Dysfunctional unity govt: Where does Zim go next?

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SINCE the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008 and the setting in place of the inclusive government in February 2009, Zimbabwe has been stuck with the inevitable consequences of a dysfunctional peace agreement.

Report by Tony Reeler

An early civil society discussion of the GPA and the coalition government made forthright comment how well the arrangement was “working” one year on, noting “working” may mean all sorts of things.

These observations are as true today as they were in 2009.

But whether political parties pay attention to civil society or not, it was increasingly evident through 2009 and 2010 that the inclusive government was becoming increasingly dysfunctional and unable to develop policies to move the country out of the political stalemate.

Thus, in 2010, two independent civil society organisations undertook analyses of the deadlock and came up with different (but not markedly different) sets of conclusions.

The first, by the Solidarity Peace Trust (SPT), argued there were three plausible scenarios that might be considered: withdrawal from the GPA, early elections, or an extended power-sharing period preceding a new election.

SPT argued that only the third scenario — an extended power-sharing period preceding fresh elections — could have any value for developing stability in Zimbabwe.

The second report, by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), took a slightly different approach in its analysis, but concluded in agreement with SPT, that the problem was the opposition by Zanu PF to real reforms and its determination to hold onto political power.

In retrospect, the SPT view has come to pass: Zimbabwe has come through an extended power-sharing period, but it is not evident that much power has been shared nor whether there have been any appreciable reforms, and most evidently the constitutional process has been bogged down seriously.

The Sadc Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, held in Zambia on March 31 2011, strongly stated the need to move the process more determinedly, stating the need for the constitutional process to be completed and a road map for elections to be set in place.

This decision was endorsed later the same year by the Sadc summit in Sandton, South Africa, despite trivial arguments by Zanu PF that “noting” is not the same as “endorsing”, a claim quickly dismissed by Tomaz Salomao, the executive secretary of Sadc.

There has been little compliance with the troika’s decisions, either from Sadc or the Zimbabwean political parties.

Zanu PF kept pushing for early elections, the MDC parties kept trying to push the Sadc reform agenda, and the constitutional process kept stalling and re-starting, but there was little attempt at the kinds of reforms that are needed for decent elections.

Nonetheless, Sadc has continued to press for constitutional reform and the development of a clear roadmap towards elections, while Zanu PF has continued to press for early polls without any commitment to the kinds of reforms.

The latter’s attempts hit the hard road of reality in Luanda in June, when it became clear to all just how much support Zanu PF has now lost in Sadc.

However, as a number of Zimbabwean civil society groups have continuously pointed out, the obsession with the constitution by everyone, except Zanu PF, has been missing a central issue: constitutions do not guarantee reforms, reforms guarantee constitutions.

The concern for the restoration of national institutions was first expressed by RAU in August 2011, with the point being strongly made that priority must be accorded to security sector governance (and not security sector reform, which is a much longer and involved process), reforms of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, local government, traditional leadership, the justice system, and the opening of the media before any effective roadmap for elections can be considered to be in place.

So, with the fixed constitutional deadline for the dissolution of parliament in June 2013, the implications of the lack of reform and impasse over the constitution, it is perhaps time to think more creatively about how to unblock the Zimbabwe crisis. The latest date for election to be completed will be October 2013.

Recent discussions between Zimbabwean civic society and Kenyan colleagues examined the processes in both our countries since 2008, and, in the light of comparisons of the two countries, it seems that a number of steps should now be considered in respect of Zimbabwe.

Firstly, it is apparent that “personalised “politics” (and mainly about the persons of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai) dominate the political landscape in an unhelpful fashion, but the major problem is not personalities, but the “political culture” in Zimbabwe and not merely the actors.

Personalities are not unimportant, but it is the “commandism”, “winner-takes-all”, and “elitism” that bedevil Zimbabwean politics.
Secondly, it is not clear that this is the “constitutional moment” that can move Zimbabwe into a process that will deliver the kind of “constitution as a national autobiography” which will reflect both the history and the aspirations of Zimbabwean citizens.

Constitutions should come from a national desire to codify the values and vision of a society, whereas we currently have a process in which constitution-making is rather a process for gaining political space among parties.

Thirdly, since it is increasingly evident that the best that can be hoped for is an interim constitution, the question must shift to elections and what will be the “organising question” for elections.
Is the question for elections in 2013 the resolution of who will hold political power, or is it what will be the next steps in ensuring Zimbabwe moves decisively towards a real transition?
Fourthly, the issue of reforms ahead of elections, and the desperate need to restore national institutions to being law-abiding and politically impartial, needs to be given very serious attention.

Unless there is a determined effort to bring the army, police and a wide number of state institutions under full civilian control, no elections can be made safe.

So, perhaps it is time to bite the bullet and shelve the matter of a new constitution until we can resolve the problems of our political culture, discuss widely what a new political culture might look like, and decide upon what process we need in order to move towards a proper “constitutional moment”.

In this, we might draw lessons from South Africa in the 1990s and Kenya since 2008, and learn from both our own mistakes and those of other countries, for Zimbabwe is certainly not the first African country to struggle with the transition from the politics of liberation to the politics of a citizen-empowering democracy.

Reeler is director at the RAU, an independent research organisation.

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