24
Apr
2009
Editorials L'Afrique en questions
Thierry VIRCOULON, Thomas PATRIOTA

What are the prospects after the nomination of Zimbabwe's national unity government? L'Afrique en Questions, No. 6, April 24, 2009

L'Afrique en questions n°6. Le Zimbabwe après la nomination du gouvernement d'union nationale : quelles perspectives ?

Summary: Following repeated bouts of political violence, which were exacerbated by the presidential and legislative elections of 29 March 2008, opposition members and the government of Zimbabwe undertook lengthy and difficult negotiations to put an end to the unrest. These negotiations resulted in the creation of a new national unity government, which was sworn in on 13 February 2009. This marks the end of a long political battle between the regime of President Robert Mugabe and his opponents, of whom the new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had been the main spokesman. In a country on the brink of economic collapse, the new government faces enormous challenges. The economic and social balance remains precarious, and the political climate is still fraught with many rivalries. Thierry Vircoulon, associate researcher of IFRI's Africa Program comments on the crisis in Zimbabwe today, and delivers some thoughts on what we may expect from the new national unity government.

Thomas Patriota: Could you briefly review the main events of the past decade that led to the current situation in Zimbabwe?

Thierry Vircoulon: There were two elections-2002 and 2008-which were completely fraudulent, with violence, intimidation, ballot stuffing, etc. All observers agreed that if the elections had been conducted freely and fairly, the MDC [1] would have won and the ZANU-PF [2] would have lost. In 2002, the MDC had already won almost half the seats - although not a majority - obtaining 57 seats against 62 seats for ZANU-PF. In the 2008 elections, the MDC should have won.

But the crisis really began earlier - at least in its international dimension - with the expropriation of white farmers in 2000. There were in fact about 7,000 white farmers in Zimbabwe before the crisis. Today, there are 77 farms owned by white farmers. They were subject to massive expropriations with attacks led by veterans of the national liberation struggle, violence, etc. There was also a free fall of the Zimbabwean economy, since agriculture was, along with the mining sector, one of the two pillars of the national economy. By bringing about the collapse of industrial agriculture, the ZANU-PF government has undermined the sector which was one of the main sources of revenue for the country.

So, in addition to the democratic crisis, you had a plummeting economy, with hyperinflation. Economists wondered at one time even if one could arrive at such rates of hyper-inflation [3]; now they know it. They had doubts because even in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s, or even in the Weimar Republic, such levels of hyper-inflation had not been reached. Now, hyperinflation theorists have a practical case study.

All this has led to an extremely serious economic, political and social crisis, culminating, in 2008, in a humanitarian crisis. On the one hand, in the last 3 years, food aid has become essential to feed the people of Zimbabwe, so there is a food crisis. On the other hand, since August 2008, a cholera epidemic has broken out, reflecting the complete deterioration of the health system, and more generally of all public services in Zimbabwe.

What is important in the Zimbabwean crisis, which has now dragged on for 8 years, is that it is a "mirror" crisis, so to speak. Indeed, it reflects several very important aspects of the evolution of the international system. First, it puts into play the relationship between former colonial powers and the South, and between Africa and Europe. It also reflects the problem of the post-communist ideological vacuum. Zimbabwe was a communist country; however, once the ideology has collapsed, how do you renew the government's political legitimacy? Zimbabwe illustrates the problem of post-communism: how do authoritarian regimes manage to survive after communism? At least we can say that Zimbabwe has been quite successful in this respect.

This crisis also reflects international economic dynamics at work. It reveals indeed a very strong resentment in North-South relations, especially in their economic dimension. Zimbabweans - not only Mugabe, but also probably a sizeable portion of Zimbabwean public opinion-are sensitive to this dimension of the crisis. Mugabe actually develops the theory that Zimbabweans are economically oppressed by the Anglo-Saxons in general, and the British in particular. This political discourse resonates fairly strongly in Zimbabwean public opinion, and probably also in the rest of the African continent. Finally, this "mirror crisis' is also a test for so-called smart sanctions [4]-since this is the strategy that has been adopted by countries that aim to isolate Zimbabwe. These are indeed being tested to see if they are an effective solution. In addition, it is also a test for dictatorship exits: how do we achieve a soft landing? How can we make a smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy? This question is posed to both foreign, indeed Western powers, in this case, but also to democratic forces inside the country-in particular the MDC. This is the whole issue of the strategy to adopt in a context where you have an old dictator who wishes to remain in power, and who clings to it with the means at his disposal. Indeed, what is the best approach and the best strategy for democrats inside and outside the country to succeed in marginalizing him, and cause him to step down without having a civil war, without violence on a large scale?

