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Hindering SADC From Shaping Poll Landscape
Hindering SADC From Shaping Poll Landscape
Iran’s ‘New’ Partnership With China Is Just Business as Usual
Iran’s ‘New’ Partnership With China Is Just Business as Usual
Op-Ed / Africa

Hindering SADC From Shaping Poll Landscape

Originally published in Zimbabwe Independent

Zanu PF's limited commitment to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and the resultant institutionalisation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) is why the party began to push for elections as from 2010, a strategy seen as steering the total collapse of the agreement.

However, within that scope, the party also pursued a simultaneous strategy of isolating and being intractable on those clauses and tenets of the agreement considered to be strongly urging the state reconstructivism schema. Zanu PF was therefore consumed with aborting state reconstruction as advocated by the GPA.

In 2011, after realising concerted efforts by Zanu PF for an "early" election and the party's resistance to state-reconstruction related tenets of the agreement, Sadc responded by shifting its focus. It was Sadc's toned down approach on implementation of the GPA which compelled the MDC parties to narrow their demands for the "full implementation of the GPA", a syntax that had also become common in all Sadc recommendations in the communiques of meetings where Zimbabwe was discussed.

In 2011 the MDC parties shifted their call from the "full implementation of the GPA", to the drawing up of an election roadmap, all in response to Zanu PF pressure to defeat the state reconstruction slant of the GPA. This constituted a reductionist approach to the agreement, which always tends to: isolate the tenets of the agreement and destroys interconnections of its linked demands; and leads to complications arising from breaking up issues that are supposed to otherwise be interlinked.

Although the election roadmap was signed in June 2011, there were outstanding issues in areas where the parties failed to find consensus. These areas, which Zanu PF took a reductionist approach to include those related to security sector reform or re-alignment and reforms of state institutions.

Zanu PF's resistance to concluding these election roadmap issues was driven by fear of the "back-door" re-entry of some of the state reconstitution aspects earlier rejected in the GPA, but now re-engineered through the roadmap. With an inconclusive election roadmap, Sadc and the MDCs shifted impetus to the constitution-writing process, hoping a new constitution would then provide another avenue and opportunities for state reconstruction.

Zanu PF's resistance to the final constitutional draft in August 2012 and its proposal of multiple amendments to it was again based on attempting to repeal yet another attempt of state reconstruction. Eventually, the party yielded to Sadc pressure and the constitution was adopted after a successful referendum on May 22.

On adoption of the constitution, Zanu PF argued that there was no more need to pursue election-related outstanding issues in the GPA or the roadmap as they were all now superseded by the constitution. The conjuncture of this argument was to use the immensity of the clout of the presence of the new constitution to then totally submerge the state reconstruction threats still posed by the outstanding issues of both the GPA and the election roadmap.

Collapsing the GPA and the election roadmap would have also led to the extraction of Sadc's involvement and influence on internal political developments, especially towards elections, as the mandate of the regional bloc was only guaranteed by the GPA, not the new constitution. On the other hand, the MDCs insisted that the constitution, the outstanding GPA and election roadmap issues still needed to be pursued simultaneously, this to them would assure Sadc's continued involvement in Zimbabwe until after elections. At the Sadc Maputo meeting on June 15 Sadc concurred with the MDCs' position on keeping the GPA alive as the foundational basis upon which elections would be held.

It was, however, the new constitution, at the centre of contentions, which became the mechanism through which Sadc was eventually purged from direct involvement in shaping the election environment in Zimbabwe.

On June 13, President Robert Mugabe invoked the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, using the newly-adopted constitution to unilaterally enact some amendments, as well as proclaim July 31 as the date of elections, in response to an earlier Constitutional Court (Concourt) ruling. That Concourt was also a creation of the new constitution.

The move by Mugabe immediately transformed the political debate on election timing into a legal matter, beyond the influence of both Sadc and the MDCs.

The promulgation of the election date also dismissed earlier assertions by Sadc and MDCs that election timing would only be determined by the status of preparedness for such elections as well as prevailing electoral environment conditions, arising from reforms stated in the election roadmap and GPA.

Zanu PF was wary of the March 2008 scenario where former South African president Thabo Mbeki's 2007 mediation/facilitation process had been consequential in shaping conducive electoral conditions, which were then beneficial to the MDCs. By using a legal route to set a date for elections this also reduced Zanu PF's risks.

