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Zimbabwe’s political future up in the air

In the coming months, U.S. citizens will be called to make a decision between a Republican and Democratic president.

Although the choice may not be easy for many, voters are assured their votes will be counted correctly and the nominee with the highest number of electoral votes will be elected into office.

Though the speedy and accurate results of U.S. elections are considered a fundamental right by many citizens, other countries have only intimidation and torture to look forward to when it comes to electing government officials.

Unlike the U.S., the South African country of Zimbabwe has been in the throes of a political war since the end of March.

Current President Robert Mugabe, who has held office since 1987, was contested in a national election against opposition Morgan Tsvangirai in the March 29 presidential election. At press time, those results still have not been released.

However, although it is widely believed that Tsvangirai won a majority of the votes, Zimbabwe’s longtime leader intends to hold onto power despite wishes for him to step down, said Kefa Otiso, a geography professor teaching at the University.

In an effort to keep control of the country, Mugabe has called for voting recounts in the countries’ parliament, with results confirming that opposition groups won 110 parliament seats to Mugabe’s 97.

‘Elections normally make sense if the loser is willing to give up power,’ Otiso said, ‘but Mugabe refuses to give up power.’

According to Otiso, the delayed results and the call for recounts are actually being used as stalling tactics while Mugabe launches violent attacks on opposition to strengthen his grip on power.

‘The same kind of tactics were seen in Kenya in December,’ Otiso, who is originally from Kenya, said. ‘These two countries are similar in many ways, especially when it comes to the treatment of the people.’

According to Zimbabwean police, 215 people were arrested on Friday in a raid on Tsvangirai’s headquarters in Harare the day before for seeking refuge after being attacked by ruling party loyalists in the countryside.

For MIT graduate student Will Uspal, this type of treatment is exactly why he is reaching out and attempting to help the people of Zimbabwe.

‘Hundreds of Tsvangirai supporters have been abducted, tortured and assaulted in recent weeks and even soldiers have started beating people,’ Uspal said. ‘Before this, informal torture centers were used, but now they are not even fazed by doing this out in the open.’

In response to the horrendous events occurring in Zimbabwe over the last few weeks, Uspal and another student created the MIT Campaign for Zimbabwe.

The organization will be working with Amnesty International to pressure the South African government to improve conditions in Zimbabwe and also hopes to research possible aide programs for people who are suffering.

‘Zimbabwe had a lot of promise before all this occurred,’ Uspal said. ‘It went from a wealthy country to one that’s now in political failure.’

Although it seems clear that Mugabe’s time as ruling leader is up, Otiso said a reason he has held on so long is his fear of Zimbabwe citizens after being let go.

Because of his cruel and inhumane treatment of the Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s life may be threatened after he loses power, Otiso said.

‘Bush is going to leave this year and he’s going to be just fine because no one is going to harass him or threaten his life,’ Otiso said. ‘In other countries, this doesn’t happen when politicians misuse power and then they face the type of situation that we’re seeing in Zimbabwe.’

But regardless of the eventual outcome of the election, both Otiso and Uspal hope that Mugabe is ousted out of power in order to ensure peace in Zimbabwe.

‘It’s absolutely mystifying to me that other countries haven’t pressured Mugabe to step down when they witness what he has done to his country,’ Uspal said. ‘Mugabe absolutely needs to go in order to give Zimbabwe the turnaround that it needs.’

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