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ZIMBABWE: One year on and still treading water

HARARE, 14 September 2009 (IRIN) - It was in many ways a shotgun marriage, except that both the parties in Zimbabwe's unity government were equally unwilling.

On 15 September 2008 President Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF, and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway MDC faction, signed the Global Political Agreement (GPA), paving the way for the unity government to be established in February 2009.

For Mugabe it meant the dilution of nearly three decades of rule, while Tsvangirai agreed to accept the junior position of prime minister, even though his party had won a parliamentary majority and he had convincingly beaten Mugabe in the presidential ballot, but had withdrawn from the presidential run-off in protest over sometimes deadly political violence against his supporters.

The GPA was brokered by then South African president Thabo Mbeki - appointed as negotiator by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - and was envisaged as the mechanism to begin healing the political rifts that had plunged once prosperous Zimbabwe into penury, disease and food insecurity.

A year later the GPA's track record is getting mixed reviews. Sokwanele, an NGO monitoring adherence to the agreement, cites Mugabe's ZANU-PF as being responsible for nearly 88.5 percent of all violations until the end of August 2009, the remainder being shared by Tsvangirai's and Mutambara's MDCs.

"ZANU-PF's favourite political tool - violence - still plagues Zimbabwe's populace to the extent that it is almost accepted as a norm by the majority," Sokwanele noted in a report published on 7 September 2009.

A senior official in Mutambara's MDC, Renson Gasela, told IRIN: "There are a lot of positives that have been registered following the signing of the GPA - we now have goods in our shops, which was not the case before the GNU [Government of National Unity]. If the power-sharing deal is fully implemented, I think life will even be better for most Zimbabweans."

Tendai Musemburi, a political commentator based in the capital, Harare, told IRIN: "There are very obvious areas of improvement, especially in the area of availability in terms of food and basic commodities in the shops, which was not the case before the signing of the GPA ... The downside to that is that the US dollars needed to make purchases are not easily available."

The Zimbabwean dollar was discontinued and replaced by multiple foreign currencies to end hyperinflation measured in trillions of percent.

However, the GPA has failed to fulfil expectations that life would be better. "The disappointment emanates from the fact that many thought there would be more jobs, and that income levels would improve, but that has not really happened ... more needs to be done on the economic front to solve bread-and-butter issues," Musemburi said.

Degrees of peace

In a statement marking the anniversary Tsvangirai said: "A degree of peace and stability has begun to take root, and basic foods and services have returned to the country."

Nevertheless, he tempered the achievements of the GPA by commenting that ZANU-PF continued to "frustrate" full implementation of the agreement. "To make matters worse, the selective application of the rule of law, including the persecution and prosecution of MDC MPs, continues to inflame political tensions," he said in the statement.

"Equally problematic is the deliberately slow pace of progress on the implementation of key issues connected to human rights and the rule of law. This includes the self-evident deliberate stalemate on the constitutional reform process, as well as the slow pace of media reform."

Political analyst Godfrey Kanyenze said the GPA's first anniversary marked "a very clear stalemate. The MDC says there needs to be implementation of outstanding issues, while ZANU-PF says all issues have been implemented and that only sanctions are outstanding."

ZANU-PF believes the MDC has not campaigned enough for the removal of US and European Union sanctions targeting Mugabe and his associates for human rights abuses.

"The MDC, which urged its international supporters to impose the illegal sanctions, has the sole responsibility to ensure that its international supporters remove the sanctions forthwith," ZANU-PF said.

Western donors have adopted a wait-and-see approach, holding back billions of dollars in aid since the signing of the GPA in 2008 and the formation of the unity government in February 2009. Zimbabwe needs around US$8 billion to kick-start its ailing economy.

The MDC accuse Mugabe of bad faith in not swearing in its deputy agricultural minister, Roy Bennett, a former white farmer, and not resolving the outstanding issues of the appointment of the central bank governor and the attorney general without consulting the unity government partners, while also stalling the appointment of ten provincial governors that reflect the MDC's majority in parliament.

Media hatred

The state media continue to view the partners in the unity government "through the historic perspective of hatred and acrimony, blatantly advancing the interests of a single party [ZANU-PF]," Tsvangirai said.

"The distortions of the political reality by the state media present a real and credible threat to this inclusive government and its ability to impact positively on the lives of all Zimbabweans."

In a recent report - The political and humanitarian challenges facing Zimbabwe's GPA leadership and its ordinary citizens - Solidarity Peace Trust, an NGO campaigning for peace, democracy and human rights, sounded a note of caution.

"In the absence of sound alternatives to the current political arrangement, the slow international response to the needs of the new government could strengthen the hand of the more regressive elements of the ruling party in the military and security, while frustrating the democratic forces within the transitional state."

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Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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