History making and historicity of political party MOU’s in Zimbabwe



The memorandum of understanding signed by Zanu PF, MDC Tsvangirai and MDC Mutambara in Harare this week has been hailed in some quarters as historic, and its historicity' is tellingly in two parts.

The first being that it is a reflection of historical traits since our national independence in 1980, where we have witnessed two processes that led to power sharing between belligerent political entities. These two would be the Lancaster House Conference of 1979 in tandem with a Unity government of the first year of independence and the Zanu PF/PF ZAPU Unity Accord of 1987. They were not identical in terms of content, or all of the issues raised, but as indicators of Zimbabwean political culture, they are the forebears of what we witnessed this week on 21 July 2008.

They indicate a general trait in which Zimbabwean political leaders have followed a pattern of undertaking national political missions that have caused tremendous suffering to the people and then either with claims of having shown magnanimity or put a rival in a corner he/she couldn’t get out of , call for drawn out inter party negotiations. And in these two initial examples, there has been one common denominator, Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, who has always, sad to say, emerged with an upper hand after protracted talks.

So the historic nature of the MOU, can at first be understood from the point of view of the fact that it has sort of been done’ before and in its being done has not yielded results that address the problems of good governance, democracy and a people-centred national economy. It has, in the memories of many Zimbabweans, been about Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF brokering power for their sole benefit at the expense of the re-legitimization of the Zimbabwean State.

The second perspective on the historical nature of the MOU resides in the truth that the MDC Tsvangirai won the March 29 election with a sizeable majority in the local government and Presidential election ballot count, whereas in previous Zimbabwean negotiated settlements, Zanu PF had always been in the lead, especially in a context where an election had been held. This means that, historically, the context of this sort of negotiating between political parties is unique largely through the fact that Zanu PF is on the back foot, and is negotiating from a position of weakness. It has fewer seats in Parliament, and the Presidential election run-off of June 27 has been discredited by influential countries in both the world as well as in Africa. The presence of a SADC mediator has also made this MOU significant from the manner in which other eventually negotiated settlements have come to being. Never in the history of independent Zimbabwe, has the direct involvement of the regional, continental and international community been so apparent, and with full engagement of the United Nations as well as the African Union.

But be that as it may, why then would there be a mixture of both hope and skepticism on the part of Zimbabwean citizens around July 21 2008? The answers reside mainly in the fact that, the MOU, and its declarations of secrecy draw parallels with closeted power sharing agreements that suit more political expediency than democratic change. There is no doubt and perhaps even understandably so that the political leaders that are involved in these negotiations will be feeling a sense of entitlement about this secrecy, as was the case with Constitutional Amendment Number 18. And in addition, they might feel an urge to play out the politics of negotiations in clear and unmitigated pursuit of power for its own sake either to spite one side over the other or leverage themselves for eventual total victory.

In this vein, it is imperative that the political leaders be made conscious of the fact that Zimbabwe is not only in need of their sometimes brilliant political acumen when it comes to political cakes or sharing the spoils of a low scale mainly one sided war. In other words, this is not and cannot be allowed to be another round of talks that are akin to previous ones that merely sought to share power.

These post March 29 2008 election round of talks must be able to identify what exactly have been the problems with the ones that have occurred before and also be able to identify these as threefold.

In the first instance, the July 2008 MOU cannot merely be a prelude to a power sharing agreement fashioned along Kenya because this has been tried before without producing a democratic dispensation. In fact, the products of the Lancaster House Conference and the Unity Accord missed out on the critical point that in both instances, Zimbabwe was a society that had to grapple with a post conflict situation that needed to be addressed at its roots, as opposed to a political party sharing of spoils’ agreement. And this partially explains why Zanu PF has always resorted to violence as a campaign strategy, even after negotiated agreements, in order to keep itself in power.

A second lesson that can be learnt from the past negotiated settlements is that those that Zanu PF has negotiated with were essentially being cornered into the negotiations in order to either end violence against their supporters or ordinary citizens. In this instance, whilst there has been an unacceptable loss of life, the critical difference is that Zanu PF is on the losing side in terms of the March 29 electoral results. Because of this, the opportunity must not be lost and the people’s verdict must be vigilantly defended by all of the parties involved in the negotiations.

A third and final lesson that can be drawn from history and historicity is that in the past the input of civil society was minimal to such processes. In 2008, Zimbabwean civil society is ready and willing to input into these processes with the Zimbabwe People’s Charter as its foundation stone. This means, civil society must as of necessity be included in these talks if mistakes of the past are to be avoided, and its input treated with the respect due to an equal stakeholder. If this is done, there will be no doubt that there will be a shift from the narrative of past negotiated settlements, where the apolitical but nationally important and comprehensive people’s will was not taken into cognizance. There is now a critical need to ensure that if any negotiations do take place, they must depart from the political culture of the past while at the same time drawing lessons from it. To do this, they must include the seemingly apolitical will and intentions of a people that are living in a society that has seen four national violent conflicts unaccounted for, a national economy that is incapacitated to heal itself, and a political culture that has the nasty tendency of always seeking to repeat history.

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