Zanu PF did not want to face up to an election in which conditions would have been determined by Sadc processes rather than the convalesced state of "statism" which had been sustained from the party's repulsion of state reconstruction efforts in the GPA period.

Mbeki's involvement in shaping the March 2008 election environment was a learning curve for Zanu PF and the party made all efforts to ensure the exclusion of Sadc in shaping the 2013 election environment.

The 2013 election was forced through without pre-requisite conditions outlined in the GPA, the election roadmap and the new constitution.

Ultimately, the state reconstruction ethos the GPA attempted to promote was amply defeated through Zanu PF's exertion of pressure and tactical manoeuvring which in the end led to its abortion. The five years of the GPA were a fight for state reconstruction by the MDCs and a fight to abort state reconstruction by Zanu PF, while Sadc at times played convenient spectator and in other moments a disempowered "referee".

The question now is: does Zimbabwe find itself back where it began? A Zanu PF majority in parliament creates equal opportunities for sustained or augmented "statism" or for state reconstruction. Will Zanu PF use the moment to re-create itself and dispose of its historical distaste of state reconstruction or will the temptation of the pre-2008 statist rational be overriding? Will Zanu PF perceive the new constitution as a threat or an enabler?

If the party ecstatically pursues "statism" will Zimbabwe then find itself back in the era of episodic constitutional amendments, to merely fit into conventional "statism"?

However, if Zanu PF is spirited enough to abandon "statism" and pursue state reconstruction, then it is the party that will need to amend itself to conform to the new constitution.

Ultimately, the three-phase trajectory of Sadc's mediation in Zimbabwe attempted to arrest the "statism" in the pre-2008 election phase; it then attempted to exploit the GPA as a state reconstruction conduit, but in the end the GPA phase was marked by the abortion of the state reconstruction exertions.

Iran’s ‘New’ Partnership With China Is Just Business as Usual

Originally published in World Politics Review

The recently finalized 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement between Iran and China has been referred to in the media as a “game-changer,” a “breakthrough” and a “major geopolitical shift,” but in reality, it is much ado about nothing. Signed with great fanfare on March 27, during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Tehran, the deal does provide Iran with a political and rhetorical win in the context of its ongoing negotiations over the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Beyond the optics of the agreement with China, though, the substance follows the same playbook that Beijing and Tehran have developed over decades of bilateral relations: agreeing to deepen ties but on vague terms that are scant on details and concrete commitments.

The deal itself has not been made public, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took pains to highlight that the agreement with China was not a treaty, removing the requirement for parliamentary approval. He also denied that it outlined any specific figures—despite reports of $400 billion in promised Chinese investments—or obligations for either side.

Leaders of the two countries first publicly discussed their growing partnership when Chinese President Xi Jinping went to Iran in 2016. During the visit, Xi and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, pledged to expand their bilateral ties and to boost two-way trade from $32 billion to $600 billion over the next 10 years—an ambitious goal. Xi agreed to increase Chinese investments in Iran’s energy, infrastructure and even nuclear sectors. The plan also covered greater defense and military cooperation, something Iran was starved for after a decade-long arms embargo. But notwithstanding these pledges, progress on building ties remained slow.

Reports of a formal 25-year strategic partnership to deepen relations between the two countries first emerged last July. A leaked 18-page draft document reportedly outlined a vast expansion of Chinese investments in various sectors in Iran, including telecoms, transport, infrastructure and banking, with Beijing receiving a guaranteed supply of discounted Iranian oil in return. The document also referred to the potential deployment of Chinese forces to Iran to protect their investments, as well as a Chinese lease of the strategically located Kish Island in the Persian Gulf. The leaked document caused an uproar inside and outside Iran. Some Iranians equated the draft agreement with the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay, under which Tehran conceded several territories to Russia, and which has become a symbol of bitter defeat to Iranians.

Following Western efforts to isolate Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Beijing became an important player for Tehran.

2021 is a fitting year for a major deal between the two countries, as it marks the 50th anniversary of Iran-China diplomatic relations. Following Western efforts to isolate Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Beijing became an important player for Tehran. The Iranian leadership valued China for its ability to block coercive action through its veto power at the United Nations Security Council—though it never actually used it on Iran’s behalf—and its willingness to expand economic, political and military relations with Iran at a time when most other countries were not.