All these issues come into play in the present crisis in Zimbabwe, making it an extremely important crisis, indeed a crisis that truly reflects the evolution of the international post-colonial and post-Cold War era.

TP: What power does the ZANU-PF have over state institutions?

TV: Since the rise of the MDC, almost automatically, the government has tightened its grip on power, and has become more authoritarian. Mugabe has strengthened his control over state institutions by appointing to key positions people who are totally faithful to him, and also by reinforcing his control over the army. There were in fact dissenting voices in both the army and the police. Mugabe has thus tightened his grip on the security services by militarizing almost all public enterprises, i.e., by appointing generals to head the NRZ [5], the ZESA [6], etc. Almost all public enterprises are now run by the military.

Thus, Mugabe has both tightened his personal grip on state services by appointing loyal cadres, and militarized a big part of the public sector. However, since he cannot ensure total control over the state apparatus, he has established parallel mechanisms of control over the population: using paid war veterans-who were called upon in particular during the land reform-as the spearhead against white farmers, and even against the MDC, and mobilizing the youth of ZANU-PF - even in the form of death squads.

TP: Are these generals who are at the head of state businesses all ZANU-PF dignitaries and/or veterans of the liberation struggle?

TV: Yes, all the high-ranking members of the military are relatively older people who participated in the liberation struggle, and who are, indeed, 120% ZANU-PF.

But it is interesting to note that, even in a system over which Mugabe exerts considerable control, including over security forces, he has still felt the need to establish parallel systems of control and surveillance. Even in an authoritarian system, he cannot fully trust state institutions.

TP: In this respect, it is interesting to note that despite all this, Mugabe could not prevent the MDC from winning the first round of presidential elections in 2008, or taking control of the Assembly [7], which perhaps reveals a reasonable degree of independence of state institutions.

TV: It shows, in fact, that the level of coercion, intimidation of people, has failed to dissuade them from voting for the MDC in huge numbers. This begs the question of the effectiveness of repression, of authoritarianism : it has its limits. This is also due to the fact that there is a Zimbabwean civil society, which is firmly mobilized behind the MDC. Zimbabwe's civil society is quite extensive because this country has a long history of political mobilization, both in terms of Anglo-Saxon churches, as well as unions, NGOs, etc. So there is a real civil society, which defends itself, and has fully rallied behind the MDC. There are also some interesting developments in the judicial branch. Since the beginning of this crisis, a few Zimbabwean judges have had the courage to issue decisions against the government.

TP: We may therefore assume that the MDC is counting on a sort of infiltration of state institutions in Zimbabwe.

TV: There are some pockets in the state administration which are not controlled by ZANU-PF. And the judiciary is quite symbolic of that, because it is the old British judicial system, in which, traditionally, the judge enjoys a great degree of independence from the executive. British legal tradition confers a great degree of independence on the judiciary, more so than in Francophone countries. This can be seen in the former British colonies; it is something that has stuck.

TP: I would like to now move to the possible divisions that exist within ZANU-PF. Is it united, or are there many disputes among its members? Which elements (inside the political party, in Zimbabwean society) remain loyal to Mugabe, and why?

TV: According to most observers, within the ZANU-PF, there are two main clans. There is the clan of Joyce Mujuru, who is vice-president of ZANU-PF, and whose husband, Solomon Mujuru, is a retired general of the Air Force. It is he who, in recent years, has embodied the opposition to Robert Mugabe within ZANU-PF. His enemy is Emerson Mnangagwa, the current Minister of Defense, who remains unconditionally faithful to Mugabe. It is therefore thought that there are these two clans, but that Mugabe remains the final arbiter of their battles, in a strategy that is easily understandable.

There are a few signs of the struggle between these two clans in the army. There was indeed a cleansing of a number of elements that were more sympathetic to Mujuru. In April 2007 there was an extremely discreet coup attempt, during Mugabe's absence, after which Mugabe returned very quickly to Harare, and the elements of the military that tried to rebel were eliminated. In the police there were also some signs of discord, evidenced by equipment that was found among members of the MDC, and had been smuggled by police forces. So, there are indications that behind the facade of unity, there is some dissent within the security services. Besides this, there are also financial and economic battles, including battles for control of a number of companies, between the Mujuru and Mnangagwa clans.

But, despite the crisis, which has been extremely long and serious, the ZANU-PF remains united. It is actually quite remarkable that the unity of the ZANU-PF has been maintained throughout this period. The reasons for this unity lie on the one hand in a massive patronage system, through which the ZANU-PF nomenklatura is financially feeded, and on the other hand, in ZANU-PF members' knowledge that when Mugabe falls, they may encounter very serious legal problems. These factors explain ZANU-PF's persistence as a cohesive political party.

