Biti bites while Tsvangirai soothes; tactical combination – By Ibbo Mandaza

OPINION – Zimbabwe’s transitional government, which was inaugurated on February 13, has completed its first 100 days in office.\r\n

The inauguration of the transitional government had been delayed for five months since the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on September 15 2008, a period during which the GPA itself teetered on the brink of collapse, until the extraordinary Sadc Summit on Zimbabwe of January 26-27 intervened, on the back of a Zimbabwean economy in tatters and the threat of international involvement at the level of the UN Security Council.

By all accounts, it has been a difficult 100 days, even though it has to be acknowledged, this is a period during which the country experienced a discernible respite from the palpable political and economic tension and anxiety that characterised Zimbabwe in the months leading to the inauguration of the transitional government.

Not to mention the nightmare of post-election violence which the country went through in the months before September 15 2008. But unless and until the GPA process is truly in satisfactory throttle, doubts and scepticism about the prospects of the transitional government will persist at home and abroad.

And yet all those concerned about the need to move this country forward have to create fora through which to ensure that the GPA succeeds, as possibly the only option in the current historical conjuncture, and taking into account the balance of forces between Zanu PF and the MDC around the state; and the aspirations and expectations of the majority of Zimbabweans who require urgent relief from a recent past the likes of which they had not experienced before.

Therefore, there is need to infuse hope into the GPA process (for a process it has indeed become, as opposed to the one-day event that many expected last September), as it completes yet another milestone –– or timeline –– since September 15.

There are at least three interrelated problems that are attendant to the GPA which, as these first 100 days help to illustrate, is a complex process within which power relations are playing themselves out.

First, the historical backdrop which inevitably continues to pervade the GPA process. This is the problem of opposed political perceptions about what led to the GPA itself and how it should be implemented: between Mugabe and Zanu PF who believe the GPA is an outcome of a “hung” election result in the March 29 poll; and Tsvangirai and the MDC as a whole who remain convinced that their vote was “stolen” and its party battered and driven into the “unholy” coalition.

Of course, this is not an issue to be easily dismissed, not least because last year’s events –– and all the associated horrors and tribulations –– remain so fresh in the nation’s memory.

Also, research and enquiry provide more than a hint as to what might have been the actual result in the poll of March 29: the fact that Thabo Mbeki and his team on Zimbabwe placed the idea of a Government of National Unity (GNU) on the table, long before the March elections, against the growing perception that the MDC was likely to overrun Zanu PF; the emergence, in the post-election period in particular, of South Africa’s foreign policy doctrine on Zimbabwe, namely, that there could be no “settlement” in Zimbabwe without Robert Mugabe; and, above all, the unprecedented five-week delay in the announcement of the election results, including the underlying suspicion, therefore, that the “run-off” of June 27, was nothing less than a contrived outcome designed to keep Mugabe in the power equation whilst simultaneously containing Morgan Tsvangirai.

But, then, is that not what the GPA is all about, even if one were to describe it, both pejoratively and cynically, as a compromise between the “defeated” and the “cheated”? And is that not the purpose and nature of all “compromises” throughout history, not least in Zimbabwe in particular and Southern Africa in general?

Therefore, how to reconcile those opposed political perceptions has become a major function of the GPA process, dependent as much on how Mugabe and Tsvangirai manage their respective constituencies in the weeks and months ahead, as on the political and economic dynamics and how these impact on the balance of forces between Zanu PF and the MDC.

Once he had bitten the bullet, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai seems to have grown more confident in the realisation that the GPA and its inclusive government is the best course possible in the circumstances, through which his party can maintain the political initiative and thereby register an unfettered victory come the next election opportunity.

Therefore, he cannot afford to pull out of the GPA deal, and that option recedes more and more into oblivion as long as he remains in there, gathers critical mass within the state and across the political divide, while maintaining the link with his social base.

For that reason, observers should ignore the apparent tension or differences of strategies between Tsvangirai and Biti who sounds and acts more strident and sometimes confrontational with respect to the delays in the implementation of the provisions of the GPA.

There is a Shona proverb which says “kuruma uchifuridza”: Biti bites while Tsvangirai soothes; and it is a tactical combination, by coincidence or design which appears to be working and might still see the MDC through the process, to the next general election.

This is also because those in Zanu PF opposed to the GPA and intent on scuttling the inclusive government are either too few and isolated or, in any event, lacking a viable alternative to a process about which the country as a whole is not only hopeful but even euphoric on occasions.

In due course, even that fifth column within the state, now purporting to be more Zanu PF than Zanu PF itself, and intent on putting the spanner in the works of the inclusive government, will run out of steam, as new political and class alliances gradually coalesce across party lines.

Clearly, President Mugabe is singularly the main beneficiary of the GPA and would be expected to give it his all, except, perhaps, for the difficulty he must be experiencing in managing his ever-splintering party.

But, imagine what might have been his political fate had the last extraordinary Sadc Summit failed and those two or three heads of state succeeded in having the GPA abandoned and thereby escalated the Zimbabwean issue to the African Union, and then on to the UN Security Council.

