REVIEW: The Hard Road To Reform: The Politics Of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement — Reviewed By Timothy Scarnecchia

Hard Road to Reform

Hard Road to Reform

Reviewed by Timothy Scarnecchia: Associate Professor of History at Kent State University and author of The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe: Harare and Highfield, 1940-1964 (University of Rochester Press, 2008). First published on African Arguments.

As Zimbabwe’s first post-GPA harmonised elections fast approach (July 31st), informed and not so well informed commentators will be giving their views of the campaigns, the elections, and the results. If the international coverage of the Kenyan 2013 election is any indication, the room for hyperbolic claims and dubious background coverage will once again be larger than the square footage of Robert Mugabe’s mansions (and now even Morgan Tsvangirai’s home). In order to avoid such mistakes, I highly recommend a collection edited by Professor Brian Raftopoulos, who is Director of Research and Advocacy in the Solidarity Peace Trust, an NGO dealing with human rights issues in Zimbabwe.

For those unfamiliar with the Zimbabwean political landscape, Brian Raftopoulos is one of the most insightful commentators on the Zimbabwean political situation. His current writings do not avoid harsh criticisms of the MDC’s performance following the 2008 elections and the formation of the GPA in February 2009. That is why this book is so valuable. Raftopoulos, along with an A-list of Zimbabwean scholars (with a healthy preponderance of historians), have examined the past 4 years through diverse critical lenses. There is no sugar coating here. If anything, the overall impression is that Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, while being given a life-line by the GPA brokered by then South African President Thabo Mbeki, were forced to deal with the two MDCs in a Government of National Unity and they have done so in characteristically ZANU-PF fashion. The MDCs, while faced with major obstacles but also some great opportunities, may have done themselves more harm than good based on their own actions more than those of ZANU-PF. It is not an assessment that the MDC insiders will like to hear but the criticisms are to be expected particularly as they come from those who participated in, or witnessed, the formation of the MDC from the grassroots constituencies of Zimbabwe labor unions and civic organizations. These individual chapters help to put into much better focus why Zimbabwe in 2013 is not the same as it was in 2008. I therefore highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know why this is the case. That the book is available electronically for Kindle makes it that much easier to get reading.

Rather than write a formal review, I have included the titles of the individual chapters and some passages or brief summaries of themes I see as useful for thinking about the GPA years (2009-2013) with an eye towards the upcoming elections.

Chapter 1: Brian Raftopoulos: “An Overview of the GPA: National Conflict, Regional Agony and International Dilemma”

Here is Raftopoulos’ helpful summary of the GPA period:

“The GPA and its many challenges was the product of a convergence of factors, namely: the unwillingness of a party of liberation to accept electoral defeat; the inability of the opposition to claim state power due to the militarisation of the ruling party’s response to defeat a clash of different notions of state sovereignty in which the electoral wishes of the Zimbabwean citizenry were subordinated to selective nationalist claims of the ruling party; and the role of SADC in facilitating an agreement that attempted to balance the need for regional sovereignty against outside interference with the legitimate electoral demands of the Zimbabwean electorate. The results of this complex mix of ingredients was a brew that placed a short term halt on the rapid political and economic decline in the country and opened up some space for new political arrangements, while also providing an authoritarian regime with opportunities to regain lost ground. The period of the Inclusive Government generated a new set of dynamics that made it impossible for ZANU-PF to return to the status quo ante, while also exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the former opposition parties as they took part in unequally shared state power.” [28]

As Raftopoulos states in the introduction, it is important to focus not only on the MDCs’ ability to maneuver in the GPA years, but also to focus on how ZANU-PF has managed to use these 4 years to regroup. He writes: “The politics of ZANU-PF is not only one of destruction and obstruction; it is also constitutive of the new social and economic forces that have emerged in the last 10-15 years.” (xv). While the issue of ZANU-PF political violence is raised in the introduction and elsewhere in the collection, it is noticeably absent given the amount of emphasis the Solidarity Peace Trust’s Reports have previously given to this element of Zimbabwean politics. It is perhaps one of the book’s strengths, however, to focus on the shifting political landscape, especially the changing constituencies and interests represented by ZANU-PF and the opposition, rather than continue to focus solely on the repressive actions of the past 13 years.

