ZIMBABWE’S main political protagonists – Zanu PF and the MDC – last week started negotiations towards a political settlement in the country with analysts arguing that the opposition had little leverage to wring concessions from the ruling party.
The analysts were sceptical that the negotiations would bear fruit given the ideological differences between the parties and the pre-conditions they both set before the “real” talks commence.
Zanu PF and MDC negotiators met in Pretoria last week to come up with a framework for the talks and a memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed in Harare this week. Sadc, the African Union (AU) and international pressure is mounting on Zanu PF and the MDC to reach a negotiated settlement and end Zimbabwe’s decade long crisis.
The crisis worsened last month after MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the presidential election run-off against President Robert Mugabe citing escalating state-sponsored violence against his supporters.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission went ahead with the one-man-race run-off, arguing that Tsvangirai’s withdrawal had no legal effect.
Mugabe “won” the poll that was widely condemned with Sadc, the AU, the United Nations and the G-8 resolving that the protagonists negotiate a unity government.
Britain, the United States and the European Union have said the unity government should be headed by Tsvangirai on the basis that he out-polled Mugabe in the first round on March 29 – a position dismissed by South African President Thabo Mbeki who is the principal mediator in the MDC-Zanu PF talks.
Mbeki argued that Zimbabwe, through the negotiations, should decide their leaders.
Political observers said Tsvangirai has little leverage to wring “real” power from the talks. They said he was relying heavily on international pressure to bear on Mugabe to come up with an inclusive government.
Tsvangirai was also under pressure from the electorate to be part of the solution as the voters could not just wallow in his electoral defeat and wait for another election in five years.
But other political observers argued that while the MDC had little leverage in the talks, the state of the economy and Zanu PF’s lack of a coherent policy response would favour the opposition in the talks as change is at the core of what the country needs.
They argue that Zimbabwe had been fixed on the global radar and the mere existence of targeted sanctions highlights the extra-territorial nature of the crisis and its resolution.
“Zanu PF alone does not have a strategy for overcoming the negative international sentiment about the rationality and sensibility of Mugabe’s continued reign,” observed Zimbabwean-born South Africa businessman Mutumwa Mawere. “The March 29 results stand in MDC (Tsvangirai)’s favour to the extent that a legitimate claim can be made that the people of Zimbabwe want a regime and leadership change.”
He argued that the reason why Mugabe was still working with a cabinet from his previous mandate after his inauguration was that he could not form a government that ignores the outcome of March 29.
“He hopes that he can create a separation between Tsvangirai and his colleagues, allowing him to form a government in which he can select MDC representatives in parliament and senate as cabinet ministers,” Mawere argued.
“It is Mugabe who is in a political corner for the first time since Independence. He needs the opposition to form a government. He needs legitimacy and more importantly he cannot pretend that he has the overwhelming mandate to govern.”
University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure agreed with Mawere that MDC’s strength is anchored on the March result that confirmed a groundswell of public support of Tsvangirai against Mugabe.
As such, Tsvangirai enters the negotiations with almost unassailable moral authority and legitimacy, Masunungure said. “The other strategic leverage, if not more important than the moral one, is that the MDC holds the key to unlocking the regime of sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. It goes without saying that the sanctions presently in place will not be removed until and unless Mugabe cedes real power or agrees to meaningfully share power with Tsvangirai.”
Relatedly, Masunungure argued, the parlous state of the economy was another sharp arrow in the MDC’s quiver.
The MDC had until last week refused to enter talks until violence was ended and Mugabe accepted the result of the first round.
“The opposition may be digging in their heels with these demands but very few of them are likely to be met without recognising Mugabe as president,” argued Tinaye Garande, a Zimbabwean journalist based in London, in an online publication.
“Zanu PF currently controls the army, police force and the intelligence services, which gives it a distinct advantage in any negotiation.”
He expressed scepticism over the talks arguing they would not yield much for the opposition as Mugabe was now in the political driving seat.
