TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The Zimbabwe ZANU PF-MDC Agreement: Mugabe’s Triumph

While the recently signed ZANU PF-MDC agreement has been advertised in many places as a sharing of power, a close examination of the document shows that it is a mere sham. The document itself is nothing like the rumors that were so skillfully circulated prior to its release. There are none of those highly publicized details about how Tsvangirai and MDC would be in charge of the police. The cold reality is that this agreement hardly chips at Mugabe’s established powers, but it goes on to grant him what he most needs at this moment: legality and a rescue form international condemnation. Now the opposition that has opposed him so strongly, at such great cost, has pledged itself to go ahead of him and beg the international donors to lift sanctions and open their pockets in support of his freshly baptized government, and that the travel ban that has been imposed on his favorites be lifted. One alarming fact that struck me is that Mugabe has been granted, not only the amount of power he held before now, but, possibly, control of both MDC factions. Freedom of expression still seriously remains under siege and, worst of all, through all the protestations of good will and a new commitment to peace, the agreement somehow managed to leave ZANU PF’s terror structures intact, ready to be used again at a moment’s notice.

Mugabe’s Powers as Outlined in the New Agreement

In spite of what everyone has hoped to hear, Mugabe still remains, in real fact, the executive head of state for Zimbabwe, the one with the power to make things happen. He retains a firm hold over the country foreign relations and over his position as commander in chief of the armed forces. He has the power to convene and dissolve parliament and to “make key appointments the president is required to make under and in terms of the Constitution or any Act of Parliament” (Article 20.1.3). Does this perhaps pertain to such positions as the Commissioner of Police, Provincial Governors, Permanent Secretaries, High Court and Supreme Court Judges, and so on? This agreement is remarkably vague and, I suspect, was deliberately meant to be so.

Oh, and while we are still at this point, Mugabe is also supposed to appoint the “independent” Constitutional Commissions! Are these the people who are supposed to help put together Zimbabwe’s new constitution? It leaves me wondering, after the last such “Constitutional Commission,” how MDC could fall for that one. Or am I the only person who remembers the trauma of the last nine years?

As if this is not enough, the agreement goes on to grant Mugabe astounding powers that effectively place him over and above any law that this traumatized country can come up with. The old dictator is clearly granted the power to “proclaim or terminate martial law.” In other words, this agreement gives Mugabe the right to overturn, at any moment of his choosing, any agreement made by this so-called Unity Government and return to his old violent ways. Even if, unlikely as that might seem, the terror does come to a stop in Zimbabwe, the implied threat will always be there, hanging like a poised sword over the heads of anyone who has ever dared to criticize ZANU PF of support MDC.

According to Article 20 of this agreement, the President (Mugabe) “grants pardons, respites, substitutes less severe punishments and suspends and remits sentences on the advice of the cabinet.” Incidentally, his party dominates the cabinet in question, which, also incidentally, he happens to chair; and while MDC has no means of controlling its own ministers once they are appointed to this same cabinet, ZANU PF can always maintain a firm hold over its own. This clause effectively places Mugabe above the law and gives him the means to shield his followers from justice should they choose to return to the path of violence or, even more likely, continue with their remarkably corrupt ways. (“Hey, the World Bank is talking to us again! Any chance we might be able to make off with all that cash?”)

The New Agreement and ZANU PF’s Terror Structures

One notable weakness of this agreement is that it manages, through all the rhetoric about peace and a new beginning, by either omission or sleight of the tongue, to keep Mugabe’s terror structures intact. The National Youth Service Program, which up to now has been used to create the Green Bombers, highly brainwashed and indoctrinated youths whom ZANU PF has used as foot soldiers for its terror campaign, is to remain in place. While Article 15 of the agreement softens this harsh presence with some protestations about not using the youths for partisan political purposes, it would be hard to convince Zimbabwe’s traumatized population that these detachments, which up to now have formed the hard core of the political violence, are suddenly harmless. To the average person it appears that Mugabe has insisted on keeping this weapon in place for himself, just as he has insisted on the right to grant them pardon if he should, for some reason, decide to send them out to break a few extra civilian heads.