Chapter 2: James Muzondidya, “The opposition dilemma in Zimbabwe: A Critical Review of the Politics of the Movement for Democratic Change Parties under the GPA Government Framework, 2009-2012.”

Historian James Muzondidya, a research manager at the Zimbabwe Institute, a think tank well known for its links to the MDC, takes a particularly critical look at the performance of the MDCs during the GPA, but he first notes the limits on their actions:

“…the ability of the opposition parties to use their leverage during this phase has been restricted because ZANU-PF is not interested in any reforms that would loosen its hold on power. While agreeing to some of the reforms negotiated in the GPA, ZANU-PF was bent on using them and the new institutions to legitimise itself and push its own agenda. The Zimbabwe electoral Commission (ZEC), for instance, appeared to be broadly representative but was, in fact, still dominated by ZANU-PF through their control of its secretariat and support staff. In addition, ZEC was starved of both material resources and manpower to carry out its tasks, and this has ensured that the partisan Registrar General’s office remains in control of the election processes, from voter registration in the counting of the votes. “ [49]

The above observation about the ZEC seems to be playing out at the moment, the lack of resources available to run this electoin is particularly startling, and will likely become a major issue in determining the outcome of the election.

Muzondidya explains just how stacked the GPA has been in ZANU-PF’s favor:

‘The ZANU-PF strategy, consistent with its hegemonic political culture, has been to engage in cosmetic political and economic reforms that will not result in further democracy or result in a loss of its historic monopoly over power. …Indeed, over the last four years, ZANU-PF has kept the strategic doors to its power, such as the security sector and the mining and agricultural industries, firmly closed.” [50]

Muzondidya does not hold back, however, in his criticisms of the MDCs’ performance. He gives a valuable analysis of the differences between the MDC-Tsvangirai and the MDC (formerly the MDC-M for Arthur Mutambara, then the MDC-N for Welshman Ncube, the current leader, and now simply the “MDC” under Ncube’s leadership). Muzondidya outlines the major differences between the two MDCs and most importantly describes ethnic factionalism that has developed between the two MDCs and within the MDC-T. Those familiar with the history of political parties in Zimbabwe and in the African nationalist parties before Independence will recognize a depressing pattern of divisions around personalities, perceived “intelligence” differences within party leadership, and the ever-present ethnic solidarities that at times seem exaggerated yet over time become self-fulfilling. This chapter will be very helpful to those new to Zimbabwean politics wanting to make sense of the divisions between and within the MDCs.

Muzondidya also summarizes the corruption charges against MDC-T urban councilors that have grown in number over the past few years, showing the vulnerability of a group of leaders tasting power for the first time. While subsequently censored by the party, these cases have damaged the MDC-T’s image as a party of “Change”. Such cases included:

“the Chitungwiza land scandal which resulted in the party firing all its 23 councilors in 2010; the mismanagement and looting of Council land and resources by councilors in Bindura; the Kwekwe audit report findings of 2012 which unearthed serious financial irregularities involving the under-banking of collected revenue and the Marondera corruption case which resulted in the suspension of the mayor by his party in March 2012 for receiving kickbacks from companies and individuals in return for tenders. The corruption among the party’s representatives in local authorities, MDC parliamentarians and government officials, as the MDC leadership itself has admitted, has the potential to cost the party dearly during the next elections.” [57]

For those who built the coalition of trade unions and civics in the late 1990s that eventually created the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the MDCs, the last four years have more often been a disappointment as the links between these formative groups and the MDCs has been strained or broken by the MDCs’ participation in government. Muzondidya concludes,

“ZANU-PF has, in fact, been more shrewd in its engagement with the transitional process than its political opponents, including both political parties and civics as well as international opponents such as the US and EU countries. It has been effectively using the transition arrangement to regroup and reorganise, and is now better organised than it was in 2009. “ [59]

Chapter 3: Gerald Mazarire, “ZANU-PF and the Government of National Unity”

