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A Government of National Unity for Zimbabwe: The Hard Questions

With Mugabe’s re-election being met with international rejection after he went it alone in the polls, he knows that he needs the MDC. He seems to perceive the growing need to pacify the growing regional and international concerns by entering into talks with the MDC. In the past he has used such talks to buy time, and he could pull the same stunt once again. However, the circumstances have changed now that the regional support he used to enjoy has shifted to sympathy for his opponents. Tsvangirai is currently riding on a crest of international sympathy for his cause and condemnation for Mugabe, as was the case soon after the first round of polling in March. Tsvangirai and his MDC seem to be of the idea that a transitional government mandated to create favorable conditions for the holding of a free and fair election.

After the elections created an even more complex crisis in Zimbabwe, the idea of a Government of National Unity is the most talked about option for the country. The African Union called for dialogue and the creation of such a government, and Mugabe himself, upon being sworn in for his sixth term, called on all Zimbabweans to sit down and discuss the possibility of an all inclusive government. As for the ZANU PF establishment, it seems bent on making sure that there is such a government to safeguard the party from total collapse.

Although the idea of a government of national unity might seem attractive, especially as it appears to offer peace and the chance for an economic revival to this troubled nation, there are serious problems with it. First of all, are the two parties genuinely interested in forming this union? Although ZANU PF has dropped hints and suggestions about forming a compromise government with the opposition MDC, its actions seem to indicate the exact opposite. The escalation of the violence since the June 27 elections, as well as an increase in the number of torture camps throughout the country, seems to suggest that Mugabe may be using the unity talks as a diversion, while working hard to violently eliminate the opposition.

Just like in Kenya, where such an arrangement was reached after severe post-election violence, Zimbabwe’s constitution would have to be hammered out quickly to accommodate the set up. It is highly likely that we will see the post of a Prime Minister created so that leaders from both ZANU PF and MDC can be accommodated, with one as president and one taking up the newly created post. The issue of power takes center stage as both players in the main political parties would not want a ceremonial post to start with. Then there is the issue of people who committed serious human rights abuses who would probably find themselves included in such an arrangement. Crimes against humanity would then be pushed under the carpet in the name of unity. Zimbabwe already has the record of the Unity Accord of 1987, signed at the end of the Matebeleland Massacres between ZANU PF and PF ZAPU, when ZAPU became part of ZANU PF. The people that led the atrocities were never brought to justice and still hold high offices in the ZANU PF government today.

As in Kenya, Zimbabwe may end up with a cabinet so big that it drains the country’s resources. ZANU PF has already created many ministers and ministries whose functions are neither necessary nor clear, with high profile jobs solely to reward party stalwarts. The MDC on the other hand has always argued that only 15 ministries are necessary. It would be very hard for either of the parties to shift policy. MDC and ZANU PF policies and values are so different that forming a government out of them will be mixing oil and water.

Another serious problem is the issue of which party would head key state institutions. Both the MDC and ZANU PF would want control of these to ensure their own party’s survival and to ensure that they are in power. The MDC would want to control the ministries of security, finance, and industry, at least, in order to bring back investor confidence as well as the international donor community’s funding.

Meanwhile, ZANU PF, given its track record, would want control of the financial sector in order to perpetuate its system of patronage, which forms the greater part of its power base. This is where the country’s resources are controlled. Whoever controls the country’s finances has greater control in determining where the economy goes. ZANU PF has long abused this key sector to suit its needs, to such an extent that it has been difficult under a ZANU PF government to separate state financial needs and party needs. Lately, Gideon Gono, the Reserve Bank Governor, has been the biggest culprit, manipulating the country’s fiscal laws according to the current whims of the ZANU PF bigwigs, pegging the Zimbabwean dollar at unrealistic values in order to benefit those with the political connections to get hold of the little foreign currency in the country, attacking those financial institutions whose management did not subscribe to the ZANU PF creed, and effectively hounding out of the country those bankers with the credentials to threaten his position as Zimbabwe’s (albeit unsuccessful) financial guru. His role in a government of national unity is highly unlikely if the MDC takes control of the country’s finances. ZANU PF has been supplied with money for its activities whenever it wished. Gono has openly campaigned for ZANU PF and is accused of funding the terror gangs that ripped the nation apart after the March 29 polls. The MDC would therefore find it prudent to get rid of Gono in order to sort out the economic mess created by Mugabe’s regime. But how far would Mugabe go to protect his personal banker and reputed brother-in-law?

