How Civil Society Engagement Can Strengthen Democracy in Zimbabwe

January 13, 2015
03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


with comments by

  • Jeffrey Smith, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

moderated by

  • Eric Robinson, National Endowment for Democracy

About the Event

In the aftermath of the 2013 elections, which confirmed Robert Mugabe’s grip on power and shut out the highly divided opposition, Zimbabwean civil society has been struggling to find relevance. The unified social forces that gave rise to the democratization agenda in 1999 are severely depleted, and the impetus for reform ran its course with the adoption of a new constitution. Due to several factors there has been a decline in the strength of organized labor and the Movement for Democratic Change. For civil society organizations, the primary question is how they can best engage with one another and other actors, including the government, in the current political context. In his presentation, Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Arthur Gwagwa evaluated CSOs’ democracy work both in collaboration with and outside of political party structures, and the ways in which this work has either resisted or perpetuated authoritarianism. He offered recommendations for continued domestic engagement and strategies for enhancing international support of Zimbabwean democracy. His presentation was followed by comments by Jeffrey Smith.

About the Speakers

Arthur Gwagwa is a human rights attorney who heads the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, based in London. In the nineties, he was among the first lawyers to offer pro bono representation to victims of rights violations through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights network. In 2002, he went into exile in the United Kingdom, when his work representing the politically persecuted and dispossessed brought him to the adverse attention of the authorities. While based in the United Kingdom, Mr. Gwagwa has represented refugees at the Refugee Legal Centre and has continued advancing the cause of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. During his fellowship, he is working on a policy document on how enhancing civil society engagement can strengthen democratic culture and electoral integrity in Zimbabwe.

Jeffrey Smith is a senior program officer at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in Washington, D.C.