They have no choice but to work together if indeed they believe in ending the political deadlock and ending a decade-long recession.
It is supposed to be a landmark agreement ending a decade of political crisis and economic downturn. It is September 15 2008 and the venue is the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare. The politicians have just signed a deal whose details are still to be unveiled. It is supposed to be an inclusive government; a government that will heal the battered nation and revitalise the ailing economy. And yet the signatures took priority over the details. We are expected to congratulate the politicians, the mediator and Zimbabweans for making this historic and landmark event, in the absence of the details.
Indeed, Mugabe made a substantive intervention on our behalf in thanking President Thabo Mbeki for finally getting the deal signed after many hurdles from participating parties. Mugabe detailed the tactics that Mbeki used to get them to sign on the dotted line. At one point, I thought Mugabe was arming Mbeki’s critics in South Africa with evidence that he is ‘sly’. Mbeki is facing a revolt from the ANC; this after the Friday judgment ruling in favour of Jacob Zuma, which also implied that Mbeki abused state institutions to further his political interests.
Under normal circumstances, we should have known the contents of the deal before witnessing the signing ceremony. But again this is part of the tactics that the mediator has adopted over the months: keeping everything secret. But there is every indication that this is a better deal given Mugabe’s utterances that there are things in the deal that he did not like and still does not like.
From some sources, it is rumoured that the deal entails a number of things. The obvious is that Robert Mugabe remains president and head of cabinet while Morgan Tsvangirai becomes prime minister and Chair of Council of Ministers. Mutambara becomes Tsvangirai’s deputy. The Council of Ministers will supervise the cabinet. We also hear that Tsvangirai’s group has been granted the ministries of home affairs, foreign affairs, local government, finance, information and part of the now-split justice ministry.
There is no doubt that the deal exerts a lot more pressure on Tsvangirai than on Mugabe. For many years, Mugabe has ruled over a poverty-stricken nation. He has not rescued it. Meanwhile Tsvangirai and his group have argued that, given a chance, they would rebuild Zimbabwe. Hence in their negotiations, they wanted control over key ministries. In their view, this will allow them to address the economy, manage international relations as well as promote the rule of law. And until the signing of the deal, Tsvangirai’s group has behaved as if there is a ‘bag full of assistance’ just waiting to save Zimbabwe if they get what they want from the deal. Now that they have some of those key ministries, the world will be expecting a turnaround of the economy and the general governance of the country. Will they step up to the challenge?
Mugabe and his people are not under pressure. As a matter of fact, they can sit back and watch the space. They brought the country to its knees and now they have all the help they desperately needed to give it new life. One thing is also clear from this deal: Mugabe has begun ceding some of his power, even though he still retains the defence ministry and other key ministries. It is understood that the once-notorious ministry of state security has been abolished. This is something that was unthinkable some months ago. One political analyst put it colourfully today, saying “Mugabe’s ceding of power can be compared to a chicken being plucked of its feathers bit by bit. Finally, the chicken will not have any feathers.”
This sharing of ministries, if indeed it goes according to these projections, raises questions about implementation of the deal. It means that the former protagonists have no choice but to work in a way that puts the national interest above their personal motives. This was captured very well by Tsvangirai in his speech. He emphasised that he is driven by the national interest rather than a desire to gain revenge for his past sufferings. He said he is also driven by the hope that the deal offers rather than the grief.
Let us not be fooled by the colourful language of the politicians though. The reality is that all parties will need to make some painful decisions to work together and put their differences aside. It starts today. The test of leadership for the three of them begins with their signatures. The ink is still fresh and so is the deal. It is a shaky one and can collapse at any time if true leadership is not demonstrated by the principals. It is here also that civil society groups ought to continue their role, ensuring that the agreement is not just about government positions but the realisation of the transformation of citizens’ material and spiritual conditions. I say this because this deal illustrates how easy it is to get a political position; Arthur Mutambara is the greatest winner in this agreement. If civil society is not vigilant, Zimbabwe will get cosmetic changes as opposed to real and substantive ones that lead to a more inclusive governance system.
The new challenge, therefore, is for civil society and other formations to begin the hard tasks of monitoring their colleagues who are now in government. There is a need to convene immediately a reconstruction and scenario-planning conference to develop strategies for rebuilding Zimbabwe. There is a need to establish working groups on the various sectors of the economy, politics, society, education, agriculture and other key sectors. Let us develop a plan that will not just deal with the developments but also actively take decisions that will affect the country in twenty to thirty years time.
The other area that needs the attention of civil society and other democratic forces is democracy building in Africa. In his speech, Mugabe accepted that it has been difficult for him to be a democrat. In his words, “Democracy in Africa is a difficult proposition”. Indeed it is and this is the justification for groups to insist on democracy and monitor its adherence. In Zimbabwe, this is more than necessary given the inevitable focus that will be given to development initiatives that will seek to feed the nation, restore the health sector, rebuild economic sectors and strengthen the capacity of the state to meet its welfare functions. There will be in this era very little attention given to the so called ‘soft issues’ like democracy, rule of law, human rights and media freedoms. And yet without these, development cannot be a reality. We have already seen in the past weeks that the violence page has been deleted and removed from the history of the Zimbabwean crisis. There are more pages that are likely to be deleted, which must be guarded by civil society. Given our context in Africa, it is important that we insist on both fronts —democracy and development — for the simple reason that our leaders have failed many times to be developmental. Instead of upholding the national interest, they have amassed state wealth and used it for their personal needs.
In the past weeks there has been a tendency to blur the lines between the notions of power sharing vis-à-vis power-transfer. Indeed, this became a sticking point in the negotiations. What we have today is a power-sharing deal. One of the things that civil society needs to watch closely is the use and abuse of power. For many years we have sought to reduce the powers of Mugabe and in our fight to do so we were confronted in the past weeks with Tsvangirai and his group wanting full transfer of power. This is an indication that we ought to work harder as we move forward from today to limit whatever power is available to our leaders. In the Constitution to be written, we need to build in systems that will ensure that power is not abused by those in power. Let’s make our leaders accountable to the citizenry. We have chosen them; they have not chosen us.
Note: at the time of writing, the contents of the deal were still ‘sketchy’.