Sep 14, 2009

Zimbabwe’s Sham Government

On Friday and Saturday, the European Union held its first talks with the Zimbabwean government in seven years. The EU delegation’s reaction was cautiously optimistic over the future prospects of the power sharing agreement (the GPA, or Global Political Agreement), euphemistically describing the deadlock over the GPA as “They do not have the same reading of the same document. They have a different reading on how this should be done and at what speed.” While the delegation was quick to say that because of significant humanitarian problems, no sanctions will be lifted just yet, their willingness to reengage with the government was enough to give hope to President Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe has been making international headlines recently not for harassing opposition leaders and stealing elections, but for its attempts to reengage with the international community and solicit funds. Headlines on major papers are debating the questions of whether to lift sanctions and provide aid (with moderate amounts of aid and loans from the US, UK, EU, China, Germany, and now the IMF). While most countries’ responses are negative on sanctions and tepid on aid, few papers these days are carrying the specific and ongoing reasons why we should not be helping out the regional basket case. This absence of bad news from the headlines (beyond the cholera epidemic a few months ago) might lead one to believe that the situation in Zimbabwe has improved, which is not the case.

The “different reading” of the GPA is that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) saw it as a way to form a unity government and transform the country democratically, while ZANU-PF saw it as a way to get the international community off its back; it seems unlikely the party ever really intended to cede any meaningful powers.

While economic conditions have certainly improved, the state of democracy in Zimbabwe has not advanced much further than where it was when ZANU-PF and the MDC agreed upon the GPA a little over a year ago. Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF have subverted the agreement and the “partnership” at every turn. Beyond the most egregious act, the “accidental” killing of MDC leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife in a car crash that easily could have killed the PM himself,  ZANU-PF agents continue to kill, abuse, harass, arrest, abduct, and detain MDC supporters. Mugabe and his party undermine the power and legitimacy of the MDC whenever possible, through propaganda (recent examples in the state paper here and here), unilaterally reassigning ministerial duties counter to the GPA, failing to consult the MDC on important decisions, refusing to swear in key MDC appointees, and delaying work on a new constitution.

For whatever reason, whether it is inability or unwillingness, Morgan Tsvangirai has failed to push the MDC successfully into a meaningful partnership with the government to achieve democratic reform. The economic improvements are certainly welcome, but it would have been difficult for the situation to decline further than last year’s worthless currency and lack of goods. Lasting improvements and attracting international investment are unlikely in the current uncertain political climate.

The EU delegation’s talk of “progress” is misplaced, unless one can count as progress making fewer international headlines for blatant attacks on the opposition. Mugabe has certainly made some progress in his approach to public relations – instead of saying the opposition will come to power over his dead body, he now claims to have given it substantial power without really having done so and while more quietly subverting it. The international community, particularly the Southern African Development Community (SADC, a regional organization that has repeatedly failed to denounce Mugabe), should be much more critical of the sham government in Zimbabwe.


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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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