On the question of the notorious War Veterans Association, the agreement maintains a stunning silence. Knowing the major role they have played in the terror campaign, one would expect to hear this group mentioned somewhere, and to hear that some measures have been put into place to ensure that they would not be used in the same role again, yet all one notices is that Mugabe has the power to pardon them for past, present and future crimes. This is hardly comforting to their victims, and bodes ill for any peace initiative one might expect.

Hardened by years of war, and accustomed to spilling blood, these War Veterans are a deadly force, spread evenly through the whole country, and willing to kill again in the name of Mugabe and ZANU PF. To legalize them, Mugabe made them into a reserve part of the Zimbabwe National Army, and as such, ensured a monthly check for each of them from the Zimbabwean Government. Over the last decade, their main job has been that of acting as enforcers for the ZANU PF government. Acting on orders sent directly from the President’s Office (CIO’s more polished name), each War Veteran, with the Green bombers working under him, and the compliance of the police, has terrorized and frequently attacked his neighbors to keep them from participating in opposition politics. In this way, they have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for almost all of the political murders that have taken place in Zimbabwe over the last nine years. To make matters worse, many of their members are active in prominent positions in the army, the police, prison services, and top government positions.

Most of the “liberated” farms have been allocated to these Veterans and have been used as centers for the campaign violence. While the violence has gone down in the last two months, the war veterans are still in their positions, their jobs and farms and still collect their government checks. Article 5 of the agreement informs us, by implication, that the farms will not be redistributed excerpt in cases of multiple ownership, affirming everyone’s fear that Mugabe has managed, through protracted negotiations, to keep his terror structures intact, in case he feels blood-thirsty again.

Freedom of Expression under “The New Deal”

Journalism and the freedom of expression remain an area of serious concern. In Article 19, the agreement openly affirms both the Broadcasting Services Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA)—the two legal tools by which Mugabe and his ZANU PF Party have managed to muzzle the Zimbabwean population over these last few years.

Under the Broadcasting Services Act, Mugabe has managed to keep all independent broadcasters from setting up shop in Zimbabwe. In addition, under the 75% national content rule, Mugabe and his crew have also succeeded in blocking the international media from reaching the people of this beleaguered country. There is hardly any international music or video content allowed, and the only news coverage permitted is local news. Once a highly progressive audience, Zimbabwean listeners have been reduced to listening all day to songs like Tambaoga’s “The Blair that I know is a toilet.” It is highly cynical that this new agreement, created ostensibly to permit a free and open political environment, would highlight the Broadcasting Services Act as part of the framework under which this reform is to take place.

The most alarming part of this clause has to do with AIPPA, the act under which countless Zimbabwean and international journalists have found themselves in jail. One of the clauses of this Act states that it is a criminal offence, punishable by up to twenty years, for any media player to publish any material that criticizes the president, even if that material happened to be true. Another makes it an offence, punishable by jail sentence of up to two years to carry out any act of journalism without first of all having been licensed by the government. It is ironic that that the new agreement should call upon Zimbabwe’s exiled journalists to return home and submit themselves to the Mugabe led government under this law, because clearly all of them are guilty of criminal offences that are likely to see them incarcerated for many years.

It is nothing short of diabolical that, under this “understanding,” this agreement openly calls upon the governments that are hosting these exiled journalists to have them return home and apply for accreditation under AIPPA. One might as well openly ask them to move into those dark cells at Harare Central Police Station. Even if they were not arrested upon arrival, the fact is that they would still be living in terror, waiting for Mugabe’s hand to pounce upon them because, from what I can see, there is nothing in this agreement to prevent such an occurrence.

And what does Tsvangirai Gain?

Looking at the massive powers that this agreement has allowed Mugabe, it seems that the MDC has paid a huge price and surrendered a lot of ground in order to reach an understanding with ZANU PF. The key question then becomes: What does MDC gain in return for all this? One ready answer would be that the MDC gains peace, but, as we have already seen, in spite of all the rhetoric contained in the document, this is not a guaranteed peace, and the agreement does not remove the terror structures that made the violence possible in the first place. If Mugabe so chooses, the terror campaign can be whipped up at a moment’s notice and Tsvangirai and his MDC has no power to stop it.

