The European Union will meet and topping its agenda will be Zimbabwe’s political crisis. A lot has happened since the country’s main political parties signed a unity government pact in September 2008: the economy is on a recovery path and the people seem to be optimistic about the future.
But the politics remain poisoned.
The main protagonists –– Zanu PF and the MDC-T –– entered into a marriage which with the benefit of hindsight is now proving to have been merely one of convenience.
President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF met last week and unequivocally resolved that it would not concede any further ground to MDC-T in its demands for the finalisation of the sticking points of the global political agreement (GPA).
The reasoning behind the stance is a red-herring: sanctions imposed by the US, Britain and its Western allies should be immediately and unconditionally lifted. The true reason behind the party’s intransigence is that it has never wanted to relinquish power whether through the ballot or any other means.
Mugabe and his Chinese-style politburo want the world to see the sanctions as an albatross around the nation’s neck, stifling political renewal and survival. But the moribund party also sees the continued imposition of the sanctions as a leverage in favour of the MDC-T in the fight for political space. Zanu PF’s political survival has been premised on its usual bravado and brute force but the sanctions call for the taming of these.
To make matters worse, the MDC-T leader and premier of the inclusive government, Morgan Tsvangirai, seems to have panicked after the politburo’s resolution, political analysts observed this week,
Tsvangirai, they argued, has joined Sadc and the African Union to fight in Zanu PF’s corner by calling for the lifting of sanctions.
The political analysts said the former trade union leader has been entrapped by Zanu PF, hence his call last Friday for Western capitals to ease sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle.
Tsvangirai’s panic, according to the political analysts, was understandable.
Britain’s foreign secretary David Miliband stated in the UK parliament on January 19 that the MDC-T holds the key to the EU’s forthcoming decision on the sanctions. Zanu PF’s spin-doctors immediately went into overdrive to tell the world that Tsvangirai was holding the nation to ransom by failing to order his “masters” to let go of the embargo.
Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last Friday Tsvangirai suggested that the world capitals should take “a two-stage approach” to ease some of the sanctions, among them targeted, and acknowledge the progress so far made by the unity government. He urged the West “to ease travel and financial restrictions targeting President Mugabe and his inner circle”.
The EU sanctions currently impose restrictions on 203 key Zanu PF and government figures allegedly involved in violence and human rights abuses and 40 companies associated with the individuals and their sources of finance.
Tsvangirai said he believed that the level of political risk was far reduced from what it had been a year ago. He admitted that certain benchmarks still had to be reached and it was up to Western capitals to decide, but said there was a case for easing of the targeted sanctions against his former opponents.
“It is a very positive signal to those who doubt that they have anything to benefit from this inclusive government,” said the premier.
Tsvangirai and his party do not have a concrete position on the sanctions. The premier and Finance minister Tendai Biti are pushing for the lifting of sanctions on parastatals first, while another group in the party feels that all embargoes should remain in place as leverage for the party.
The companies which Biti wants removed from the sanctions list include ZB Bank, Agribank, Infrastructure Bank of Zimbabwe, Zimre Holdings, Industrial Development Corporation, Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, and the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company.
But what has become apparent is that the EU and the international community are not convinced that Zimbabwe has, or is, coming out of tyranny and moving towards democracy where human rights, among them a free press, respect for property rights and the rule of law, are beginning to take root.
Continued violations of property and individual rights, propagation of hate speech in the public media and a general dearth of the rule of law have weakened the case for the lifting of sanctions, political and economic analysts have observed. To worsen the situation, talks to resolve the sticking issues of the GPA are teetering on the brink of collapse and as a result the inclusive government is hanging by a thread.
No resolution has been found on the rehiring of central bank chief Gideon Gono, the appointment of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, provincial governors and the swearing in of MDC-T treasurer-general Roy Bennett as deputy Agriculture minister, among a host of other outstanding issues. Government insiders said the government was hanging by a thread and the next month could prove to be crucial to its survival.
Western capitals are clear on the course the country should take before it is re-admitted into the community of nations –– respect for human rights and the rule of law.
“The most important factor influencing the United Kingdom’s views on the lifting of EU restrictive measures will be evidence of actual change and reform on the ground in Zimbabwe,” says British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mark Canning. “These are not MDC-T measures. These are not Zanu PF measures. They are the EU’s, and we will make our own judgments as to when they should be reinforced or eased. But the key to having restrictive measures eased, or lifted, is for those in Zimbabwe who are currently resisting progress to implement the commitments to reform they agreed to in the global political agreement.”
Other Western diplomats in the capital were this week mum on what they thought on the sanctions, but judging by the outcome of a fact-finding mission by the EU last September, the embargoes could remain in force. The mission found that the benchmarks for reforms had not been met.
Political commentator and business mogul Mutumwa Mawere concurred with Canning arguing that it was up to Zimbabweans to do what was right for the country to move forward.
“For the country to move forward, new capital injection is required,” said Mawere. “This capital will not come from Zimbabwe. The people with the required funds are more comfortable partnering in stable environments. It is up to Zimbabweans and not just the political actors to convince the cooperating partners that the change that they see in evidence is sustainable and underpinned by sound policies and ideological thinking. To the extent that after almost a year into the unity government the partners have not found each other completely.”
He added: “It makes it difficult for third parties to engage meaningfully with a body that is yet to establish itself as a going concern. The rumblings internally do not help.
“There may be a dispute in terms of the reasons why targeted sanctions were imposed but there can be no dispute that reforms have to be urgently implemented to attract not just official development assistance but private capital.”
The pressure, Mawere said, was now on Tsvangirai to lead the campaign against the sanctions.
Political writer Tanonoka Whande is of the opinion that although the sanctions “assisted” the MDC-T, they were a reaction to the trampling of ordinary people’s rights by Mugabe’s regime. He argued that Tsvangirai had no power over the lifting of the sanctions, yet he was behaving as if he did.
“He is trying to accept responsibility for something he did not create and this convinces Mugabe that, indeed, Tsvangirai had something to do with the imposition of these sanctions,” wrote Whande. “The fact is that Tsvangirai cannot call for the removal of sanctions because the reasons why those sanctions were imposed are still in effect.”
Human Rights Watch is also of the opinion that the sanctions should remain in force.
“Zanu PF has continued committing grave human rights abuses and acting as if the agreement had never been signed,” said Georgette Gagnon, the group’s Africa director. “The European Union runs the risk of reinforcing ongoing repression and impunity in Zimbabwe if it eases the sanctions now.”
Concrete reforms, Human Rights Watch argued, should take place before the travel bans and assets freezes are lifted.