Mugabe draws iron curtain around Zim

HARARE - An iron curtain has been drawn across Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF erects an access denial policy to perceived foreign critics, analysts have said.

Zanu PF negotiators — ministers Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche last week boycotted meetings convened by South African President Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team, fuelling suspicions the party wants to ditch regional mediators pushing for reforms ahead of polls.

Charles Nqakula, Zuma’s facilitator and convenor of the meeting, was diplomatic about the real reasons why Zanu PF did not attend the meeting of negotiators.

“On our part we believe Zanu PF representatives must have had a plausible reason for staying away” Nqakula said. “We don’t believe their action was in any way an act of bad faith.”

Earlier, Zuma’s facilitation team was barred from a Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic) meeting last month and three officials seconded to work with Jomic by the Sadc Troika, have been denied audience.

Despite endorsement by the heads of State summit in Sandton South Africa in June last year, David Katye from Tanzania and Colly Muunyu, a Zambian national were only sent to Zimbabwe a year later after protracted resistance by Zanu PF, which interpreted this measure as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign member State.

Katye and Muunyu have been barred from meetings of the GPA negotiators.

Zanu PF fired the first major salvo of that new conflict when it refused entry to a UN team last month that wanted to assess election funding needs, after the international agency requested access to meet civic society groups.

The UN mission was expected in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, on April 10 for talks with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission leaders, the Registrar-General, political leaders in the ruling coalition representing Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and African and Western diplomats.

But when the UN team tabled a request to meet with civil society groups, the trip was terminated by Chinamasa and Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi — both senior members of Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

“In the course of deploying the mission to Zimbabwe, it became apparent that there were different expectations on the modalities of the NAM (Needs Assessment Mission),” said UN resident coordinator Alain Noudehou.

Trevor Maisiri, senior analyst for southern Africa at the International Crisis Group (ICG), said under the UN General Assembly mandate, the UN assessment teams have a template which they use to evaluate the political environment as well the specific needs for funding and said Zimbabwe cannot negotiate special exclusive conditions for its Zimbabwean mandate outside of the UN General Assembly endorsed framework.

He said Zanu PF may be uncomfortable with the downstream effects of election observation mechanics that come out of the UN assessment mission for example.

“The assessment mission can find local political conditions to be so restrictive to a credible election that they can recommend issues like early observation of election, monitoring of the elections rather than mere observation, inclusion of international observers — and they may also even recommend certain key reforms be in place before an election is held,” Maisiri said.

Zanu PF’s UN blockade and subsequent attempts to bar foreign election observation is a war of steely nerve, and diplomatic obstruction that has left its rivals fuming.

Added to this, Zanu PF, which faces a stern credibility test in the forthcoming harmonised elections, has reiterated its position that only selected observers — international and local — would be accredited for the poll.

Zanu PF has been dilly-dallying in timeously issuing out invitations to local and regional poll observers, effectively shutting out any international scrutiny.

Mugabe, whose party needs to triumph in an undisputed election to attain some measure of credibility and respectability in the international community, has ruled out inviting observers from Western countries — which have been among Harare’s most strident critics over its political crisis and alleged human rights violations - ostensibly because their objectivity has been compromised by sanctions they imposed on Zanu PF.
Non-resident Zimbabweans, believed to number around 3,5 million and most of them in the United Kingdom, United States and South Africa cannot vote, the government contends.

Ongoing access denial is in contrast to public statements and pledges by the government touting an “open-door policy” to foreigners ostensibly because “we have nothing to hide.”

Analyst Daniel Molokele said Zanu PF was anxious to ensure it continues to unfairly influence the electoral contest.

“Zanu PF is afraid that if the electoral environment is more open and enabling, then it will not stand a good chance,” he said. “Zanu PF would like a semblance of free and fair elections as long as it is able to retain power.”

Maisiri said Zanu PF has been adamant about instituting further reforms beyond the adoption of the new constitution while the MDCs have been insisting on further reforms.

“Zanu PF’s actions are meant to discourage any further reforms and are seen as making way for an election without them,” Maisiri said.

“Given the time limitations, it does not look likely that we will have full reforms before the elections; however should Sadc remain resolute we may have at least a credible election process.

“Everything depends on how much Zanu PF will hold on to its anti-reform stance, how much the MDCs will hold on to their pro-reform stance; and just what position Sadc takes in trying to find a balance.”

Analysts warned that indications of the government’s paranoia bordering on the absurd would increase as election day drew closer.

The analysts noted that in the face of a seemingly stubborn MDC barely showing signs of visible political fatigue, Zanu PF was now jittery hence its determination to ignore or disregard implementing some of the minimum standards on democratic elections agreed by the Sadc at successive summits.

The MDC says the ex-majority party had put huge obstacles in the opposition’s way to winning the polls and alleges Zanu PF has cobbled up cosmetic changes to “hoodwink” Sadc and other international stakeholders with a keen interest in the polls.

Zanu PF negotiators in the GPA Patrick Chinamasa, left and Nicholas Goche allegedly snubbed South African president Jacob Zuma’s facilitation team. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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