National dialogue deadlock: Hope keeps eluding Zim

Kudzai Kuwaza

NATIONAL dialogue meant to unite Zimbabweans around a common vision has failed to gain traction as the leading political parties have taken deeply entrenched hardline positions, plunging the country deeper into a multifaceted crisis whose impact has grave implications for socio-economic stability.

The dispute emanates from last year’s contentious July 30 presidential election which President Emmerson Mnangagwa won by a razor-thin 50,6% of votes cast. The result was rejected by the main opposition MDC-Alliance, whose efforts to have the results annulled bore no fruit after the Constitutional Court dismissed the lawsuit with costs.

Subsequently, there have been equally fruitless attempts to initiate dialogue between Zanu PF and Nelson Chamisa’s MDC-Alliance, as they both dig in. Chamisa, on one hand, has said he can only participate in negotiations if they kick off with discussions on the legitimacy of Mnangagwa’s leadership.

On the other hand, Mnangagwa says the election is water under the bridge because he won it cleanly and got the mandate to govern.

Mnangagwa also argues that he will not discuss with the firebrand, youthful politician unless he first recognises him as the legitimate head of state and government.

“I cannot have talks with someone who calls me illegitimate because the talks themselves will be illegitimate,” Mnangagwa told the press recently.

Chamisa and Mnangagwa hit the headlines last week after they curiously chose to attend separate “dialogue” meetings — as if to avoid each other.

Mnangagwa invited all 22 presidential candidates from last year’s election to a meeting at State House in Harare on Wednesday last week “to lay the framework for dialogue” which Chamisa boycotted, saying it was not properly convened.

The President would reciprocate that by snubbing a breakfast prayer meeting organised by church organisations which Chamisa attended.

Mnangagwa is not the only one who has tried to facilitate dialogue. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and an initiative led by businessman and cleric Shingi Munyeza are among other parties seized with bringing Mnangagwa and Chamisa to the negotiating table. When efforts to find a solution to the intractable dispute intensified last year, Kenya’s former chief justice Willy Mutunga was roped in to broker talks between the two feuding parties. He has held secret talks with both parties.

However, the toxic relationship has been worsened by the arrests of scores of MDC party members for the violent protests that rocked the country last month after government effected a 150% price hike in fuel. At least 12 people were killed and scores injured when the security forces unleashed a violent crackdown.

Political analyst Tawanda Zinyama believes that the dialogue should be properly coordinated in stages if they are to be bear fruit.

“My understanding of national dialogue is that it is a national conflict instrument,” Zinyama said. “This must have three stages namely the preparatory stage, the actual dialogue stage and the implementation stage. The preparatory stage must bring all stakeholders on board. We may have business, churches etc but the key stakeholders are the MDC and Zanu PF. You cannot have a dialogue without either party.”

Zinyama said the two parties need to agree on the agenda, adding that the dialogue should have a mediator acceptable to both Mnangagwa and Chamisa. He said it was immaterial whether the mediator is local or foreign.

“We cannot go to the stage of dialogue without completing the preparatory stage. This implies that the stage should be clearly defined. It is the same with the implementation stage,” Zinyama observed. “My reading is that Chamisa is ready for free and fair elections while on the other hand Mnangagwa is interested in dialogue around economic recovery.”

He said a clear implementation plan was vital if the process was to succeed. Zinyama pointed out that both parties should avoid public grandstanding.

The deadlock comes at a time the country is in the throes of an economic meltdown characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, severe foreign currency shortage, low capacity utilisation of less than 50%, rising inflation and company closures.

The failure by Mnangagwa and Chamisa to find common ground will have devastating repercussions particularly on bringing investment to the country, according to business consultant Simon Kayereka.

“The failure by the two parties to hold meaningful dialogue obviously erodes confidence and when there is no confidence it has a very negative impact on the country,” Kayereka pointed out. “Politics are intricately linked to the economy.”

Some companies failed to reopen after the Christmas holidays due to the crippling shortage of foreign currency, placing many jobs at risk.

Cooking oil manufacturer Olivine Industries suspended operations as a result of forex shortages. Gold producer RioZim once again suspended operations at three of its gold mines last week also due to a foreign currency deficit.

With the cost of living rising rapidly, doctors at public hospitals embarked on a drawn out strike which lasted 40 days. Other civil servants threatened to follow suit, with some teachers downing tools last week over low salaries and poor working conditions.

The potentially damaging strike ended after government called teachers to a meeting last weekend to discuss the improvement of their working conditions.

The current political impasse has only strengthened political analyst Ibbo Mandaza’s belief that a transitional authority is the only way to end the deadlock.

“The current deadlock shows that a transitional authority is the only way to go,” Mandaza said. “We knew that when we proposed it in 2016 that there would be few buyers, but that is the only option I see.”

He said there is need for an international mediator, possibly from an esteemed organisation such as the United Nations, adding that it was imperative that the negotiations be held behind the scenes. run-off which left scores dead.