ZANU PF is also highly unlikely to let go of the security services, since these have played a major role in keeping the Mugabe regime in power. Mugabe’s security chiefs—Constantine Chiwenga of the Army, Perrence Shiri of the Air Force, Augustine Chihuri of the Police, Happyton Bonyongwe of the CIO, and Paradzai Zimondi of the Prison Services—will most definitely not allow a situation in which they owe account to anyone else except Mugabe. These are the individuals who have been running the country from the shadows when all along people thought Mugabe was the man in charge. For all practical purposes, Mugabe has been the civilian leader of a military government for some time now. He was exposed after his defeat in March when it was reported that he had lost the election dismally but the military hatched a plan to have him stay. What the military says carries the day. Under what is known as the Joint Operations Command (JOC), these generals are war veterans who are in their positions as rewards for their contribution in the liberation war and loyalty to ZANU PF. They played an unprofessional central role in campaigning for Mugabe in the just ended one-man runoff presidential election. If they are removed from the picture, then ZANU PF is doomed; but if they stay on, it would be difficult to gain investor confidence as worries of a military takeover would be very difficult to allay. Whoever controls the security would have greater power. If ZANU PF continues to control the country’s security forces, the security sector can become handy when support dwindles. Given the use of brutal force that has become a trademark within the forces, and with ZANU PF in charge, there is very little hope that whatever peace deal is reached would actually hold. Professionalism cannot be expected from Zimbabwe’s generals. These are men of arms who, for the past four decades, have lived and breathed violence. Violence is what they are most comfortable with, and, when challenged, it is their first course of action.

If the MDC takes over the security forces, they would most definitely want to instill professionalism in the institutions. It would be very tough to get the security chiefs to accept the new leadership given their sworn allegiance to Mugabe. A real change of leadership would have to take place. All the top brass would have to go. It is a public secret that the security chiefs are hated even among their rank and file. Their dismissal is inevitable if professionalism is to be instilled in the forces.

Apart from possible quarrels over these key sectors, there is the questionable background of those ZANU PF individuals who are likely to find themselves in the Government of National Unity. This starts with the man most tipped to replace Mugabe—Emmerson Mnangagwa. As the Minister of the Interior in the eighties, Mnangagwa was charged with ridding Zimbabwe of all of the elements that did not support Mugabe and his ZANU PF government. In this position he was the mastermind of the Matabeleland Gukurahundi killings, where the army was ordered into the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces to eliminate the whole Ndebele tribe, its political leadership, and all those Shona people who held Ndebele sympathies. Under Mnangagwa’s orders, a media and travel ban was imposed on Matabeleland and the genocidal attack began: no press or private vehicle was allowed into the area, and random linguistic tests were carried out to establish who belonged where. The North Korean trained Fifth Brigade was used to carry out the killings. Documented sources have pegged the deaths at 20,000, but as no reporters, vehicles, or outside people were allowed into the area during these disturbances, this can only be construed to be a small percentage of the actual number of the Gukurahundi deaths.

With the violence that has racked Zimbabwe since the March 29 elections, Mnangagwa’s violent instincts have come to the fore. Trusted sources, unnamed for security reasons, have pointed him out as the chairman of the Joint Operations Command meeting in which Zimbabwean security chiefs decided to uphold Mugabe by force, a decision that resulted in political violence we have seen recently. According to the same source, Mnangagwa, working together with the military commanders, is the mastermind behind the torture camps that have sprouted all over the country as well as the brutal attacks that have decimated the opposition MDC party structures, leaving its most important members either dead, or crippled, or in hiding.

With his strong ZANU PF background, roots deeply set in the party’s leadership structures, as well as the blessings of both Mugabe and the military, obtained mostly through the willingness to accept and use violence, Emmerson Mnangagwa is the person most likely to replace Mugabe, should the latter choose to step down. Even in the situation of a negotiated Government of National Unity, Mnangagwa and others like him with blood-stained pasts would be likely to hold high positions, and allowed, literally, to get away with murder, which would pave the way to future violence for Zimbabwe.

