Zimbabwe: Making the Most of the Deal
Zimbabwe: Making the Most of the Deal
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Zimbabwe: Making the Most of the Deal

The people of Zimbabwe have looked desperately for months to the political negotiations between the ZANU-PF under Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai to restore clarity and normality to their tortured country.

As welcome as it was, the agreement signed last week will only satisfy this modest goal if the political and civic leaders of Zimbabwe, supported by the international community, take bold steps to transform its words into actions.

In some ways, the agreement is painfully vague. Its power-sharing provisions, for example, seem to create two centers of power, with Mugabe as president and head of the cabinet, and Tsvangirai as prime minister and head of a new “council of ministers.” While the numbers of ministers for each grouping was agreed to, key ministries such as defence, home affairs, finance, information, and foreign affairs are up for grabs.

Further, the hope that Mugabe would see the agreement as a first step toward national reconciliation vanished even before the ink was dry. His vicious and paranoid harangue against perceived enemies foreign and domestic at the signing ceremony itself quashed any hopeful expectation. And in case the message wasn’t clear, he then went on national television to reaffirm that ZANU-PF remains in the driver’s seat and “will not tolerate any nonsense from our new partners,” an overt threat of new violent repression of the parties that won the March elections.

But Mugabe’s authoritarian and divide-and-rule tactics cannot be allowed to hijack the accord and, more broadly, Zimbabwe’s future. As Tsvangirai has pointed out, the agreement belongs to the people of Zimbabwe. Indeed, the accord includes much that can be welcomed and built upon, such as commitments to an inclusive process with civil society to draft a new constitution, move to new elections, and address dire concerns over the disastrous humanitarian situation, land distribution, political violence, and the free-falling economy.
The international community must show solidarity with this process. Even as the details of the agreement are being hammered out, important steps can already be taken.
In the first instance, the international community must make clear that targeted sanctions on ZANU-PF obstructionists and others will remain in place for the foreseeable future, at least until there are clear actions – not just signatures on paper or conciliatory words – to shift executive power to the MDC.

Planning for large-scale development assistance should advance at break-neck speed, with the World Bank and UNDP playing key roles.  But disbursement should depend on Tsvangirai getting full control over the economic ministries, the adoption of  reasonable development strategies, overhauls to the fiscal policy and replacing Mugabe’s crony Gideon Gono as head of the reserve bank.  In any case, Zimbabwe’s economic and physical infrastructure is in such disorder that its capacity to absorb large immediate inflows of capital is questionable.

It will take considerable time and tough measures – including reducing subsidies and cutting government positions - to squeeze multi-million percent inflation out of Zimbabwe’s economy. Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean people will be expecting an immediate peace dividend.

To address these expectations, there should be emergency projects to provide food aid and to help move the literally millions of people affected by Mugabe’s displacement campaigns back to their homes, which will in turn allow young people to return to school, health programs to take root and local economies to revitalize. These programs should include assistance to rebuild houses, establish micro-enterprises and reconstruct basic infrastructure.
At the same time, the international community should help fund immediate programs to create jobs - paid in hard currency - for the unemployed, especially young people. While far from a long-term solution, it could prove to be an essential investment just as it did last year when the UN gave $5 million to Sierra Leone to hire young kids to pick up garbage on the streets of Freetown in advance of national elections.
Similarly, programs to rebuild civil society groups should be launched throughout the country. Mugabe’s divide-and-rule strategies have polarized Zimbabwe over the past years and destroyed the nation-wide character of religious, press, labor, academic, women’s and youth groups. Strengthening civil society will not only help reconcile the country, but would also serve as an important antidote to the monopolization of power in the hands of the presidency. Similarly, a program to assist the resurrection of the judiciary and legislature would also restore the balance of power lost by virtue of Mugabe’s pernicious abuse of executive power.

The international community cannot afford to stand back and either bemoan the inadequacies of the current power-sharing agreement or allow Mugabe to victimize his compatriots in his cynical pursuit of power. If we adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude, what we are likely to see is a return to the politics of violence, division and repression that have come to characterize the last years of Mugabe’s rule.


Former Senior Analyst, Zimbabwe
Former Vice-President for Multilateral Affairs

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