Saturday, August 23, 2008

Inside Zimbabwe talks

Inside Zimbabwe talks
By Kingsley Kaswende in Harare
Sunday August 17, 2008 [04:01]

IT is not difficult to imagine the tensions and arguments in the negotiations for a government of national unity among the three Zimbabwean political parties.
The tensions and arguments are real. But it is not so much about these; it is instead about the fears – real and unreal. Last weekend would have marked the wrapping up of the talks that would have subsequently marked a turning point for this crisis-battered country. But it was not to be.

On July 21, 2008 ZANU-PF, and the two opposition MDC factions led by Morgan Tsvangirai and Prof Arthur Mutambara signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to begin the talks that would set the unity government.

This followed the bloody campaigns ahead of the presidential run-off of June 27, which President Mugabe contested alone after Tsvangirai boycotted. The run-off was a result of the inconclusive general election of March 29, which produced no outright winner, although Tsvangirai was ahead of all the four contestants.

The formation of a unity government came as a proposal by both the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, noting that it was the only feasible solution to end Zimbabwe ’s crisis.

So the parties, which all have representatives in parliament, went to the negotiation table on July 25. Since then, there have been marathon negotiations at a secret location in South Africa , debating issues on the agenda that would form the basis of a new government’s blue print.

According to the MoU, the parties would agree to restore the country’s depressed economy, to discuss sanctions and the land question.

On the political front, the parties would have to strike agreement on areas to amend the current constitution, discuss issues of external interference in the affairs of the country, the rule of law, the role of state organs and institutions, priorities of legislative amendments, free political activity as well as the promotion of equality, national healing and cohesion, and unity.

They would also discuss the media environment in Zimbabwe as well as the need to have diverse media outlets, especially external radio stations.

According to documents of this dialogue seen last week, the parties have agreed to all elements except one on which Tsvangirai has strong reservations.

The confidential documents indicate that the parties were putting their signatures to agreements as and when they were reached, meaning that the final settlement would be a compendium of documents that had been assented to by the three party presidents.
On July 25, the negotiators agreed that sanctions and economic embargo in Zimbabwe were hurting the nation and should be lifted as a matter of urgency.

Part of that agreement, titled Restoration of Economic Stability and Growth, reads: "All forms of measures and sanctions against Zimbabwe (must) be lifted in order to facilitate a sustainable solution to the challenges that are currently facing Zimbabwe ."

The negotiators also agreed on the same date that there was undue external interference in the country’s domestic affairs and they would not tolerate the subversion of the sovereign will of the people of Zimbabwe by outsiders with vested interests that ran contrary to national aspirations.

"The parties reaffirm the principle of the United Nations Charter on non-interference in the internal affairs of member countries. The parties hereby agree that the responsibility of effecting change of Government in Zimbabwe vests exclusively in and is the sole prerogative of the people of Zimbabwe through peaceful, democratic and constitutional means," they agreed.

They added that they would "reject any unlawful, violent, undemocratic and unconstitutional means of changing governments" and that "no outsiders have a right to call or campaign for regime change in Zimbabwe."

On the same day, the three parties said Britain must honour its Lancaster House obligations to fund land tenure reforms in the country.

The parties called "upon the United Kingdom government to accept primary responsibility to pay compensation for land acquired from land owners for resettlement".
It was also agreed that the issue of multiple farm ownership and productivity on farms be dealt with as a matter of urgency by the Seventh (next) Parliament through the institution of a holistic land audit.

They made further agreements on the issue of freedom of expression and communication, on State Organs and Institutions, Rule of Law, Respect for the Constitution and Other Laws, and Free Political Activity on July 25.

The next day the parties signed agreements on the Security of Persons and Prevention of Violence, the National Youth Training Programme, Freedom of Assembly and Association, Traditional Leaders and Humanitarian and Food Assistance.
On August 5, the parties signed an agreement titled Promotion of Equality, National Healing, Cohesion and Unity.

Only four issues were left by last weekend and President Mbeki flew into Harare to ensure that the issues were agreed upon in readiness for a new government to be established and for parliament to be sworn in.

Of the outstanding issues was the framework of a new government, an issue that was laid on the table on July 28, 2008.

Others were legislative agenda priorities (tabled on July 25), and implementation mechanisms and electoral vacancies (both tabled on August 5). Three of these were agreed upon last Saturday.

But Tsvangirai rejected one, despite having agreed to it on three occasions earlier. His major contention is that he wants the next government to be premised on the results of the March 29 elections, an issue that President Mugabe vehemently rejects.
Effectively, he wants to be in control of government and this, according to him, would determine how much power he cedes in the next government.

"We knew negotiations would be difficult, but a resolution that represents anything other than the will of the Zimbabwean people would be a disaster for our country. We are committed to a solution that recognises that the people spoke on the 29th of March, 2008," Tsvangirai said the following day after the breaking down of the talks.
This is what caused Tsvangirai to walk out of the talks last Tuesday, putting a hold to all progress.

His Western advisors have advised him that he should negotiate from a position as the winner of the March 29 election.

His major fear is that if President Mugabe stays as president, and he becomes prime minister, the president will retain control of the military and security services, effectively retaining the coercive instruments of real executive power.

In fact, the United States, Britain and the entire European Union have made it clear that they will not help fund a recovery package under a deal like this or if Tsvangirai accepts such a deal.

But in a 50 per cent +1 system, it is naïve to think that if one wins the first round of elections then they would automatically win the second round. There are many examples that prove that results can be overturned in the second round. The most recent and perhaps closer to home is what happened in the Liberian general elections in 2005.
Twenty-two people contested the presidential race in the first round. George Weah finished first and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf finished second, with 28.3 per cent and 19.8 per cent, respectively.

However, when it got to the run-off Johnson-Sirleaf won 59 per cent against Weah’s 41 per cent.

In short, a win in the first round does not necessarily mean a magical win in the second, so this issue will unnecessarily hold the much-needed progress in Zimbabwe .
Perhaps Tsvangirai’s major fear is the repeat of history, a replay of the fate that Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU party found itself in after agreeing to a loose arrangement to form a unity government with ZANU in 1987.

Critics say the current talks are haunted by the spirit of the late Joshua Nkomo, whose fate stands as a warning to anyone trying to strike a deal with President Mugabe.
They say Nkomo, a liberation leader of impeccable credentials, was duped into signing the Unity Accord - a power-sharing agreement - that brought him into the government as vice-president.

Officially, the two political parties merged to form ZANU-PF, but in reality President Mugabe's party swallowed ZAPU whole and never implemented the agreements. Nkomo was neutralised, destroyed.

In the Unity Accord negotiations there had been an agreement to change symbolic issues, the logo and the name of the party. To the disappointment of ZAPU, the final name remained ZANU-PF, the party’s membership cards carried a portrait of President Mugabe, and the new slogan was “Forward with unity, forward with President Mugabe”.

The “new party” celebrated its 25th anniversary on August 6, 1988, the day when ZANU had split from ZAPU. The one party state was entrenched. ZAPU leaders became members of the politburo and the central committee of the party as well as government ministers. A completely new ministry was established for political affairs in order to facilitate the merger of the two parties.

The political implications of the Unity Accord were contradictory and the powers of the executive were increased.

Whatever the fears, Zimbabwe just needs movement. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the SADC summit today on Zimbabwe ’s future.

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