Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still Somewhere in Africa: Zimbabwe

Whew! Thank god that's over, problem solved. Robert Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement with his rival Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday, making the latter Prime Minister. Finally, we can get on with our lives and stop worrying about what's happening in Zimbabwe. Hold on, wait a second, did I say problem solved, stop worrying, Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe in the same paragraph? I think I did, guess that means nothing's actually decided yet, now I suppose I'll have to tell y'all about it...

I've written three posts since the first round of elections in Zimbabwe, but haven't bothered since the sham of a run-off election for the presidency. In case you missed it Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round, but didn't obtain the necessary 50% (cough, er, yeah right), which necessitated the run-off, which Tsvangirai pulled out of in protest to the violence he and his MDC party were being subjected to by the ruling Xanu-PF. We all know how that story ended, Mugabe in a landslide taking over 85% of the vote, being sworn in as President on June 29th. Well, predictably the west criticized the vote as being illegitimate, and more predictably, Mugabe's spokesman told the west to "go hang a thousand times". While Tsvangirai was hiding out in the Dutch embassy, his party's party's secretary-general and chief negotiator Tendai Biti said in a statement that "the sham election on June 27, 2008, totally and completely exterminated any prospect of a negotiated settlement."

So, what happened between now and then to change their mind? The UN with it's failure to pass resolutions; the Italian's recalling their ambassador; the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner saying the EU would "accept no government other than a government led by Mr Tsvangirai"; the G8 at a meeting in Japan declaring that "We do not accept the legitimacy of any government that does not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people"; the US and EU tightening of economic sanctions to include those doing business with the regime; or maybe the Canadian governments banning of arms exports, freezing the assets of top Zimbabwean officials and banning Zimbabwean aircraft from flying over or landing in Canada. I think not, international isolation, so long as it doesn't affect his wife's shopping trips, has proven useless in influencing Mugabe.

While Mugabe, however illegitimately managed to hold onto the presidency, the original election results did bring a change to who controls the lower house of parliament. Tsvangirai's MDC now has 100 seats and ZANU-PF has 99 seats. An MDC offshoot, led by Arthur Mutambara, won 10 seats and an independent candidate won one seat. Prior to the parliamentary session finally being opened at the end of August, an MDC member, Lovemore Moyo, was voted in as the speaker of the house, the 4th most powerful position in the government. When Mugabe addressed the opening session, his speech broadcast live across the country was drowned out by the boos of the opposition. Perhaps this was a wake up call for Mugabe to realize he was incapable of running the day-to-day affairs of the country without Tsvangrai onside.

In tandem with this, Africa, however belatedly, came together to help force compromise. While not all nations seemed to be on the same side, in the end, Mugabe's anti-white rhetoric couldn't be used against his African neighbours. While South African president Thabo Mbeki will get much of the credit for mediating the deal, his pro-Mugabe stance probably caused more damage than he healed. More credit should be given to leaders such as Botswana's president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama who refused to recongize the legitimacy of the run-off election. Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga said "They (the African Union) should suspend him and send peace forces to Zimbabwe to ensure free and fair elections." Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also outspoken in her criticism of Mugabe. Even at the announcement of the made in Africa deal Mugabe said, “African problems must be solved by Africans...The problem we have had is a problem that has been created by former colonial power. Why, why, why the hand of the British? Why, why, why the hand of the Americans here? Let us ask that.

I smell another problem, call it fuzziness. Consultations with input from various groups are to start within a month on a new constitution with a referendum to be held within two years. Things get fuzzy from there, I've read reports saying Mugabe will control the army while Tsvangrai gets the police, others that say such institutions are to be impartial to parties. In the end, who cares? How are these people going to sit across from the table from eachother? Talk about skeletons in the closet! Ever since Mugabe began to lose his grip on power in the run up to parliamentary elections in June 2000, his Xanu-PF party has used killing, kidnapping and other violence as its modus operandi, with MDC supporters more often than not the target. The Zimbabwe Peace Project has recorded 16,400 cases of human rights violations this year alone. While denying that Mugabe himself would be the target of justice, Tsvangrai did say that senior members of Mugabe's party could be held accountable for the violence. Cracks were appearing in the Xanu-PF party as early as Tuesday, with hardliners resisting the deal, many will be left out of the cabinet or could lose their governor posts that are to be shared with the MDC. Mugabe and his henchmen have everything to lose in this deal.

The sheer size of the task at hand would be enough to tear apart a normal government, let alone one with three opposing factions. Tsvangirai said the first task of the new government would be to "unlock the food already in the country and distribute it to our people". He failed to mention that it has been kept locked up by Mugabe, who wished to ensure it got distributed only to his supporters, while opposition supporters were deliberately starved. Another big issue will be the sacking of Gideon Gono as Governor of the Reserve Bank. Mugabe has used Gono, a key henchman and his own private banker, to control the economy; and Gono has in turn been rewarded with stolen farms and other looted assets. Foreign donors have made it clear that not a cent will be handed over while Gono remains in office; but if he goes, so does Mugabe’s control of the economy. Yes, quite a work of art he has created with inflation officially running over 11,000,000% but some believe may be as high as 40 million! The third major task will be the the professionalization of security forces that until now have acted as partisan thugs for Mugabe and his henchmen. Particulary bringing the murderous "war vets" and Green Bomber youth league under control, both of which were instrumental to Mugabe’s efforts to terrorize white farmers and opposition blacks. In other words, the agenda favoured both by Tsvangirai and the major Western donors will serve to dismantle Mugabe’s violent and corrupt system, and prepare the way for free elections in which both Mugabe and his party will face annihilation. Doesn't seem very likely that Mugabe will let this happen. Predictably, since the signing, nothing has happened as Mugabe simply bides his time, dragging his feet before anything of substance happens.

So with the world momentarily appeased with the signing of the power sharing "unity government" deal, in which somehow Mugabe is meant to draw policy, while Tsvangirai's parellel council of ministers are meant to implement it, Mr. Mugabe is off to the United Nations. The deal won't accomplish anything until the impasse over the nuts and bolts, specifically who gets which ministries, are resolved. This won't happen quickly as at the same time Mugabe must try to keep his supporters happy, many of whom will lose important posts with implementation. He told his party that the deal was a "humiliation", but necessary because of the party's dismal performance in the only real elections, those of March 29th. At least three-quarters of the 49-member politburo will lose their posts in the proposed government of national unity, so they're in no rush. It's becoming increasingly clear that the 'end-game' hasn't played itself out, what that will be still isn't clear, but Mugabe's signature on a piece of paper hasn't solved anything yet.