TP: Since the inauguration of the new government, Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe have repeatedly called for international assistance. Can the national unity government restore the confidence of investors and of the international community?

TV: According to Article 3 of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), after the government is formed, it should present a plan for economic recovery. This is what the President and the Prime Minister have done recently. One may note that, very wisely, the post of Minister of Finance was given to the MDC-the MDC thus has gained control over the country's economic policies. This is unsurprising given the fact that, had the Ministry been given to members of ZANU-PF, foreign donors would have never come back.

TP: But the central bank does stay with ZANU-PF's Gideon Gono.

TV: Indeed, the problem is that the Zimbabwean government has applied for $2 billion in emergency assistance from the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SADC answered that it could not find $2 billion to support Zimbabwe. South Africa-which plays a pivotal role in this kind of situation in SADC -has contacted the British, Americans, and others to convince them to assist Zimbabwe, saying that SADC was too poor to do this. For now, this has produced no results. What the new Zimbabwean government had proposed, the Short Term Emergency Recovery Program (STERP), was planned to cover this year. However, on the one hand, SADC said it was too poor. On the other hand, the response on the Anglo-Saxon side was basically "We hope that deeper reforms are undertaken in Zimbabwe," and the British, in particular, have asked to see several figures of Mugabe's inner circle thrown out of office, indeed including the Governor of the Central Bank the Attorney General [8].They have conditioned their support on a real change in personnel.

Two elements should be taken into account here: first, when you read the text, the STERP is an extremely light document. It mostly covers the ends but not the means, and it is therefore difficult to see how the government will implement its economic program. Second, the IMF is currently in Harare-the IMF has stopped its support to the balance of payments since 1999-in an attempt to resume dialogue with government authorities. However, according to observers, it seems that the IMF will not move from its current position, or in any case, will not resume formal relations, as of yet.

The whole issue of normalizing relations with international financial institutions largely depends on London and Washington. Indeed the U.S. passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) in 2001, under which the United States will block any assistance to Zimbabwe, in all international institutions of which it is a member. Since the US is a member of the Boards of Directors of the IMF and the World Bank, this means that none of these institutions can provide allocations of structural aid to Zimbabwe.

Therefore, the first priority is convincing Washington and London - who are still in a "wait and see" position -that Tsvangirai will actually have some real power in this government, and that Mugabe will not remain completely in control. They will therefore decide in light of such developments. But for the moment, a decision is still premature; Tsvangirai has just taken his post as Prime Minister.

TP: But despite this position, Australia has renewed its supply of aid to Zimbabwe.

TV: Yes, but here we must beware what we call 'aid' because, despite the political crisis, Zimbabwe continues to benefit from foreign aid. However, the response of all donors, one after the other, when they began to harden their tone vis-à-vis Mugabe, has been to suspend all development aid and transform it into humanitarian aid. This is, for instance, what the European Union has done: it has cut aid from the European Development Fund (EDF), but continues to supply humanitarian aid. London has also done this, but outside the framework of the EU, obviously. The aim is not to bring Zimbabwe to its knees. Thus, structural aid is converted into humanitarian assistance [9].

Let me get back to the issue of the return of confidence: there is a time factor, and Washington and London want to see how the new balance of power in Zimbabwe will settle out. The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, which traditionally takes place during the present season, in Bulawayo, is to be held soon. However, from what I have heard, no foreign company has registered. Last year, there were only 7 companies, and they all came from the Far East. So we can say that trust, on the part of private investors, has not returned, and those who were there last year are gone this year. This issue is therefore a real problem and will primarily depend on the attitude of Washington and London during the second half of 2009.

TP: Moving beyond Washington and London's positions, I would like to examine the stability of the power sharing agreement, as seen from a more domestic perspective. Is this power sharing arrangement between the MDC and ZANU-PF sustainable? Will it be effective?

TV: This government was created by the Global Political Agreement that was signed last year and sponsored by SADC and, notably, Thabo Mbeki. It is a very interesting and original deal, because it is obviously a compromise agreement, which establishes a power-sharing government between two historical enemies. When one reads through it, one clearly identifies the MDC articles and the ZANU-PF articles-so there is a kind of balance; everyone has had to make compromises.

The overall political agreement establishes a power sharing government in which Mugabe has two ZANU-PF Vice-Presidents, and the MDC has the post of Prime Minister, and also has two deputy Prime Ministers. So we have a ZANU-PF Presidency and an MDC Prime Minister's office. This agreement has created a huge government-there are 52 ministers. ZANU-PF has a majority of ministers, then we have the MDC-Tsvangirai, and thirdly the MDC-Mutambara, which originated from an internal split in the MDC [10].

There is also a dual system of management of the agreement: there is, on the one hand, a Zimbabwean forum for internal mediation, the Joint Implementation Monitoring Committee (JOMIC), which includes the three parties in government. On the other hand, SADC is responsible for the legitimacy of the agreement, and in case of conflict between the parties, it will again be relied upon to find a solution. So there is a dual system of mediation-one internal and one external.

In addition, the Global Political Agreement establishes a specifically transitional government, stating that the allocation of ministerial portfolios may be reviewed within 6 months. On the other hand, it is bound by a 2 year timeframe, during which a draft for a new Constitution is to be prepared, and ultimately submitted for approval by referendum. So it is really a transitional government of coexistence between two former enemies, with a system of checks and balances. How government should operate at high-level posts is based on consensus, in consultations between the President and the Prime Minister.

However, in a continuation of the battle between the MDC and ZANU-PF, Mugabe immediately responded by appointing general secretaries in different ministries without consulting the MDC. This already gives us a strong indication that Mugabe does not intend to consult his Prime Minister and make decisions by consensus, in accordance with official agreements. There is an ongoing battle: of course, the MDC said that these appointments are scandalous, to which the ZANU-PF has basically replied, 'Read the existing legal texts, and you will see that the President has the right to appoint general secretaries in the ministries.' In this battle, there is thus clearly a level of MDC ministers, but below them Mugabe has already placed loyalists at the heads of all the departments, in addition to the ministers that he already has himself.

It is also mentioned in the agreement that the posts of Governor of the Central Bank and Attorney General will be renamed after the formation of the government.,. Because it was contentious, this was negotiated under the auspices of SADC. Obviously, the MDC wanted to get rid of the Governor of the Central Bank and the General Prosecutor, because they are really key positions in the Mugabe system.

We can therefore see that, via the power to appoint civil servants, this agreement creates a semblance of balance, but that immediately tensions arise. In fact, we find this system of transitional government elsewhere in Africa: it is essentially the same system in Kenya or Burundi. Faced with incumbents unwilling to relinquish power, you create a space for opposition forces inside the government, force them into power-sharing with incumbents, and later hold elections.

This is the best of the bad options that are found to avoid violence. But it is doubtful that such governments can actually raise their countries from the ashes, so there is a risk of fatigue, and even loss of legitimacy for the MDC in 2 years time. In this sense, the opposition also takes a risk in accepting this kind of agreement. This is obviously a pragmatic choice. There was nonetheless a lot of bitterness within the MDC when Tsvangirai accepted. Indeed, the MDC wanted to condition its acceptance of entering the government on the release of all of its activists who are in prison-a condition which was jettisoned during negotiations. Rather than remain in this position, Tsvangirai chose to adopt a pragmatic stance, and finally decided to sign anyway. This is why one of the first battles of the MDC, after their entry into this government, is securing the release of a number of its activists. They have brought forward a number of cases, and Tsvangirai presented himself at the entrance of a prison to release MDC members as soon as he was appointed Prime Minister.

TP: We have even seen the newly appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Roy Bennett imprisoned, and later released.

TV: This checks and balances system of government immediately gives rise to tensions. The case of Roy Bennett is well-known, but the deputy Mayor of Mutare has also been arrested. So, on the ZANU-PF side, the intimidation attempts continue. They have not ceased, and knowing Mugabe, it is doubtful that they will cease. This power-sharing government will be a combat government on every single issue. It will indeed be difficult to find a balance.

TP: We may mention in this respect the mixed composition of the Ministry of the Interior, in which there is a clear division of roles between both parties.

TV: The appointment of the Police between the MDC and ZANU-PF was a major point of contention. As a first step, both parties had agreed on the idea that ultimately they could swap the presidency of the Ministry every 6 months. They later reneged on this formula, and decided to co-chair the Ministry, which is likely to give rise to very contentious battles. This is already the case with one of the first issues put on the table by the MDC. The Minister of Internal Affairs of the MDC, Giles Mutsekwa, has put forward the issue of Joseph Mwale, a Zimbabwean secret service (Central Intelligence Organization) agent, who was convicted in 2006 for the murdering of two MDC activists. Despite his conviction, he was never arrested and today lives in total impunity. The MDC Minister of Police has requested that he be arrested. This clearly sends a signal of confrontation to the establishment of ZANU-PF and the security services that basically says, "Now we will arrest you, and had we the power to do so earlier, we would already have arrested you."

The battle began the minute that Tsvangirai became Prime Minister of this government. It will be very difficult to find an institutional balance.

TP: Looking forward, can the country indeed become more or less governable under these conditions, particularly in relation to the policies that are to be implemented? Specifically, can we expect that steps will soon be taken to address the humanitarian crisis, of which the cholera epidemic is the latest episode?

TV: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cholera epidemic appears to be in decline. There were, from August 2008 until March 2009, 91,000 cases of infection, and about 4,000 deaths. Now, the WHO says that the rate of infection has gone from 8,000 infections per week in early February to 2,000 in March, so it seems that the epidemic is declining. It is clear that the new government is already taking action. But I do not have much information on these matters.

TP: It is therefore difficult to attribute this decline to a recent reactivation of public services?

TV: No, I do not think we can attribute this to a restoration of public services in Zimbabwe, because they are still financially on their knees. As long as there is no resumption of aid, there will be no possibility of the restoration of functional public services.

TP: With hyperinflation reaching several million percent and an unemployment rate approaching 90 percent, what solutions can we expect from the new government to address the economic situation? TV: The solution that has been presented by the Government, the Short Term Emergency Recovery Program (STERP), is completely in the hands of foreign powers. Thus, again, the economic salvation of Zimbabwe can only come from abroad. What is clear, and the Global Political Agreement also mentions it, is the need to revive Zimbabwean agriculture, so that people can eat, and for Zimbabwe to return to the level of food self-sufficiency at which it was years ago. In addition, given the evolution of world food prices, it is out of the question for them to buy on the international market. This is the really fundamental challenge, but it is not simple, because all the commercial farmers have left. They should return with capital.

Some work has been done, especially by the Center for Global Development, on measures needed to boost the economy of Zimbabwe. The management of hyper-inflation is something experts know how to do, but afterwards there is a need to restart production, and hence to inject capital into agriculture. In the mining sector, it is a bit different, and in any case it depends very much on world prices. But there is a clear lack of money, which means that the solution necessarily lies abroad in the massive injection of international funds.

TP: With regards to hyper-inflation, some have mentioned a possible introduction of the U.S. dollar or South African rand as an official exchange currency, which could be used in parallel with the Zimbabwean dollar to stabilize the national currency.

TV: What happens in such situationsas we have seen in the DRC as well-is that, the national currency holding no value, the dollar becomes the only exchangeable currency. There is therefore a hidden 'dollarization' of the Zimbabwean economy today in all sectors: school fees, payment for obtaining a passport, salaries: everyone requests dollars. The government also requests dollars. At the end of the day, everything is paid for in dollars, since the Zimbabwean dollar has no value. So there is a de facto 'dollarization' of the economy, which is not something new in cases of hyper-inflation.

Again, Article 3 of the Global Political Agreement concerns the economy, and it is clear that this is an item marked with the seal of the MDC. Indeed, the MDC has called for a rescue plan and, of course, the end of economic sanctions, but also the creation of a national economic council, something that reflects the business sector's proximity to the MDC. There is therefore also the idea to give a pro-business orientation to the rescue plan and to the measures that are to be taken. In a sense, these new measures would favour a market economy driven by the private sector, pitting it against the vaguely statist kleptocratic economy driven by ZANU-PF.

TP: The resolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe requires a sustainable response to the problem of land distribution. What solutions are provided by the power sharing agreement and what policies can we expect on this issue?

TV: The Global Political Agreement sanctuarizes the expropriations that occurred in 2000. Article 5, which addresses the issue of land reform, very clearly states the irreversibility of land distribution, reaffirms the responsibility of the British in the failure of land reform, and asks again for the funding of land reform by the British government. The only thing that the MDC was able to include was a request for a land audit. Why did the MDC include this? Simply because the ZANU-PF nomenklatura served itself during the land occupations, and now has several farms. Indeed, the guiding principle of Mugabe's reform programme was 'one farmer, one farm," although this is not at all what happened in practice.

So the land article is really ZANU-PF's. They have really managed to obtain what they wanted. The MDC has simply managed to include the land audit clause, to embarrass ZANU-PF. The MDC does also have a Deputy Minister of Agriculture. But if the issue of land distribution, land occupation etc., was the trigger for the crisis, it is also very important in the system of political legitimation of ZANU-PF. It is therefore extremely doubtful that we shall witness a substantial change in agricultural policy, at least so long as Mugabe remains in power.

We will see how the implementation of the agreement goes, but if Mugabe remains in power during the two years of this transitional government, I do not think there will be any change on agriculture. And this is quite worrying, because, as I said, agriculture is fundamental for the economy of Zimbabwe.

TP: The power sharing agreement provides, as recalled by Robert Mugabe in a recent interview given on the occasion of his 85th birthday - after two years of interim government, for a reform of the Constitution, which must be submitted to referendum and later open the way for new elections. How may we interpret Mugabe's strategy in this context?

