economic problems threaten Mugabe’s 2002 re-election bid. The opposition’s growing popularity undercuts his chances at the polls. While Mugabe will likely rely on his militia to help ensure a victory, employing violence and intimidation is a short-term solution. It will not win Mugabe or his party any long-term supporters.

This could present a difficulty for the ZANU-PF’s future ability to remain in power. The party currently retains control due to the president’s strong-arm tactics and loyalty from the nation’s security forces. But at 77, Mugabe won’t be around much longer. He is now trying to undercut the opposition to ensure his party’s rule even after he is gone.

Targeting businesses, foreign aid agencies and even threatening diplomatic missions, Mugabe’s administration hopes to discourage the MDC’s supporters. Formed by trade unionists and middle class urban leaders, the MDC has wide popular support in urban areas and abroad. The ZANU-PF accuses foreign nongovernmental organizations and aid agencies of supporting the opposition.

To counter this, the militia has begun raiding businesses. The militants invaded the country’s top private hospital, the Avenue Clinic, in Harare, a department store and a steel manufacturing plant. The invaders claim they are there to settle labor disputes, and in fact they have forced one organization, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German NGO, to pay $11,000 for two former employees who claim they were wrongly fired. But the militants are attacking managers and using intimidation to settle the labor disputes.

The radical efforts may secure the ZANU-PF’s hold on power in the short term and may ensure Mugabe’s re-election, but it could also backfire. Having destroyed the rule of law, isolated Zimbabwe and decimated the economy, Zimbabwe faces a long-term economic decline that won’t be easily reversed.

In the short- to mid term, these economic problems could have significant ramifications for the country’s stability and the ruling party’s cohesion. Although riddled with factions, it remains united against the opposition. Mugabe’s strong-arm tactics are meant to position the ZANU-PF as Zimbabwe’s uncontested leader, with or without him. But they may ultimately fracture the ruling party and cause the nation to implode, says STRATFOR.

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