Impasse for Zimbabwe
Impasse for Zimbabwe
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Impasse for Zimbabwe

Negotiations for the creation of a transitional government in Zimbabwe are at a serious impasse. They were suspended last week, with chief mediator Thabo Mbeki saying that while a break was needed to give opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai an opportunity to reflect on remaining sticking points, most of the issues were resolved. But shows of optimism by the South African president or anyone else are wholly premature. The most critical matter of all -- who will actually run Zimbabwe -- is no closer to resolution.

If Tsvangirai is taking time to reflect, he is completely justified. Since his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the historic parliamentary elections and he defeated Robert Mugabe in the first round of the presidential poll on March 29, his popular mandate has been clear and unsullied by the June 27 presidential runoff, which he was forced to quit in the face of extreme violence against his supporters.

Tsvangirai has been entrusted by Zimbabwe's people to lead the country out of its troubles, and he cannot hope to do that if he accepts anything less than a transfer of the reins of power.

At the outset, an agreement seemed possible, making Tsvangirai head of government with full executive powers and leaving Mugabe as ceremonial head of state with a "father of the nation" role. Tsvangirai made significant concessions: Mugabe would retain some powers such as the right to declare war, would co-chair the cabinet, and could make some appointments of some key government posts in consultation with him.

But Mugabe refuses to cede any serious executive power. Hardly surprisingly, Tsvangirai has rejected outright his demand that he keep the power not only to reshuffle the cabinet but also to fire the prime minister. Mugabe did concede that the supervision of ministries could be shared, with Tsvangirai overseeing those such as finance, foreign affairs, industry and commerce, and local government. But all the security ministries -- defence, home affairs, and intelligence -- would report to Mugabe directly. And Mugabe would continue to chair the securocratic clique known as the joint operation command (JOC), his primary instrument for retaining power, and responsible for much of the recent ugly violence.

Though Mugabe wears no general's uniform, for all practical purposes his is a military dictatorship, relying on the support of the military establishment, and brute domestic force, to cling to power. Tsvangirai, rightly, has refused to accept being rendered impotent and irrelevant on internal security issues, arguing instead for the JOC to be reconstituted as a jointly chaired national security council, professionalised and disconnected from Zanu-PF and Mugabe himself.

Despite the evident reasonableness of Tsvangirai's position -- too moderate for some of his supporters' taste -- he has been cast by Mbeki as the more intransigent party, and borne nearly all the pressure imposed by a mediator whose impartiality continues to be called into question. Meanwhile, there is no sign that Mbeki's co-mediators -- Jean Ping of the African Union, Jorge Chikoty of the Southern African Development Community; and the UN's Haile Menkerios -- will be able to counterbalance his role with effective pressure of their own on Mugabe.

The opposition leader has very good reason for holding absolutely firm in the talks to acquire the powers that are rightly and democratically his, and which he needs if he is to begin to be able to bring Zimbabwe back from its unutterably miserable current economic and social dysfunction.

Tsvangirai's ace is that he holds the key to Zimbabwe's international acceptance. There is ample potential support from the US and EU to rebuild Zimbabwe's shattered economy and society, to tackle the public finance system that has permitted the hyper-inflationary meltdown, and to implement specific reforms, such as restructuring the justice sector, and professionalising the security sector. The World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank are all able and willing to play major roles in the country's macro-economic stabilisation.

What global political and institutional leaders need to do is to make even more loudly and publicly clear than they have already that any negotiated agreement, in order to be credible, to get sanctions lifted, and above all to open the door to critical new international assistance, must provide Tsvangirai with essential executive powers, including control over the key elements of internal security, and that support will only be delivered, and sustained, if minimum benchmarks are observed. That basic sentiment is out there, but it has to be more explicitly articulated.

Short of a deal that can really enable the MDC leader to move the country in the direction the Zimbabwean people have entrusted him to take, the international message must continue to be that the results of the June 27 presidential runoff are illegitimate, political violence is completely unacceptable, and the solution to Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis can only come through a properly negotiated process, producing a genuinely workable government that reflects the current popular will.

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