GNU Crisis – Will Mugabe Go for Broke?

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's decision to "disengage" his MDC party from the (GPA) "partnership" with Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party on October 16 will have surprised many observers at home and abroad.

Especially, given both the timing and his own assertion, only a few days earlier, that he had established a good working relationship with the president except for a few difficult factors from the "old order" (Sky News, October 7). 

Even in his statement through which he announced the disengagement last Friday, Tsvangirai acknowledged that "we have papered over the cracks and have sought to persuade the whole world in the last eight months that everything is working".

For, indeed, the inclusive government is in place, ministers have taken up their posts and, as Tsvangirai’s interview confirmed a few days earlier, the two "executives" have been co-existing functionally.

So, what is it that accounts for this drastic turn of events for which the Roy Bennett affair might only be a pretext? For we have here, no doubt, a political crisis which, if allowed to escalate, can only plunge Zimbabwe into a bigger mess than the country experienced in the post-March election period last year.

Of course, there have been problems, including the unresolved issues highlighted in Tsvangirai’s statement.

But it is also true that the inauguration of the transitional government in February this year heralded a period during which the country experienced real respite from the political and economic tribulations of the previous months. Not to mention the nightmare of post-election violence and economic meltdown which the country had to endure in the months before the signing of the GPA on September 15 2008.

And even as this crisis is simmering, few observers at home and abroad would fail to acknowledge the relative peace across the country nor the fact that the economy is certainly out of the emergency ward and beginning to walk.

This is not to suggest that the GPA and its inclusive government were already over the horizon, one year since September15 2008.

The land question has been central in all this, with the beginnings of its resolution hinged on the outstanding land audit, a "landmine" that still stands to make or wreck the transitional government for real, depending on how Mugabe and Tsvangirai navigate through it; and the constitution-making exercise, a lesser "landmine" than the land audit by any standards, but one which nevertheless remains a barometer on the basis of which to assess both the pace of the democratisation process and the resilience of the inclusive government.

Apart from these two "landmines", all else — even the posts of Attorney-General and Governor of the Reserve Bank — appeared on course for resolution. For example, the MDC should have seen its provincial governors and ambassadors take office by August 1 and sources within the inclusive government were suggesting last month that the president and prime minister were close to an amicable solution over Tomana and Gono.

So why this delay in resolving these outstanding issues until, it would appear, the case of Bennett became the final straw as far as the MDC is concerned? Or, is it mere administrative backlog within a transitional government that has not yet found the groove, or is bogged down under the burden of "dual executive" machinery?

Perhaps this also accounts for the embarrassing situation in which the inclusive government finds itself, to quote Tsvangirai’s statement: "There has been no review of the GPA nor of the ministerial positions six months after 26 January 2009; and the National Security Council itself has met only once in nine months".

More seriously, however, are the allegations contained in Tsvangirai’s statement, namely the partisanship (to Zanu PF and the old order) of sections and individuals in the national security apparatus, and the "extensive militarisation of the countryside through massive deployment of the military and the setting up of bases of violence that we saw after the March 29 2008… including over 16 000 of Zanu PF youth functionaries who have been imposed on the government payroll."

Likewise, the MDC’s complaint against the Herald and the ZBC, both of whom "continue to treat the MDC and our leaders in government as if they were a third rate treasonous and sell-out element instead of a genuine and equal partner in the transitional government".

Admittedly, these are serious enough matters to confirm that all is not well in the transitional government, even though many will be inclined to ask why these had not been sufficiently highlighted and placed in the public domain until the occasion of Bennett’s indictment for trial on October 14. Equally, the less pessimistic about the GPA and its inclusive government will have been "persuaded", to use the PM’s own words, that "everything is working" and that the MDC "as the dominant party in Zimbabwe", would in due course overcome and persevere.

So there could be a contradiction in the position taken by Tsvangirai and his MDC, as much in word as in deed. The element of threat to collapse the inclusive government is implicit throughout the PM’s statement of October 16, but less evident is what "disengagement" from a "dishonest and unreliable partner" really means in practice. For the MDC "is not pulling out of the GNU", it disengages "whilst being government", and even the Herald (October 20) was careful to highlight (in its headline) the correct constitutional position, namely that Morgan Tsvangirai is still prime minister (after "disengagement"!)

In the meantime, neither the president nor the PM can cause or affect a policy without the concurrence of the other. That is the import of the GPA and the practical implication of the current "dual executive" order. It means a paralysis of policy rather than a collapse of the government per se. But, contrary to the partisan and even propagandist statements published in the Herald this Wednesday, it cannot be "business as usual" nor can Cabinet function smoothly as long as one element of the inclusive government is absent.

As such, there is no obvious constitutional crisis, only a political one which, if allowed to escalate, might mean a premature end to the GPA, through the holding "of a free and fair election to be conducted by Sadc and the AU and under UN supervision". Thus, concluded Tsvangirai’s statement last week, albeit, with a less than veiled threat thrown thereby at his counterpart, President Mugabe.

What then?

It remains to be seen whether the MDC can carry out this threat, assuming Zanu PF laughs it off altogether and does nothing to resolve the outstanding issues attendant to the GPA. Less certain in this regard is whether the MDC leader’s visit around Sadc will yield any more than was agreed upon at the regional organisation’s extraordinary meeting of January 26, namely the formation of the transitional government, the resolution of the issue of provincial governors, the Reserve Bank Governor and the Attorney-General, and the review of the allocation of ministerial positions after a period of six months.

Of course, there are factors within Sadc — particularly Ian Khama of Botswana and Jajaya Kikwete of Tanzania — who would have wanted to see a more decisive position taken at the last extraordinary summit in January: that is, to reject the idea of an inclusive government (which they feared would not work as long as Mugabe remained in place); and support the "self-evident solution" of holding of a free and fair election to be conducted by Sadc and the AU and under UN supervision. But, fearful that such a position might escalate into the upper echelons of the world order and attract the attention — and possibly also the wrath — of the UN Security Council, South Africa in particular steered the summit to the compromise that saw the birth of the inclusive government.

There was also (more than) speculation about the threat of "external" intervention in those days, had Sadc failed to reach this compromise and the Zimbabwean crisis thereby worsened further into a humanitarian and economic catastrophe.

Clearly, it is the "international community" factor (read USA, Britain and the rest of the EU) upon whom Tsvangirai and his MDC depend as the other card (in addition to the mass base at home) with which to raise the stakes against Mugabe and his Zanu PF. It is not difficult to imagine a possible convergence between these external forces and the MDC’s own calculations vis-a-vis a president who, though the main beneficiary of the GPA, is not willing to rein-in those of his camp so blind to the objective realities of the balance of forces within and around Zimbabwe.

One does not have to be alarmist, especially if, as most of us hope, the crisis can soon de-escalate on the back of good sense and judgement on the part of Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But, unless that happens, we have here a recipe for a real disaster, perhaps worse than that which Zimbabwe witnessed during the post March 29 election last year, but with an end about which none of us can safely predict.

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher.