Zimbabwe: A Window Of Opportunity Opens

February 10, 2009
4 mins read

In the past one year the news out of Zimbabwe, in the main, has been very bad,. The humanitarian outlook has largely been gloomy, related as it is, to the rapidly-spreading cholera epidemic. Largely a problem in the urban areas at the beginning, Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic has spread to the rural communities, leading to the death of hundreds of people, according to UN sources. Early this month, the World Health Organisation, said that the recorded cases of cholera had reached 65, 000 cases with more than 3, 3000 deaths. Zimbabwe’s public health system is in crisis; open sewers are contaminating sources of water supply in urban and rural areas.

In recent weeks, the teachers’ union has led strikes of its members, leading to the closure of the school system. The strikes were called to ask for living wages, in a country with the worst inflationary rates in the world. Many teachers, just like nurses, doctors and other professionals, have left the country in droves. The educational system was one of the major gains of the struggle for independence, and for a very long time, zimbabwe’s educational system was regarded as one of the best in Africa. That is no longer the case. Its decline mirrored the general unraveling of zimbabwe’s economy.

And what indicates zimbabwe’s deep-seated crisis, than its mind-boggling inflationary rate as well as the hunger crisis? Zimbabwe which has the regional food basket has now become the basket case of hunger and a collapsed agricultural system. It is this background of deep seated crisis, which has hastened sub-regional efforts to ensure that the remaining obstacles to the constitution of the power-sharing government were removed in recent weeks. Many people in the sub-region are worried that with the emergence of a new government in Washington, it was imperative to move fast to take advantage of the new situation to find a solution, that will unlock donor monies for the new government’s program of national rehabilitation.


On the other hand, indications also emerged that the Zimbabwean opposition MDC party was divided about the agreement which was signed under the supervision of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The MDC’s economic adviser, Eddie Cross was reported to have commented favourably about the agreement: “I have had a look at the agreement and think it goes a long way to meeting our requests. I think MDC will accept this deal and that MT (Morgan Tsvangirai) will go into government…”


But spokesperson of MDC, Nelson Chamisa was vague about what Tsvangirai’s position was, saying that Tsvangirai did not “necessarily agree”  with the SADC resolution. It seems that MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti and Treasurer, Roy Bennet lead the opposition to doing any deal with President Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF. They believe that fresh European sanctions and suggestions of a tougher American stance on Mugabe under the new Obama administration might shore up their own hard line posture. It is the hope in the sub-region that the Zimbabwean parties will take advantage of the window of opportunity which opened recently to move Zimbabwe out of the morass of political and economic crisis.


Zimbabwe’s tiny window


Legislation allowing for the creation of a new government in Zimbabwe will enable the embattled country to take its first concrete step towards the formation of a unity government. Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai is likely be sworn in as prime minister on February 11 to begin the task of leading a government that many believe will be hobbled by mistrust and a party that is still battling radical elements bitterly opposed to the agreement. After a week of bickering, a missed deadline, several abandoned meetings and ongoing internal wars, it will be an inauspicious start for the new government, which needs to show unity in the face of the urgent task of saving Zimbabwe from further meltdown.


The first key deadline in the implementation of the agreement was missed when government officials delayed parliamentary approval of Constitutional Amendment 19, which provides for the creation of the office of prime minister. On the day the amendment was due to have been passed representatives of the two main parties were called to South Africa for what one negotiator described as a “straightening out meeting”. An MDC statement had earlier announced that Zanu-PF had “backtracked” on the agreement after a missed meeting. Patrick Chinamasa, Zanu-PF’s lead negotiator, attributed the missed meeting to confusion over the venue. But the intervention and reportedly strong words from mediator Thabo Mbeki appear to have forced the parties back on track.


Officials on both sides supportive of the settlement had earlier expressed fears that any further delays would hurt what little chance remained for Zimbabwe to win key donor aid. Confident that the government would indeed be formed, senior opposition and Zanu-PF officials this week held meetings with diplomats and aid agencies to gauge international support and to seek economic aid.


Those supporting the deal want to take advantage of what appears to be a softening of Western attitudes towards an accommodation with Robert Mugabe. “We have to take advantage of the small window we have here,” a senior Tsvangirai adviser told the Mail & Guardian. “The world is moving on and, given the state of the world at the moment, we are not going to have people knocking one another over rushing to help us.” It was reported this week that the Barack Obama administration had toned down the tough rhetoric of the Bush White House and is no longer making engagement with Zimbabwe contingent upon Mugabe’s departure from government.


But Tsvangirai still has to win over internal opponents fighting the agreement, who argue that Mugabe retains real power and that the proposed government involves too many parallel structures, making it “unworkable”. Under the agreement Mugabe will chair Cabinet, head the national security council — consisting of heads of security agencies and ministers — and will have the power to appoint and dismiss ministers, in consultation with Tsvangirai.


Tsvangirai will chair a “council of ministers”, separate from Cabinet but including Cabinet ministers, deputise Mugabe in Cabinet and sit on the national security council. He will be in charge of policy formulation and implementation and formulating legislation necessary to enable the government to carry out its work. He will report to Mugabe and Parliament. The fact that Tendai Biti was the only one of the six negotiators to have been left out of the joint monitoring and implementation committee (Jomic) charged with overseeing the implementation of the agreement indicates the extent of the divisions within the MDC ranks.


Although Robert Mugabe demonstrated the importance he accords to the committee by dispatching Zanu-PF enforcer and close ally Emmerson Mnangagwa to head his team to Jomic, Tsvangirai left his own top lieutenant out in the cold.

The MDC has given no official explanation this week why Biti was excluded and there is no doubt that hawks within Tsvangirai’s party, led by Biti, remain bitterly opposed to joining Mugabe in a unity government. The group wants Tsvangirai to pull out of the agreement and join a broad coalition of groups in a “campaign of civil disobedience” to pressure Mugabe to agree to hold new, internationally supervised elections within 18 months



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