THE Sadc mediation process in Zimbabwe can be logically prescribed into three phases: the pre-2008 election phase; immediate post-2008 election; and the Global Political Agreement (GPA) phase.
The pre-2008 election phase is defined by the initiation of active mediation by Sadc in Zimbabwe, as mandated by the extraordinary summit of the heads of state and government in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, on March 29 2007.
The meeting appointed then South African president Thabo Mbeki to facilitate political dialogue among players in Zimbabwe. This phase covers the period from May 2007 to March 2008.
The immediate post-2008 election phase encompasses events and activities from the post-March 2008 election period to the time negotiations for the GPA were concluded. This period was from April 2008 to February 2009 when the Government of National Unity (GNU) was fully consummated.
The GPA phase covers the period of attempted implementation of the agreement, from February 2009 leading to the July 31 elections this year.
These three phases reflect the typology and methodology of Sadc mediation, influenced by dynamics of the regional body politic. The phases also project the plethora of regional mediation constraints premised on limited capacity, spasmodic approaches and the precincts outlined by the sensitive, regime-solidarity politics prevalent in the region.
The three phases interlock to proffer the general characteristic of Sadc mediation and responses from internal political players.
A careful analysis of this Sadc mediation trajectory also exposes Zimbabwean politics’ rigid disdain for state reconstruction, which many justify as a necessity if the country is to one day normalise its socio-economic and political profile.
The decision by Sadc to deploy Mbeki to facilitate internal political dialogue in 2007 was shaped by a range of socio-economic and political developments that emerged in the country. The crisis in Zimbabwe is not ephemeral, but rather a perpetual structural defect that can be traced over a period of time.
Sadc was, however, responding to proximate issues like Operation Murambatsvina of 2005; the clampdown on Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and other civic bodies in 2006; the crippling strikes of doctors and teachers and labour unrests of January 2007; and the arrest and violence unleashed at the March 2007 prayer rally organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign.
At that stage, the country can be portrayed to have been in a state of “statism”. Statism explores the interaction of the state and its society and the distinctions between the two. More appropriately and relevant to the Zimbabwe case, “statism” refers to the dominant position that the state takes in relation to its society, its individuals and the other aggregate components of that society.
The Zimbabwe state had at that time been captured by a clique, an elite or a coterie, away from the citizens, who in a contemporary dispensation are supposed to be critical players in state affairs.
Mbeki’s mediation role focused on creation of political dialogue to address socio-economic challenges, creation of credible conditions for harmonised elections in 2008 and the assistance for Zimbabwe’s re-entry into the international community.
Sadc focused on “arresting statism”, which had in its adverse emergence alienated citizens and their representative clusters from being active state functionaries and instead malformed them into bystanders. In that period, opposition and dissenting voices to Zanu PF’s orthodoxy were patented to be anti-state and therefore an “enemy of the state”.
However, although Mbeki’s facilitation process failed to achieve its overall objective due to the “rift of suspicion” among the political players, as well as lack of confidence in Sadc’s credibility, especially from the MDC-T, the process was essential in shaping the credible election environment that prevailed during the March 2008 elections.
Mbeki’s presence and Sadc’s interest in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs, which had not been expressed to such an extent in the history of the country’s crisis, was compelling.
This forced Zanu PF to adopt some modicum of restraint in unbridling the usual tension-filled and overtly manipulated election conditions and environment synonymous with the 2000, 2002 and 2005 elections.
Sadc’s attempt to “arrest statism” conveniently resulted in improved electoral conditions for the March 2008 polls.
The March 2008 elections provided relief for pro-democracy forces as there was exhibition and promises of “fairer and freer” conditions for electoral democracy in Zimbabwe. The outcome of the elections, although embroiled in controversy due to the four-week delay in announcing presidential results, sparked panic in the Zanu PF camp.
The credible electoral environment prevalent in March was seen as threatening to the party’s continued hold on power, triggering the political violence and intimidation towards the presidential election re-run of June 2008.
The momentum gained, through Mbeki’s 2007 mediation, which created conducive March 2008 election conditions, was lost in the period of the re-run.
Mbeki was advised by Kingsley Mamabolo, the former South African ambassador to Zimbabwe and head of the Sadc election mission in the March elections, that a presidential election re-run could not take place under the deteriorated conditions.
Mbeki responded by dispatching retired South African generals to Zimbabwe to look into allegations of escalating political violence and intimidation; their report confirmed the evolution of state’s role, but was never made public, neither did Mbeki or Sadc attempt to halt the profligacy.
The Sadc inaction resulted in the African Union’s decision at the Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, summit in June 2008 instructing the regional bloc to facilitate engagement by political parties and negotiations for an agreement.
Despite the protraction and allegations of partiality of the facilitator by the MDC parties, the GPA signing marked Sadc mediation process’ attempt to pursue state reconstruction in Zimbabwe, given the context of the prevalence of the captured state as espoused by the “statism” that had existed.
The supporters of modern state constructivism argue that a functional state must be defined by its legitimacy, representativeness of its sum of aggregate components, redistributive capacity of its power and resources and the prevalence of democratic governance standards.
Although others argue that the essence of state reconstruction, in some cases, is intended to consolidate the centralisation of power and corroboration of hegemonic pre-dispositions, the assumption is that in the case of Zimbabwe, its application was in an attempt to rebuild an equitable state.
The World Bank and the UN allude to state reconstruction being premised on addressing historical challenges related to security, justice, political, social and economic contexts. The GPA was crafted on a commitment to “resolve once-and-for-all the current political and economic situations and charting a new political direction for the country”.
The GPA articles were comprehensive and covered issues related to economic recovery (Article III), humanitarian assistance (Article XVI), Rule of Law (Article XI), Basic Freedoms (Articles X and XII), Land Question (Article V), Constitution-making (Article VI), Foreign Policy (Article IV), National Healing (Article VII), Building Strong State Institutions (Article VII and XIII), and the Legislative Agenda (Article XVII).
These cover the broad structural challenges that Zimbabwe faced in its socio-economic and political landscape, both in the past and then.
This broad latitude of the GPA, including its attempt to address the historical challenges equated it to an approach and attempt at state re-construction. The GPA was therefore a state reconstruction document.
Zanu PF’s repugnance of the GPA stems from the threat posed by its disposition to state reconstruction. Fundamentally, Zanu PF was opposed to state reconstruction, firstly, because the party does not conveniently acknowledge there has ever been a crisis to warrant such reconstruction. This is mainly posited in the party’s ideological argument of “the problem is not within, its elsewhere”.
Second, state reconstruction always wrestles any unilateral hold and dominance of state power, in this case from Zanu PF. Zanu PF’s strategy was to accept the GPA, even with its potent state reconstruction tinge.
This was in order to exhibit a conciliatory façade to Sadc and the AU whose decisions for mediation and/or facilitation in 2007 and 2008 represented a new twist in the bodies’ appetite for cautious intervention in Zimbabwe.
However, at the back of their minds, Zanu PF leaders had limited commitment to the GPA and the resultant institutionalisation of the GNU. The party’s immediate contemplation from the signing of the agreement was on how to sink the agreement. The options that Zanu PF strategists cogitated were either to collapse the specific key state reconstrution aspects of the agreement or the entire agreement.
Maisiri is the Southern African senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. He is also a student of Economic Diplomacy. He writes in his personal capacity.