The South African led Mediation on Zimbabwe: Can it help break the deadlock?

Signing of the Global Political Agreement

From left to right: Arthur Mutambara, Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Thabo Mbeki

First published on the Nordic Africa Institute website

The South African led mediation on Zimbabwe has been received with mixed result both within in the country and internationally. Born out of the violent refusal of a party of the liberation movement to accept its first electoral defeat since independence in 1980, the regional mediation, through the instrument of the Global Political Agreement signed in September 2008, sought to put in place a temporary inclusive government that would attempt to stabilize the country politically and economically, and prepare the ground for an election result that would be accepted by all the major contenders. With the GPA still in play the results thus far have been mixed, but with a growing apprehension around the slow movement in implementing its central tenets.

For the Nordic countries the challenge is to encourage the positive developments in the Inclusive Government, and to push for further dialogue between the EU and the transitional government. It is such diplomatic initiatives that are most likely to open up political spaces in Zimbabwe.

In 2007 the Southern African Development Community (SADC) gave Thabo Mbeki, then President of South Africa, the mandate to negotiate a political agreement between the major political parties in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF and the two MDCs, in the face of a rapidly declining political and economic situation. The major objectives of the mediation were to: endorse the decision to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008; agree on steps to be taken to ensure that the elections would be generally acceptable to all concerned and be representative of the will of Zimbabwean voters; and agree on the measures that needed to be implemented to create the climate that would facilitate such acceptance.

The three political parties agreed to the mediation for different reasons. For Zanu PF a combination of the free fall in the country’s economy, increasing international criticism from the West, and perhaps most importantly, pressure from SADC, made it difficult for the Mugabe regime to avoid the process. In the case of the larger of the two MDCs, the Tsvangirai formation, a negotiated settlement looked like the best route to power, in the context of the severe weakening of other strategic alternatives, while for the smaller MDC-Mutambara, the negotiated route to power would for the moment avoid its almost certain demise at a future poll.

Although the negotiations around the mediation were expectedly very difficult, by the end of 2007 Mbeki had succeeded in getting some agreement around important electoral reforms and facilitating a political climate that reduced the levels of pre-election violence. Nevertheless by the end of 2007 the parties were deadlocked over three issues: the date of the election; the time frame for the implementation of the agreed reforms; and the process and manner of the making and enactment of the new constitution. In the face of this deadlock Mugabe went ahead and unilaterally set a date for the elections in March 2008, in the face of strong criticisms from the opposition.

To the surprise of many observers, the combined vote of the MDCs resulted in a parliamentary defeat for Zanu PF and a first round presidential defeat for Mugabe, with Tsvangirai and his party coming out the strongest. Because of the violence that followed this electoral setback for Zanu PF, inflicted by the structures of Mugabe’s party, SADC immediately resumed the mediation process in order to once again find a way though the political morass. The turmoil that had been inflicted by Zanu PF was so widespread, that the party was forced to deal with fact that it had undermined its own claims to sovereignty and legitimacy, and faced deeper isolation not only from the West, but in the region if it refused further regional intervention.

The 2008 Global Political Agreement.

The SADC mediation that followed the largely unrecognized Presidential run-off election in June 2008 continued until September 2008 when the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was signed between the three parties.

After the GPA came into operation in February 2009, the implementation of its terms continue to be slow and highly contested, obstructed largely by the blockages of the Mugabe regime. For most of 2009 until the present several outstanding issues around appointments, decision-making in the Inclusive Government, the proposed constitutional reform process, and the problem of ‘sanctions’ against key members of Zanu PF, bedeviled the agreement. Additionally the military and security sector have persistently blocked the process of state reform. This is a particular problem because Zanu PF’s continued existence is largely based on the coercive apparatus of the state, and the challenge of security sector reform did not form a part of the mediation discussions and the final terms of the GPA. Zanu PF has consistently stated, at least in public, that the current standing and future of the military is not up for discussion. This position needs to be understood against the background of, both Zanu PF’s reliance on the military to remain in power, and the spread of the military-economic complex in the country which now has a foothold in all the major areas of the economy, and particularly in the rich diamond find in the Chiadzwa area. Thus the accumulation project of the ruling elite is intricately tied to its control of the military, and the fear that loss of this foothold would both threaten this project and result in the demand for national and international accountability for human rights abuses.

It is in this context that the Mugabe regime views the continued ‘sanctions’ of the EU and the US, as ‘regime change’ strategy, designed to overturn a nationalist party. Zanu PF also see the humanitarian-plus policy on current engagement with the Inclusive Government as a strategy to maintain Zimbabwe as a humanitarian case while Mugabe remains in power, rather than move towards more substantive development assistance. Moreover this is a position that has been largely supported by SADC, including the new Zuma government in SA which has been careful not to get caught on the wrong side of the debate on the legacy of the liberation movements in the region and national sovereignty. This is a dilemma for Western policy on Zimbabwe, for while the ‘sanctions’ continue to put pressure on the Zanu PF elite, the lack of substantive development assistance to the economy is likely to also weaken the MDC and its social base. Zanu PF maintain control of the coercive levers of the state, and through that, access to key mineral resources which are likely for some time to allow it to maintain some form of a security state. The diplomatic challenge of the SADC mediation remains to reach an agreement with Zanu PFs military-security-economic complex that will create the conditions for a generally acceptable election process, which will allow for a new engagement between a legitimately elected government and the international community. It remains to be seen whether this mediation can deal with the challenge.

Presently there are conflicting statements coming from the Principles of the GPA about the possibility of an election in 2011 to attempt once again to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis through electoral means. However there is still much to be done in the GPA to settle the political zone of engagement in the country, and there is a real danger that an early election could result in further violence and the need for a renewed round of mediation. Thus an election which takes place too early would be as bad as one that is unnecessarily delayed and any diplomatic interventions by the West need to be keenly aware of this dilemma. For as I have written elsewhere the issue is not whether the opposition can win elections in Zimbabwe; they did so clearly in 2008 and in previous electoral years. The major political problem is translating this electoral victory into state power. Unfortunately under present conditions there is no simple electoral route to this destination.

For the Nordic countries the challenge is to continue to encourage the positive developments in the Inclusive Government, and to push for further dialogue between the EU and the transitional government under the Cotonou Agreement. One option that is reportedly being considered in EU circles is to suspend the ‘sanctions’ until the next elections. It is such changes in diplomatic initiatives that are most likely to open up political spaces in Zimbabwe.

Thu, June 17 2010 » Global Political Agreement, Zimbabwe Review

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