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GPA — Hard road to elections

Title: The Hard Road to Reform: the Politics of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement
Editor: Brian Raftopoulos
Publisher: Weaver Press in association with Solidarity Peace Trust, 2013 (Harare)

Book Review by Timothy Scarnecchia

As Zimbabwe’s first post-Global Political Agreement (GPA) general elections fast approach on July 31, informed and not-so-well-informed commentators will be giving their views of the campaigns, elections and results.

If international coverage of the Kenyan 2013 election is any indication, room for hyperbolic claims and dubious background coverage will once again be larger than the square footage of President Robert Mugabe’s mansions (and now even Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s home).

In order to avoid such mistakes, I highly recommend a collection edited by Professor Brian Raftopoulos, who is director of research and advocacy in the Solidarity Peace Trust, an NGO dealing with human rights issues in Zimbabwe.

For those unfamiliar with the Zimbabwean political landscape, Raftopoulos is one of the most insightful commentators on the Zimbabwean political situation.

His current writings do not avoid harsh criticisms of the MDC parties’ performance following the signing of the GPA in September 2008 elections and the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) in February 2009. That is why this book is so valuable.

Raftopoulos, along with an A-list of Zimbabwean scholars (with a healthy preponderance of historians), have examined the past four years through diverse critical lenses. There is no sugar coating here. If anything, the overall impression is that Mugabe’s Zanu PF, while being given a life-line by the GPA brokered by then South African president Thabo Mbeki, were forced to deal with the two MDC parties in a GNU and they have done so in characteristically Zanu PF fashion.

The MDCs, while faced with major obstacles, but also some great opportunities, may have done themselves more harm than good, based on their own actions more than those of Zanu PF.

It is not an assessment that the MDC parties insiders will like to hear, but the criticisms are to be expected particularly as they come from those who participated in, or witnessed, the formation of the MDC in 1999 from the grassroots constituencies of Zimbabwe’s labour unions and civic organisations.

These individual chapters help to put into much better focus why Zimbabwe in 2013 is not the same as it was in 2008. I, therefore, highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know why this is the case. The book is available electronically and Kindle makes it that much easier to read.

Rather than write a formal review, I have highlighted the issues of individual chapters and some passages or brief summaries of themes I see as useful for thinking about the GPA years (2009-2013) with an eye towards the upcoming elections.

Chapter 1: An overview
Here is Raftopoulos’ helpful summary of the GPA period: “The GPA and its many challenges was the product of a convergence of factors, namely: the unwillingness of a party of liberation to accept electoral defeat; the inability of the opposition to claim state power due to the militarisation of the ruling party’s response to defeat; a clash of different notions of state sovereignty in which the electoral wishes of the Zimbabwean citizenry were subordinated to selective nationalist claims of the ruling party; and the role of Sadc in facilitating an agreement that attempted to balance the need for regional sovereignty against outside interference with the legitimate electoral demands of the Zimbabwean electorate … The period of the inclusive government generated a new set of dynamics that made it impossible for Zanu PF to return to the status quo ante, while also exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the former opposition parties as they took part in unequally shared state power.”

As Raftopoulos states in the introduction, it is important to focus not only on the MDC parties’ ability to manoeuvre in the GPA years, but also to focus on how Zanu PF has managed to use these four years to regroup.

While the issue of Zanu PF political violence is raised in the introduction and elsewhere in the collection, it is noticeably absent given the amount of emphasis the Solidarity Peace Trust’s reports have previously given to this element of Zimbabwean politics. It is perhaps one of the book’s strengths, however, to focus on the shifting political landscape, especially the changing constituencies and interests represented by Zanu PF and the opposition, rather than continue to focus solely on the repressive actions of the past 13 years.

Chapter 2: Opposition dilemma
Historian James Muzondidya, a research manager at the Zimbabwe Institute, a think-tank well-known for its links to the MDC parties, takes a particularly critical look at the performance of the MDCs during the GPA, but he first notes the limits on their actions: “… the ability of the opposition parties to use their leverage during this phase has been restricted because Zanu PF is not interested in any reforms that would loosen its hold on power.”

Muzondidya explains just how stacked the GPA has been in Zanu PF’s favour: “The Zanu PF strategy, consistent with its hegemonic political culture, has been to engage in cosmetic political and economic reforms that will not result in further democracy or result in a loss of its historic monopoly over power.”

Muzondidya does not hold back, however, in his criticisms of the MDC parties’ performance. He gives a valuable analysis of the differences between the MDC-T and the MDC.

This chapter will be very helpful to those new to Zimbabwean politics wanting to make sense of the divisions between and within the MDC parties.

Chapter 3: Zanu PF and GNU
Historian Gerald Mazarire gives us a helpful contemporary history of the splits both in the MDC and Zanu PF that many people outside of Zimbabwe may not fully understand. He starts by providing a summary of the somewhat questionable MDC and Zanu PF versions of the story.

Based on Tsvangirai’s own account of it in his autobiography, Mazarire suggests Mbeki, along with “the support of some Western embassies in Harare”, had been involved in splitting the MDC-T in favour of Professor Welshman Ncube’s faction and Zanu PF in favour of Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. This strategy ultimately failed, but it did lead to major conflicts in both parties.

Mazarire then outlines Zanu PF’s version of the story, based mostly on Jonathan Moyo’s writings, in which the GNU was carried out mostly to stop “regime change” orchestrated from Washington and London, as the security sector refused to go along with the MDC parties in declaring a government based on the original presidential election results.

Mazarire describes two main areas of this transition, namely the indigenisation exercise and mining sectors.

Mazirire’s final advice to readers is worth contemplating as elections near. “Readers are starkly reminded that with Zanu PF, literally anything is possible.”

Chapter 4: Turning confrontation
This chapter by Bertha Chiroro, a research specialist at the African Institute of South Africa in Pretoria, is essential for understanding the strained relations that have developed between the MDC parties, the civic organisations and NGOs that had been so supportive (and instrumental in forming) the MDC in the first place. Chiroro is also the only contributor to address the fundamentally important role of women’s organisations in the continued opposition to Zanu PF authoritarian rule.

“An equally important sector is the female voice: as expressed by the Women’s Coalition, (a network of women’s rights activists with chapters in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Beitbridge, Gweru, Gwanda, Bindura, Marondera, and Mutare) and Woza (Women of Zimbabwe Arise) during the term of the IG (inclusive government). Although some have expressed their frustration that their participation is no more than ‘tokenism and deception’, Zimbabwean women have continued to strive for a democratic political environment together with other CSOs (civil society organisations).”

Chapter 5: Sadc, AU and GPA
Historian Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni provides a very clear and useful contemporary history of African Union (AU) and Sadc attempts to mediate the political crisis in Zimbabwe since 2000. One is simultaneously impressed by the number of these continental and regional interventions as well as by the lack of substantive results.

There is a lot of value here for understanding the 2013 elections. In particular, the current head of the AU Commission, South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been outspokenly supportive of Zanu PF’s drive for elections in 2013, while South African President Jacob Zuma’s member of the facilitation team on Zimbabwe, Lindiwe Zulu, has recently come under heavy criticism from Mugabe for her own stance that further reforms are necessary before elections could be held. Reading Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s chapter will help make some of these differences clearer.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s characterisation of why GNU negotiations occurred offers a particularly helpful and succinct view: “What led the political formations to negotiate were the stark political realities facing them: despite emerging victorious in the March 29 2008 elections, the MDC political formations were prevented by Zanu PF from ascending to power and its support base was exposed to unprecedented and unbearable violence.”

Ndlovu-Gatsheni concludes his discussion of AU and Sadc interventions as “pushing for credible elections as a solution to the Zimbabwe problem …”.

Chapter 6: Sanctioning the GNU
Historian Munyaradzi Nyakudya’s chapter is an important one, especially as the Zimbabwe sanctions debate has been so contentious and often full of inaccuracies. Most importantly, Nyakudya details how Zanu PF has effectively used the continuation of Western sanctions to its advantage during the GNU period.

Nyakudya writes: “The West has grappled with two scenarios: either to engage Mugabe, lift sanctions, and support the GNU, or to shun him completely and maintain, if not tighten the sanctions.”

Offering an insight into how determined Zanu PF to not to carry out any reforms in the security sector, Nyakudya states: “…The party thus argues that ‘calls for security sector reform violate Zimbabwean sovereignty’.”

As elections approach and following the constitutional referendum in March this year, the EU, Australia, and the US have stepped down from their hardline on targeted sanctions, removing many from the lists and promising even further lifting should these elections be peaceful and “credible”.

On the one hand, this can be seen as assisting the MDCs in terms of letting them take credit for holding up their promise to work towards the lifting of sanctions. On the other, it also would appear to be a realpolitik hedging that Zanu PF will win the elections and that Western powers are preparing for a full rapprochement with Zanu PF in order to continue mining for platinum and dealing in diamonds there.

The competition with China, who is fully involved with Zanu PF on a number of economic and intelligence fronts, offers an incentive to back off on sanctions before the elections.

Chapter 7: Post-GPA Zim
Shari Eppel is a leading authority on transitional justice issues in Zimbabwe, particularly pertaining to the Gukurahundi period (1983-1987) when thousands of Zimbabweans were killed as part of Zanu PF’s consolidation of power and the crushing of former rival PF Zapu’s power. Eppel is therefore highly qualified to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of truth and reconciliation efforts during the GPA, and in the future.

Like the other contributors to this volume, Eppel does not refrain from criticising the opposition. In this case, she has in mind the difficulty observers sympathetic to the MDCs have in criticising inter-party violence, as well as violence carried out by MDC supporters against Zanu PF supporters.

“… Clearly, there are some people in Zimbabwe who are justified in seeing MDC supporters as perpetrators. Furthermore, members of the MDC faction headed by Welshman Ncube would point to internal violence in the MDC as a major contributor to the split in the party: beatings and torture of MDC’s own activists have taken place in their political headquarters and structures over the years, as several — largely uncirculated — MDC commissions of inquiry reveal.”

Eppel analyses the potential value of the Organ of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration while exploring some of the fundamental difficulties facing any institution in Zimbabwe wanting to seriously deal with issues of transitional justice.

Scarnecchia is associate professor of History at Kent State University and author of The Urban Roots of Democracy and Political Violence in Zimbabwe: Harare and Highfield, 1940-1964 (University of Rochester Press, 2008).

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