NEGOTIATIONS can be a useful tool of resolving conflicts or disputes, depending on the issues at stake. Problems like constitution-making contests, labour disputes or company acquisitions can be resolved through negotiations. However, when the issues at stake are fundamental, affecting human rights or the future of a country, negotiations may not provide the most ideal way of reaching a mutually satisfactory settlement as compromise on some basic issues could prove to be difficult or impossible.
Negotiations, of course, may not be an option at all in some situations.
After Zimbabwe went through a decade of political stalemate and conflict since 2000, mainly due to disputed elections which fuelled an economic meltdown and hyperinflation, Zanu PF and the two MDC parties resolved after the June 2008 presidential election runoff bloodbath the only way out was through negotiations.
Although the country had come through negotiations in the past, including the Lancaster House Conference in 1979 which ushered Independence in 1980 and the talks between Zanu and Zapu during the civil strife in the mid-1980s, the 2008 dialogue was different. The circumstances, issues and dynamics had changed.
However, one of the most difficult questions to answer during the 2008 talks was the issue of power relations. Who held the balance of forces and how was the situation going to pan out during the Global Political Agreement (GPA) negotiations and after?
During the GPA talks, under the facilitation of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, it was not clear who was stronger in the power relations, especially after President Robert Mugabe had lost the first round of polls in March and resorted to violence to retain power, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was at the height of his popularity and held sway on the moral high ground. There were questions and prognoses of what would happen during the talks and what next after that.
The majority of long-suffering Zimbabweans pinned their hopes for change on the GPA which led to the current unity government, as it spelt out sweeping reforms, including a new constitution as part of attempts to open up the country’s democratic space and create favourable conditions for free and fair elections.
Zanu PF’s opponents, who have consistently accused the party of rigging elections and brutalising opponents to maintain its grip on power, were optimistic the party which was part of the liberation movement that led the country to Independence was finally on its way out.
However, the expectations based on the GPA dispensation have proved rather naïve as Zanu PF has used the respite of relative peace and stability to close ranks and rejuvenate itself. Now most of them the time Mugabe and Zanu PF prevail when there are disputes. Whenever there is a deadlock, Mugabe has simply gone ahead to impose his will. Typifying the power Mugabe still wields in the coalition has been his decision to unilaterally appoint governors, ambassadors, judges and renew the contracts of security service chiefs despite in violation of the GPA, showing Zanu PF is still very much in control.
In the regard, the jury is now surely out on who is in charge, Mugabe or Tsvangirai.
Mugabe still holds the balance of power using his positional and coercive capacity, mainly the control of state institutions, particularly the security forces.Tsvangirai mainly has moral power or the force of persuasion — soft power — while Mugabe has the hard power.
One of the most important lessons to emerge from the negotiations leading to the GPA is how negotiations work.
Negotiations do not mean that the parties in the talks sit down together on a basis of equality and negotiate and resolve the differences that produced the conflict between them. Two facts must be remembered. First, in negotiations it is not the relative justice of the conflicting views and objectives that determines the content of a negotiated agreement. Second, the content of a negotiated agreement is largely determined by the power capacity of each side.
The most important issue is leverage. What can each side do to secure its objectives if the other side fails to come to an agreement at the negotiating table? What can each side do after an agreement is reached if the other side breaks its word and refuses to meet its side of the bargain?
Using the power of incumbency, even if it was shaky at the time, Mugabe and Zanu PF were in a relatively stronger position, hence the outcome which largely favoured them. Zanu PF set the ground rules for negotiations, dictating that some issues like Mugabe’s position were out of bounds. During negotiations on the roadmap last year, Zanu PF also refused to talk about such issues as security sector reforms.
By contrast, the MDC parties have conceded much ground on issues such as sanctions removal, provincial governors, ambassadors, judges, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney-general Johannes Tomana.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said although the current deadlock in the negotiations had shown Zanu PF was not as powerful as it used to be, it nevertheless proved it still had the edge over the MDC formations.
“The MDC parties are negotiating with (politburo members Patrick) Chinamasa and (Nicholas) Goche but the real Zanu PF has become a complex mix of civilian hardliners, securocrats, clergy and crony capitalists whose collective weight has made the party’s position stronger,” he said.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika said the MDC groups have been frustrated by informal power structures propping up Mugabe and Zanu PF. “The failure to engage in meaningful national debate on realignment of the security sector means there will always be an outside force that can frustrate formal efforts because the formal structures themselves are not where power and control lie,” said Lewanika.
“Outside the formal arrangements, you have informal or parallel structures especially made up of securocrats who refuse to subject themselves to civilian oversight and control. You can have discussions as Copac, or the management committee or as principals, for instance, but these engagements and agreements can be vetoed by JOC (Joint Operations Command) or the Zanu PF hardliners.”
Lewanika said Tsvangirai got the illusion of power because despite chairing the Council of Ministers, government business virtually grinds to a halt whenever Mugabe is out of the country. Besides, Zanu PF ministers deliberately defy his directives, showing where power lies.
Information minister Webster Shamu and his Indigenisation counterpart Saviour Kasukuwere are among Zanu PF ministers who have refused to accept Tsvangirai’s authority.
The current constitution-making process also shows who controls the levers of power.
However, Education minister and MDC senator David Coltart said the problem was some parties were negotiating in bad faith, hence the long drawn out talks and failure to implement agreed issues. “The problem here is that some people have been negotiating in bad faith because of their selfish political motives and consequently delayed the process,” he said.
National Constitutional Assembly chairperson Lovemore Madhuku said GPA was a “hoax” right from the beginning as the parties, particularly Zanu PF and MDC-T, did not intend to fulfil some of the agreed issues, especially producing a new constitution.