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Zimbabwe: Hard Road to Reform

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 14, 2011 (110414)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"[The] seeming lethargy of the SADC facilitation took a dramatic turn at the SADC Troika summit in Zambia on the 31st March. [It noted] with 'grave concern' the political polarization in Zimbabwe characterised by the 'resurgence of violence, arrests and intimidation.' ... Without naming Mugabe directly, [the summit's] resolutions were arguably the most forthright diplomatic criticism that SADC had issued of the Mugabe regime, with the recommendations largely echoing the demands that the MDCs and the civic movement had been making since 2009." - Solidarity Peace Trust

The latest report from Solidarity Peace Trust, released on April 13 and entitled "The Hard Road to Reform," discounts "overoptimistic hopes for an 'Egypt moment' in Zimbabwe," but notes that the Global Political Agreement (GPA) does still offer hope for change, despite the fact that ZANU PF has consistently blocked its full implementation. Civil society groups noted with approval the recent sharpening of SADC criticism, but warned that it remains to be seen how much pressure will be sustained.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the first section of this report from Solidarity Peace Trust, analyzing the current political situation and the road ahead. A second section of the report, not excerpted here, contains a detailed accounting of recent developments restricting political space, including political violence. The full report is available on the Solidarity Peace Trust website (; direct link to report is

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, visit



After two days of protests, met with repression including arrests of large numbers of protest leaders, raids on organizations involved, and heavy police presence and roadblocks, the Swaziland Democracy Campaign has temporarily suspended the protests. Prodemocracy campaigners, however, say the regime has won only a hollow victory, as the actions have called unprecedented world attention, particularly in neighboring South Africa. Notably, the South African government has issued a statement urging "all the relevant parties in the Kingdom of Swaziland to begin a political dialogue with a view to seek a speedy and peaceful solution to the current situation."

See for regular updates. For additional sources, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

The Hard Road to Reform

Solidarity Peace trust, Johannesburg

13 April 2011

I. The Hard Road to Reform

1. Introduction

Since the signing and initiation of the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe in September 2008 and February 2009 respectively, the politics of the country has been convulsed with a recurring set of problems even as it has allowed for a certain political and economic stabilization. The agreement, with its attendant Inclusive Government, was set up to establish the conditions for a free and fair election. However it was always clear that, in a more determinate sense, it would provide the site for intense struggles over the state between the contending parties, with Zanu PF always in an advantageous position because of its control of the coercive arms of the state.

It is thus not surprising that the Mugabe regime has used its control of the police, security and military sectors to contain the constrained promise of the GPA to open up democratic spaces. It is also clear that both MDCs have made strategic mistakes that have added to the already difficult challenges that confronted them at the outset of the process. Moreover the problems of the GPA have, on occasion, been compounded by the different roles of SADC and the West.

In recent months the Zimbabwean crisis has been somewhat overshadowed by the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the violence that has broken out over the contested election in the Ivory Coast. Both events, but particularly the developments in North Africa, have predictably forced comparisons with the Zimbabwe situation. This has often lead to overoptimistic hopes for an 'Egypt moment' in Zimbabwe, that are based less on a concrete analysis of the conditions in the country, than a desperate yearning that Zimbabwe's authoritarian state face such a reckoning. The complex politics of the GPA in the context of the particularities of Zimbabwe's history make any simple comparisons with North Africa difficult to sustain. This report thus sets out to think through the politics of the last two years in Zimbabwe, setting out the challenges that have had to be confronted, but also noting the opportunities it has provided, and the possibilities for the near future.

2. The Ambiguities of the GPA

There is no shortage of preliminary analyses of the GPA that provide details of its failures and deadlocks around all the key articles of the agreement. Whether on the constitutional process, electoral reforms, the legislative reform agenda, the media, national healing, sanctions or the constitutional commissions, it is clear that Zanu PF has continually blocked serious reform measures through its monopoly hold over the instruments of force.

It has also done this through a combination of simply ignoring those areas of the GPA it found inconvenient, and manipulating the ambiguities of the agreement, for the most part under the nose of the SADC facilitator. In recent months MDC?T ministers have been arrested and harassed on spurious charges while the capacity of both MDCs to conduct their party campaigns has been undermined by state interventions. In addition civic leaders and human rights defenders have also been subject to state harassment. Overall attempts to deal with the outstanding issues of the GPA have been 'negligible.' Under these circumstances Morgan Tsvangirai has expressed frustration at Mugabe's unwillingness, or inability to stop the continued, though admittedly lower levels of violence, against his membership.


The response of the Mugabe regime to the GPA is based on the fact that it draws its legitimacy, less from a representative and democratic state than from its legacy in the liberation struggle. The party's conception of sovereignty is thus based on its self perception as a revolutionary vanguard party that embodies the general will of the people of Zimbabwe, not through elections but because of blood spilled under its auspices during the war of liberation. This makes it extremely difficult for Zanu PF to formulate its conception of sovereignty in a settled fashion, through more stable functioning state institutions, because it views itself as a privileged minority that persistently distinguishes itself from the rest of the citizenry through a state that it regards as a party state.

