HomeOpinionDialogue of the mute

Dialogue of the mute

By Wally Mbofana

THE Zimbabwean crisis has been raging on for over four years now, with various attempts at resolution having been tried at different levels to no avail.

Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The first significant attempt was the Abuja Agreement of 2001 which unfortunately reduced the crisis to a conflict over land between Britain and Zimbabwe.

After the controversial 2002 presidential election, the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) tried unsuccessfully to engage in dialogue, despite prodding by South African President Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Malawi’s Bakili Muluzi.

The Commonwealth also tried to mediate to no avail. Throughout these attempts Zimbabwe succeeded to embarrass her friends, lose international goodwill and isolate herself.

In 2003, in an article in the Zimbabwe Independent, I submitted that for any progress to be made, civil society had to be involved as a third force for it was observed then that the reasons for the breakdown of the “talks about talks” between the two major political parties bordered on trivia. It was also observed that the Zimbabwean crisis was bigger than the two parties combined.

The article also pointed out that any attempts at resolving the crisis that left out civil society were bound to fail. We do not seek herein to celebrate our vindication. Rather we lament our penchant as a nation and people to miss opportunities and self-destruct.

Barely six months before the next parliamentary election, Zimbabwe is still saddled with the crisis and in great need of a political settlement. After the fallout with much of the international community, Zimbabwe’s last pillar of defence appears to be the Southern African Development Community (Sadc). Failure to abide by the recently adopted Sadc principles and guidelines on democratic elections would be suicidal for Zimbabwe.

Despite statements to the contrary, Zimbabwe, and the Zanu PF government in particular, crave international recognition, approval and solidarity. Because of this, Zanu PF has to a very large extent ruled by the law no matter how unjust, bad or skewed that law.

It should also be noted that Zimbabwe has been quick to identify, on paper that is, with good international principles and conventions. As has become common, the country has always come short on practice.

It could be argued that as before, Zimbabwe can still violate the Sadc protocol with impunity. This would be foolish and suicidal as the world is fast losing patience with Zimbabwe.

It has been pointed out countless times that Zimbabwe needs the world more than the world needs Zimbabwe. This is a cruel reality! It becomes more poignant given the fact that Zimbabwe is a small, landlocked and disease-ravaged country that is prone to droughts.

Since the manifestation of the Zimbabwe crisis, the world had been very patient with us. In recent days there seems to be growing impatience with the country as demonstrated by our sidelining in different meetings and fora, including our highly educated and skilled citizens losing top jobs in the numerous structures of the African Union (AU). Not to mention the country losing out on hosting any of the AU’s prestigious institutions!

Our hasty departure from the Commonwealth and escape on a technicality from censure by the AU are indications of growing indignation.

While an All People’s Conference remains desirable and the best way forward, it is most unlikely now given the timing. Zanu PF would not want to be seen to be capitulating to any form of pressure a few months before a major election.

However, the fact remains that talks are indispensable. A perfect opportunity presents itself in the form of electoral reforms. The nation and the region expect the 2005 parliamentary election to be held under a new electoral regime.

Zanu PF and the government of Zimbabwe indicated just before Mauritius their commitment to reform. Talks between the two major parties in parliament over constitutional amendments should not raise suspicion. In the absence of a new constitution, we feel this option be used.

At a Zimbabwe Election Support Network/EISA regional workshop on electoral reforms in August, Zanu PF information chief Nathan Shamuyarira pointed to the need to engage the MDC if electoral reforms that the governing party was considering were to be effected. Shamuyarira’s reforms, which mirrored in some sections the proposal by civil society and other progressive forces, centred on constitutional reforms.

The MDC responded by demanding changes that go beyond the mere administration of elections but also challenged the environment of the same. It demanded the repeal of the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act.

The opposition also demanded the return to professional conduct of the security services and the withdrawal of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill. This in our view is the basis for negotiation.

Soon after the Sadc meeting in Mauritius, ostensibly at the lack of progress by Zanu PF, the MDC announced withdrawal from all elections until after the Sadc guides and principles on democratic elections were adhered to.

Zanu PF responded by gazetting the NGOs and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bills. It should be pointed out that the two Bills kill both the spirit and letter of the Sadc principles.

Critics would point out that Zanu PF is used to swimming against the current and it would proceed with the reforms without sanction. But the world has changed so much since 2000.

The flexing of muscles by the two parties could be viewed as another level of negotiation albeit at a very informal and unhealthy level. It should be pointed out that this is not the time for muted dialogue.

Zanu PF and the MDC would need to dialogue on comprehensive electoral reforms using the constitutional route as opposed to the government-proposed go-it-alone statutory route. While it is true that successful negotiations will result in losses to some individuals, the same will result in a win-win situation for Zimbabwe. If Zimbabwe’s process fails to satisfy the Sadc principles, the legitimacy of the resultant government would be greatly compromised.

*Wally Mbofana is director of Civic Education Network Trust.

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