A Perpetual Movement from Change to Status Quo: Static Dynamism in Zimbabwe’s Peace Process
It remains to be seen whether the establishment of the inclusive government under the watchful eye of the SADC and the rest of the international community will translate into long-lasting peace and fundamental change in the culture of politics in Zimbabwe. The protracted peace process has over the years been characterized by many missed opportunities and a number of near-breakthroughs. There is mutual mistrust amongst the parties, as shown by the speed with which they refer matters of difficulty to the mediator and guarantors.
There has been a tendency for the crisis to move from static to dynamic and back to static. This creates a sense of movement toward peace and democracy, but in essence, the fundamental reality is that there is no movement. The developments that followed the signing of the agreement in September 2008 suggest that there is a lot of progress being achieved. In fact, the results of the March 2008 elections meant that the power balance on the ground had swung in favour of the MDC factions at the expense of the ZANU-PF. It is safe to read out of this that the latter was left with no choice but to follow the advice of the SADC regarding a negotiated settlement. The very fact that Mugabe shares his seat with Tsvangirai at SADC and AU summits is indicative of this shift in power balance.
It is not unlikely that the ZANU-PF is buying time by making half-hearted concessions in order to avoid losing the support of the southern African region, without actually making progress toward peace. The party makes superficial changes and raises the peace rhetoric as part of the calculated strategy to deceive its domestic opponents, external critiques, and the region into false hopes. It announced certain changes even before the new government was formed to suggest that it was capable of changing on its own. But it also did so in order to preempt the changes that MDC ministers were bound to make, thus robbing them of credit for beginning the change. For instance, it was the ZANU-PF cabinet that dropped price and exchange controls and began the dollarization of the economy in late 2008 when it was clear that the MDC-T would get the finance portfolio in cabinet. This was also an attempt to minimize the amount of power that this and other portfolios would have in the name of deregulation. It seems that the former ruling party is intent on maintaining the status quo, allowing changes it can live with and resisting fundamental changes that would alter the power balance and the political culture in Zimbabwe.
The disputes over the allocation of ministries in December 2008, the allocation of provincial governors until February 2009, and subsequent conflict over the appointment of the attorney general and reserve bank governor suggest deep-seated mistrust between the ZANU-PF and the MDC factions. It is also a sign of difficulties inherent in the shift of the balance of power away from the ZANU-PF that the March 29 elections demonstrated. They also illustrate the difficulties that powersharing confronts when signed by two mutually suspicious parties.
Finally, the new government was formed with the swearing in of members of the new cabinet from all three parties, according to the agreed formula in the September accord. Keen to demonstrate that they had been ready to run Zimbabwe, MDC ministers moved quickly to outline their plans, especially on economic rejuvenation, international relations, and public services, including the payment of salaries to disgruntled public servants. Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Mutambara also demonstrated visible leadership, visiting hotspots of political conflict and social disintegration. They spoke firmly against continued invasion of farms and harassment of farm workers by ZANU-PF-aligned groups. They traveled the region assuring neighboring states of their intention to make this government work at any cost. They also moved quickly to avoid internal rebellion within their own parties because of differences over how enthusiastically the multinationals should participate in the inclusive government.
The willingness of Mugabe to give the inclusive government a chance, and political leadership helped isolate ZANU-PF hardliners who wanted to undermine the power-sharing agreement from the outset. Mugabe toned down his anti-Western and anti-MDC rhetoric, allowing for a new kind of language to emerge in Zimbabwe’s political platforms—a discourse of reconstruction and reconciliation. While he has not helped resolve the ongoing dispute over the reserve bank governor and attorney general positions, even Tsvangirai has publicly declared that Mugabe has become a positive influence in the implementation of the power-sharing agreement. But the GNU has had to refer matters time and again to the mediator because of the ZANU-PF’s reluctance to cooperate on anything without putting up a fight.
While Mugabe’s soft touch might be motivated by his eagerness to leave a positive legacy after a decade of misrule, the ZANU-PF as an institution is still geared toward a one-party regime scenario. This means that until the crisis seriously hurts the ZANU-PF, the process of change will be slowed down by frequent stumbling blocks placed mainly by this party. For as long as the ZANU-PF sees other ways of achieving its interests, the power-sharing deal will either be manipulated or ignored. The party continues to believe that it can use the transitional power-sharing arrangement to weaken the MDC’s power on the ground by ensuring that its participation does not make a difference. The ZANU-PF is constantly sending messages, both domestically and externally, that the MDC factions have failed to help Zimbabwe get rid of Western sanctions, suggesting that the MDC has had no political influence on its sponsors.
The stalemate will persist until the MDC factions manage to galvanize all key internal and external players, including active civil society, organized business, and youth formations, as well as regional states, continental organizations, and global institutions, in support of a thorough implementation of the agreement. As long as the perception persists in the region that the MDC is fighting to protect its narrow sectional interests and an external political agenda, its struggle will remain weakened in the region.