Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End?
Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or another Dead End? [Podcast]
Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or another Dead End? [Podcast]
Report / Africa 4 minutes

Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End?

The situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating again under a new wave of political violence organised by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, and the country faces another illegitimate election and crisis unless credible, enforceable reforms can first be implemented.

Executive Summary

Intensified violence against those deemed to be ZANU-PF enemies has exposed the limitations of Zimbabwe’s much delayed reform process and threatens to derail the Global Political Agreement (GPA). President Mugabe’s call for early elections has increased fears of a return to 2008’s violence. Prime Minister Tsvangirai has appealed for help from the region. Eventual elections are inevitable, but without credible, enforceable reforms, Zimbabwe faces another illegitimate vote and prospects of entrenched polarisation and crisis. GPA guarantors – the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its South African-led facilitation team – have an uphill battle to secure implementation. ZANU-PF is increasingly confident it can intimidate opponents and frustrate reform, and there is waning faith, internally and externally, in MDC-T capacities. Mugabe’s health and ZANU-PF succession turmoil are further complications. Without stronger international pressure on ZANU-PF, the tenuous current coalition may collapse, triggering further violence and grave consequences for southern Africa.

The GPA, signed by the three political parties (ZANU-PF, MDC-T and MDC-M) in September 2008, was intended to provide a foundation for response to the multiple political and economic crises, but it has become a battleground for control of the country’s future. As in 2008, ZANU-PF’s ability, in partnership with the unreformed security sector leadership (the “securocrats”), to thwart a democratic transfer of power remains intact. The state media is still grotesquely unbalanced, and the criminal justice system continues to be used as a weapon against ZANU-PF opponents, in particular the MDC-T.

The centrepiece of GPA reforms is a parliament-led constitution-making process under the direction of the Constitution Parliamentary Affairs (Select) Committee (COPAC). That body launched an outreach program in the latter half of 2010, but several civil society organisations and the MDC-T criticise it for falling far short of being inclusive and open and accuse ZANU-PF of having captured and manipulated the process. Many Zimbabweans, however, still consider the constitution-writing exercise important for moving the country forward. While drafting has begun, leading toward an all-stakeholders conference, parliamentary approval and a referendum, every step presents opportunity for opposition, delay and obfuscation.

Both MDC parties argue that COPAC must finish its work before elections are held, but ZANU-PF says elections can proceed with or without a new constitution and links its cooperation on democratic reforms to removal of targeted international sanctions, over which the parties have no control. In late February 2011, the facilitation team’s visit to Harare resulted in a commitment from the three party leaders to implement their August 2010 agreement on outstanding GPA issues. This did not include a commitment to the sequence of elections after a constitutional referendum. Nevertheless, having failed to produce an agreed plan themselves, the party leaders deferred to the facilitators to produce a roadmap for pre-election action.

The GPA guarantors and the facilitation team have until very recently shied from addressing poor progress directly. On 31 March 2011, however, the SADC troika (Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia) took note of the lack of progress in GPA implementation and related matters and the rise in levels of violence and intimidation and laid out steps that must now be taken to address the situation. This is a significant development that illustrates a public hardening of attitudes and increasing frustration within the regional organisation toward the GPA signatories, in particular ZANU-PF. The MDC-T welcomed the communiqué, which is a direct response to the multiple grievances it as well as civil society groups have expressed. ZANU-PF and Mugabe have countered that they will not tolerate external interference, even from neighbours. The next few months will determine whether SADC can follow its words by producing action that advances the reform agenda and prospects for a sustainable transition. That in turn will indicate whether the conditions necessary for credible elections exist.

The worsening climate of fear and violence means security sector reform (SSR) should be the most immediate challenge. In addition, important institutions need to be strengthened, including parliamentary committees and the Human Rights, Media and Electoral Commissions. These measures should be supplemented by continued support for civil society to engage with those bodies as set out in the GPA. Until the draft constitution is produced, however, it is unlikely that even the limited SSR contained in the GPA will be meaningfully addressed.

The facilitation team recognises that it needs a constant presence in Zimbabwe. Its roadmap should propose an audit of what has and has not been done, what the parties can and cannot achieve. If further power-sharing is inevitable, a pragmatic assessment of the current arrangement’s failure is needed. The guarantors and facilitation team have relied on the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), set up by the GPA – four members from each of the three signatory parties – for evaluations, but it has not fulfilled its mandate, due to inadequate monitoring capacity, no enforcement leverage and problems navigating the distorted balance of power within government. In recognition of its poor performance, the SADC troika recommended strengthening the facilitation team’s monitoring and reporting capacity, so it could work closer with the JOMIC. The annual progress review the Periodic Review Mechanism should provide in consultation with the guarantors has not been done, though the party leaders recently agreed to correct this. The guarantors must ensure a comprehensive review.

The roadmap should call upon the political leadership to collectively establish clear priorities, with a particular focus on how to secure conditions for credible elections. As endorsed by the recent troika summit, the SADC “Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections” provides the accepted frame of reference. The referendum envisaged for the draft constitution would be an important opportunity to test electoral conditions.

The GPA still offers a coherent framework for putting in place conditions for credible elections. However, progress remains stymied because ZANU-PF has not demonstrated a credible commitment to democratic reforms, and the MDC-T is not strong enough to force them through. The GPA guarantors and South Africa have now indicated they are prepared to take a much more hands-on approach, although it is unclear how this will manifest itself. It is important that they continually engage Zimbabwe’s political leaders to take their own commitments seriously and set clear benchmarks and timelines for achieving the concrete steps set out in the SADC communiqué. Accelerating the implementation of key reforms, many of which have already been approved, is all the more necessary because a credible election process cannot take place until the appropriate conditions are in place.

Harare/Johannesburg/Nairobi/Brussels, 27 April 2011


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