TV: I think that Mugabe has had the same strategy since the beginning of the crisis: delay.. Things must last as long as possible, any negotiation should last as long as possible, and this transitional government too, must last as long as possible.

For this reason, I do not think that there is any change to expect from him, and he has indeed showed a great deal of continuity since the beginning of this crisis. He has always managed to prolong the process up until the pressure was such that he was forced to say "yes," which is what happened with the formation of this government. Even after signing the agreement which instituted the new government in September 2008, he or his men recalled negotiations on a number of points. SADC once again was forced to grab its pilgrim's staff and resume negotiations, renewing its mediation in January 2009, in order to eventually install the new government.

This delaying strategy will continue. In particular, Mugabe will try to block and delay the drafting of the Constitution. Indeed, the Global Political Agreement provides for a participatory process to draft the Constitution. This involves consultations with the people, to gather opinions, etc., in order to craft a text invested with popular legitimacy. The MDC believes that if this procedure is followed, they will-as they enjoy majority support in public opinion polls-obtain a text that suits them. But it is clear that Mugabe and ZANU-PF will try to slow the process of drafting a Constitution as much as possible. They will, for instance, bog down the process of formation of the committee in charge of conducting the fieldwork; they will find all sorts of reasons to delay things. As this is a participatory process, with real consultations made in the field, to be conducted in several stages, it can be quite lengthy. In any case, if the process is duly conducted, two years is a short span of time. I think Mugabe will really try to delay the process, so that there is no constitutional plan in two years time, and that, meanwhile, he will attempt to marginalize and discredit the MDC, even if this is not an easy task.

TP: Does Mugabe have an exit strategy, and is he planning to be replaced by a successor?

TV: No, Mugabe's psychology is, in a sense, akin to Spanish dictator Franco: this is a man with real convictions. He is really convinced of being the liberator of the Zimbabwean people, that what he has done is good, and that he must continue in this direction. He has revealed a strong intellectual continuity supporting this, and I cannot imagine him leaving power without being pushed out. He will prepare his exit only if he is really forced to do so.

TP: Has the international isolation strategy used by Western countries, and, in particular, promoted by the United Kingdom, achieved its objectives? What about the mediation conducted by SADC? What is the best way to deal with a country like Zimbabwe?

TV: This relates to the question of how to achieve a soft landing from dictatorship to democracy, a question that is posed to both democracies outside the country, but also to democratic forces inside Zimbabwe. What is important is to see the interaction between the two. The strategy of isolation led by the United Kingdom is a strategy that has been extremely effective in terms of British domestic politics, and completely ineffective in terms of African diplomacy. Indeed, this relatively hard-line position from London was partly linked to the opinion networks that whites in Zimbabwe still had in the United Kingdom. However, this hardline stance caused diplomatic problems, particularly at the EU summit in Lisbon, since the British Prime Minister had said that if Mugabe was invited, he would not attend the summit. The Portuguese President of the EU said they would invite him, because all African heads of state had requested that he be invited. The British Prime Minister did not come, and there was a moment of intra-European tension on this matter.

This radical policy of the United Kingdom not only did not produce the collapse of the Mugabe regime, but also made the British quite unpopular in African capitals, and even created some intra-European tensions. In addition, this policy has not been able to isolate the Mugabe regime because this is a regime that has been condemned, but has not been isolated. It has been the subject of sanctions, was suspended from the Commonwealth, and so on. But it has also found alternative partners in the Far East. These are, admittedly, not always extremely reliable, but there is China, which is now its biggest trading partner. There is also South Africa, which has continued to aid Zimbabwe, providing free electricity and fuel. So the strategy of isolation used by the United Kingdom has failed to isolate Zimbabwe, except to isolate it from structural international aid, since, with help from the United States, Australia, and Canada, the United Kingdom has managed to ensure that international financial institutions will no longer support Zimbabwe.

However, what has been especially important is the role of SADC. SADC was too slow in the beginning. It was criticized for not really taking the Mugabe issue in its own hands. It was in fact divided internally between the countries that were pro-Mugabe and the countries that were anti-Mugabe. Botswana and Zambia were particularly anti-Mugabe, while other states were less so. So SADC had its own divisions. However, it eventually overcame them. From the beginning of the crisis, Thabo Mbeki led a so-called "quiet diplomacy" effort that was highly criticized, but which proved critical in the end - though it is always difficult to tell who really clinched the deal in these matters.

TP: Some observers mentioned the role of the Angolan government-which is very close to Mugabe-in coordination with South Africa.

TV: The problem was that at the outset of the crisis the SADC countries were in a sort of passive tolerance, and did not want to tackle the Zimbabwe issue, because there were too many differences among the members. After a while, though, the pressure was such - in particular the Anglo-Saxon pressure on several African countries, including Angola - that they took action.

