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Is there any point to political dialogue?

By Elliot Pfebve

WHAT is this mumbo jumbo of talks about talks? Is there any need for talks in Zimbabwe and if so, who should talk to whom, and about what?


ere is no doubt that any stand-off in politics will always assume two dimensions — one of the use of force, which I shall call the George Bush theorem, and dialogue or simply the Kofi Annan theorem.

But before parties can talk, there must be a reason to talk and not only that, but that demands are clearly outlined for the negotiating team.

The logic of negotiation dictates that the person with most fire-power gets the lion’s share because he/she is negotiating from a point of advantage. The weaker party will settle for the political left-overs — caught between demise and duress.

Is it possible to enter a political settlement where both parties are at a win-win situation? That being rare in fully-fledged democratic societies, it is even sadder reading for a politically fragile country like Zimbabwe. For the success of the talks about talks, one party must be prepared to surrender its identity and go through a political metamorphosis for the sake of national survival. Will this be Zanu PF or MDC?

Although coming to a negotiating table is a sign of political maturity and relevance, neither the MDC nor Zanu PF have any reason to negotiate.

Zanu PF claims to have won more than a two thirds majority in the March parliamentary election, and they are right because we have accepted it both in theory and in practice — stolen or not stolen — it’s time to shut up. The MDC claims the elections were rigged. Of course they were, and will always be for as long as Zanu PF is in power.

Are we negotiating for a rerun of the elections? If so, then we risk sinking into political oblivion for failing to square up for the political grade.

Are we suggesting that we get a quota system of the cabinet posts, if so, why? Under whose presidency?

We are negotiating at a time when we have fewer parliamentary seats than at the first aborted talks, at a time that President Mugabe can change the constitution using his two thirds majority in parliament and, worse still, against a successful Operation Murambatsvina to which nobody raised a finger.

The only reason why Zanu PF will want to negotiate is not so much for the power which they have, but for economic reasons.

President Mugabe intends to use the MDC to prop up the country’s battered image internationally in efforts to get the IMF and the World Bank to resume its financial rescue packages.

Oh! By the way Grace also misses shopping in London, New York and Paris. This can only come about if the MDC baptises the marooned Zanu PF into a born again child.

I do not think Zanu PF needs any financial rescue package when they are busy destroying the production line, turning the country into a nation of food aid recipients.

The demands for negotiations should be narrowed down to three specifics: that Mugabe must go, that a new constitution must be enacted and pass through a referendum, and finally that there be the restoration of the rule of law.

There will be a transitional process to which all stakeholders must be involved, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the churches, civic organisations and political parties. Unfortunately, the process will have a Zanu PF moderate as the head of state if ever there are any moderates in the party. Of course Zanu PF would not want to be seen to have lost everything in the process.

Whether it is acceptable to have a Zanu PF head under close scrutiny by a transition committee bound by a new constitutional framework is debatable.

We must also learn from the previous talks — the Lancaster Conference of 1979 and the PF Zapu/Zanu PF talks of 1987. What if President Mugabe decides to merge with the MDC?

Although of political mileage, it will work out in favour of the MDC. Those at the table must ensure that the new party is called the MDC.

The party symbol must change from a clenched fist to an open palm. The headquarters of the new party must be moved to Mbare to give it a face-lift that it needs most. The retiring age for the president must be 65 years. The party president must not exceed two terms whether for his/her party or national position.

Let us make sure that it’s President Mugabe who demands talks, not the MDC.

* Elliot Pfebve is a lecturer and political analyst and can be reached through www.itrc-pfebve.com

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