From the start, Sino-Iranian relations always had a few key premises: They would not come at the expense of the two countries’ relations with other major powers, the U.S. in particular; they would be transactional, based on mutual interests and necessities; they would be mutually convenient, with Chinese and Iranian leaders working together only when it suited them; and there would be no strings attached.

The relationship has had its ups and downs, though. China’s economic involvement in Iran increased as sanctions around it were tightened throughout the 2000s, making it an invaluable partner to Tehran. But many Iranians had reservations about Beijing. For example, they believed Chinese products to be of poor quality, and lamented that the Chinese dragged their feet when it came to implementing projects that they had pledged to support. In 2013, Iran expelled the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., or CNPC, from development work on the flagship South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, alleging the company had failed to carry out promised work.

From Tehran’s perspective, China also wasn’t always reliable when it came to standing up to the West’s sanctions on Iran: China supported every U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran that came up for a vote between 2006 and 2010, and reduced its imports of Iranian oil during Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. In 2019, CNPC, which had earlier returned to work on the South Pars project under a new contract, pulled out of the project, likely to avoid U.S. sanctions.

Today, the relationship between the two countries is on the same trajectory. It is fundamentally transactional and growing, but slowly, and with some hiccups along the way.

From [Iran's] perspective, the past five years proved that the U.S. and Europe couldn’t be counted on

China, like Iran, has been careful not to put all its eggs in one basket. After all, it can’t afford to risk its ties with the oil-rich Gulf Arab states that are key to its energy and economic growth needs. Iranian officials may not like this, but they have also made peace with the idea that they must work with the Chinese. From their perspective, the past five years proved that the U.S. and Europe couldn’t be counted on, not even to deliver on their obligations in a deal they agreed to. This led Tehran to build what it refers to as its “resistance economy,” and to “look East,” a view now shared by both conservative politicians and more pro-Western Iranian officials.

Given its apparently vague terms, the deal is best seen as a roadmap for improving bilateral relations between the two countries, outlining areas for cooperation and exchanges in energy, infrastructure, cultural endeavors, and defense and counterterrorism, to name a few. Much of the promised deepening of economic ties will remain somewhat dependent on the lifting of U.S. unilateral sanctions, as China doesn’t want to openly flout them. Sino-Iranian relations can only reach their intended potential if the nuclear crisis between Iran and the U.S. is resolved.

All of this suggests that the deal is unlikely to have much of a concrete impact on the nature of Iran’s relationship with China. Despite Zarif’s insistence that that deal does not concede any territory, basing rights or exclusive access to Iranian territory to China, many Iranians remain suspicious of Beijing, with some protesting that the new cooperation pact will sell their country out. Many will also read the lack of concrete figures as signaling a relatively loose commitment. While discussing the agreement on the Clubhouse app, Zarif defended the deal against criticism, but also added, “I don’t believe in the [policy] of looking to the East or the West.” Rather, he said, Iran would have to engage all, based on its interests and goals.

It is a political win for Tehran, at a time when efforts to revitalize the 2015 nuclear deal by bringing Washington back into the fold are stuck in limbo.

But the new pact with China may nevertheless prove useful to Iranian leaders in demonstrating that isolating Iran is not so simple anymore. It is a political win for Tehran, at a time when efforts to revitalize the 2015 nuclear deal by bringing Washington back into the fold are stuck in limbo. The pact also signals to Washington and its allies that there will likely be limits on their ability to impose another “maximum pressure”-style campaign. After all, sanctions are most effective when they’re universal, not when a military and economic powerhouse such as China stands outside them. Perhaps for this reason, Tehran has also looked to deepen ties with Russia, announcing the signature of a military cooperation agreement on April 10.

Ultimately, Iran’s recent cooperation pact with China gives Tehran a political and rhetorical boost vis-à-vis the outside world, and the U.S. in particular. It formalizes the growth in Iran-China ties and could establish the groundwork for protection against future international isolation. But for now, the fundamentals remain the same: The two promise to work together, based on mutual interests and necessities in a compartmentalized manner and with no strings attached—the same way they’ve dealt with each other over the past 50 years.