It is a prospect that will have returned to haunt him, albeit momentarily, as the MDC’s national council meeting, held on May 17 decided to complain to Sadc and the AU at the delays in the implementation of the outstanding issues attendant to the inclusive government. But more likely than not, the apparent threat implicit in the MDC’s decision last Sunday might in effect turn out in retrospect to have given further impetus to the GPA process itself.

But the main problem facing the GPA process and the inclusive government is the tension between continuity and change in the Zimbabwean state. This is a feature characteristic of all transitions and is almost a repeat of that of 1980, even though the differences between then and now could help us comprehend the problem at hand.

In 1980, the transition was from a white settler colonialist order, based on an agricultural and industrial bourgeoisie that had grown pari passu the interests of, and buttressed by, international capital.

The “historic compromise” in the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979 made it possible for that order to concede formal political power –– and the instruments and apparatus of the state –– to the incoming but fledgling and vulnerable African government at Independence in 1980, without, however, losing its class base and control over the economy and the means of production in Zimbabwe.

International capital was omnipresent, witnessing and helping to manage the process for more than 20 years or more into post-Independence; and for most part of this period, successfully reining in an otherwise impatient Zimbabwean state and an emergent black bourgeoisie which remained virtually parallel, in its development, to a white bourgeoisie which continued to wax rich and, notwithstanding the onslaught directed at that agrarian part of it, might still survive the transition into the post-Mugabe era.

Not surprisingly, the transition from colonialism to Independence might prove in the long-term to have been less problematic than that from one era to another in the post-colonial period in Africa.

This is because of the very nature of the post-colonial state itself as essentially a hostage and dependent formation, insecure because of the lack of an anchor class that is independent of the state, and for whom the state is virtually the be-all-and-end-all for the leadership and the bureaucratic bourgeoisie as a whole.

For most state actors, there is hardly a life after life in the state; and for those in particular for whom the state has been the source of a parasitic and patronised existence, exit is almost a non-option. Transition becomes a terrain of intense contestation and conflict, between those trying to stay in and those determined to get in.

This is why, with the passage of time since Independence in 1980, but particularly in the period from the mid-1990s onwards, the Zimbabwean state has survived on the twin-pillars of violence (or the threat of it) and patronage. Violence or the threat of it is an integral part of any state in the contemporary world.

But, in the Zimbabwean context, state-sponsored violence became almost the state’s raison d’étre in the face of growing political opposition at home, flagging economic fortunes, international isolation, and the inevitable siege mentality that was now the order of the day.

The system of patronage, particularly that which centred around Gideon Gono and his “casino economy” at the central bank, fuelled and sustained the Zimbabwean state in no small measure over the last five years, including direct support to a bureaucracy and securocracy most of whose members thereby constituted a stonewall without which the opposition might have succeeded to power years ago. And now that the opposition is now within the door of state power, it has still to contend with some difficult elements within that stonewall.

Now, the “casino economy” of patronage turns out to have been the sand on which an alternative and indigenous bourgeoisie was supposed to have been built, on the back of money printing, dubious hand-outs of all sorts, and primitive accumulation, the most voracious kind that any country has experienced in recent years. All this, largely for the benefit of a “ruling class” that spanned from State House to most members of the executive, a cross-section of the legislature, almost all members of the judiciary, the main actors in the state bureaucracy and its parastatals and selected but significant numbers of people in political life, civic society and business.

So, it is that the “casino economy” and its gravy train has run itself into the ground, with most of its beneficiaries now economically vulnerable, the country bereft of a national currency, completely broke, at a virtual stand-still in terms of productive capacity, and at the mercy of the very (imperialist) forces that land reform and other dodgy economic measures were designed to defeat.

These are the real “economic sanctions” that the Zimbabwean state and its unwitting Reserve Bank governor have bequeathed to the country, and less those that a defensive ideology claims to be responsible for the mess in which the country finds itself today; and, in part, explains the difficulty with which the provisions of the GPA are being implemented.

This is what happens when a leadership ignores the very skills that its post-Independence experience has produced, relies on factors who can hardly understand the dynamics of the international economy of which Zimbabwe is so vulnerably an integral part, and devotes itself to self-serving policies at the expense of the national interest.

These and other matters political and economic are bound to impact on the transition in Zimbabwe. The mechanics of power-sharing –– including the division of portfolios, the issue of provincial governors, permanent secretaries, ambassadors and even the status of the governor of the Reserve Bank and the Attorney General –– will no doubt soon be resolved, even if it requires more quibbling and tussling within the inclusive government.

More important, however, is how, and with what speed, the inclusive government can begin to address key policy issues in practical terms, including those in relation to the provisions of the GPA itself; namely, economic and social recovery, constitution-making, the land audit, national healing, the restoration and development of national institutions, media freedom and other civic liberties, and the restoration of the rule of law.

These are areas and issues which the inclusive government cannot do alone. Hence the third problem attendant to the process: the relative marginalisation of civic society and the Zimbabwean population at large, including those in the diaspora, in a GPA which was negotiated and concluded under a shroud of secrecy.

The hope, therefore, is that in the weeks and months ahead there can be designed interactive fora during which these and other matters pertinent to the GPA and the inclusive government can be discussed, reviewed and monitored, until the successful completion of the transition and the subsequent general elections.

* Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is writing as Executive Chairperson of the SAPES Trust, the convenor of a proposed conference on the review of the GPA, its problems and prospects.