African Democracy

July 24, 2008

Zimbabwe: high stakes for African Democracy

Filed under: Zimbabwe — africandemocrat @ 10:13 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

So, Mbeki persuaded Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara to sign a Memorandum of Understanding.  What happens next?

Will ZANU-PF release all the MDC officials and members that are currently in custody?  Will the violence against Zimbabweans stop?  What about the reported use of mercenaries to brutally kill people that Mugabe’s regime consider to be a threat?  Is that now going to stop?

Unless there is an immediate and meaningful change in the behaviour of the ZANU-PF militias and the government forces, we ought to question Mugabe’s motives in signing the MOU.  He might very well be using it as a means to reduce the pressure on him and his colleagues while they continue to eliminate the MDC opposition’s key people and to punish the Zimbabwean people for not voting for ZANU-PF.

The parties to the talks should not start dealing with any sort of “power sharing” arrangement until the political prisoners are released and the army and militias are confined to barracks or disarmed and sent to their homes.  Mbeki can start by insisting that Mugabe issues the necessary orders and publishes proclamations to that effect in the Government Gazette.  The State media, radio and television stations must publish the orders to release the political prisoners and for the military and militias to stand down.

In addition, since food is so scarce in Zimbabwe, Mugabe must be told to remove restrictions on NGO’s and Aid agencies that are involved in food distribution.

The talks that are slated to start in Pretoria today are welcome, but Tsvangirai in particular should not allow the other parties to pressure the MDC into a deal that in any way waters down the basic principles of democracy.  A deal that leaves the status quo in place and offers cushy jobs to the top echelon of the MDC factions amounts to the death of democracy in Africa.

Although it will suit Mbeki to be able to tell the other SADC leaders that he has brokered a deal for a Government of National Unity when that body meets next month, MDC should not cave in to pressure to sign any deal or participate in anything that does not give effect to the expressed will of the Zimbabwe voters on March 29.  Mbeki persuaded Mugabe in previous talks to effect the changes in electoral procedures that made the March 29 elections so different from previous elections.  The new procedures made it far more difficult for ZANU-PF to fudge the results and thus losing so comprehensively to the MDC clearly caught the regime in Harare by surprise.  Mbeki deserves the credit for the March 29 elections resulting in a meaningful expression of the will of the Zimbabwe voters, although he dropped the ball by not immediately insisting that the results be published without embellishment and that the losers accept their loss and stand down.

The MDC is all that stands between the people of Zimbabwe and total capitulation to ZANU-PF and all that they stand for.  A principled stand by MDC is required to prevent Zimbabwe from remaining a one-party state run by a committee of self-serving criminals.  If the MDC caves in in Pretoria during the next ten days or so, it will be a mortal blow to democracy in Africa that may set us back decades.

If the talks do not result in a substantive implementation of the results of the March 29 elections, then MDC should refuse to be railroaded into an arrangement that ignores the will of the Zimbabwe people.  If the result of the talks is not an arrangement that will lead to real democratic elections and an inclusive constitutional assembly similar to the one that was convened in South Africa, then MDC should declare the talks a failure and set up a government in exile and continue the struggle to liberate Zimbabwe from tyranny from outside the country, just as the ANC did in the case of South Africa.

Although the MDC has many faults and Tsvangirai is not the sort of leader that many people would like him to be, the fact remains that the MDC was the only option to ZANU-PF on offer to the Zimbabwe voters on March 29, and the people of Zimbabwe gave a clear indication that they have had enough of ZANU-PF and want to give others a go at governing Zimbabwe.  Given that Zimbabwe is in effect held captive by a military junta, a straightforward handover of control to the MDC is unlikely.  However, any sort of deal that does not give effect to an arrangement that will lead to fully inclusive constitutional reform and a definite timetable for truly democratic elections at some future date that is acceptable to the people of Zimbabwe should be rejected.

More than just the future of a few dozen politicians is at stake here; the lives of Zimbabwean citizens are on the line, as is the future of African Democracy.

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