Kick Mugabe and Tsvangirai Out, Get a New Team
Kick Mugabe and Tsvangirai Out, Get a New Team
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Kick Mugabe and Tsvangirai Out, Get a New Team

The world is now fully aware of the catastrophic situation in Zimbabwe.

The economic crisis has led to the highest inflation rate in the world with most of the population not able to buy even the most basic goods and half of it in urgent need of food aid; most schools have closed and the 2008 academic year has been written off.

The collapse of the health sector has meant hospitals are not able to treat patients any more; and now a cholera epidemic is ravaging the country, with already around 1,000 reported deaths and an actual death toll probably much higher.

And the future only looks gloomier as politicians are unable to reach an agreement to implement a power-sharing agreement signed in September. This is all well known. But no credible solution to that crisis has been suggested yet.

In a chorus of disapprobation, Western leaders have recently started to call on President Robert Mugabe to step down and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to take over from him. They have also threatened to increase their targeted sanctions and both the European Union and the United States have recently done so.

But sanctions have no impact on the regime, which is only using them to document its claims of Western interference.

Apart from Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, their African counterparts, including vocal critics of the regime, have unanimously taken a more cautious approach and have all called for the pursuit of negotiations in the framework of the political agreement.

It now appears clear that neither a solution where Mugabe remains in power and Tsvangirai becomes prime minister, nor one where Mugabe is forcibly ousted, have the potential to bring the crisis to an end and ease Zimbabweans' daily lives.

The political agreement signed in September was flawed from the start.

By leaving open critical issues such as the allocation of ministries and by creating two centres of power with both the president and prime minister having executive authority, it did not provide for an easy implementation.

Mugabe has consistently opposed any meaningful exercise of power by Tsvangirai, especially over security-sector ministries.

At the same time, the opposition leader is rightly unwilling to join any coalition where he would only play a minor part.

Joining such a government would surely only legitimise the status quo as well as Mugabe's power.

But after he left his country adrift, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk and even orchestrating gross human-rights violations, Mugabe has lost that legitimacy.

Months of mistrust have built up to the point that any power-sharing formula involving Mugabe and Tsvangirai is only likely to result in partisan debates and total paralysis.

A new approach to the Zimbabwean crisis is possible to avoid the country's complete collapse if all actors and facilitators accept a radical yet pragmatic shift.

The core idea would be to establish a transitional administration mandated to set up new presidential elections in 18 months and to implement crucial political and economic reforms in the meantime.

It would be run by a chief administrator, a Zimbabwean non-partisan expert who could come from an international organisation, the private sector or the civil society, and neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai would be part of it.

This new structure would be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament, the only legitimately elected body in the country.

And even though this might seem unthinkable to some, Mugabe and members of the infamous Joint Operations Command, responsible for the violent crackdown on the population, should receive amnesty if they agree to retire and do not get involved in activities threatening the country's stability.

International involvement is crucial and should come from Africa. But Thabo Mbeki should not be part of it any more.

Whatever his competence or intent, he has lost his legitimacy as mediator in the eyes of the opposition because of his perceived pro-Mugabe stance.

The Southern African Development Community should now turn to the African Union for support in breaking the deadlock and together they should appoint a new mediator to succeed Mbeki.

They should also identify senior officials who could assist the transitional administration. If requested by the interim government, SADC countries could deploy security forces to Zimbabwe to promote stability.

Ending the Zimbabwean crisis requires progress on both the political and the economic fronts.

A functioning and reliable administration is crucial to attract the international support critical to ending Zimbabweans' suffering.

After months of stalemate and deteriorating living conditions, Zimbabwean leaders and SADC countries must recognise that the September political agreement will not produce such a government and that it should thus be buried.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a different approach before the dramatic humanitarian and economic crisis engulfing the country spreads throughout Southern Africa.

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