By Crisford Chogugudza
The political paralysis in Zimbabwe is increasingly becoming a concerning issue not only for Africa but for the entire international community. Zimbabwe is an important member of SADC politically and economically and the collapse of its economy and state can have grotesque consequences for the region. There is currently no way forward as to how to effectively deal with the crisis brought about by President Mugabe’s controversial election on the 27th June 2008. The cost of the political impasse in Zimbabwe has been enormous and the longer it takes to reach a sustainable solution the more Zimbabweans continue to suffer. Apartheid South Africa and the notorious Rhodesian governments were all brought down through negotiations and the same applies to the post independence Zimbabwe crisis. Any suggestions that war and sanctions will bring change in Zimbabwe are unrealistic and ill thought out.
It is true that the crisis in Zimbabwe is one which requires concerted efforts from both sides of the political divide. There is no denying that none of the two parties ZANU PF and MDC can unilaterally go it alone. There should be a way of bringing both sides to the negotiating table and work out a practical solution for Zimbabwe. In the 1980s, Zimbabwe experienced an insurgency or ‘civil war’ which threatened to tear the country apart and if it was not of Dr Joshua Nkomo PF, Zapu opposition leader, who compromised and accepted a lesser post in Mugabe’s government for the sake of peace Zimbabwe could have been another Somalia. This analogy does not suggest that MDC’ leader Morgan Tsvangirayi should accept a less influential post; it essentially applies to both of them more so on the part of Mugabe. Mugabe has been in power since independence from Britain 28 years ago. Now is the moment these two men must show their true leadership qualities, more importantly, their belief in and respect for Zimbabwe being more important than their personal ambitions. Zimbabweans are tired of elections and do not need any more especially in the near future. Elections that do not change anything are meaningless and their only significance in Zimbabwe being the perpetration of ugly violence, which is a shame really.
The current state of affairs in Zimbabwe requires the imperative of serious constructive negotiation in a conducive and optimistic environment. MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirayi appears to be right in saying that in order to start negotiations there should be immediate cessation of violence and an expansion of the negotiating team. Any suggestions that MDC is not interested in serious political talks with Zanu PF is demeaning and irresponsible on the part of the parliamentary party and its leader, who is himself a victim of political violence. South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki did his best politically, and his efforts enabled Morgan Tsvangirayi to win the first round of elections. However, it appears that the nature of the crisis has become more complex and sensitive to the extent that it requires other players to give it a multilateral flavour that can guarantee the sanctity of decisions made. A new expanded negotiating mandate will undoubtedly ensure some measure of impartiality and legitimacy of the process. There is also need for those involved in negotiations from both teams to avoid threatening or belligerent language that only serves to derail any meaningful negotiations. People should also be reminded that talks for effective change need serious commitment and statesmanship on the part of the negotiators. ln order to register significant success in the talks in the current situation, all parties should treat each other as equals as reflected by their current parliamentary party representation. They should enter the talks on the understanding that the presidency is largely unresolved and may not be resolved pretty soon without new credible elections.
To suggest that a winner take all approach to the current impasse is possible is ludicrous, cognisant of the profound political divisions existing in the country. The BBC and British government mantra about quick change and sanctions is utter rubbish. This rhetoric makes Mugabe bitter especially towards the British and anybody associated with them by implication. For as long as the British continue to meddle in Zimbabwe’s affairs they will spoil things for the people as the ruling Zanu PF redirects political anger at them. It is also concerning that Mr Brown and his allies are pressing for sanctions at a time when talks are taking place, this has the effect of derailing genuine negotiations. Sanctions have never really worked anyway; instead they hurt the very people whom they purport to be protecting. Some analysts have stated that the over belligerent rhetorical behaviour of the unpopular Brown regime and the British press has very little to do with saving the people of Zimbabwe but everything to do with boosting Mr Brown’s pathetic political ratings at home.
In Kenya, 3500 people died in one month of politically motivated violence compared to less than 300 deaths in Zimbabwe for a period of 10 years. Surprisingly, the British media response to the Kenyan crisis was less critical and largely muted. Thousands of people are dying in Darfur, Sudan and again the British government has not been as critical to that government as in Zimbabwe. In Uganda there is one man dictatorship supported financially by the Breton Woods institutions (IMF & WB) and western governments which the British media has largely ignored. Leading African political figures visiting the UK are being harassed and coerced into making derogatory statements about Zimbabwe. This has led many to believe that the Britain has other sinister plans for Zimbabwe. The other irony of the British rhetoric lies in their rejection to recognise the new Mugabe post 29 June regime but yet they insist that they will maintain their diplomatic presence in Zimbabwe. Under normal circumstances, in situations of bilateral disputes between countries one would have expected the British to either close their Embassy or reduce their level of diplomatic representation to Charge de Affairs or mere consular service as a way of protest. None of the above has happened and the reality of the situation is that they recognise Mugabe by default or proxy.
