Maverick Citizen


Zimbabwe: Stop expecting the impossible – take action at national, regional and international level – now

Zimbabwe: Stop expecting the impossible – take action at national, regional and international level  – now
Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's president. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Zimbabwe, a state increasingly based and surviving on the strength of military-security machinery, will not reform itself out of power. We need to acknowledge that the crisis has to be resolved through the agency of consultations. This process must be initiated at the national level, facilitated by South Africa, the SADC and the AU, and scaffolded by the UK, EU, US, Russia, China and the Commonwealth, and must lead to an international conference on Zimbabwe.

It has been two decades since the sanctions regime was imposed on Zimbabwe by the US in 2001, followed by the European Union (EU) in 2002. In December 2003, Zimbabwe’s then-president, Robert Mugabe, quit the Commonwealth at the decision of the body to extend sanctions for “undemocratic behaviour”. All this, in the expectation that the state in Zimbabwe would reform, improve its human rights record and adhere to the standards required for free, fair and credible elections.

The record so far is that things have since got worse, with little or no hope for reform. The (vain) expectations that the November 2017 coup would redeem Zimbabwe from international isolation – under the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra – have all but gone up in smoke. The resounding consensus, even on the part of those in the Global North who supported and/or warmed up to the coup three years ago, is that the state in Zimbabwe has not only failed to institute political and economic reforms, but has also committed the “worst human rights violations against the people of Zimbabwe since Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in November 2017. This includes a state-sponsored crackdown against protests in January 2019 that resulted in the deaths of 17 Zimbabweans and post-election violence in August 2018 in which six protesters lost their lives.”

An army tanker blocks the main road to the Parliament building in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo: EPA-EFE / AARON UFUMELI)

Travel ban and asset freeze

Thus, on 1 February 2021, the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced the country’s first set of designations of individuals under the country’s Zimbabwe sanctions regime, ahead of the EU (of which it is no longer a member). The new sanctions include a travel ban and asset freeze on four officials involved in brutal crackdowns by the government of Zimbabwe on public protests.

The EU subsequently, on 19 February 2021, renewed its arms embargo and assets freeze against the Zimbabwe Defence Industries, citing “a lack of substantial reforms and continued human rights violations in the southern African nation”, based “also on the need to investigate the role of the security forces in human rights abuses”.

More recently, on 24 February 2021, the Minister of State for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office in the UK, Lord Ahmad, threatened new measures against Zimbabwe. He stated that the former colonial power was “deeply worried about the state of the Zimbabwean economy, which continues to face unprecedented challenges largely due to corruption, and poor fiscal policies and economic mismanagement by the government”.

Citing the recent Report on Cartel Power Dynamics in Zimbabwe, the minister said there would be more pressure on the country in addition to the sanctions already announced on 1 February 2021.

“These measures (sanctions) will be maintained as long as the situation on the ground justifies them. We will continue to look at how all the tools available to the UK, including the full range of sanctions regimes, can be used to encourage accountability and reform in Zimbabwe,” Ahmad said.

Across the Atlantic, the new US administration of president Joe Biden is expected to up the ante against the regime in Harare. Todd Moss, former deputy assistant secretary for African affairs at the US State Department, said at a virtual Sapes Trust Policy Dialogue Forum on the topic “What will the Biden presidency mean for US-Zimbabwe relations?” on 21 January 2021 that sanctions would remain under Biden. He also pointed out that it was a waste of time for Mnangagwa’s administration to hire public relations firms to lobby on its behalf. 

More than that, Moss made it clear in a statement (that inadvertently acknowledged the extent that targeted sanctions have impacted financial and economic spheres of Zimbabwe) that, given the prevailing political and economic situation in Zimbabwe, the US has effectively put the brakes on whatever international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF, might wish to lend to the country, and would continue to do so.

Zimbabwe Republic Police officers beat one of the protesting Movement for Democratic Change supporters outside the party headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo: EPA-EFE / AARON UFUMELI)

Questionable sincerity

As the moderator on that Policy Dialogue Forum, I raised the question of whether there had been any correlation between, on the one hand, the two decades of sanctions against Zimbabwe and, on the other, the intended objectives of having the regime in Harare move, even gradually and on the basis of some benchmarks, towards reform and respect for human rights.  

If the answer to that question is as obvious as the situation has been over the past two decades, during which things have increasingly deteriorated, does the sanctions regime not amount to a hollow commitment to principle, an end in itself, and therefore bordering on insincerity on the part of the Global North in its purported campaign for a better Zimbabwe? 

Surely, it should be obvious by now that the regime in Harare does not want to reform; quite the contrary, it cannot do so without reforming itself out of power. To quote former information minister Jonathan Moyo (whose address to the Bulawayo Press Club on 2 September 2016 was reported in The Chronicle newspaper on 6 September 2016 under the headline “Zanu-PF will never reform itself out of power, Prof Moyo declares”), the party “has no intention of creating an environment that will ensure it loses elections … they want to say put in place electoral reforms that will ensure that you lose and we win. And we are saying no … Because the reforms they’re talking about are clear codes to say come with the reforms that will ensure that you’re out.” 

This was a statement made in apparent jest on this occasion, but nevertheless a remarkably accurate reflection of the securocratic state that Zimbabwe had increasingly become in the period since 2000. Therefore, the coup of November 2017 was an affirmation of the Zanu-PF/state’s inherent incapacity to transition towards a democratic dispensation – and which resulted in the legacy of a self-fulfilling, albeit self-perpetuating, process of political and economic crises. 

In turn, the persistent denials on the part of the state actors that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe constitute almost an ideology, the surreal superstructure designed to conceal an edifice that is beyond redemption, hurtling inexorably to the precipice, unless and until the requisite and coordinated action, at the national, regional and international levels takes place. 

Doctors protest over the abduction of the president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association, Peter Magombeyi, outside of the Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo: EPA-EFE / AARON UFUMELI)

Bereft of capacity for change

However, this has to begin with a move away from an insistence on reform as the condition for re-engagement, towards an acknowledgement that the state in Zimbabwe is utterly bereft of the capacity to change without undoing itself. 

At the political level, the factors should be obvious. For the state to implement fully the 2013 Zimbabwean constitution would mean effectively a return to constitutionalism, the rule of law, the restoration of national institutions, the separation of powers in the form of an accountable executive, a vibrant legislature, a fiercely independent judiciary and the return of the military to the barracks. 

As all this would entail electoral reforms – and by that very fact, free and fair elections would almost definitely spell the end of Zanu-PF as a governing party, a fate it has so far forestalled through the dominant role of the military-security machinery. This machinery has, ever since 2000, turned every subsequent election into a war zone, including the coup of 2008, when Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC were denied victory and the assumption of government. It is commonplace now that 2008 was a coup, publicly acknowledged by party and state stalwarts since then.

A state that survives only on the strength of the military-security machinery cannot afford a democratic dispensation. Invariably, the abuse of human rights, such killings as happened on 1 August 2018 and in January 2019, the abductions (118 such since the coup in 2017), arbitrary arrests of political opponents, decimation of the formal opposition, recall of legitimately elected parliamentarians and a compromised judiciary all become integral to the architecture and paraphernalia of a securocratic state.

Political pathology

At the economic and social levels, the factors militating against reform are derived largely from the political pathology of a state such as Zimbabwe. 

Overall, it is difficult to imagine how Zimbabwe’s economy can be reformed effectively, given both the nature of such a state and the rampant corruption fuelled by an insecure leadership — so uncertain of its own tomorrow that it has no tangible plan ensuring that the proceeds from the country’s rich extractive sector are invested at home and not spirited abroad on the back of cartels that dominate the heights of the economy. 

The extent of the corruption in the extractive and all other sectors is covered in detail in the cartel report. These are the very factors that inhibit the engagement of the global economy of which Zimbabwe is an integral part, but without which involvement the country can neither reform effectively nor reach its fullest potential. 

Engagement with the global economy would include access to lines of credit, possible debt relief and investment to increase production, address unemployment and grow wealth. Such a reform and re-engagement programme would attract the interest and resourcefulness of Zimbabwe’s diaspora – in which 75% of all professional and skilled Zimbabweans reside – and without which the county’s recovery and reconstruction programme would be incomplete. 

Besides, the necessary involvement of the diaspora in this regard will assist in addressing the chronic leadership deficit across the society, and strengthen both civil society and the economy into which it is contributing, in official figures, more than $1-billion per annum in remittances.

A dusty street in Hatcliffe, Harare, Zimbabwe. There is a huge gap between the rich and poor in Zimbabwe. (Photo: EPA-EFE / AARON UFUMELI)

Towards a new strategy

So, here is a proposal that we move away from the two-decades-old and futile refrain of insisting on reform as a condition for re-engagement, to one which acknowledges that the state in Zimbabwe is inherently and fundamentally incapable of such a reform agenda without undoing itself. Therefore, there is need for a new strategy that confronts and addresses the crisis head-on through the following:

1. National dialogue: This should be based on an honest acknowledgement of the issues raised above and an urgent need to take stock of the various attempts so far at a national dialogue, to understand why these attempts have not achieved their objective, and make an honest assessment on the basis of which to re-strategise. This requires a consensus among civil society groups – the church, NGOs, academia, media, labour and the diaspora – in the first instance.

The false start by the National Convergence Platform, launched with much fanfare in December 2019, was largely due to the lack of a consensus about the nature of the state in Zimbabwe, the goals and objectives of the national dialogue process, not to mention the pandering, on the part of some, to the whims and fancies of the “national dialogue industry”.

With respect to the political parties, the issues have been more complicated, not least by the unprecedented and ultimately senseless campaign by the Zanu-PF-led state that appears to believe that Political Actors Dialogue means compromising, dividing and even the decimation of the (formal) opposition in Zimbabwe. This has in turn polarised the political environment, between Zanu-PF and the MDC alliance, within the MDC as a whole, and even between the factions within the ruling party itself.

In the meantime, the opposition forces — easily constituting the largest proportion of the country’s population — remain in suspense, rudderless and crying out for an organised leadership. The spectre of a securocratic state stares at us, bereft of a political and social base, alienated from the people, and hanging on a thread. Hardly three years away from the next election in 2023, can this reality scare us into taking the necessary steps to prevent history from repeating itself?

For obvious reasons already stated above, there will be no electoral reforms under this regime – none at all – as long as the imperatives of the securocratic state remain alive. So why are the merchants (and their funding agencies) of the “election industry” getting all excited instead of confronting the reality so well known, and exposed like never before?

These are some of the questions and issues to constitute a reasonable agenda for a new strategy towards a viable national dialogue, including the issue of a national transitional authority or something similar, as the basis of resolving the crisis in Zimbabwe.

2. Regional initiative: It should be led by South Africa but be multilateral and involving the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU); and in conjunction with factors in the international sphere, the UK and the EU, the US, China and Russia, and the Commonwealth. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa should revive the initiative (on Zimbabwe) which appears to have stalled mainly because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The next few weeks and months should witness a more concerted effort at confronting the crisis in Zimbabwe, beginning with behind-the-scenes consultations with both state and non-state actors in Zimbabwe, identifying a mediation team to lead the process, and drawing a road map towards an international conference on the crisis in Zimbabwe. The process towards the formation of a mediation team, composed of eminent persons drawn from the region, the continent and the international community, should begin as soon as part of the preparation for the international conference.

3. International scaffolding of a national and regional initiative: This has to begin with a consensus in the global sphere of influence that it is futile to expect the regime in Harare to institute a viable reform agenda on the political and economic front. The UK, EU and US have been the main global interlocutors on Zimbabwe over the decades, but it is important that the Commonwealth – especially Australia, India and Canada – resumes its historic role on Zimbabwe. It would be ideal to have the conference chaired by an eminent person from one of the Commonwealth countries.

Starting at national level

The process of consultations that must necessarily precede and feed into an international conference on Zimbabwe will have to begin at the national level, under a representative group – a national consensus committee – drawn from civil society (church, business, academia, labour, media, NGOs and the diaspora) and representatives of the political parties. A national consensus committee so composed would then engage and liaise with the regional and international factors towards the establishment of a mediation team that will convene and conduct the conference. Such consultations would also include a discussion of the items that should be placed on the agenda of the conference. Inevitably, these would include the following:

  • Return to constitutionalism (including the implementation of the 2013 constitution), the rule of law and the return of the military to the barracks;
  • Restoration of national institutions, including reform of the judiciary and the public service;
  • Transitional justice, truth and reconciliation, including amnesty arrangements attendant;
  • An economic reform and reconstruction programme, including the return of looted resources, debt relief and the establishment of a Zimbabwe reconstruction and development fund; and
  • Establishment of a transitional authority through which to implement the above, before any election is held.

This is an incredibly delicate exercise and process, requiring patience and selfless commitment on the part of the national consensus committee, with the facilitation of South Africa, SADC and the AU, and the requisite scaffolding by the UK, EU, US, China, Russia and the Commonwealth. DM/MC

Ibbo Mandaza is a Zimbabwean academic, author and publisher. He is convenor of the Sapes Trust Policy Dialogue Forum and co-convener (with Tony Reeler) of the Platform for Concerned Citizens.


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