Moreover while it controls this state it also regards itself as above any structures of accountability within it, and within this view there is no substantive place for stable representative institutions. In the last decade Zanu PF has consistently undermined and weakened functioning state structures.


With the Zanu PF elite having spread its tentacles in several key areas in the economy such as the land and the diamonds, the party must nevertheless continually confront the disparities between its elite and the growing number of the poor in the country. This it has done, since 2000 in particular, through a combination of coercion and a repertoire of election mobilization strategies relating to various aspects of the liberation struggle.


One of the problems with the many commentaries of the GPA that have been written by the civic groups, is that thy have overlooked or underestimated the fact that the agreement, notwithstanding its multiple problems, has provided certain parameters of accountability for Zanu PF. This has taken various forms that have had different levels of effectiveness. In cabinet and parliament, Zanu PF have had to deal with serious contestations over their interventions, that have then provided markers of the ways in which the Mugabe regime has obstructed the full implementation of the GPA.


In the constitutional process which has seen many delays, logistical and funding challenges, the arrest of the co?chair of COPAC MDC?T MP Douglas Mwonzora, and varying levels of intimidation, the outreach programme has nevertheless provided an important means for Zimbabweans to air some of their views on constitutional reform. A report by Freedom House and the Mass Public Opinion Institute published in March 2011 observed on the COPAC process:

"Despite the expectations that the COPAC process would be violent, due to the contested nature of a new constitution and politicization of the process, the survey trend was one of relative contentment with the process, and observations that violence only played a small role in it. This was the case in both rural and urban areas, and across the provinces. Harare province reported the highest incidence of violence in the COPAC process…"

In the economic sphere the MDC?T has demanded more accountability over missing diamond revenues amounting to some US$300 million, and an audit of public sector employees.


Thus in all these areas the Mugabe regime has had to face greater accountability, a condition it is unaccustomed to. It was therefore predictable that Zanu PF, always uncomfortable in more stable structures of accountability, would start pushing for the end of the GPA, in order to attempt to end even the limited power sharing arrangements of the GPA. Additionally there are additional factors that may have propelled this strategy. Firstly Mugabe's age and health have become a serious concern for the Zanu PF hardliners, who would prefer Mugabe at the helm of any election campaign in the near future, because of the continued succession battles in the party. Secondly Zanu PF is feeling stronger than it did in 2008 and perceives that the MDCs have been weakened over the last two years. ... Thirdly, at least until the SADC Troika summit in Zambia in March 2011, Zanu PF felt confident of the solidarity support of the regional body, particularly around the sanctions issue. Moreover with the AU preoccupied with events in the Ivory Coast and North Africa, Zimbabwe had become a less contentious issue for the continental body.

Given this position Zanu PF intensified its obstructive behavior with regard to the GPA from 2010 with Mugabe giving notice in October 2010 that he was reluctant for the Inclusive Government to go beyond the two year mark in February 2010 because of what he claimed were the 'absolutely foolish and stupid' things happening in the Inclusive Government. Thereafter and quite arbitrarily Mugabe made claims that the Inclusive Government must end in February 2011.


From the preceding discussion it could be inferred that Zanu PF's strategy is thus to push for an early election, while Mugabe is still alive, and to aim for at least 10?15 more seats that would give the party a majority in Parliament. Zanu PF may feel that through a combination of fear, their own support base and a decline in MDC?T support they could achieve this, while maintaining the presence of the MDC?T in parliament as a junior partner, with whom it no longer had to share some of its power.


In early 2011 Zanu PF set about putting its resolutions into action. Against the background of the wave of uprisings in North Africa, Zanu PF preemptively organized its own 'popular' demonstrations in Harare with Zanu PF supporters carrying banners reading 'No to foreigners controlling our economy' and 'Foreigners, sanctions have destroyed our economy so we want to control our wealth.' The demonstrations were violent and destructive causing enormous damage to property at the Gulf shopping mall in the city. They were also carried out on the eve of the EU meeting to review the targeted measures against key Zanu PF figures, almost in an attempt to ensure that measures were not removed as the sanctions issue was a key message in the Zanu PF election campaign.

Moreover Zanu PF began a clampdown on any attempts to organize Egypt style demonstrations. In February 45 civic activists were arrested while watching a video and having discussions on the events in North Africa, and charged with treason for plotting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government. Zanu PF's Defense Minister Mnangagwa warned activists: "Those who may want to emulate what happened in Egypt and Tunisia will regret. Everybody is warned to keep the peace in the country. The police are told that wherever violence rears its ugly head it should be crushed."


