Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

SADC did not guarantee Zim parties a particular mediation outcome

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

We all now know ZANU-PF and the two MDC fantions recently went to SADC to ask for the regional body’s help to break the parties’ impasse over how to divide up cabinet portfolios. And we all know that many Zimbabweans are outraged at SADC’s recommendation that the parties share the ministry that is said to be the main bone of contention, home affairs.

First of all, how embarrassing that a country’s politicians should fail to resolve such a basic function of governance on their own, and should not feel ashamed to appeal to foreigners to help them find a way out. If they can’t find some agreement on their own on such an issue, what hope is there that they will manage the many weightier issues that will come after they all get their desired ministerial portfolios and associated perks?

A partisan, no-longer professional police has been an important instrument of control and repression for Mugabe. It is has been used with devastating, ruthless effectiveness to prevent the MDC from assuming the power that they quite likely first out-rightly won in their first electoral contest, back in 2000. It is therefore understandable that for the MDC, a power-sharing agreement with Mugabe is largely meaningless as long as he retains control over the instrument of repression that the ministry of home affairs has become.

And I can understand the concern at the great difficulty in implementing a shared responsibility for the ministry between the two main parties, as SADC recommended as an outcome of their mediation. The very fact that Mugabe seemed ready to live with such an unlikely arrangement is an indication to many cynics of how he is probably quite satisfied that this allows him to retain effective control over the ministry while posing as being very reasonable to SADC and the world.

Many Zimbabweans who have commented on this recommendation have correctly pointed out that the parties are under no obligation to accept SADC’s proposal. This has been partly in response to those like junior MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara, who argue that having agreed to go to SADC for mediation on the issue, they cannot now be seen to be “defying” the regional body and that they must live with the recommendation. Mutambara has been careful to point out that his faction has been in favour of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC faction being “awarded”  the home affairs ministry, and that he like many others was surprised and disappointed by the SADC proposal that ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDCfind some way to effectively co-run it.

But here is where a messy, embarrassing saga that reflects extremely poorly on all of Zimbabwe’s politicians gets even more murky: it suggests the Tsvangirai MDC agreed to the idea to be bound by SADC’s mediation under false pretenses. Once you agree to binding mediation, you have accepted that you and your opponent have failed to find a satisfactory resolution to your differences on your own.

It also means you accept the possibility that your chosen mediator may recommend a solution you find unpalatable. If the parties did indeed agree beforehand to abide by the recommendations of  SADC, to then turn around afterwards and say “ah, we reject them, we had thought they would be more favourable to us” sounds churlish at best.

As understandable as is the MDC’s disappointment at the SADC ruling and the justification of their suspicions of Mugabe, their stance does nothing for their image, particularly if all the parties agreed beforehand to be bound by that ruling. Knowing the possibility of an unfavourable-to-them ruling, it might have been better for the MDC not to commit to such binding arbitration. They would then have been left with the challenge of finding other ways to try to exert leverage to get control of the home affairs ministry and the police.

But that is part of the problem, and presumably an important part of their reason for agreeing to mediation by SADC in thefirst place : the MDC’s electoral showing and whatever moral high ground they occupy in the opinion of a good part of the world have not swayed Mugabe, who still has control of all the instruments of force.

It is an admittedly very thorny issue, but agreeing to the very ideas of power-sharing and external mediation is to accept that all the parties will have to live with some things they are not happy with.

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