Historian Gerald Mazarire gives us a helpful contemporary history of the splits both in the MDC and ZANU-PF that many people outside of Zimbabwe may not fully understand. He starts by providing a summary of the somewhat questionable MDC and ZANU-PF versions of the story. Based on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s own account of it in his autobiography, Mazarire suggests that then South African President Thabo Mbeki, along with “the support of some Western embassies in Harare”, had been involved in splitting the MDC in favor of Welshman Ncube’s faction and ZANU-PF in favor of Emmerson Mnangagwa. This strategy ultimately failed in 2004 but it did lead to major conflicts in both parties. Mazarire explains that Mbeki returned to intervene in Zimbabwean politics during the violent crisis of 2008, and the resulting Unity Accord was “hurriedly concluded” by Mbeki so that he could “attend to a crisis at home that led, in September 2008, to his own ouster from the leadership of the ANC and the South African presidency.” [73]

Mazarire then outlines ZANU-PF’s version of the story, based mostly on Jonathan Moyo’s writings, in which the GNU was carried out mostly to stop ‘regime change’ orchestrated from Washington and London, as the Security sector refused to go along with the MDC in declaring a government based on the original presidential election results. Mazarire then does an excellent job of showing how and why ZANU-PF managed to continue to dominate the GNU with strategies to keep the MDC out of key sectors of governance. In reference to ZANU-PF’s “Pursuit of Hard Power”, Mazirire writes:

“ZANU-PF’s display of power is traceable to its ability to lose an election and stay in power. Starting with the delays in announcing the outcome of the March 2008 Presidential Election as opposed to the efficiency and speed with which the winner of the 27 June Presidential run-off was announced, ZANU was already at work to make sure that whatever arrangement would obtain thereafter should find them securely in position. Contrary to the view that ZANU-PF’s arbitrary exercise of power and its assertiveness stem from increased confidence in the political and economic situation obtaining since the formation of the GNU, ZANU has always been determined to be a triumphant loser.” [88]

Mazarire explores some of the areas where ZANU-PF insiders have excelled at enriching themselves at the expense of the state, and as an historian he can’t help but point out the hypocrisy of this given ZANU-PF’s earlier socialist rhetoric in a section labeled “ZANU-PF: from Socialism to Capitalism.” Mazarire describes two main areas of this transition, namely the indigenisation and mining sectors. Pointing out as well that there were a key handful of white businessmen who have helped ZANU-PF insiders along the way to indigenization, he ends with respect for ZANU-OPF Minister of Mines, Obert Mpufo, for his “almost single-handedly” wining the war against the “blood diamonds” charges from the Kimberley Process system. Mazirire’s final advice to readers is worth contemplating as elections near. “Readers are starkly reminded that with ZANU-PF, literally anything is possible.” [112]

Chapter 4: Bertha Chiroro, “Turning Confrontation into Critical Engagement: the Challenge of the Inclusive Government to Zimbabwean Civil Society”

This chapter by Betha Chiroro, a research specialist at the African Institute of South Africa in Pretoria, is essential for understanding the strained relations that have developed between the MDC parties and the civic organizations and NGO’s that had been so supportive (and instrumental in forming) the MDCs in the first place. Chiroro is also the only contributor to address the fundamentally important role of women’s organizations in the continued opposition to ZANU-PF authoritarian rule.

“An equally important sector is the female voice: as expressed by the Women’s Coalition, (a network of women’s rights activists with chapters in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Beitbridge, Gweru, Gwanda, Bindura, Marondera, and Mutare) and WOZA during the term of the IG. Although some have expressed their frustration that their participation is no more than ‘tokenism and deception’, Zimbabwean women have continued to strive for a democratic political environment together with other CSOs [Civil Society Organisations].” [128]

“Zimbabwean civil society’s response to the IG [Inclusive Government] has continued to reveal ideological tensions between its human rights obligations and its need to deal with broader developmental requirements. Political advocacy around issues of human rights and violence often takes centre stage at the expense of developmental issues and issues of social and economic rights, rural development, poverty and inequality. While public service delivery remained very poor, with massive water and electricity shortages, poor waste management and poor sanitation remaining the order of the day, civil society has not made a clear and concerted effort to ensure that these issues are addressed by the IG.” [136-137].