It was around the combined sanctions and indigenization campaign however that Zanu PF placed enormous energy. In early March 2011 Zanu PF launched its National Anti?Sanctions Campaign seeking to gather two million signatures from Zimbabweans opposed to sanctions.


In taking this message forward, Zanu PF tied this strategy to its indigenization strategy of ensuring that foreign businesses with an asset base of more than US$500,000 submit plans to localize at least a 51% share of their holdings. The indigenization debate began in earnest in the mid 1990s during the economic liberalization policy phase in the country, when emerging business people formed organizations like the Indigenous Business Development Centre (IBDC) and the Affirmative Action Group (AAG) to lobby the state for cheaper credit in order to be able to enter the private sector on more competitive terms. These groups had close links with the state and their ideas grew in influence in the late 1990's, with their programme largely being overtaken by the land seizures of the 2000's. As the land programme declined in resonance after the late 2000's a new mobilization strategy developed around the sanctions/indigenization coupling.


3. The MDCs and the GPA

Over the period of the GPA the MDCs and the civic movement have faced major challenges. Looking firstly at the MDCs, both faced problems of capacity on entering the Inclusive Government, having for the most part, had no experience of utilizing the structures of the state. The task of deploying suitable individuals, particularly in the case of the MDC?T which had to deal with more appointments, proved difficult and placed the parties on a very steep learning curve against an adversary that had become adept at manipulating and undermining the instruments of the state. This was particularly difficult because of the lack of an alternative military power base, and the problems of the GPA document itself. In coming to terms with some very limited measure of state power


The focus on state power under the Inclusive Government also led to increasing tensions within both MDC formations. In 2010 the internal struggles reported in the MDC?T were in important ways reminiscent of the tragic battles that had led to the split in the unified MDC in 2005, while the smaller MDC formation was further handicapped by another break?away group, MDC99 led by Job Sikhala.


At a strategic level, the MDC?T in particular, had to deal in the first part of 2011 with increased state harassment of its senior figures, while both formations have, since 2009, had to confront the obstructionist tactics of Zanu PF over the full implementation of the GPA. By October 2010 Tsvangirai, frustrated by the inability of the Principals of the GPA to deal with the outstanding issues over key unilateral appointments by Mugabe, declared that there was 'nothing short of a Constitutional crisis' in the country, in which he had asked SADC to intervene.


Responding to the Zanu PF strategy to frustrate the GPA and rush to an early election, the MDC?T threatened to boycott such an election. Additionally Tsvangirai embarked on a widespread visit to SADC leaders to lobby them ahead of the SADC Summit in Lusaka at the end of March 2011. Prior to this however both MDC formations had cooperated in the vote for a new speaker of parliament, in a way that they had not been able to do since the MDC split in 2005. Following a long standing case brought by Jonathan Moyo and MDC?M against the election of MDC?T member Lovemore Moyo as speaker of the House of Assembly, the Supreme Court set aside the election of the latter in 2011. In the vote for a new speaker the smaller MDC formation members voted for the MDC?T candidate thus returning Lovemore Moyo to the post, with a total of 105 votes against 93 for the Zanu PF candidate. The vote count indicated that not only had the Ncube formation voted for Moyo, but so had two members of Zanu PF, showing the continuing tensions within the party.


4. SADC and the GPA

Since 2009 the SADC facilitation team has struggled to find ways to ensure the full implementation of the GPA, largely due to the refusal of the Mugabe regime to move on the outstanding issues. At the SADC summit in Namibia in August 2010 the parties agreed that the completion of the constitutional reform process and the referendum should be followed by an election. Moreover the Summit agreed that:

  • The parties, assisted by the Troika, should discuss the outstanding issues in keeping with the decisions of the Maputo Troika summit and resolve them within one month as part of a confidence?building measure, based on appropriate consultation in keeping with Zimbabwe's law and any other relevant instrument.
  • The Inclusive Government and the Zimbabwe political parties should find an uninterrupted path towards free and fair elections and the removal of impediments as and when they arise.

*The Troika should persuade SADC to help Zimbabwe to draw up guidelines for a free and fair election where intimidation and violence would not play any part and where the result of such elections would be credible.

Following this summit there was continued lack of movement on the GPA, with Zanu PF persisting in its refrain that it would make no further 'concessions' until sanctions had been lifted. ...


This seeming lethargy of the SADC facilitation took a dramatic turn at the SADC Troika summit in Zambia on the 31st March. Noting with 'grave concern' the political polarization in Zimbabwe characterised by the 'resurgence of violence, arrests and intimidation', the Summit made five resolutions on Zimbabwe:

  • There must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of the GPA.
  • All stakeholders to the GPA should implement all the provisions of the GPA and create a conducive environment for peace, security, and free political activity.
  • The Inclusive Government should complete all the steps for the holding of the election including the finalization of the constitutional amendment and the referendum;
  • SADC should assist Zimbabwe to formulate guidelines that will assist in holding an election that will be peaceful, free and fair, in accordance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
  • The Troika of the Organ shall appoint a team of officials to join the Facilitation Team and work with the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) to ensure monitoring, evaluation and implementation of the GPA. ...

