Behind the Headlines with Professor Ken Mufuka

How significant are the outstanding issues that are still to be addressed in the unity government? To evaluate this Lance Guma speaks to Professor Ken Mufuka from Lander University in the United States.

For 25 years Professor Mufuka has been the author of the weekly ‘Letter from America’, written for newspapers in Zimbabwe, and he joins Behind the Headlines to offer his invaluable insight. What is his assessment of the 8 month coalition government so far? Interview broadcast 15/10/09Key points in interview

Was the unity government the right way forward? Has the coalition accomplished anything?Assessment of MDC outstanding issues Is the Roy Bennett issue part of Mugabe’s race card? The debate on western targeted sanctions Should MDC pull out of unity government?

Is Zanu PF still interested in the coalition?

Lance Guma: Maswera sei mhuri ye Zimbabwe? We welcome you to another special edition of Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is the Professor of History at Lander University in South Carolina in the United States of America, Professor

Ken Mufuka. Now Professor Mufuka is also patron of the Global Zimbabwe Forum and a lot of Zimbabweans will know him as the writer of ‘Letter from America’ which has been going on for 25 years. Professor Mufuka thank you for joining us.

Ken Mufuka: Thank you, it’s my pleasure.

Guma: Now obviously a lot of things have been happening in Zimbabwe and we’ve just brought you on to the programme to get your insights into what has been happening in Zimbabwe of late. I’ll start off with the advent of the unity government, your take on it. Did you think it was a good idea from the start?

Mufuka: It was a good idea but very difficult to implement. We wished them well because of the situation in which we were one year ago, when the Zimbabwe dollar was useless and inflation was out of control so we needed a combined effort to correct those things.

Guma: But does it not leave a bitter taste in the mouth because it does seem to be a disease in Africa that losers of elections do not necessarily step down and these sort of compromises seem to be encouraging that trend?

Mufuka: Definitely and the reason is that, this is why we are concerned about Zimbabwe setting an example to the African world, the Zimbabwe political situation, the polity rather – that’s the government and the civil service and so on – have been politicised to such an extent that almost every head of department in Zimbabwe today is a Zanu apparatchik, from the Zanu apparatus. Therefore, after 30 years of doing this kind of thing, even if we have a government of national unity, they find it difficult to have their input processed through the normal system. The best example of that is the President’s Secretary Mr (George) Charamba, so he is a secretary in the Department of Information and our man from the MDC, Mr Tsimba has been shut out by the system. This was to be expected but we expected that with the government of national unity, those things would begin to be dismantled but they have not been.

Guma: When the MDC went into this arrangement they talked about incremental democratisation, your assessment of the first eight months – have they achieved much?

Mufuka: I don’t think so, I don’t think so. They have started though in trying to dismantle the system but it is, as I have said, it is very difficult. For example to dismiss a civil servant, it’s just not done because you have to go through the whole machinery, that’s the way the system is set up, so they have found that difficult. They’ve tried to, really they’ve tried to run a parallel system whereby their own people working in the Prime Minister’s office are from the MDC but they are not in the normal public service. That’s where we need the changes if we are to create a new atmosphere.

Guma: Would you agree to the assessment that the first eight months or so have largely gone on because of mainly the MDC compromising too much? There have been many areas where a lot of people felt or feel the MDC is the one that always ends up compromising to make things work.

Mufuka: Yes because that was of necessity because the MDC did not have any instruments of power. They do not have the police, they do not have the civil service and they tried the Treasury but they are just, as you can see even now, Mr Gono is in charge of the Treasury or what it should be which should not be the normal system of government. The Finance minister is trying to wrestle the authority from Mr Gono and this was all set up in the Zanu system, the whole society has been Zanu-ised as it is, so it was of necessity, it was not because they wanted to but they had no choice.

Guma: Now there are several toxic issues as Secretary General of the MDC, Tendai Biti called them which have been plaguing the unity government or the coalition arrangement, let me pick some of these issues one by one and just get your take on why you think Mugabe has allowed them to be there. The issue over Roy Bennett, the non-swearing in of Roy Bennett and the terrorism charges or banditry charges whatever they are calling them, why do you think this issue has been kept at the forefront by Mugabe?

Mufuka: Because I fear that Mr Mugabe and his system, they are not sincere in implementing the government of national unity. Roy Bennett is symbolical, he is not by himself important as an individual but he is symbolic because he represents partly, that part of the MDC which is recognisable by the Europeans and the western world which is the United States, that is why Roy Bennett is so important. But we have Jestina Mukoko and we have many other people who are in the same situation whereby they are kept in prison after a judge has said they are not guilty, so that’s why Roy Bennett’s case is important.

Guma: So this is a race card basically?

Mufuka: Not in the sense that we, from Mr Mugabe’s point of view, I don’t know what he thinks it will achieve but definitely we know, or he should know it does serve to provoke the Europeans and the Americans because they can recognise Roy Bennett directly. Now we have tried to publicise Jestina Mukoko, I have spoken in many churches in South Carolina, Methodist churches about Jestina Mukoko but if I say Roy Bennett, he is much easier to recognise than Jestina Mukoko. That’s the significance of that matter.

