Dialogue only way out

Editor’s Memo: Faith Zaba

THE current crisis engulfing the country on the economic, political and social fronts has made the need for national dialogue urgent as it is possibly the only prescription to the nation’s multifaceted problems.

Since the hotly-contested presidential poll on July 30 last year, which were won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa by 50,6%, Zimbabwe has been on a precipice. MDC leader Nelson Chamisa challenged the result, but the Constitutional Court dismissed the case and declared Mnangagwa the winner.

The country has since then experienced two violent protests, both of which have resulted in the loss of life, looting and destruction of property, as well as global condemnation, putting a dent to government’s international re-engagement initiatives, dealing a mighty blow on investor confidence.

Although the two main protagonists, Mnangagwa and Chamisa have both acknowledged the need for national dialogue, it has not been followed up by action.
Both remain entrenched in the positions they have taken as preconditions for talks.

Mnangagwa has said negotiations can only begin if Chamisa, recognises him as the legitimate President.

“We continue to talk for the good of our country and my door is open. I however do not understand how he (Chamisa) would want to talk to me when he claims I am illegitimate. I cannot talk to someone who claims I am illegitimate. It implies that the talks will be illegitimate,” Mnangagwa said this week.

Chamisa, on the other hand, is insisting that the Zanu PF leader’s legitimacy should be one of the concerns to be tabled for negotiation.

“Legitimacy would be key to dialogue. I am not a lie; I do not want to acknowledge lies. I have said I will not recognise what is not recognisable. We are ready to talk, but we are going to talk about that issue (Mnangagwa’s legitimacy) as the first issue,” Chamisa has said.

The deadlock, before the parties even sit down at the negotiating table, could not have come at a worse time with the country’s deepening economic crisis characterised by acute foreign currency shortages, a debilitating liquidity crunch, shortages of basic commodities, skyrocketing of prices of goods and services, rising inflation and company closures.

These are serious problems that cannot be addressed by political posturing by either side. The country needs an inclusive approach.

Zanu PF have to acknowledge that they cannot go it alone, as evidenced by their failure to steer the country out of the morass it is in, while Chamisa has to recognise that maintaining such a position only hardens the hardliners in Zanu PF opposed to the dialogue.

Both should take a leaf from former president Robert Mugabe and the late MDC founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai who, after three months of voting in 2008 and a wave of deadly violence, held hands and agreed to sit down and talk through the disagreements.

Although the working relationship was fraught with difficulties, the economy and the livelihood of the country’s citizenry vastly improved from the desperate state of affairs in which goods vanished from the shelves and hyperinflation rendered the Zimbabwe dollar dysfunctional.

MDC should consider conceding that Mnangagwa is the sworn-in head of state. That is the reality on the ground.

But, firstly, for the dialogue to kick-off, the Zanu PF government has to stop the crackdown by members of the security forces. Political prisoners must also be released. You cannot have meaningful dialogue while the police and army are beating up people in high-density suburbs.

Secondly, the talks must be about reforming institutions, “the deep state”, not just allocations of political power and positions.

Whatever we do, we must learn from the mistakes or shortcomings of the government of national unity of 2009 to 2013, which became more of a cosmetic arrangement, about positions and power.

Thirdly, the talks must be predicated on finding both political and economic solutions to the current crisis. This might mean the creation of some kind of inclusive vehicle to help the country overcome immediate challenges.

But to do that, there must a mediator.

What is critical is for the political parties to suggest a mediator and also understand the terms for the negotiations.

National dialogue is the only way forward.

The sooner both Mnangagwa and Chamisa realise this and act accordingly, the better it will be for the country’s development.