Zimbabwe’s Unity government: One Year On

Posted on April 29, 2010. Filed under: Transitional Justice |

Aquilina Mawadza

More than a year has passed since the signing of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September of 2008 and, in a momentous milestone in the country’s recent history, the creation of the Government of National Unity (GNU). In the months of its infancy, the GNU has made significant inroads in addressing Zimbabwe’s deep governance and humanitarian challenges, and is still widely viewed as the only solution for a sustainable democratic transition in the country. However, some seventeen months after the signing of the GPA, a number of its provisions are yet to be fully implemented and political transition remains slow, with some delays exacerbated due to differing positions on sanctions within the international community.

With its induction in 2008, the GNU faced a wide range of daunting challenges in Zimbabwe. The economy had collapsed altogether, and little remained of the once-effective and well-managed education and health sectors. Life expectancy dropped significantly, and humanitarian needs grew astronomically as millions of Zimbabweans required food aid and failure to contain a cholera outbreak in 2008 and 2009 resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand people.

Taking these circumstances into account, the substantial progress achieved by the GNU is clearly evident. Prudent fiscal reforms have stabilized the economy, and the dollarization of the economy has brought inflation down to single digit levels. Schools and health care facilities are now once again functional, and basic consumer goods and staples are now available on store shelves. These improvements have brought a degree of relief to ordinary Zimbabweans suffering as a result of the economic ruin caused by ZANU PF misrule. The efficacy of these economic reforms has also been recognised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this year, which has restored the country’s voting rights for the first time since 2003. This important development will allow Zimbabwe to re-build relations and engagement with the international community, and pursue opportunities for assistance and support towards achieving new developmental objectives.

Major governance breakthroughs have also been achieved, particularly in terms of the establishment of independent commissions. As specified within the GPA, a Media Commission has been constituted, and will soon license at least two new newspapers and a television station.  In addition, and towards the goal of restoring freedom of the press, the commission will oversee media registration and the authorization of foreign media players in consultation with sector stakeholders. Further, new members of the Human Rights and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission have been sworn in to office. This is quantifiable and measurable progress, and a fulfilment of the agreements reached by all three major political parties.

Moreover, beyond these practical developments, the GNU has ushered in great hope of a speedy recovery among Zimbabweans. However, what remains to be seen is whether these predominantly policy-level and institutional changes will soon translate into greater freedom and security on the ground, among ordinary citizens.

Further, in spite of these achievements, there is still woefully little movement towards political reform. Appearances suggest that President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF and its loyal “securocrats” continue to closely guard a game plan for delaying fundamental political change – in a precision dance of one step forward and two steps back with all parties involved, SADC included. Moving forward with a peaceful transition will require addressing the issue of how to untangle the state from securocrat tentacles – and in this respect a negotiated settlement may be the only solution.

The partial and incomplete implementation of many of the GPA’s provisions also threatens to tear the GNU apart. Mugabe’s refusal to reverse the appointments of both the Reserve Bank Governor and the Attorney-General undercuts MDC efforts to implement economic reform and ensure an independent judiciary, and ZANU PF still has not re-allocated the positions of provincial governors, as called for under the GPA.

Reports of human rights violations continue, and indications are that ZANU PF is already attempting to close off rural areas from civil society organisations and other political parties ahead of the constitution-making process’s outreach programme, the referendum and the subsequent elections in 2011. Despite government discourse on national healing, reconciliation and tolerance, reports suggest that human rights abuses, political harassment and intimidation have increased, and civil society has not been spared. Contrary to the clear timetable for constitutional reform specified within the GPA, progress has slowed, attributed to a lack of funds and a host of technical glitches.

The GNU also appears divided on when elections should be held, with a great deal of grandstanding from members of different parties. Some new parliamentarians with limited prospects for re-election are set against elections in 2011, and would want to see the election delayed until 2013. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has warned that fresh calls for elections are premature in the absence of an overhaul of the discredited voters’ roll and a review of electoral, security and media laws. While the appointment of Justice Mutambanengwe as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Chair is a welcome development, the commission clearly needs more human and financial resources to perform.

Questions also remain about how the GNU will guarantee the safety of voters, and more broadly, whether Zimbabweans have recovered from the violence and trauma seen around the country in 2008. While indications from both ZANU PF and the MDC-T suggest support for elections in May of 2011, questions remain as to the readiness of the country to ensure that these are peaceful, free and fair.

On the part of the international community, President’s Zuma’s recent visit to Zimbabwe is an indication of his determination to solve the Zimbabwe crisis. However, whilst recent media talks produced hope that the ZANU PF stance would soften, the transition from former president Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts seems to have created some disjuncture, with the new team inevitably needing some time to find its feet and learn from the history of previous negotiations.

Further, negotiation efforts within the international community are fundamentally divided on the issues of sanctions and other restrictive measures. Among some critics, the current sanctions regime is viewed as simply adding strength to ZANU PF’s platform of opposition to regime change. President Mugabe has stated unequivocally that no concessions will be made until international restrictions on his person and on members of his inner circle are removed, adding to delays in the political transition process. President Zuma has largely concurred with this position, arguing that sanctions undermine the effective functioning of the GNU and should be lifted.

However, this view is roundly rejected by others in the international community, where scepticism is rife over President Mugabe’s presence in the GNU, and ZANU PF’s commitment to upholding the GPA. Both the European Union (EU) and the USA recently announced the extensions of restrictive measures on Zimbabwe for another year, and it appears that long-standing positions on sanctions and financial and travel restrictions will not change any time soon.

It is clear that significant progress has been made in Zimbabwe since the inception of the GNU, but challenges remain in ensuring that the provisions of the GPA are implemented in full, paving the way for a lasting and peaceful political transition. The Zuma-led mediation cannot be a success without the involvement of the international community, yet further progress may prove difficult while sanctions are still in place. In recognizing both the GNU’s formidable achievements to date, and the developmental and governance challenges the country still faces, it may be time for the international community to rethink its strategy of re-engagement and sanctions, perhaps through staggered reforms accompanied by specific time frames.

Aquilina Mawadza heads the Zimbabwe Desk at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. This article originally appeared in the Cape Times on 28 April 2010.

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