Perence Shiri was the commander of the Korean trained Fifth Brigade, responsible for crushing “dissidents” and carrying out the Ndebele massacres in the Matabeleland province in the 80s. While the other security chiefs were obviously in line with the Gukurahundi operation, it was Perence Shiri who directed the actual killings. Because of the Matabeleland atrocities, he and the other military chiefs are scared to let go for fear of imprisonment.

Though Augustine Chihuri, Mugabe’s Police Commissioner, has over the years protected ZANU PF criminals from the law, 2007 and 2008 have seen him shifting to take a more active role in the violence, with the emergence of the ZRP Law and Order Section that was created primarily to enforce the draconian Public Order and Security Act of 2001 and support ZANU PF’s terror campaign. With the help of Paradzai Zimondi, the Prisons Chief, Chihuri has managed to incarcerate human rights activists and opposition politicians, torturing and mistreating them while in custody. Bonyongwe of the dreaded Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) is not well known personally, but the organization he heads is notorious for murders, killings, and disappearances of people since the Matabeleland atrocities in the 80s. The CIO is an arm of ZANU PF and serves the interests of ZANU PF only.

Constantine Chiwenga of the Zimbabwe National Army, is known to be an ardent member of ZANU PF and the notorious war-veterans association that has so ravaged Zimbabwe. He is on record for vowing never to salute any other man except a former freedom fighter as the head of state. His wife is known to behave as if she is also an army general. The wife has threatened Human Rights lawyers, manhandled journalists and threatened to shoot them in the name of her husband.

Patrick Chinamasa is another personality likely to find himself in the Government of National Unity. The legal brains in the ZANU PF camp, he has been most vocal on behalf of Mugabe, taking on the role of a spokesman soon after the election as well as his Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary affairs. He has terrorized villagers in his home province of Manicaland, where violence and burning of opposition supporters’ homes were the order of the day. Unverified reports indicate that he ordered the shooting of one of his aunts who was a known MDC supporter in the Manicaland province. Many villagers from his home area are said to be still in hiding.

Deputy Information and Publicity Minister Bright Matonga is another character who might find himself included in the set-up. He has spewed vitriol at every turn. Villagers in his home area tell of a terror campaign that he led in Mhondoro. Most villagers who are suspected MDC supporters have fled their homes to Harare for fear of retribution and victimization by marauding ZANU PF youths cheered on by Matonga. Matonga is also known for corruption cases at the government-owned Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO). His alleged accomplice has since been jailed, but he has survived because of political connections and allegiance to Mugabe. Mugabe might want to reward him for standing by ZANU PF in its time of need.

Nicholas Goche’s role in the political violence that engulfed the country soon after the March poll is well documented. He is another character that ZANU PF would want to reward for defending the party.

Various other ZANU PF heavyweights like Didymus Mutasa, Elliot Manyika, Chris Mutsvangwa, and Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, may find themselves included in the GNU. Their track record is littered with the bodies of opposition supporters whose deaths they ordered for their political gain.

A Government of National Unity is clearly not the best way for Zimbabwe. Instead of healing the wounds inflicted on civilians, it tends to protect the perpetrators of human rights abuses, allowing them to occupy positions of influence and to conceal their past. It would only serve to resurrect ZANU PF, which clearly is on its way to demise, and to keep in place a murderous leadership that Zimbabweans neither want nor need. As perpetrators of the violence would be assured of walking scot-free, Zimbabwe would be faced with the same problems of violence and intimidation in future elections. ZANU PF is used to disregarding the judiciary and a GNU will only serve to keep them above the laws of the country. ZANU PF does not seem likely to change its culture of violence, and postponing their demise by having a GNU would facilitate ZANU PF’s ability to come back in future and haunt the citizens of Zimbabwe. ZANU PF is likely to stick to its guns, insisting that there be a GNU. Given the complications of a GNU, a genuine alternative, a transitional authority, may be the better option as it would guarantee that this is a transitional stage.

Zvisinei Sandi has commented previously on Zimbabwe for Telos here, here, here, and here.

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