But the important thing in the African diplomatic system is indeed the management of the Zimbabwean crisis by Africans. This is what counts. In this sense, the position of the United Kingdom on this subject has been quite counter-productive. Many other diplomatic initiatives follow this line: namely, that African problems should be solved by Africans. This is why there was so much insistence on SADC handling the crisis. Many were very disappointed that SADC did not seize the case, that it procrastinated so much, and that the African Union (AU) acted likewise. But we saw that once they did take action, progress was made.

What happened with Angola is that this country is close to Zimbabwe, but it is also close to Washington. Indeed, during the elections of 2008, when violence broke out, Washington and London made many phone calls to African countries, saying that the situation had become too serious, and that there was an urgent need for action. In this context, Angola was among the countries that had a pivotal role in triggering a condemnation from SADC and the AU. What is also interesting, in this African management of the crisis, is that in the Global Political Agreement, SADC is one of the guarantors of the agreement, jointly with the AU. They are now the official managers of the Zimbabwean crisis, and of the problems that will not fail to develop in this power-sharing government. This strategy of Africanization of the management of African crises is therefore up and running. In any case, this is what the Zimbabwean issue shows us, and that is why we may speak of a "mirror" crisis, because it really reflects the new management systems of international relations that are just beginning to emerge.

Now, this raises the question of how to treat a dictatorship like Zimbabwe so as to enable a smooth transition to democracy. What seems most important is that the exit happens through a conjunction of external and internal democratic forces. This explains why Mugabe has repeatedly denounced the MDC as a foreign party. Moreover, in the GPA, there is an article on this, stating that the political parties in Zimbabwe should not seek assistance abroad, and even forbidding potential calls for regime change [11].

However, it is only with this conjunction of internal and external democratic forces, who must agree on a common strategy, that we can hope to change things. There is some fluctuation between the different parties involved, but we can say that London, Washington and the MDC are, more often than not, on the same wavelength, although some in London have sometimes been critical of Tsvangirai. The question is whether the smart sanctions work or not. During the implementation of sanctions, Mugabe, like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir now, intentionally traveled abroad to defy Western governments - for instance, he traveled to an international congress held in Italy. He went to Europe, saying, 'I am not in a particular country, I am attending an international conference as Head of State.

TP: So, among all of the international strategies mentioned, would there be a better one to deal with this regime? Would that strategy be SADC's?

TV: I think that an African management of the crisis is really the right track. Simply because, as the example of the British management reveals-in a context where there is a fairly strong resentment between Africans and Westerners, in particular for economic reasons-it is extremely awkward for the former colonial powers to seek, or to appear to be seeking regime change in countries where memories of colonial domination are quite strong. Even beyond memories of colonialism, many fingers are pointed towards Britain for triggering the crisis by suspending funding for the land reform program in 1997 [12].

Therefore, an African management of the crisis is definitely the preferable solution. The problem is that among the African diplomats there are divisions, contradictions, etc., which considerably slow down crisis management. We should be able to count on the African Union to manage crises in Africa when there is more internal cohesion. The same goes for SADC. It really depends a bit on different cases; some generate more friction than others among the Africans.

In any case, what is clear, and one of the lessons of the management of this crisis, is that SADC's approach has always maintained and continues to maintain a position that grants legitimacy to Mugabe. It never-and it has always defended this stance-went as far the British wanted, namely, to declare publicly, 'This government is illegitimate.' It never questioned the legitimacy of the ZANU-PF, because there is also a great deal of shared history behind this.

TP: They have all participated in national liberation struggles together ...

TV: Yes, and most of all, Zimbabwe was also the main country of the Frontline States (FLS), the one behind the struggle against apartheid, against the Whites. We must not forget that there is indeed the struggle for the independence of Zimbabwe, which was an inner struggle with the racist regime of Ian Smith, but after this, they were also at war against White minority rule in South Africa.

It is important to turn the page on the past, but the past still weighs heavily in Africa, and most importantly, it is revived in the form of economic domination in the new global economy, and in North-South relations. Indeed, why does Mugabe's rhetoric- which constantly draws on ZANU-PF's ideological archives, and revives the anti-colonial struggle-still resonate, and not only among the elderly? This is mainly because in his speeches, he relates past historical struggles with present economic grievances, 'We are oppressed economically by the North, they put us on our knees, and the crisis in Zimbabwe is their fault, not mine.' Therefore, under these circumstances, it is necessary [for Western powers] to avoid being first in line to manage African crises.


[1] Movement for Democratic Change, led by Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Founded in 1999 as an opposition party, the MDC was originally composed of various civil society organizations that had been campaigning against the ratification of the new Constitution submitted for approval by referendum in 2000 by the ZANU-PF government.

