Editor’s Memo: Cabinet Boycott Exposes Discord Within GNU

THE furore over President Robert Mugabe’s “unilateral” decision to move a cabinet meeting forward from Tuesday to Monday this week would have, in itself, been a storm in a teacup were it not for the deeper issues that have enveloped the inclusive government and continue to paralyse it.


The move by Mugabe saw MDC-T ministers boycotting the cabinet meeting, contrasting sharply with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s claims on his whirlwind tour of the United States and Europe that the inclusive government was working perfectly.

The cabinet issue was simply a triggering event which brought to the fore the discord in the operations of this government.

In itself, and shorn of the background, the boycott would be quite irrational in that there is nothing irregular in cabinet meetings (or any meetings) being moved forward or postponed by whoever is mandated to chair them. In virtually all instances, this is the chairman’s prerogative.

The more fundamental problem is that the “jelly-like” global political agreement (GPA) is built on good faith; it is a gentlemen’s agreement. Therefore, without good faith the whole edifice is in peril. It may well be that the decision to bring forward the cabinet meeting was inspired by bad faith which has now comprehensively affected the workings of the inclusive government.

What the MDC-T ministers’ boycott of cabinet brought to the fore was that little has been achieved in fully implementing the GPA and that there are no real reforms taking place.

The saga also exposed Tsvangirai’s shortcomings.

During his international tour, the premier told the world that the unity government had embarked on reforms that would lead to full democratisation of the country. With a straight face, he claimed that there were no farm invasions, no political prisoners, no human rights abuses and no state-sanctioned abductions.

Tsvangirai even had the gall to appeal to the international community not to exert pressure on Mugabe to go because he is “part of the Zimbabwe solution” and without him this country would degenerate into chaos. What is now common cause is that his pronouncements did not go down well with his party and ministers.

Last week, the MDC-T national executive held an emergency meeting where it resolved that Sadc expeditiously deals with the deadlocked outstanding issues of central bank governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-General Johannes Tomana.

The executive also said the inclusive government should urgently deal with the appointment and swearing-in of provincial governors, ambassadors and the deputy Agriculture minister Senator Roy Bennett as agreed by the principals of the three parties in the GPA.

It also stated that the continued arrests, detentions and human rights violations be referred to the guarantors and that the inclusive government urgently deals with public media reform and the facilitation of media freedom in general.  

The same concerns by the MDC-T national executive were raised by the ministers from the party on Monday. Tsvangirai at a press conference at his Munhumutapa offices on Tuesday endorsed the decision of his ministers to boycott the cabinet meeting, but could not reconcile his utterances abroad with statements issued by his party and ministers.

What has happened clearly shows that senior members of the MDC-T have doubts about Tsvangirai’s stances on certain political and policy issues and on Tsvangirai’s interpretation of the working relationship between him and Mugabe.

Some close to Tsvangirai have argued that the premier while abroad showed a lot of maturity by keeping to the old adage that you do not wash your dirty linen in public. However, the 85-year-old leader seemed not to reciprocate when he addressed his Zanu PF central committee meeting last week.

This in itself strongly suggests that Mugabe was trying to appease an internal party constituency that has been viscerally opposed to the GPA and its offspring –– the inclusive government.

Mugabe is trying to navigate in crocodile-infested Zanu PF waters, hence the statements that were directed at Tsvangirai and his party. Mugabe has lashed out at Tsvangirai’s trip and celebrated the premier’s failure to woo the needed financial aid to revitalise the economy. The ageing veteran leader forgot that the trip was necessary for one main reason: to facilitate Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the West.

It is no secret that Zimbabwe has had an estranged relationship with the West, arising mainly from the land reform programme and the human rights problems that surrounded that programme and the flawed elections since the year 2000.

There has been hostility and this needed to be resolved and the starting point is setting up steps for dialogue. The trip was the beginning in a long process because key issues such as trust and confidence have to be re-established and these do not just appear overnight, especially in view of the fact that the dominant players in Zimbabwe and the West that collectively authored the sour relationship are still very much in existence.

Secondly, Zimbabwe needs an injection of liquid resources to resuscitate the economy. The West can provide some of this help and it is necessary to promote the re-engagement in order to facilitate the aid and assistance that Zimbabwe needs in the short and long-term.

BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE