The same with Zimbabwe’s tripartite elite pact known as the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed on September 15 2009 with much fanfare and thinly-veiled hysteric euphoria.
The GPA is two years old now. The same welcome celebrations met the GPA’s offspring christened the “inclusive government’ which in simple terms was a coalition government inaugurated on February 13 2009; it is therefore 18 months old now.
It is only fair to reflect on what happened, what did not, and what is likely to happen. The underlying argument is that a triple transition is underway: a transition in the country’s politics, national economy, and society. Because I believe politics largely determines everything else, I concentrate on the political dimension of the transition which often leads to or is accompanied by other transitions in social and economic life. There are those who support the transition and others who are viscerally opposed to it, that is, the spoilers.
I take a political transition to be an interval between two regime types. But there is neither a linear route to nor a straightforward process from one regime to another. The path to and processes towards a new regime are invariably curvilinear. And yet both the lovers and enemies of political transition in Zimbabwe often embrace the fallacy of linearity, i.e. that if they do X, then Y will of necessity be the outcome without acknowledging that there are many intervening variables that often upset one’s best calculations. Linearity can happen only if one has total control and this is rare. For instance, the enemies of Zimbabwe’s political transition naively think that by destroying the inclusive government, they would have, by that very act, destroyed the political transition. They do not seem to appreciate the reality that the transition predates both the GPA and the government and will outlast both. They confuse cause and effect. The GPA and its inclusive government did not cause the political transition, but both were and are merely visible manifestations of a deep, underlying transition dynamic. In short, the political transition happened not because of, but despite the GPA. What this means is that even if the inclusive government were to be terminated today, the transition dynamic would still inexorably maintain its course. We should therefore put Zimbabwe’s political transition in its proper perspective. It is these underlying forces that largely explain the successes and failures of the inclusive government in implementing what the three principals reluctantly agreed to do as encapsulated in the GPA.
I see two components to the GPA: the policy agenda and the governmental structure. The GPA tried to please everyone, a rare feat in the checkered history of humankind. Thus, the GPA represents the lowest common denominator or the least-worst option for all the three signatories and their parties. It was a second-best compromise then, and remains a compromise today. This is obvious from the many decisions and processes since the inclusive government; most are compromise decisions and processes.
The same fate awaits the final product of the constitutional reform process. I have little doubt that the final constitutional draft – if there will be one – will be an outcome of a patchwork of compromises struck at the elite level by the three principals. This is notwithstanding the animated –– and sometimes too animated –– public consultations that provide entertainment to the masses. This seems to throw me in the NCA camp. But not quite! In principle, it is desirable, but improbable to have a “people-driven” constitution. In practice, this normative stance has never been and most likely will never be. Constitutions everywhere and throughout history have seldom been and most likely will never be mass-driven outcomes; they have been and will remain elite-propelled processes and elite-driven outcomes. The masses are often roped into the process to lend popular legitimacy to both the process and the outcome. This is the brutal reality in the practical world of politics.
Let’s be unambiguous: the GPA was about regime change spearheaded by the three wise men (the three principals) and superintended by Sadc. The GPA was a negotiated elite-driven transition pact. It was not a product of the electoral will of the people. Instead, it was a vitiation of that electoral will. And yet the law of the situation demanded such a compromise. Zanu PF had lost the March 2008 elections but would not surrender power while the MDC-T had triumphed but could not ensure a transfer of state power, especially the instruments of public coercion.
In the context of the post-June 2009 stalemate, and given that the electoral route to democratic transition had been blocked, the GPA became inevitable. Though it did not receive accolades everywhere, even its harshest critics acknowledged that it was a significant milestone in crisis-ridden post-2000 Zimbabwe. With the GPA and its subsequent offspring christened the inclusive government came some opportunities but also risks and challenges.
The record of the inclusive government is a mixed one. It scored some spectacular victories but the failures are equally stunning. The very formation of the government was unthinkable a few months before its inauguration. To President Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai was the personification of evil and it is highly unlikely that the two had met in the previous decade. But from February 2009, Tsvangirai was Mugabe’s deputy in the highest decision making body in the country, that is the cabinet. The psychological impact of this is often underrated as critics rush to condemn the GPA and the inclusive government.
Also to its credit was the peace dividend. The government delivered relative peace and this still holds. Without doubt, and to most Zimbabweans post-March 2008, the quest for peace was stronger than their lust for democracy. In all probability, that is still the case today.
Again to its credit, economic stability was re-established and for the first time in a decade, the economy stopped sliding and even recorded its first economic growth statistic in 2009. Stratospheric inflation had been tamed.
And, for the first time in a decade, people’s hopes were restored and even rejuvenated. It must always be remembered that prospects for transition and recovery do not depend entirely on the capabilities of the state, no matter how robust that state is. Within society, the political and economic orientations of ordinary citizens also matter. After all, in a democratic regime, the electorate grants or withholds legitimacy from political leaders and state institutions. In March 2009, a nationally representative survey found that an overwhelming 80% of adult Zimbabweans supported the inclusive government though this had declined to 66% by September of the same year. Even as recently as August 2010, a majority of Zimbabweans (55%) expect the national economy to improve in the next 12 months compared to only 8% who expect it to worsen. In short, deep-seated despondency has been replaced by widespread optimism, albeit fragile.
Equally praiseworthy was the restoration of basic public services, notably health, education, water and sanitation, and to some extent the rehabilitation of our physical infrastructure.
On the credit side, we must also note the inauguration of the constitutional reform process. Granted, this process has been mired in controversy both within and outside government and the Copac-led outreach programme has been anything but smooth. Instead, chaos seems to have been the defining feature of this public consultative process whose outcome is very indeterminate.
On the debit side of the equation, a systematic analysis of the implementation of the clauses of the GPA after 18 months exposes the fragility and uncertainties inherent in government. The failures of government have been attendant on the partial or outright non-implementation of the clauses in the GPA. Though the GPA is inherently flawed, its policy agenda is nonetheless an essential building block for a transition to a democratic order. The deficits and obstacles include the asymmetrical division of executive power; rather than power-sharing, there is power division resulting in each of the three parties – especially Zanu PF and MDC-T – controlling and exercising its own lump of power. This has inevitably resulted in policy gridlock and dysfunctionality.
There has also been little substantive progress in many governance sectors, except at the symbolic level eg the establishment of theoretically independent commissions like ZEC, ZMC, and the Human Rights Commission.
And many challenges lie ahead, chief among them the timing of the next elections. This is a very contentious issue. Both the president and the premier have converged on holding elections next year but disagree on whether this is before or after the adoption of a new constitution. For the president, there will be elections with or without a new constitution while for the premier, elections will be conducted only after a new supreme law. It is common knowledge who will prevail on this one. Evidence on the ground also exposes the hard reality that the institutional infrastructure and resources are not in place for credible, reasonably free and fair elections that produce an indisputable outcome. Further and equally important is that, given the level and depth of fear attendant on the traumatic campaign for the June 2008 presidential run-off, an election in 2011 is most probably going to be a barometer of the amount of residual fear in the electorate than of their electoral will.
The voters roll is in shambles and needs to be cleansed. To have a clean voters’ roll you need first to know how many adult Zimbabweans are still in the country after the massive emigration post-2002 census. In short, Zimbabwe is not ready for elections, either institutionally or psychologically. All things being equal, another highly contestable election awaits Zimbabwe in 2011 and with it power-sharing agreement Part II.
Zimbabwe 2011 is most likely to be less stable than Zimbabwe 2010. As we move closer and closer to the constitutional referendum and after it, the elections, Zimbabwe will inch closer and closer to June 2008 without being soaked in the same pervasive physical violence. The country is likely to witness less physical and more covert, subtle psychological violence which nonetheless will distort and subvert the people’s electoral wishes. It could be another election without a choice, and another transition cycle will be restarted. The transition will continue, but take different forms, and whose outcome will also be uncertain.
Eldred Masunungure is a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe and is also the director of the Mass Public Opinion Institute.