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Resistance and Denial: Zimbabwe’s Stalled Reform Agenda
Resistance and Denial: Zimbabwe’s Stalled Reform Agenda
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Briefing 82 / Africa

Resistance and Denial: Zimbabwe’s Stalled Reform Agenda

Slow and inadequate progress in implementing the compromise they reached three years ago threatens to push Zimbabwe’s contending forces into premature  elections and undermine political and economic recovery.

I. Overview

Transition and reform appear stalemated in Zimbabwe. Profound deficits remain in implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by Zimbabwe’s three main political parties in September 2008. Prospects are remote for engaging core security and law-and-order concerns before elections that are anticipated within twenty months. Nothing significant has changed in the half year since April 2011, when the GPA’s Periodic Review Mech­an­ism reported that most outstanding issues were unresolved; that negotiated solutions are followed by interminable delays in execution appears to have become an entrenched pattern. Opportunities to build a foundation for sustainable political and economic recovery are consistently undermined. Violence and repression are pressing concerns; the police appear unwilling or unable to provide effective deterrence or remedy and the expectation of a more proactive engage­ment by the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) around issues of political violence has yet to bear fruit.

The promise that the regional organisation, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), would take a more robust stand following the 31 March communiqué of its Organ Troika on Politics, Defence and Security has not yet been adequately borne out. The two competing formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have largely welcomed the more proactive engagement of SADC’s facilitation team, headed by South African President Jacob Zuma. But President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, which retains the dominant role in the current power sharing arrangement, has frustrated it, not least because it wishes to preserve the monopoly control of the security sec­tor it relies on as the ultimate line of defence for its hegemony.

An election endgame was implicit in the GPA. The questions were always when would the vote be held, and what reform could be achieved beforehand. SADC rejected ZANU-PF’s claim that conditions for free and fair elections have or shortly can be met and its demand for a 2011 vote, saying that reforms were needed first. ZANU-PF’s most recent call, in September, for elections in the first quar­ter of 2012 seems equally unrealistic; most analysts concur that the earliest the country could conceivably be ready is late that year. The likelihood of further delays around finalisation of the constitution-writing process and implementation of election and media reform, as well as the security and law-and-order considerations, suggest, however, that the first half of 2013 is much more realistic.

An upsurge in political violence and repression in late October and early November, compounded by allegations of ZANU-PF and police complicity, has been interpreted by several analysts as a renewed attempt to force collapse of the GPA and an early vote. Mugabe’s recent admission that he cannot force a 2012 date suggests the realisation is grow­ing within the party that efforts to impose elections without consensus would be counter-productive, but powerful forces within it, especially those pushing for Mugabe’s re-election candidacy, remain committed to a vote sooner rather than later. ZANU-PF’s conference in Bulawayo on 6-10 December should clarify what it will push for.

SADC, as guarantors with the African Union of the GPA, needs to secure tangible progress on several key issues if elections are ultimately to be held in conditions that are sufficiently free and fair. The divisive security and law and order issues have essentially been ignored or avoided in the inter-party negotiations. The regional organisation needs to find a way to change this. Its strategy has been to reduce the GPA’s reform agenda to a more manageable set of priorities and to strengthen monitoring of implementation. A draft election roadmap, reflecting unresolved GPA concerns, has been drawn up, but key disagreements on political violence, security sector reform, composition of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and GPA monitoring remain unresolved. In June, SADC approved the Organ Troika’s recommendation to deploy a technical team to work with the JOMIC. Augmenting SADC’s eyes and ears is essential to its ability to facilitate agreements, but symptomatically the deployment has still not happened.

Since the signing of the GPA, Crisis Group has continually identified two major transition challenges: to develop a mature political system that enables both cooperation and responsible competition between the political parties, and to cope with security issues that threaten to undermine mean­ingful reform. This briefing assesses SADC’s post-March repositioning, as well as political and institutional developments related to the evolving security situation.

Commentary / Africa

Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?