[2] Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front, led by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Founded in 1963 by, among others, Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe African National Union was one of the leading organizations in the struggle against the Rhodesian White minority government ruled by Ian Smith. It divided itself between a Ndau minority, led by Sithole, who renounced armed struggle, and a more militant Shona majority, which was led by Mugabe. After independence in 1980, ZANU won the first elections. In 1987, ZANU absorbed the main opposition party, the ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union). A national liberation movement created in 1961, ZAPU had fought alongside ZANU against the Rhodesian regime. The PF (Patriotic Front) abbreviation, which had been affixed to the two main organizations' abbreviations following their alliance at independence, was used to designate the party newly created by the absorption of ZAPU into ZANU, ZANU-PF.

[3] In July 2008, date of the last publication of official annual figures, the inflation rate over one year had reached 231 million %. However, the hyper-inflation continued to grow exponentially; some economists estimated it would reach several billion % by the end of 2008. However, according to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), monthly inflation has receded in the first months of 2009: http://www.africanmanager.com/articles/122113.html.

[4] This type of international sanction has become an increasingly common policy in the wake of strong criticism against international embargos. Critics stressed the fact that embargo policies usually ended up harming the sanctioned country's people more than its leaders. Consequently, so-called "smart sanctions" specifically target the high-level government officials of a given regime. They employ tactics like freezing assets and banning travel abroad (including the refusal to deliver visas). There are between 130 and 140 Zimbabwean officials on the US list. It was noticed, for example, that members of President Mugabe's inner circle were laundering diamonds in the Far East, following a boom in the diamond region of Marange, southwest of Mutare, in 2006-2007. Sanctions were thus enacted targeting these government officials.

[5] National Railways of Zimbabwe

[6] Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority

[7] During the presidential and legislative elections of 29 March 2008, the MDC won an absolute majority of the seats in Parliament (109 seats against 97 for ZANU-PF), and 48% of the vote in the first round of the presidential election against 43% for ZANU-PF.

[8] Johannes Tomana

[9] Australia has recently provided U.S. $ 6.5 million in development aid to the new government of national unity, in addition to the already supplied humanitarian aid. But it remains the only donor among those applying sanctions (the US, Canada, EU countries) to have taken this step.

[10] The MDC, founded in 1999, experienced a secession in 2005 due to strategic differences in preparing for the upcoming Senate elections. This led to the creation of two parties: the MDC-Tsvangirai and the MDC-Mutambara, with the names taken from their respective leaders. During the presidential and legislative elections of 2008, both parties failed to forge an alliance agreement. The MDC-Mutambara supported independent candidate Simba Makoni and opposed Tsvangirai. The results of the parliamentary election showed that Tsvangirai still commanded the most popular support: the MDC-Tsvangirai won 99 House seats, the MDC-Mutambara won 10, and ZANU-PF picked up 97. In the power-sharing government, Mugabe remained President, while Tsvangirai became Prime Minister and Mutambara held one of the two Vice-President seats.

[11] Expression popularized by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; used particularly in reference to the stated foreign policy goal of replacing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. In this context, it usually refers to a doctrine designed to replace one regime with another through the intervention of external forces.

[12] The role of the United Kingdom in the land reform process dates back to the independence of Zimbabwe. Indeed, according to the Lancaster House Agreement, signed on 21 December 1979, which officially recognized the independence of Zimbabwe, land reform - the main point of contention during the negotiations - would be funded by the British government, on a "willing buyer, willing seller" principle. During the first phase of land reform, which took place between 1980 and 1990, more than 70 000 landless families were resettled (out of a target of 162 000 families). The Land Acquisition Act passed in 1992 removed the "willing buyer, willing seller" clause, giving the government the right to compulsorily acquire land, while still financially compensating the former owners, who were permitted to appeal their compensation. However, few families were resettled during this phase of land reform, and most of the acquired land ended up in the hands of ministers, senior government officials, and businessmen. The initial grant of the British government of 44 million pounds was exhausted in 1996, and with the new British Labor Government assuming power in 1997, the United Kingdom adopted a new line on land reform. The Blair administration conditioned the provision of additional funds on the creation of a comprehensive government program to eradicate poverty, and also demanded transparency guarantees. Thus, in a letter addressed to then Zimbabwe Minister of Agriculture Kumbirai Kanga on 5 November 1997 (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5391/is_200705/ai_n21288044/), Claire Short, Secretary of State for International Development, stated that the new British administration had no links with former colonial interests, and that it did not accept that Britain had a responsibility to meet the costs of rural land purchases in Zimbabwe, the provisions of the Lancaster House Agreement notwithstanding.