Ending Zimbabwe’s Nightmare: A Possible Way Forward
Ending Zimbabwe’s Nightmare: A Possible Way Forward
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Briefing 56 / Africa 3 minutes

Ending Zimbabwe’s Nightmare: A Possible Way Forward

The inter-party negotiations that have sought to end Zimbabwe’s political, economic and now full-blown humanitarian crisis following the fraudulent June 2008 presidential election run-off are hopelessly deadlocked.

Executive Summary

The inter-party negotiations that have sought to end Zimbabwe’s political, economic and now full-blown humanitarian crisis following the fraudulent June 2008 presidential election run-off are hopelessly deadlocked. Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF will not accept genuine power sharing, and Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are unwilling to join a ZANU-PF dominated administration as a junior partner, responsible for ending international isolation but without authority to implement needed reforms and emergency humanitarian relief.

No new power-sharing formula premised on Mugabe remaining president and Tsvangirai becoming prime minister seems likely to produce a workable outcome. Nor does it seem realistic to contemplate any non-negotiated solution to the deadlock. Additional sanctions and other forms of external pressure could be applied but seem unlikely to be productive in the absence of a new approach. Despite the calls increasingly being made for outright military intervention to resolve the crisis, this seems a wholly unrealistic option, not least because regional resistance to any such course remains intense.

There is a possible negotiated way forward that could avoid Zimbabwe’s complete collapse. But it will need a radical shift in negotiating objectives by the country’s leaders and regional states, and the standing aside of Thabo Mbeki as mediator in favour of someone perceived as more neutral. The core idea is to establish a transitional administration, run by non-partisan experts, in which neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai would have any position. It would be mandated to implement fundamental political and economic reforms to stabilise the economy and prepare new presidential elections in eighteen months.

The negotiation process so far has produced a memorandum of understanding on broad principles of a power-sharing arrangement on 21 July and the signature on 11 September of a Global Political Agreement (GPA) for a government of national unity with Mugabe as president and Tsvangirai as prime minister. The GPA’s basic flaws, however, have blocked implementation. At the same time, the ZANU-PF regime has repeatedly violated its premises, including by resuming a campaign of violence against MDC supporters and reappointing key stalwarts responsible for the economic meltdown, such as Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.

With the support of renegade parliamentarians from ZANU-PF and a splinter group from its own ranks, the MDC elected on 25 August its candidate as parliament speaker, but the incentives for it to join a unity government have withered. It considers, reasonably, that without control of the ministries of home affairs – which oversees the police and the electoral system – and treasury and a major share of senior civil service and security posts, it would be reduced to legitimising the status quo and facilitating Mugabe’s plans to eventually hand leadership to a ZANU-PF colleague of his choosing.

Even if the parties find a compromise on ministry allocation and related issues, the creation of two power centres by the GPA suggest that, in the context of their intense mutual distrust, political paralysis would prevent serious action to address the country’s problems. With the meltdown of vital social services, a cholera epidemic that has claimed 1000 lives, the flight of a third of the population to neighbouring countries where cholera is also spreading, and a third of its remaining citizens facing starvation, securing an end to Zimbabwe’s nightmare is going to require a fundamentally new approach.

All relevant Zimbabwean and external actors should commit to a process with the following key elements:

  • The joint mandating of a mediator to succeed Thabo Mbeki by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), with the UN Secretary-General concurrently appointing a special representative to mobilise international help in addressing the humanitarian crisis.
  • The negotiation and passage of a constitutional amendment to create a non-partisan transitional administration to govern for eighteen months, under the leadership of a Chief Administrator – a neutral Zimbabwean citizen (perhaps now in the private sector, civil society or an international institution). This individual would be chosen by a two-thirds parliamentary majority and be ineligible to stand for president in the next election or serve as prime minister after it. Robert Mugabe would stand down. The positions of president, prime minister and all ministers would be left empty.
  • The transitional administration to prepare presidential elections in eighteen months through a reconstituted Electoral Supervisory Commission; the Chief Administrator to have authority, subject to a parliamentary two-thirds confirmation vote, to appoint Administrators to lead the ministries, as well as senior civil servants, the Reserve Bank governor, provincial governors and departmental secretaries. The Joint Operations Command would be dissolved and its members retired, replaced by a National Security Council subject to parliament’s approval.
  • Mugabe to be given guarantees against domestic prosecution and extradition, and a similar general amnesty to benefit members of the Joint Operations Command if they accept retirement and do not participate in activities threatening the country’s stability.
  • Donors to commit to give the transitional administration substantial support and, as the process consolidates, lift targeted sanctions.
  • The UN, AU, and SADC to identify senior officials to assist the transitional government and monitor cooperation.
  • If requested by the transitional administration, SADC countries to deploy security forces to Zimbabwe to promote stability.

Pretoria/Brussels, 16 December 2008

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.