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Zimbabwe: Power sharing deal on rocky ground

NewsNotes, November-December 2008

Daily life for ordinary people in Zimbabwe became even more difficult in recent weeks as the deadlock in talks between Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) continued. Market prices for basic goods climbed in response to the political climate and Zimbabwe’s official annual inflation rate exceeded 231 million percent, with acute shortages of food, water, foreign currency and electricity. The UN estimates that nearly half the population will require food assistance in the first quarter of 2009.

Violence has abated to some extent but the discovery of the body of Zimbabwe Election Commission member Ignatius Mushangwe in mid-October was most disturbing. Following Zimbabwe’s highly controversial presidential election runoff of June 27 and weeks of unabated violence mostly against the opposition, negotiations began, under the auspices of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and led by Thabo Mbeki, aimed at forming a common government. On September 15, Tsvangirai and his fellow MDC member Arthur Mutambara signed a power-sharing deal with Mugabe. Responses to the agreement ranged from skepticism, especially among civil society organizations, to cautious optimism from the international community, to outright triumphalism from sections of SADC, especially Mbeki.

However, the process since has lurched from one point of contention to another. At the time of this writing, MDC was calling for new elections and it appeared that the arrangement would collapse.

The following concerns were raised by civil society groups in Zimbabwe. They are summarized by Zimbabwe Watch and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in a document entitled Assessment of Outcomes, Benchmarks for engagement and recommendations from Zimbabwean Civil Society (October 12, 2008).

Concerns about the process:

  • The major part of the negotiations were conducted in secrecy, which raised questions about the integrity of the whole process and created mistrust within the MDC and among the MDC and its major constituencies, including the labor movement.
  • The process was neither inclusive nor consultative, hence fears that the deal was an elite pact that might actually have omitted some of the key issues from civil society and the broader Zimbabwean society.
  • The process seemed to assume that the problems in Zimbabwe start and end with the political parties and that if ZANU-PF and MDC agreed on a common framework, the problems would be naturally resolved. However, this is not the case. Issues like the constitution, transitional justice and the economy will only be resolved conclusively through the broad involvement of other key stakeholders and players.

Concerns about the content:

  • ZANU-PF literature and philosophies seem to dominate the tone of the document.
  • The deal does not exclusively reflect the will of the people as expressed in elections on March 29, 2008.
  • The deal does not create a transitional government with a clearly spelled out time frame to draft a new constitution and conduct fresh elections under international supervision. Instead it establishes a government of national unity whose duration will be a full five year term.
  • The deal is vague and open to various interpretations, and is not exhaustive, e.g. it does not spell out clearly which ministry will be allocated to whom, thus the process immediately stalled.
  • The matter of ministries seems to have opened new negotiations which could frustrate the process and lead to a failure to adhere to the crucial timelines set out in the deal. For example, it is incomprehensible how the parties will meet the 18-month timeline for the constitution making process if the process continues to evolve at the current pace.
  • There is lack of clarity on where precisely power lies. There is a president and a prime minister whose duties overlap. It is and will be difficult to determine who has the final say. This is a recipe for conflict and deadlocks which are already in fact quite evident, e.g. ministerial allocations.
  • There is a hung parliament in that the MDC has a slight majority in the lower house (House of Assembly) and ZANU-PF has a majority in the upper house (Senate). This will lead to enormous difficulties in terms of passing bills which will be crucial to establish the priorities of the new government. The agreement does not address this.
  • The nature of the new government is not clearly defined -- whether it is based on a presidential or prime ministerial/parliamentary system. This is important in trying to see where the focus of power lies. In this instance it seems the parties came short of a French model miniature, namely a semi-presidential system with a very powerful president (which is/would be a negation of the will of the people as expressed in the March elections).

In February 2008, the Zimbabwe Peoples’ Charter proposed a comprehensive vision for the future of Zimbabwe. Signed by dozens of civil society groups, including churches, the charter laid out a vision of a healed and just Zimbabwe. Their dream remains on a very distant horizon.)


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