One apparent gain is that Tsvangirai gets to appoint 13 MDC ministers to a cabinet that is dominated by ZANU PF and chaired by Mugabe. To this cabinet, Tsvangirai is granted the role of Deputy Chairperson, but considering the way Mugabe operates, one wonders exactly what this position entails. Each time Mugabe is unavailable to perform state functions, he always appoints one of his two Vice Presidents as Acting President and in this position, they carry out all of the President’s duties, including chairing the cabinet. This means that, in spite of holding the fancy title of Deputy Chair, Tsvangirai will never actually come close to chairing the Cabinet of Zimbabwe. That remains purely a ZANU PF privilege.

Another major disappointment in this agreement is that, while Tsvangirai gets to appoint his 13 ministers (to a huge cabinet of 31 ministers, how will the country support it?), he has no control of them after that point. Mugabe allocates them a portfolio and controls them in the cabinet; and, once appointed, they cannot be fired without ZANU PF approval! Need I say anything about Mugabe’s skills at divide and rule? To some, this would appear as if Mugabe and his ZANU PF party finally have control of the MDC. It seems like handing a lamb over to the wolf, all dressed up in a pretty wedding gown.

This cabinet, in which Tsvangirai and his MDC have so little control, is the one that will decide which policies the new government will adopt, as well as what financial resources will be allocated to which policies and programs. In other words, the same tired and corrupt ZANU PF bigwigs that Mugabe has carried along for decades are the ones who will have control of all the economic resources that Zimbabwe might receive from the international donor community following the signing of this agreement. All they have to do is allow Tsvangirai to sit in the window and smile. This is even more alarming when one considers that one of the clauses of this agreement (20.1.2) states that all cabinet members have to take collective responsibility for all the decisions passed by this Mugabe-controlled and ZANU PF dominated cabinet, in spite of who initiated them or who actually agrees or disagrees with them. This means that MDC would be held accountable for the political and economic decisions actually passed by ZANU PF.

In addition to his doubtful role as Deputy Chairperson of the Cabinet, Tsvangirai has another high profile (and low-powered) position all to himself. The agreement gives him the Post of Prime Minister, with two Deputy Prime Ministers, one of whom has to be ZANU PF (Mugabe, as President, gets two Deputies, both from ZANU PF. No MDC fingers permitted in that pie!)

In this position (I am not sure why the agreement calls it executive), Tsvangirai gets to chair a doubtful body called the Council of Ministers, and is comprised of the same ministers that make up the cabinet. Under Tsvangirai, this body prepares reports, briefings and recommendations which the very same ministers, sitting as cabinet under Mugabe, may or may not adopt. Although this position has been pumped up to make it sound almost equal to Mugabe’s presidential role, it is nothing more than a blatant window-dressing job, obviously meant to whitewash Mugabe’s blood-spattered hands, and many Zimbabweans are shocked that the MDC could accept such a poor deal.

The Question Why

The question now is why? Why did MDC give in? While everyone expected a deal that would perhaps give Mugabe and ZANU PF a graceful exit, it appears that Mugabe somehow managed to turn the tables and it is MDC that is being politely shown the door out. Could it be that MDC is at last tiring of the struggle, in which they have, even during the bloodiest times, received very little international support? Is it out of fear, or a simple desire to end the bloodshed? Could it perhaps be that, having fought for so long, members of the MDC have decided to cash in on their gains? (I hope I will be forgiven for asking this question. I know the sacrifices that have been made. I too, am a victim of the violence and daily struggle with my injuries, and it grieves me that we have reached a point where such a question has to be asked. But facing our pain squarely in the face is part of any sincere struggle.) Even from the outside, it would seem that a cabinet position, however devoid of power, offers fancy offices in the city center and possibly, if one is lucky, one of the “liberated” farms (wink, ZANU PF cadres can always make room for their new friends). And, God help me, the title of Prime Minister, however empty, is certainly better than being holed up, shivering in some obscure safe house, the target of a planned hit, hoping for help that might never come from an international community far too absorbed in its own problems. As sad as it is, it does appear that Mugabe emerges as the clear winner of the day. For him, the violence worked, and this agreement seems to give him everything he hoped for.

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