Chapter 5: Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, “Politics behind Politics: African Union, Southern African Development Community and the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe.”

Historian Ndlovu-Gatsheni provides a very clear and useful contemporary history of African Union and SADC attempts to mediate the political crises in Zimbabwe since 2000. One is simultaneously impressed by the number of these continental and regional interventions as well as by the lack of substantive results. There is a lot of value here for understanding the 2013 elections. In particular, the current head of the AU, South African Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has been outspokenly supportive of ZANU-PF’s drive for elections in 2013, while South African President Jacob Zuma’s lead SADC negotiator on Zimbabwe, Lindiwe Zulu, has recently come under heavy criticisms from Mugabe for her own stance that further reforms are necessary before elections could be held. Reading Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s chapter will help make some of these differences clearer.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s characterization of why GNU negotiations occurred offers a particularly helpful and succinct view:

“What led the political formations to negotiate were the stark political realities facing them: despite emerging victorious in the 29 March 2008 elections, the MDC political formations were prevented by ZANU-PF from ascending to power and its support base was exposed to unprecedented and unbearable violence. ZANU-PF clung to power by violence but its legitimacy was completely eroded. Added to this, the Zimbabwean economy continued to degenerate to its lowest ebb and international, continental, and regional pressure together with sanctions, contributed to ZANU-PF’s decision to accept negotiations as the only game in town if it was to survive politically.” [160]

Ndlovu-Gatsheni concludes his discussion of AU and SADC interventions:

“After 2008, the problem shifted from pushing for credible elections as a solution to the Zimbabwe problem to a search for a power-sharing arrangement in a context where there was no legitimate government in Harare. Currently, the Harare disputants have gone full circle to the issue of elections as a resolution of the Zimbabwe problem. This push for elections is taking place within a context in which SADC mediation and facilitation has lost momentum. The key facilitator is pre-occupied with local problems rocking the ANC, and ZANU-PF is taking advantage of the situation to push for elections before the completion of key reforms.”

Chapter 6: Munyaradzi Nyakudya. “Sanctioning the Government of National Unity: A Review of Zimbabwe’s Relations with the West in the Framework of the Global Political Agreement.”

Historian Munyaradzi Nyakudya’s chapter is an important one, especially as the Zimbabwe sanctions debate has been so contentious and often full of inaccuracies. Most importantly, Nyakudya details how ZANU-PF has effectively used the continuation of Western sanctions to its advantage during the GNU period. Nyakudya writes:

“The West has grappled with two scenarios: either to engage Mugabe, lift sanctions, and support the GNU, or to shun him completely and maintain, if not tighten the sanctions. The latter scenario has largely prevailed. It must be conceded that the US, EU and their allies’ various Sanctions Bills all stipulated the need for tangible progress in terms of establishing democracy, respecting human rights and upholding the rule of law before re-engaging. There has simply been no such progress, with the reform deficit clearly still outstanding. ZANU-PF has persistently and consistently refused to implement critical electoral, judicial, media and security sector reforms necessary before new elections can be held. “ [188]

Offering an insight into how determined ZANU-PF is to NOT carry out any reforms in the security sector, Nyakudya states:

“…on the issue of the security sector, the ZANU-PF Congress of December 2009 passed the following critical resolutions: ‘ZANU (PF) as the party of revolution and the people’s vanguard shall not allow the security forces to be the subject of any negotiation for a so-called security sector reform,’ ostensibly because the ‘security forces are a product of the liberation struggle’. The party thus argues that ‘calls for security sector reform violate Zimbabwean sovereignty.’ This simply throws spanners in the GPA implementation process: the MDC formations have vowed not to accept that general elections be held before security sector reforms are instituted, maintaining that the latter have been politicized, as revealed in their proclamations not to accept any leader without liberation war credentials.” [190]

