Comment: Let’s Start

THE Morgan Tsvangirai-led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) convened its national council last Friday divided over whether to join the unity government as urged by Sadc.


The dangers of another split in the party loomed as hardliners, reportedly led by secretary-general Tendai Biti, were against joining the inclusive government until what they termed “outstanding issues” are resolved.

After realising the dangers of another split, and under enormous pressure from Sadc, the national council agreed to the power-sharing deal signed last September.

Experience has shown Biti and his supporters that regardless of Tsvangirai’s shortcomings, he retains the support of the majority of party members. It must have dawned on the hardliners that political support is not rational.

There are more factors that people consider, including charisma, history, and the ability to identify with the ordinary people.

This is the lesson that the “hawks” must learn from the 2005 split. The Biti group that was unhappy with the decision knows that their chances of success outside Tsvangirai’s shadow will be very difficult in the short-term.

Although there are notable flaws in the unity government deal, the MDC-T had no option but to use the pact and the chance presented to it by Sadc and the African Union to reoccupy the democratic space that Zanu PF wrested on June 27 2008.

The Sadc resolution brought the cabinet formation impasse to finality without leaving room for an appeal process as demanded by Biti and his group other than Jomic where he is not represented.

Opting out of the inclusive government would have resulted in the total isolation of the party by Sadc which remains key to the resolution of the country’s crisis.

Hoping that the AU and the United Nations were going to intervene and deviate from the Sadc position is a foolhardy position and the national council saw this.

Tsvangirai and other national council members realised that there was no hope of the AU overturning the decision of the Sadc summit.

After all, the latter is an organ falling within the AU structure and therefore the AU would have simply endorsed the decision of the regional bloc. In fact, the AU has since endorsed the Sadc decision at its summit in Ethiopia, which ended on Tuesday.

Rightly, the national council’s decision was motivated by the practical expediency of wanting to minimise the economic and humanitarian disaster, which was impacting on the very constituency that forms the MDC-T’s base.

In his statement last Friday Tsvangirai made it clear that the national council had resolved to join the government of national unity for two main reasons: to advance the democratic project in line with commitments made in 2006, and mitigate the humanitarian disaster that Zanu PF’s misrule has spawned.

The MDC-T, while in the unity government, will fight to “arrest” these economic and social problems and aim to address the human rights problems that the country faces.

MDC-T officials and civic leaders are presently incarcerated as the regime cracks down on dissent. Tsvangirai has to face the prospect of being sworn in on February 11 while over 30 of his supporters are locked up. This is a litmus test for the MDC-T, one which it looks set to fail.

Then there is the issue of provincial governors and other appointments made since September 15. If Mugabe refuses to give ground, Tsvangirai’s position will be weakened and the unity project seen as pointless by his followers.

The MDC-T has taken a huge gamble, but they had little option. Western donors have adopted a wait-and-see policy which means no significant aid can be expected until Tsvangirai is seen to be governing.

By forming the inclusive government, Zimbabwe has begun the process towards a democratic order that ensures that the country is no longer under the exclusive control of President Robert Mugabe and his bankrupt party.

The failure to implement the power-sharing deal since its signing has shown that credibility and legitimacy can only be restored to Zimbabwe by an all-inclusive administration.

The new government will neither be an MDC-T or Zanu PF government, but a transitional one mandated to resolve the current crisis, embark on institutional reforms and draft a people-driven democratic constitution.

Above all, the power-sharing government will create conditions for free and fair elections that will hopefully entrench democracy in the country. What is needed now is a start.