Without naming Mugabe directly, these resolutions were arguably the most forthright diplomatic criticism that SADC had issued of the Mugabe regime, with the recommendations largely echoing the demands that the MDCs and the civic movement had been making since 2009. Moreover for the first time since SADC began discussing the outstanding issues of the GPA the sanctions issue was not mentioned, an issue that consistently kept the region in solidarity with Mugabe. The style of diplomatic intervention shifted significantly from Mbeki's 'quiet diplomacy', which the Zuma team had largely adopted on taking over the reins of the facilitation.

At this point it might be argued that the reasons for the change in SADC's approach were the result of a combination of factors. These included: increased international pressure in the wake of events in North Africa; the growing frustration of SADC with the obstructive behavior of the Mugabe regime; and the persistent pressure of the lobbying of the MDCs and civil society in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. It remains to be seen whether SADC has the united political will to follow this through.

The response to the SADC resolutions by the Mugabe regime was, to say the least, apoplectic. ...

the most extended diatribe came from chief Zanu PF propagandist Jonathan Moyo:


Zimbabwe cannot be expected to accept an intrusive SADC team of so?called officials funded by regime change donors to come and work in our country to plot the so?called electoral roadmap with a view to ensuring that the forthcoming general election is decidedly organized in a manner that ensures regime change with President Zuma's endorsement simply because he has been used to make the ridiculous proposal. We will not allow that to happen. Never ever!..


These statements clearly showed that for Zanu PF and Mugabe, who had since 2000 clearly articulated a strategy that sought to displace the Zimbabwe crisis on to the SADC region and the African continent through a discourse of Pan Africanism and anti?imperialism and in so doing tie both into a solidarity pact, the Troika resolutions in Livingstone represented a decisive crack in the strategy.


5. Conclusion and Way Forward

This report has argued that it is a mistake to overlook the ambiguities of the GPA and the opportunities it has provided for moving Zimbabwe politics forward, notwithstanding its limitations. Through the structures of the agreement and the broader regional accountability it provided, the GPA forced Zanu PF into forms of accountability that it would not have tolerated before 2008, and which it continued to find unpalatable. Thus the politics of the GPA, in the context of wider regional, continental and international pressures, reminded Zanu PF that its narrow and selective idea of sovereignty, lauded arrogantly over the generality of the Zimbabwean citizenry for so long, was unsustainable. In the words of the Zambian President Rupiah Banda, at the beginning of the SADC summit in Livingstone, 'If there is anything that we must learn from the upheavals going on in the northern part of our continent it is that the legitimate expectations of the citizens of our countries cannot be taken for granted.'

For authoritarian regimes like Zanu PF it is often the slow, cumulative processes of reform that are most troublesome for their agendas. For once such processes begin to gain traction, especially under structures of accountability that go beyond the national sphere, the possibility of a diffusion of power to broader levels of society increases, making the control of the outcomes of such processes, much more problematic. The GPA has been fraught with difficulties but given the balance of forces in Zimbabwe that gave rise to the Agreement, it also provided opportunities for its weaker participants. Within a very short period of time at the end of March, Zanu PF suffered two serious political setbacks, the first through the loss of the Speakership in Parliament and the second through the new diplomatic position taken by SADC. In the first case it robbed Zanu PF of control of a key position in the legislature in the event of a succession vote in Parliament should Mugabe pass on in the near future. In the second the setback temporarily dislocated a key aspect of the Mugabe regime's survival strategy through regional solidarity. These developments by no means sealed the fate of Zanu PF, but they provided important indications of hope, especially with the possibility of more considered cooperation between the two MDCs.

As a way forward there are a number of steps that need to be taken:

  1. Lobbying by both the MDCs and the civic movement needs to be heightened within SADC and the AU in order to ensure that the resolutions of the Livingstone summit are enforced as fully as possible.
  2. Efforts must be made to draw Zanu PF's international allies, particularly the Chinese Government, into a more constructive dialogue over its continued support for authoritarian politics in Zimbabwe.
  3. Zimbabwean civic groups must mobilize civil society in the region into more extended cooperation in order to sustain the pressure on SADC and the AU.
  4. Continuous and up to date monitoring of the situation in Zimbabwe.
  5. It is unlikely that the Mugabe regime will simply ignore the SADC resolutions. However if they decide to follow such a course and to call for an early election without SADC approval, then the democratic forces in Zimbabwe must unite in a boycott of such an election and mobilize a campaign for a global isolation of the regime.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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