Flawed negotiations

2008-08-25 00:00

It is clear that Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe is not interested in any deal with the opposition that does not entrench his own power. Mugabe appears to have only sat down to negotiate with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to ease growing African pressure to isolate him and international threats to launch tough sanctions against his regime.

Sadly, it also appears that regional leaders in the African Union (AU), including the mediator in the Zimbabwe conflict, President Thabo Mbeki, are so desperate to show that they “are doing something” that they are prepared to almost force MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai to accept the terms of any deal, no matter how bad.

Mbeki himself desperately wants a deal, any deal, no matter whether it is skewed towards Mugabe, as long as he can claim a deal, to prove his local and international critics wrong and force a re-evaluation of his faltering legacy. Mugabe has already violated the terms of the agreed framework for talks with Tsvangirai, when his regime withdrew the passport of the MDC leader to prevent him from travelling to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) conference in Johannesburg last week, fearing that

Tsvangirai would lay bare his [Mugabe’s] underhand tactics in the negotiations to the regional leaders. Mugabe has now announced that he will convene “parliament” next week and appoint a “cabinet”, yet negotiations over the powers and the roles and composition of a transitional coalition government of the Zanu-PF and the MDC have deadlocked. Given the bad faith in which Mugabe is conducting these “negotiations”, no deal would be better for Tsvangirai and the MDC than a bad deal. Mugabe has seduced the faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara to agree to terms with promises of a prominent role in a Mugabe cabinet, which may mean that Mutambara could conceivably add his tally of parliamentarians to the Zanu-PF, giving Mugabe a parliamentary majority if a deal is signed with Tsvangirai.

Clearly Mugabe is trying to play the naïve Mutambara off against Tsvangirai, hoping to make Tsvangirai look isolated and so weaken his negotiating authority. With the added pressure on Tsvangirai from regional African leaders, the MDC leader is being driven into a corner and forced to agree to bad terms.

He should resist. The MDC has negotiated with its hands bound behind its back. Zimbabweans are facing the brunt of Zimbabwe’s crisis — starvation, human rights abuses, violence and homelessness. Mugabe and Zanu-PF do not really care: they are cold-heartedly prepared to sacrifice ordinary people to stay in power. It is a no-win situation: the longer Tsvangirai holds out, the worse it gets for Zimbabweans.

Yet Mugabe’s strategy is to delay the negotiations as long as possible and so force Tsvangirai to agree to bad terms out of sheer desperation and get the country out of the morass he [Mugabe] has dragged it into. In the midst of the negotiations, the Mugabe regime and its proxies have continued unleashing violence against Zimbabweans to pressure the MDC negotiators to concede more.

One flaw of these negotiations has been that Zimbabwe’s civil society groups, whose feisty opposition helped to push the unwilling Mugabe and Zanu-PF to negotiate with the opposition, have not been included in the talks because Mugabe opposed their inclusion. Now is the time for these groups within and outside Zimbabwe to step up mobilisation against the Mugabe regime.

In the negotiations so far, the MDC has agreed to a Mugabe presidency with downgraded powers. Mugabe has compromised on limiting the powers of the presidency. Tsvangirai has accepted the position of prime minister, with significant powers, but without “full” executive control. However, just how the power will be divided has not been agreed on. But the MDC can still score big if it widens the scope of its proposals.

Firstly, there must be at least a joint running of the security services, or it should be split between the Zanu-PF and the MDC.

Secondly, the MDC must insist on parliamentary, civilian and civil society oversight over all security forces. But an integral part of the agreements must also be an independent judiciary and electoral commission, with appointments to oversee bodies taken out of the hands of the president. There has to be a clear process to bring those responsible for human rights abuses, corruption and criminal activity to book.

Tsvangirai should insist on bringing in direct democracy through referendums, which will also bring democracy closer to the people while helping to circumvent personal rule by the president.

Ultimately, the best deal for the MDC is to have as short a transition period as possible, of less than 30 months, and then go for fresh elections. Mugabe, not surprisingly, insists on a full five-year term.

The Mugabe regime is also feeling the heat. Zimbabwe’s continuing financial meltdown — and the possibility of crippling sanctions if there is no satisfactory deal — means that Mugabe will be running out of cash to maintain his opulent lifestyle and his ability to pork barrel his supporters, thus weakening his own power base.

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