A new presidential administration in Zimbabwe offers an opportunity for much-needed democratic and economic reform after years of stagnation. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group proposes four key areas on which the EU and its member states should focus its support: the security sector, elections, the economy and national reconciliation.

This commentary on the oppurtunity for reform in Zimbabwe is part of our annual early-warning report Watch List 2018.

Amid a rise in authoritarian tendencies across parts of the continent, Robert Mugabe’s resignation and the November 2017 appointment of his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as president make Zimbabwe a potential exception, carrying fresh prospects for reform and economic recovery. Mnangagwa and his administration have set a different tone, promising to clean up government, reach across political, ethnic and racial lines, strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy and reform its moribund economy. Re-engaging with Western partners and financial institutions is an integral component of his strategy. Questions remain, however, as to whether Mnangagwa’s administration represents a genuine change or simply a reconfiguration of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), now dominated by security sector interests and factions aligned to the new president. International actors will have an important role in encouraging the reforms that will determine whether the country can recover economically and steer a more open and democratic course.

African and non-African governments alike agree that Zimbabwe’s continued isolation would be counterproductive. Following the lead of the AU and Southern African Development Community (SADC), actors including Western governments and China – most of which were happy to see the back of Mugabe – stopped short of calling the “military-assisted transition” a coup d’état, thus ensuring they could maintain diplomatic relations with and provide assistance to the government. Most also agree that the new government should be given an opportunity to demonstrate it is serious about its commitments. But while encouragement and incentives are important, Zimbabwe’s partners, including the EU, should calibrate support to maintain pressure on the government to enact both political and economic reforms, particularly given ZANU-PF’s long track record of backtracking on its promises.

So far, Mnangagwa has set an encouraging tone, focusing on the need to resuscitate the economy and open the political system. But doubts remain. Questions surround in particular the government’s willingness to address structural economic issues through fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability. They also surround its commitment to a genuinely inclusive political system; in response, the opposition and civil society – although weak and fragmented – have united in calling for a level electoral playing field, enhanced participation, and strengthened institutional checks and balances.

A calibrated framework for EU engagement in Zimbabwe

Although relations have long been strained, the EU resumed direct development cooperation with Harare in November 2014. Since then, with member states, it has engaged in limited senior-level political dialogue. The EU set out a framework for engagement in the National Indicative Program for Zimbabwe 2014-2020, focusing on three sectors: health, agriculture-based economic development, and governance as well as institution-building.

While this framework remains relevant, Mugabe’s ouster provides the EU an opportunity to adjust its approach and offer Zimbabwe the promise of a deeper relationship should certain conditions be met (a promise which is explicit in the 22 January 2018 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on Zimbabwe). This would require determining levels of support based on realistic deliverables and deadlines, based partly on timelines set by the new president and government themselves (such as in Mnangagwa’s December presentation to ZANU-PF’s extraordinary Congress, his State of the Nation address and the government’s commitments to deliverables within the first 100 days in office). Specifically, the EU could link its support to reforms in four key areas:

  • Security sector, including initiatives to professionalise the police forces and provide for civilian supervision, improve parliamentary oversight of the defence sector and repeal legislation inconsistent with the 2013 constitution, such as the Public Order and Security Act (which curtails rights such as freedom of assembly) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (which allows the state to severely control the work of the media and limit free speech).
  • Elections, including guaranteeing greater independence for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and credible voter rolls for Zimbabweans at home and abroad. The EU also should follow up on the president’s recent offer to allow EU observers to monitor the 2018 elections.
  • Economic sector, including organisation of a broad dialogue on the government’s economic reform strategy to be led by an independent committee, including representatives from the opposition, civil society, the churches and important commercial sectors.
  • National reconciliation, notably by bolstering the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and extending its mandate so as to form a truly independent body able to deal with past government abuses.

In parallel, the EU should step up support for institutions such as the Auditor General, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission while continuing to engage civil society organisations, and support their efforts to track government reforms, particularly those related to security, governance, fiscal accountability and anti-corruption.