GNU enters last lap

HARARE - Exactly four years ago on a sunny Monday morning at Harare International Conference Centre, President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara signed the “Global Political Agreement” (GPA) ushering the coalition government.

Forty eight months later, the candle of optimism and hope that swept across Zimbabwe then, carrying along with it unbridled expectations, is dying.

There was hope for political stability and economic rebound as eight Sadc leaders witnessed the signing of the peace deal brokered by former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki that ended months of violent unrest.

As the country hurtles towards another election due by June next year, hope appears to have faded and the unified coalition is unravelling with the two main Principals Mugabe and Tsvangirai no longer at ease with each other.

After a strong start, the coalition now looks increasingly strained.

Four years of austerity politics, public sector unrest and unpopular changes and compromises have tested the political ambitions and comfort zones of both partners.

Despite the tensions and current political speculation, analysts say the coalition is likely to last the full five-year Parliament until 2013.

They say Zimbabwe is at crossroads as the coalition enters the last lap.

Politicians must finish drafting the new constitution, reform the security sector, electoral and human rights institutions and bring to justice the perpetrators of the 2008 post-election violence before the next poll.

President Mugabe says the much-criticised coalition running one of southern Africa’s biggest economies was not in crisis.

Formed specifically to halt violence after a disputed election that killed over 200 people, displaced several hundred thousands, and paralysed key sectors of the economy, it has brought peace to Zimbabwe.

Yet it has been roundly criticised at home and abroad for internal bickering, failing to tackle corruption, slow progress on political reform, and inability to stem economic decline.

Tsvangirai’s MDC has faced down accusations that it has joined the “Zanu PF gravy train”.

MDC secretary-general and Finance minister Tendai Biti said the MDC’s presence in government brought its own contradictions.

“The first was that internally, a clear chasm developed between the grassroots party and its members seconded into government. Suddenly, one group was now driving Mercedes Benzes and on the face of it now on par with the Zanu PF effigy of power and corruption,” Biti said.

“That same chasm was reproduced between the MDC and its civic society partners. The real challenge was that the MDC was in government but still an opposition in that its goal for democratic change had not been achieved.”

Simba Makoni, opposition Mavambo “Kusile” Dawn (MKD) leader and presidential candidate in the 2008 vote, told activists and members of the Diaspora gathered at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the UK last week that the unity government has failed to meet people’s expectations and regenerate the economy in a country beset by widespread poverty.

“The people of Zimbabwe are thoroughly disgruntled with the inclusive government and they would like the shortest opportunity to be rid of it,” he said.

Mugabe says occasional disagreements should not be construed to mean that the country or government is in a crisis.

But Tsvangirai has openly criticised Mugabe for refusing to share power.

Officials from both factions frequently squabble in public, on subjects ranging from protocol to policy.

The dysfunctional nature of the coalition has slowed government business and paralysed the reform agenda, Tsvangirai says.

“This government continues to lurch along,” Tsvangirai told reporters at his latest monthly press briefing. It remains mired in the usual policy discord which is likely to worsen as we trudge towards the next election.”

Underlining high public disillusionment, some people have begun to call for the disbanding of the coalition saying it was only serving to line the politicians’ pockets and feathering their nests.
Tsvangirai has played up the the MDC’s 2009 success in turning around an economy devastated by a decade of negative economic growth figures, to three years now of positive growth with government projections for five to six percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2012.

“Our major concern has been dwindling revenue inflows and this has affected government’s capacity to deliver on its primary functions,” Tsvangirai said. “While we have succeeded in achieving economic stability, the new challenge is to grow the economy and this can only happen with FDI.”

Derek Matyszak of the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit says Mugabe continues to control all vital sectors, ministries and institutions capable of effecting reform — the military, the media and those concerned with the enforcement of the law.

“Implementation of democratic reform contemplated by the GPA has thus depended on the goodwill and political willingness of Mugabe and his ministers, qualities that were notably lacking prior to the signing of the GPA and notably lacking thereafter,” he said.

In its three years, the inclusive government’s notable achievement has been to stem political violence, end hyperinflation, restore collapsed education and health sectors, and to lay fibre-optic cables that will connect to undersea cables in Maputo port seen as essential to telecommunications progress in the country; as well as conducting a national census.

Heavily criticised for delays in reforms such as a new constitution, the coalition says the new charter could come this year after the latest hurdle caused by rigid and partisan positions was cleared.

The draft has now been referred to an all-stakeholders conference. The proposed constitution of Zimbabwe will attempt to capture the consensus achieved by Parliament without sacrificing the views of Zimbabweans.
Analysts say there are signs that politicians have already started maneuvering for the 2013 general election.

Zanu PF is sticking with its liberation struggle narrative, which Makoni says is now a hard-sell.

“I believe those of us who don’t see a half-empty glass but a half-full glass will prevail over those of us who want to keep us stuck in the past,” Makoni said.

Some Zimbabweans are upset with the GNU’s failure to deliver on many of its promises.

The civil society monitoring mechanism said in its GPA fourth anniversary statement that parties to the GNU must “expedite the implementation of the GPA and fully commit to its spirit and letter.”

Several Zimbabweans said in snap survey they want leaders to tackle the country’s myriad problems such as corruption, impunity and security sector reform instead of worrying about their political careers.

“The politicians don’t do anything for us,” said James Moyo, a shopkeeper in Harare. “They are only concerned with staying in power. They are selfish. The future looks bleak.”

But Makoni is optimistic. “There is a silver lining around this dark cloud hovering over Zimbabwe,” he said. “The future of Zimbabwe is bright.” - Gift Phiri

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