Guma: Let’s move on to another outstanding issue the MDC have pointed to, the appointment by Mugabe, the MDC are saying unilateral appointment of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono and the attorney general Johannes Tomana, I mean how significant is that in terms of the MDC challenging it, is it really something worth fighting for?

Mufuka: Yes it is, also for symbolical reasons. The governor of the Bank of Zimbabwe is blamed for the high inflation in the country but I don’t think he as an individual is that significant but he is a representative of a system which is designed to, not to care for the majority of the people, but for the minority of the Zanu stalwarts and cronies and apparatchiks and so on. That’s why the significance is there. Tomana is also a hardliner Zanu. It is not the positions they hold, but the significance that when they were appointed the consultations had not been done rightly.

Guma: And then we have the other issue of course the governors, they had agreed a formula for appointing the (provincial) governors according to who had won in which province, ambassadors still they haven’t been appointed and I believe the MDC did compromise on the issue of the permanent secretaries but all these are issues which apparently they had agreed on paper but were never implemented or are not being implemented.

Mufuka: Yes I think the president of Zimbabwe is using delaying tactics. Generally it is assumed the government of national unity will last for only two years and the longer we go on the more the Zanu system remains in place without any major changes. Therefore when they come to the election, the MDC will still be in a disadvantage. That is the reason for these delays, just hold on and hold on and time flies.

Guma: There has been another controversial issue which Zanu-PF has thrown of course into the fray because they are saying the MDC is accusing Zanu-PF of not meeting its obligations under the coalition agreement, Zanu-PF has countered and said the West has not removed sanctions so the MDC have not met their part of the bargain. What do you make of the sanctions debate because there has been a lot of controversy surrounding it with some saying no these are targeted sanctions and some pointing to ZEDERA and saying no these sanctions are hurting the ordinary person? What do you make of this whole debate?

Mufuka: Sanctions in the long run hurt the ordinary person because the powers that be can avoid the sanctions, they have the instruments of government so they can bank outside the country, they can bank in Asia. Now sanctions are definitely in place, we were trying to send a team of students to Zimbabwe, I normally take students to Zimbabwe on safari, the sanctions officially were removed but the write up under the US State Department says Zimbabwe is still a difficult country to travel and there’s still possibility of violence and it’s not safe so even though they have nominally taken away part of it, the authorities of my university said no you can’t take students there, it’s not safe. So that is true and at the same time, if the MDC works for the removal of sanctions then the western powers have no leverage over Zimbabwe. If they’re calling for a return back to normal after the sanctions were lifted then Mr Mugabe can dismiss Mr Tsvangirai from government and that will be the end of it and then he can run his dictatorial regime as before.

Guma: So it’s a double-edged sword really?

Mufuka: Yes it sure is, oh yes, sanctions bite those who are least intended for it, that is a point.

Guma: Now this whole messy, shaky arrangement has gone on for quite some time, many will say we understand why the MDC are making the compromises but in terms of a cost and benefit analysis, so far do you think what has been achieved has justified them going in?

Mufuka: Yes because they had no option because of the judicial system is also in Mr Mugabe’s favour, the police are in Mr Mugabe’s favour, to summarise all this we simply say Mr Mugabe is too powerful to be removed by normal process of elections so they had no choice but to try a different route. Now this particular method is not producing the results it was intended for.

Guma: Well clearly we’re running out of time Professor Mufuka, my final question as we are recording this interview, there is a lot of speculation surrounding whether the MDC will remain in this arrangement or not. There’s talk that they are considering disengaging from the government, it’s not exactly a pull out but they are saying it’s disengaging, they will remain in their ministerial portfolios but not interact with Zanu-PF. So my question to you, although we are still speculating on this, is there any advantage in the MDC pulling out from this arrangement?

Mufuka: Not at the moment and even disengaging, I think it’s not a wise thing to do from my point of view. You are either in or you are out and if you look at the legalities of it, if you are disengaged, are you still allowed to function in the prime minister’s office? Are you still allowed to use a telephone, can you still hold meetings with a designation of prime minister? So you see, I think legally if the Zanu people were to raise those issues, you are either in it or you are out of it, so I think that puts the MDC at a disadvantage.

Guma: I just have to slot in this question – is Zanu-PF still interested in having the MDC as a partner or, because some are saying they are probably trying to push them out?

Mufuka: No I think that is easy, they want them to be able to be used to remove sanctions from abroad and the reason they want, and one reason why they want sanctions removed is that the high-ups in Zanu had probably investments abroad and they wanted their children to be educated abroad so they want again to travel, to be able to travel, to be able to send their children, and sometimes they use government scholarships to send their children abroad, so they want all these things removed. We know there were children in Australia going to school there and we know there were students in the United States, so on and so on, many there, I would estimate perhaps over 500 students were in the United States under that system so that was a benefit for them. So once those are removed then it just takes a little time for them to push the MDC but not now, they want the MDC in.

Guma: That was Professor of History, Ken Mufuka from Lander University in South Carolina in the United States. He also is the patron of the Global Zimbabwe Forum and the writer behind ‘Letter from America’ which has been going on for 25 years. Professor Mufuka it has been a pleasure having you on Behind the Headlines.

Mufuka: Thank you, it has been my pleasure. We hope to meet at home when we are free. 

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