ZIMBABWE’S negotiated political settlement is in limbo with main protagonists —— President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai —— haggling over “key” ministries despite having signed a deal stating that cabinet decisions will be by consensus.
The September 15 deal has failed to take off for over a month now with the Tsvangirai-led MDC accusing Mugabe and Zanu PF of trying to hold on to important ministries, among them defence, home affairs, local government and foreign affairs.
Mugabe, according to the MDC, was as of last week prepared to cede only one important ministry to Tsvangirai’s party, finance, resulting in a deadlock being declared and intervention by the deal broker, former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki referred the impasse to Sadc’s organ on politics, defence and security, but a meeting to unlock the logjam on Monday in Swaziland was postponed to October 27 after Tsvangirai failed to travel to Mbabane alleging that government had refused to issue him with a passport.
Under the inclusive deal, Mugabe should have 15 ministers, Tsvangirai 13 and the other formation of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara three.
Since the haggling over cabinet posts started, most Zimbabweans have been wondering what constitutes key ministries especially in a unity government whose major responsibilities would be to revive the economy and place the country on the path of recovery and democratisation.
Political analysts this week said the definition of “key ministries” was highly subjective and depended on one’s political persuasion.
The analysts argued that what was evident in the Zimbabwe context was that the “key ministries” were those that have something to do with power drawn from the security apparatus. Â
Historically, the analysts said, the security ministries were considered key because Zanu PF has used them over the years to constrain various opponents and as a result the opposition party would like to neutralise Mugabe’s dominance in this area.
“The ‘key-ness’ of the ministries has little to do with the welfare of the people or any such usual political rhetoric; rather it has to do with power,” observed Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean lawyer lecturing at the University of Kent at Canterbury.
University of Zimbabwe political science professor Eldred Masunungure agreed with Magaisa that key ministries were those in the security sector like defence and home affairs because whoever is in charge of security controls the state. Â
Masunungure said other key ministries were local government, mines, lands, finance and foreign affairs.
He argued that local government was critical for control of local communities.
“Controlling local government means controlling virtually everything below the national government level,” Masunungure said. “Nothing moves in the urban and rural districts without the local government ministry knowing and approving it. It is therefore very critical for mobilisation purposes and to control local populations.”
Mines and mining development, lands, agriculture and resettlement, Masunungure argued, were key patronage resource ministries and could be crucial in buying political allegiance.
Zimbabwean-born South Africa-based businessman Mutumwa Mawere described key ministries as strategic to the operational effectiveness and efficiency of the state.
He argued that the state was an organ of the people to serve their interests and its role should primarily be that of a referee, corrector in the event of market failure and shareholder of strategic assets that are in the public good.
“In the case of Zimbabwe, the term ‘key’ ministries has been distorted by the Zanufication of the past administration that has blurred the distinction between the party and the state as well as between the person of the president and the state,” Mawere averred. “To de-Zanufy the administration would require investing in a new face of the government. After 28 years in power, the Zanu PF practitioners can be considered to be tired and, therefore, needing a facelift. The major concerns affecting the country’s future remain: respect for the rule of law, human and property rights and finally economic progress.”
To achieve this, Mawere argued, the country required external and internal support.
He said the “key” ministries of government that can assist the country in moving forward will be finance, foreign affairs, lands, agriculture, mines, home affairs, defence, security, health, education, justice, and industry.
“The state has been used to limit human freedom and, therefore, it is deemed critical that the home affairs ministry be under a different face not least because the minister is responsible for arresting people without charges, but it would signify a change of attitudes to internal security,” Mawere argued.
Magaisa said the fight over cabinet seats between Mugabe and Tsvangirai was technically pointless because every minister is collectively responsible alongside his fellow ministers for decisions of the cabinet whether or not he or she disagrees with them.
The unity government agreement states in Paragraph 20.1.2 (f) cabinet decisions are to be made by consensus and not simply by the majority.
“Whoever controls the so-called ‘key ministries’ will matter little unless there is consensus on policy decisions,” Magaisa argued. “What I can see from the on-going fight is that this has little to do with the parties to the agreement working together, but more to do with asserting power against each other. That is why, at this rate, the whole agreement now appears doomed because, frankly, if they are to follow its letter and spirit, it will be almost impossible to achieve consensus on any matter.”
Though Masunungure agreed with Magaisa that cabinet is a collective decision- making body, he said that it mattered who controls “key” ministries.
He argued: “Cabinet is a collective decision-making body and once a decision is taken at that level, everyone is theoretically bound by the decision and has to defend it.
“However, it matters a lot who controls what ministry because what happens within ministries is heavily influenced by the political head of the ministry; his personality, demeanour, policy knowledge, policy aggressiveness etc. Therefore, what a ministry does or does not do often very much depends on who is at the apex of that ministry.”
Political scientist Michael Mhike said there was deep mistrust between Mugabe and Tsvangirai and framing of the September 15 deal exposed the underlying problems.
He argued that Mugabe managed to get from the deal the presidium under Zanu PF.
“There is no sharing of power at this level. If this is the case, then the argument ought to be that Tsvangirai as the chief operating officer should have discretion to decide on the Council of Ministers,” Mhike averred. “Since the cabinet is chaired by Zanu PF it would be unreasonable for the same party to control the key functions of the Council of Ministers.”
Ordinarily, he said, it would not matter who occupied which ministry, but knowing the modus operandi of Mugabe that allows individual ministers to interact with him directly outside the context of cabinet, one has to be cautious when power is then concentrated in Zanu PF.
Mawere was more blunt: “Given that Mugabe has allowed ministers to do whatever they want under his watch, it becomes necessary to fight over the ‘key’ ministries. As long as Mugabe is president, it is important to fight for ‘key’ ministries.”
It remains to be seen whether the Sadc troika will on Monday in Harare be able to unlock the logjam on the allocation of ministries between Tsvangirai and Mugabe but the prospects are bleak. If anything the two sides are further apart than ever..
By Constantine ChimakureÂ