“Besides, the two political parties take off from two entirely different angles; and their political ideologies differ. Zanu PF sees the MDC leader as a puppet of the West and Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa has called Tsvangirai a traitor saying the two parties’ policies are diametrically opposed,” Garande added.
The fresh talks are being mediated by South Africa on behalf of Sadc and supported by the AU and the United Nations Security Council.
The run-off has worsened the crisis in Zimbabwe, whose economy is flagging, forcing millions of refugees into neighbouring countries.
Britain, the United States, the European Union and West African countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria have been among Mugabe’s strongest critics, together with neighbours Botswana and Zambia.
“The MDC’s leverage is based largely on whatever pressure the international community can muster to change Mugabe’s mind,” argues political scientist Michael Mhike. “The MDC is being encouraged by the widespread condemnation of the run-off and the party hopes international pressure will eventually compel Mugabe to engage in the serious talks and on terms more favourable to the opposition.”
Even MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa believes that the international condemnation of the run-off outcome, especially from the AU, could work to the party’s advantage in the talks.
“Previously, Mugabe and his supporters were standing on the African leg, but now that leg is artificial because Africa has spoken,” Chamisa said. “We are not in reverse gear anymore. We are in forward gear.”
But other analysts argued that Mugabe and his inner circle would not show any signs of being ready to relax their hold on power as they would negotiate from a point of strength after Mugabe’s “landslide victory”.
“One basis for a face-saving compromise for Mugabe would be the fact that his regime has recognised that the March 29 poll showed that the opposition had a sizeable support and will be in control of the House of Assembly,” a University of Zimbabwe analyst who requested anonymity said. “But rather than accept that as a basis for sharing power, the ruling party will work hard to sow discord between the MDC’s two rival factions in parliament.”
The MDC, the analysts argued, should now move swiftly and make use of its majority in the assembly to its advantage.
In the House of Assembly, MDC (Tsvangirai) has 100 seats and Zanu PF has 99. MDC (Mutambara) has 10 and an independent has 1 seat. They have more leverage negotiating as one MDC.
“Against this background, the MDC will have to move swiftly and engage in talks with Zanu PF, if any change is going to obtain in Zimbabwe,” Garande suggested. “The penchant for being overly dramatic and kicking up a fuss will have to be substituted by rational thinking and sacrifices that address the needs of the majority of the Zimbabwean people. Inevitably, joint solutions are ‘lowest common denominator’.”
But Masunungure said Zanu PF was in a very weak state in the negotiations because of the run-off.
“The UN Security Council vote last week – far from strengthening Mugabe – may actually have weakened him and his negotiating power,” observed Masunungure. “This is because Mugabe is now indebted to Beijing, Moscow and Pretoria for rescuing him and Zimbabwe from the jaws of sanctions.”
Mugabe, he said, was now compelled to negotiate more earnestly than he would otherwise do or had originally planned to do.
“They have to repay the goodwill by delivering a serious settlement or at least demonstrating that they are negotiating in good faith,” Masunungure added.
Some analysts observed that the MDC, unlike the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa during apartheid, had little leverage to wring meaningful concessions from Mugabe and Zanu PF.
The ANC, analysts observed, during the Constitutional Convention for Democracy (Codesa) to end apartheid in the early 1990s used its relationship with the South African Congress of Trade Unions to engage in mass action to compel President FW de Klerk’s government to give in to its demands.
From the perspective of the ANC, the analysts argued, giving up mass action as a tactic meant going into negotiations with far less political clout.
The MDC, the analysts observed, had no leverage since the disputed 2002 presidential election to stake its share in the body politic of Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai lost the election by over 400 000 votes to Mugabe amid allegations of vote rigging.
Negotiations then between Zanu PF and the MDC collapsed after Mugabe insisted that Tsvangirai should recognise him as the legitimate leader of the country and also dismissed calls by the opposition for a new constitution.
Six years down the line, Zanu PF and the MDC are back at the negotiating table after another disputed presidential poll and the outcome is still a matter of conjecture.
By Constantine Chimakure