The British have personalised the Zimbabwe issue and want everyone to support their cause and behave in accordance to their wishes yet their actions on the ground are less pronounced. Zimbabwe is mentioned in BBC/SKY news bulletins more times than Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, AlQaeda, binge drinking and Iran put together. On one day alone Zimbabwe was mentioned more than 40 times on TV, Radio and parliament. One wonders how no 10 rejects the Zimbabwe issue as being a bilateral one yet their leading role in seeking to isolate Zimbabwe suggest some measure of interest above the other western countries. Even George Bush once said to Gordon brown on his last visit to the UK ‘l appreciate your emotion concern over Zimbabwe’ which suggest some level of personal interest in Zimbabwe. However, what matters in Zimbabwe now is what comes out of the negotiations between Zimbabwe’s two main political parties not what the British, Russians, Chinese or South Africans want. The British and other leading members of the international community can continue to play their critical role in influencing change and facilitate a peaceful process of transition in Zimbabwe, but in a more focus and co-ordinated manner. The reality of the situation is that any attempt to seek to punish Mugabe whilst he is still in power has always resulted in innocent civilians being most affected by the so called targeted actions. The other conundrum is that whilst on one hand the British are stepping up pressure on Zimbabwe telling the whole world they care about Zimbabweans, thousands of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers in UK have been threatened with deportation, not allowed to work and are surviving on sub-prime benefits for their sustenance. Nothing substantive is being done to help Zimbabweans in the UK let alone those in Zimbabwe. Thousands of Zimbabwean qualified professionals have become idle and nearing destitution in a country that purports to be committed to helping them in the face of adversity from the Zimbabwean regime. Zimbabwean exiles in UK deserve better treatment if the British rhetoric on Mugabe can be believed.
However, there is no denying that the majority of the British people sympathise with the plight of Zimbabweans but they deserve the truth and a more balanced analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans on their part can benefit from a less obsessed British media and government as the Zanu PF regime uses this as an excuse to extend their lease of life at State House under the guise of unnecessary interference and meddling. It is hoped the political players in Zimbabwe will show the public that they are not influenced by external agendas which only serve to divide the country further but by the desire to save Zimbabwe from the current mess. Some are already beginning to suggest that Tsvangirayi is being told what to say and how to conduct himself in the ongoing talks which is very difficult to determine really given the continuous threats by the British. It is also unfortunate that the UK minister responsible for Africa, Mark Mallorch Brown former UN deputy chief, who is supposed to be a diplomat, continues to use undiplomatic language on Zimbabwe which again does not help resolve the crisis. What Zimbabwe wants now is support for reconciliation and unity of purpose. Any continued rhetoric from either Mugabe or the British will not resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans are now very impatient, anxious and hungry for change and expect serious negotiations that will bring meaningful change to Zimbabwe.
lt would be ludicrous to suggest that a solution in Zimbabwe can be reached easily without Mugabe being part of the scheme of things irrespective of whether people like him or not. It is well known reality that Zanu PF is not finished yet and MDC does not have a huge majority to go it alone hence the need for the two to co-exist politically at least in the interim. In any case, Mugabe might lack ‘legitimacy’ but unfortunately he has the access to state power and resources and that makes him very powerful and brutal. A Government of National Unity (GNU) or transitional political arrangement that excludes Mugabe is inconceivable at the moment although it is the most logical thing to do. However, the inclusion of Mugabe in a future transitional government should be strictly made conditional and short lived, as his continued presence may be counterproductive. Those who discount Mugabe’s threats should think twice and perhaps look back and revisit the era of Nigeria’s Sani Abacha. There could be a lot of parallels between the two regimes.
Finally, a negotiated political solution is the only option to addressing Zimbabwe’s problems and this might take long to achieve but there is just no other credible alternative. It is heartening that this crucial process has already started and should be supported to its logical end. The unfortunate call by Botswana for military intervention is malicious and should be dismissed as contemptuous to the African efforts underway. By the way, more than a dozen African countries have declined to recognise Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s legitimate leader but have not called for either sanctions or military action. Botswana can use their huge financial resources to fight the menacing Aids crisis in their country. Botswana has one of the highest HIV/Aids cases in the world.
Crisford Chogugudza is AfricaResource Political Columnist.