As elections approach and following the Constitutional referendum in March this year, the EU, Australia, and the US have stepped down from their hardline on targeted sanctions, removing many from the lists and promising even further lifting should these elections be peaceful and “credible”. On the one hand this can be seen as assisting the MDCs in terms of letting them take credit for holding up their promise to work towards the lifting of sanctions. On the other hand, it also would appear to be a realpolitik hedging that ZANU-PF will win the elections and that Western powers are preparing for a full rapprochement with ZANU-PF in order to continue mining for platinum and dealing in diamonds there. The competition with China, who is fully involved with ZANU-PF on a number of economic and intelligence fronts, offers an incentive to back off on sanctions before the elections. Former US Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, travelled to Harare on the invitation of the State Department to visit Mugabe in April this year, which was a real sign of this hedging by the Americans, and even Reverend Jesse Jackson was in town on a “private” visit to meet with Mugabe and Tsvangirai, although he was accompanied by US Ambassador Bruce Wharton when meeting with Mugabe.

Chapter 7 Shari Eppel, “Repairing a Fractured Nation: Challenges and Opportunities in Post-GPA Zimbabwe”

Shari Eppel is a leading authority on transitional justice issues in Zimbabwe, particularly pertaining to the Gukurahundi period (1983-1987) when thousands of Zimbabweans were killed as part of ZANU’s consolidation of power and the crushing of former rival ZAPU’s power. Eppel is therefore highly qualified to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of truth and reconciliation efforts during the GPA, and in the future.

Like the other contributors to this volume, Eppel does not refrain from criticizing the opposition. In this case, she has in mind the difficulty observers sympathetic to the MDCs have in criticizing inter-party violence, as well as violence carried out by MDC supporters against ZANU-PF supporters.

“While the existence and extent of political violence by MDC in the last ten years remains an issue that civics in Zimbabwe is nervous to explore, at some point in the future it will be necessary to confront this issue if we are to avoid another cycle of impunity under an MDC government. The MDCs have undoubtedly had the odds stacked massively against them, with the police, army, and CIO all arresting, torturing and assaulting MDC supporters with impunity, as have war veteran groupings, you militia, Chipangano, and other informal arms of ZANU-PF. But on the ground in some rural villages and urban suburbs, inter-party violence has become much more evenly matched in recent years, and this is seldom admitted to by civics on the argument that the ZANU-PF elements of the state have dishonestly blamed much of their own violence on the MDC, and to produce forensic proof of some MDC violence would be to add credence to the patently false ZANU-PF position that most of the violence is by MDC.” [234, emphasis in the original]… “Clearly, there are some people in Zimbabwe who are justified in seeing MDC supporters as perpetrators. Furthermore, members of the MDC faction headed by Welshman Ncube would point to internal violence in the MDC as a major contributor to the split in the party: beatings and torture of MDC’s own activists have taken place in their political headquarters and structures over the years, as several—largely uncirculated—MDC commissions of inquiry reveal.” [234].

Eppel also explores the roles of two new institutions developed by the GPA . The first is the Organ of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI) and the second is the GPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JOMIC), which is made up of representatives of all three political parties, and tasked with “investigating violent incidents together”. (238) Eppel analyzes the potential value of the ONHRI while exploring some of the fundamental difficulties facing any institution in Zimbabwe wanting to seriously deal with issues of transitional justice. The ability of the JOMIC to not only monitor but prevent future political violence is questioned, and although all three political parties have been sanguine about JOMIC’s abilities to make these upcoming elections “violence free”, questions remain over how a JOMIC without enforceable powers will be able to act beyond making public pronouncements.


The above is a cursory examination of an excellent book. One I recommend highly to all those who will now turn their gaze toward Zimbabwe in the upcoming weeks. The Zimbabwean online media is often difficult to decipher given such strong polarization of views, as will be Western media portrayals given usual editorial decisions to cut out the background information. For those who want to make sense of the political landscape leading up to the 2013 elections, Raftopoulos et al’s The Hard Road to Reform is a great place to start. I would also recommend Western journalists turn to these Zimbabwean scholars for analysis and quotes, rather than turning to the usual pundits in London or Washington DC. Their affiliations are listed in the book.


Tue, July 16 2013 » Press Releases

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