The West may be upset that Mugabe remains, but without its aid, this historic deal will founder
By Dr Knox Chitiyo, Head, Africa Programme, RUSI
Monday 15 September 2008 is a day which marks a milestone in Zimbabwe’s history. The Harare Agreement is a breakthrough deal which encapsulates a vision for Zimbabwe’s future. As with the Lancaster House Agreement (1979) and the Unity Accord (1987) which preceded it, the Harare Agreement is a pragmatic compromise which represents Zimbabwe’s last, best chance of averting apocalypse. Sceptics insist that the deal cannot work, and many will see it as a hopeless mish-mash which only promises disappointment; but for millions of suffering Zimbabweans, it is a sweet tea. It will not be easy to make this deal workable, but it can be done. Yet, without the immediate support of the international donor community, the deal – and millions of Zimbabweans – will die.
Can the agreement work? The body language of the two main protagonists at the signing ceremony indicates stormy weather ahead; even as the agreement was being concluded, MDC and ZANU-PF groups fought outside. Morgan Tsvangirai has no illusions about the size of the task facing him; in yesterday’s Guardian interview, he spoke of the ‘inherent suspicion’ between the reluctant partners. He also pointed out that not only would he have to handle Mugabe and the ZANU-PF hardliners, but he might also face opposition from MDC hardliners who want no truck with the ZANU-PF elite. He will have to quickly stamp his authority. The new cabinet structure offers a way forward, but it also offers the divisive temptations of parallel administrations: one under Mugabe, the other under Tsvangirai. If executive power is siloed in this way, it would be fatal for Zimbabwe’s prospects. For Tsvangirai, the only way to prevent this happening is to ensure his primacy in the inevitable tussle between himself and Mugabe in cabinet. Tsvangirai will head the Council of Ministers, but they are only scheduled to meet quarterly, whereas cabinet will meet weekly; hence, Tsvangirai’s need to adroitly assert himself in cabinet.
He will also have to gain the respect of the generals, without becoming one of them. Thus, the political accommodation will initially have to be supplemented by a pragmatic military-political covenant between the military and the MDC; this will pave the way for the demilitarisation of Zimbabwean politics. Sooner or later, Tsvangirai will have to make a decision on whether to persuade the military top brass to stand down; or order them to do so. A clash between Tsvangirai and the military is looming, and how he handles it will be key to his political survival. His other immediate priorities will be to bring food, water, sanitation and critical medicines to the people; reforming the Reserve Bank, the Police and repealing repressive legislation are also crucial. Ending the culture of violence and impunity, which allows the torturers to butter their bread with the blood of their victims, is paramount. Tsvangirai has the will to succeed, but he has little time to rebuild Zimbabwe’s nationhood; his first hundred days will be vital.
The role of the international community is crucial, not just for Zimbabwe’s reconstruction, but also for the survival of Tsvangirai’s new unity government. There is an expectation that the MDC can, and will, deliver on foreign investment. This has been the opposition’s key leverage during the negotiations. Although global investment will be welcomed and expected, it is from the EU, the US, World Bank and IMF that the key reconstruction aid and investment is expected. So far, they have given a tepid welcome to the deal, and have stated that the new government must ‘prove itself’. What they really mean is that they are upset that Mugabe is still in the picture, and they will not provide aid until Tsvangirai ousts him. Although this response is not unexpected given the decade of hostility between the West and ZANU-PF, it is wrong. The West has to abandon the orthodoxy of demonisation. It ignores the obvious; first, without aid, Zimbabwe will die. Secondly, the goalposts of Zimbabwe’s politics have irrevocably shifted. Although the agreement is notionally about power-sharing, in reality it sets the seal on the transition of power. The process will be lengthy, and fractious – but there can be no going back. Zimbabwe is entering a new era of leadership. Third, Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have already ‘proven’ themselves – and they carry the scars of struggle to prove this.
Without donor aid, the Harare Agreement will become a political armistice – a brief interlude in Zimbabwe’s civil war. If Morgan Tsvangirai is unable to persuade the donors to unlock their vaults, his usefulness – and shelf -life – will be brief. Failure by the international community to recognise the new government, and make at least a symbolic investment, will be destructive. Investor caution is understandable – but the international community also has to understand Zimbabwean realpolitik. Robert Mugabe remains a major part of Zimbabwe’s political landscape. His time is passing, but he cannot be wished away – and ZANU-PF still holds the knife by the handle. Talking to Robert Mugabe as well as Morgan Tsvangirai is not a criminal intimacy, it is a major part of reconstruction. Morgan Tsvangirai and the Zimbabwean people should not be punished for signing a deal with Mugabe. There needs to be an international investors conference, at which all the issues are on the table. Western governments are right to worry about continued violence and corruption in Zimbabwe, and they cannot dispense aid willy-nilly, especially during this economic downturn; but Zimbabwe needs aid, and it needs it now.
Tsvangirai will be the point man for Zimbabwe’s reconstruction, but the West and ZANU-PF will also have to re-establish a relationship. Deliberately turning Mugabe into an underground man will only encourage lethal ZANU-PF unilateralism. Indeed, Mugabe has troubles of his own: ZANU-PF has been deeply divided by the deal; their power is being compacted, and the in-fighting over new cabinet posts has already begun. In addition, the intra-ZANU-PF presidential succession question, so often postponed by Mugabe, will now come back with renewed vigour. Travel sanctions on the ZANU-PF elite remain in force, but there is no reason why meetings cannot be held in Zimbabwe, or on neutral territory. Just as ZANU-PF and the MDC have formed a government of national unity, so too does the international community have to take an inclusive, not sectarian approach to Zimbabwe’s politics of reconstruction. ZANU-PF, in turn, must demonstrate that it is no longer addicted to violence. There also need to be talks between the British government and Zimbabweans on land and other key topics. Britain and Zimbabwe do have a ‘special relationship’ – to pretend otherwise is facile. The relationship has often been acrimonious, and it is laden with a deep mistrust about the colonial past and recent history; but, it can be salvaged and reformulated in ways which are mutually beneficial and not exploitative.
None of the signatories got everything they wanted in this agreement, but Zimbabweans got what we needed: hope. It is ordinary Zimbabweans of all races, not just the political elite, who will have to empower the deal for it to work; but we will need the world’s help to give peace a chance - and we need it now, not in some indeterminate ‘wait and see’ future. After years of blood, sweat and tears, Zimbabwe finally has a deal. What took us so long?
This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper
The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.