The July 7 edition of the UK paper The Guardian had a story about a claimed peace plan for ZANU-PF and the MDC brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki which the opposition party is is said to have been pleasantly surprised it could live with.
The plan which is said to have been presented to Zimbabwe’s political leaders “would allow Robert Mugabe to remain as a titular head of state but surrender real power to the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who would serve as prime minister until a new constitution was negotiated and fresh elections held.”
One can immediately see why MDC leaders would eagerly find an easy way out of their problem of failing to budge Mugabe out of power in such a plan and jump to embrace it. Indeed, “Chris McGreal in Harare” quotes his MDC source as saying “all the basic ideas of the MDC are there”, including a recognition of the results of the first round of elections in March won by Tsvangirai, which would be met by making the MDC leader an executive prime minister.
“The important thing is that it recognises the outcome of the March 29 election, and that any government will be transitional on the way to new elections,” the article quotes the source as saying.
As an aside, it is interesting how the The Guardian seems to have embedded itself within the MDC and become the party’s official mouthpiece. One can see how the recent call for military intervention under Tsvangirai’s byline mysteriously appeared in the paper, only to be hastily repudiated by Tsvangirai and quickly taken down from the paper’s website. The MDC’s closeness to The Guardian may yet come back to haunt it.
It seems incredibly far-fetched to believe Mugabe would accept any power-sharing plan that gives real power to Tsvangirai and merely ceremonial power to him. The very thing about the plan that Tsvangirai and the MDC would find so attractive is precisely why any such plan would be rejected out of hand by Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
If Mbeki did indeed present such a proposal, it would represent a fundamental misreading of the reasons for Mugabe’s intransigence about gracefully leaving power. The plan seems to assume that it is merely a matter of ego, and that Mugabe would respond to growing international pressure on him to accept some kind of deal with Tsvangirai by a ‘face-saving’ offer to give him a title with no real power. There is nothing at all in Mugabe’s past to give any inkling that he could live with an arrangement in which he was a window dresser. This is especially so in a situation where real power was held by someone for whom he has as much genuine contempt for as he does for Tsvangirai.
The egotistical reasons for Mugabe clinging on to power only partly explain his actions. Power for him and his cronies has to a large extent become a matter of access and retention of privilege and impunity it is true, but it would be a mistake to under-estimate their genuine determination to resist any arrangement that threatens a wholesale reversal of “the gains of the revolution.”
What gains in a non-performing economy, one may ask? The main one they would find difficult to swallow would be the wholesale return of farms to their previous white occupiers. And this is a worry that would be shared by many of the recipients of land who are not Mugabe supporters. Focus is usually on the relatively few well-developed farms that were taken over and often run down by the politically well-connected. But what is forgotten are the many more bare pieces of land that many ordinary people of all political persuasions also eagerly applied for and received.
Many of the very same people who voted for Tsvangirai and the MDC and would be happy for them to form or dominate the next government would be up in arms at the idea of their land simply being returned to the white farmers. Assuming the MDC could pull that off at all, it would be politically crippled before it even got started, seeming to confirm the constant Mugabe refrain that the MDC was nothing but a black-fronted project for British and white interests.
The bitter apathy to the MDC by Mugabe and ZANU-PF diehards is not just selfish and personal. It is also deeply ideological in a way that Mugabe would be very unlikely to accept a power-sharing arrangement such as that The Guardian says Mbeki is proposing.
Perhaps no one will ever know whether the long-delayed results of the March 29 election were genuine or not. Initially the MDC claimed that its own figures showed Tsvangirai breaching the required minimum of 50% of the vote and earning the right to be declared president at that first round. The official figures showed Tsvangirai several points ahead of Mugabe, but without achieving 50% of the votes cast, hence necessitating the infamous run-off election that Tsvangirai pulled out of at the last minute. And the official results also show an almost 50/50 split between the two main parties in parliamentary and senatorial seats.
What this means is that in the unlikely event that Mugabe and ZANU-PF were to accept a junior (as opposed to equal or more senior) role in any power-sharing arrangement, things would be far from easy for a Tsvangirai-led government. For one thing, half the cabinet seats and other formal spolis of power would be retained by ZANU-PF. For another, all the security forces who wield the guns would likely remain loyal to ZANU-PF. I am not sure Tsvangirai would be able to wield enough patronage-dispensing power of his own to break this ZANU-PF lock on the support of the security forces, even those who are tired of Mugabe but deeply suspicious of Tsvangirai. This is not merely a matter of Mugabe having tried very hard to keep his top military men happy over the years, but also because of shared experiences and ideological/nationalistic orientations from the liberation war that cannot just be bought off with positions, cars and houses.
I would not be surprised if the MDC’s strongers backers, the British government, have not already cooked up a scheme as part of their proposed aid-to-Zimbabwe-under-a-Tsvangirai-government plan to helpfully “professionalise” the armed forces for us, but that’s a rant for another day, my blood pressure is constantly high enough over my homeland as things are already.
I’m sticking my neck out and guessing that there is no way Mugabe would accept being figurehead president to Tsvangirai’s executive prime-ministership. At the very least, Mugabe would insist on equal power with Tsvangirai, which would cause all kinds of problems for the coalition because of the deep, fundamental incompatibility of the two men and their parties, and the upper hand ZANU-PF would continue to enjoy in many unofficial ways.
I would actually even be surprised if such a power-sharing proposal really did emanate from Mbeki. Whatever his faults, I believe he knows more than most what Mugabe would be likely to accept or reject.
Perhaps it is just The Guardian flighting a trial balloon on behalf of the MDC to see if it could actually stay afloat! It sure as hell is interesting to see that paper increasingly become the party’s public relations arm.