Tanzania must help end Zimbabwe's military dictatorship
Tanzania must help end Zimbabwe's military dictatorship
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Tanzania must help end Zimbabwe's military dictatorship

Since the year 2000 and his defeat in a referendum destined to reinforce his presidential powers, Robert Mugabe has been at war with his opposition and his regime has become the equivalent of a military dictatorship. Dismantling the military structure’s control over the country’s politics, economy and civilian administration is crucial for the country’s future. But this will only be possible if real executive powers are handed over to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the on-going talks.

This is precisely where the biggest sticking point remains in the negotiations between Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The talks, destined to end the two months-long post-electoral crisis, are deadlocked over the issue of power-sharing. Although he beat Mugabe in the first round of the presidential elections and was forced out the second by a wave of terror against its supporters, Tsvangirai has agreed to give up the presidential seat to leave Mugabe as head of state and “founding father of the nation”.

The deal on offer was also that Mugabe would co-chair the Cabinet and make some key appointments in consultation with the prime minister. While Tsvangirai has accepted such compromises, Mugabe still refuses to budge, offering Tsvangirai a ceremonial position in his government and no cabinet positions with real powers.

Over the past years, Zimbabwe’s ruling party has increasingly relied on the military establishment to guarantee its survival. In the run-off to the June elections, war veterans, military and paramilitary forces were again responsible for a campaign of violence. Last week, Mugabe rewarded its leaders with promotions to higher military ranks.

The security structure is a major reason why Mugabe cannot keep important executive powers. Removing Mugabe from power is not just about him: it is about freeing the country from its military straightjacket. Tsvangirai received a mandate from the Zimbabwean people to pull the country out of the economic and political crisis, and he cannot accept the state structure remains the same and the main reason behind the country’s decay is not tackled.

To put an end to the military dictatorship, Tsvangirai has insisted that the infamous Joint Operation Command (JOC), Mugabe’s kitchen cabinet and real decision-maker in the country, be dismantled and replaced with a National Security Council that they would co-chair. This new body would be completely de-linked from ZANU-PF and would be truly at the service of the country’s security, not of a violent clique. Mugabe refused this outright and argues that the JOC should be retained as it is.

Tsvangirai’s most important trump card to get rid of the military dictatorship is his unique potential to end the economic meltdown. ZANU-PF can not pay its supporters and the rank and file of the security apparatus are increasingly conscious of the need for radical change.  They cannot even pay their children’s school fees and satisfy their basic needs. Zimbabwe desperately needs hard currency, which foreign donors will only provide if a genuine power-sharing occurs.

There is also a role for African leaders. Until now, and apart from a few exceptions such as Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, or the late President Levi Mwanawasa of Zambia, Mugabe has not been subjected to much criticism or pressure from continental leaders. Chief mediator Thabo Mbeki has been appallingly soft on him, going as far as implying that Tsvangirai is the one holding up the talks. Hopes had been raised last week-end that a deal could be reached during the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit. But a great opportunity was missed and these hopes were dashed when it clearly appeared that Southern African states would not pressure Mugabe more than Mbeki.

Jakaya Kikwete, Chairperson of the African Union, now needs to get seriously involved in the negotiation process and step up the pressure on Mugabe and the generals. It is Kikwete who provided the push to close the 28 February Kenya deal. Zimbabweans needs him to step in. He should voice very clearly that a genuine executive power-sharing and a clear reform agenda that includes the dismantling of the security structure are absolute requirements for a settlement of the crisis and that the AU will not accept any deal short of that.

Kikwete and willing SADC member states such as Botswana and Zambia, can also approach China to contribute to the pressure on ZANU-PF generals and close Mugabe’s option to go east for his salvation. Incentives might also be necessary. These could include giving Mugabe and other ZANU-PF officials immunity for their crimes and guaranteed security to them and their families. These would be controversial concessions, but if power can shifted from a military dictatorship to a civilian democracy, this is probably a price worth paying.

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