Zimbabwe: Engaging the Inclusive Government
Africa Briefing N°59
20 Apr 2009
After nearly a year of seemingly endless talks brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Zimbabwe’s long-ruling ZANU-PF party and the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formed a coalition government in February. Opposition entry into government is a landmark development, and broad segments of the population are optimistic for the first time in years that a decade of repression and decline can be reversed. There is considerable international scepticism whether the flawed arrangement can succeed; many are tempted, with some reason, to second-guess the decision of mainstream MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to accept the deal under SADC and ZANU-PF pressure. But he had no good alternative, given a collapsed economy and humanitarian catastrophe from which his constituency was suffering. Donors should re-engage and apply a “humanitarian plus” aid strategy. South Africa, in collaboration with SADC, should negotiate retirement of hardline senior security leaders in the lifespan of the inclusive government.
The long talks over implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by ZANU-PF and the MDC on 15 September 2008 gave few signs that President Robert Mugabe genuinely accepts the need for political and economic reforms and national reconciliation. He has described the new inclusive government as a temporary one in which ZANU-PF remains in the driver’s seat. By contrast, Tsvangirai sees it as a transitional process that can stabilise the country, leading to elections under a new constitution in two years. In effect, the deal has established two power centres and left the ZANU-PF establishment ample opportunities to block or undermine reforms.
Some old regime elements seek to cause the new government to fail, out of fear of prosecution, loss of power and its financial sinecures, hatred for Tsvangirai or the MDC or a genuine belief that they are the guardians of the country’s liberation. They are thus continuing to provoke and frustrate the MDC, as shown by such actions as continuing arrests and detention of MDC activists, refusal of police to carry out some government orders, efforts to drive out the last few hundred white farmers by continued farm invasions and stalling on the appointment of provincial governors as well as reconfiguration of ministerial powers.
Nevertheless, there are at the same time signs that a more constructive political dynamic is developing, including within the parliament, the one institution with some democratic (if imperfect) legitimacy and where cross-party collaboration will be needed to pass major reform legislation. Also, while the humanitarian and economic situations remain dire, there have been some signs of improvement: many schools have re-opened, prices have stabilised, basic stocks are returning to shops and civil servants are being paid at least a modest stipend. As a result, Tsvangirai’s political credibility is rising.
The intense internal struggle to control ZANU-PF after Mugabe goes has led one faction (that of the husband-wife power team of Vice President Joice and ex-general, now businessman, Solomon “Rex” Mujuru) to explore cooperation with the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC (MDC-T). The smaller MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara (MDC-M) was used by ZANU-PF in its attempt to manipulate the SADC negotiations but now increasingly sees its political survival, beyond the term of the inclusive government, as dependent on brokering parliamentary compromises and moving closer to the Tsvangirai wing.
It would be premature for the U.S., the European Union (EU) and others to remove the targeted sanctions (travel bans, asset freezes) against key members of the Mugabe regime or to fully embrace the inclusive government. But they as well as SADC members should work in a concerted fashion among themselves and with both formations of the MDC as well as progressive ZANU-PF elements to help make the reform process irreversible. The following steps should be taken now to support such efforts:
Donors should pursue a “humanitarian plus” assistance strategy that covers the priority areas in the government’s Short Term Emergency Recovery Program (STERP), including revival of the education, health and water sanitation sectors, as well as a functioning civil service, and reconstruction of basic infrastructure. Zimbabwe should be treated as a post-conflict society in need of some front-loaded aid. Donors might also create a contact group, both to support the political process and to coordinate aid flows.
SADC countries, most significantly South Africa, should also provide more direct assistance but require strict compliance with the GPA and avoid in particular direct support to the Reserve Bank, which remains in the control of Mugabe loyalist, Gideon Gono, and could be expected to divert it to ZANU-PF patronage networks.
Support is also needed for programs to reform politicised legal institutions, including the judiciary, and strengthen civil society that has been deeply fractured in recent years, including religious, press, labour, academic, women’s and youth groups. SADC and the Commonwealth secretariat might work together to build parliament’s legislative and oversight capacities.
To counter the greatest and very real stability risk – an attack against Prime Minister Tsvangirai or a military coup – a strategy is needed to retire virtually all members of the security sector senior leadership. Persuading them to go peacefully will not be easy: the generals fear the post-Mugabe era. The government could create leverage with a law that offers immunity to senior generals from domestic prosecution for past political crimes (excluding crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide) in return for retirement. At the same time, it should create a panel tasked to recommend the modalities for setting up transitional justice mechanisms such as a truth commission and vetting processes as part of security sector and other administrative reforms.
The U.S., EU and others could, in accordance with their laws, sweeten the deal by removing targeted sanctions on those who accept and comply. The new South African president, working with the SADC mediation team, should negotiate with the generals, making clear that those who do not step aside risk prosecution for their crimes domestically or internationally.
Harare/Pretoria/Nairobi/Brussels, 20 April 2009