Hot Seat: Kenya and Zimbabwe: Are GNUs the solution?

bob_tsvangiDr. Tendi has co-authored an academic article on the Kenyan and Zimbabwean unity governments. Is a unity government really the way to solve problems, or just a way of shelving them? (Pictured: Robert Mugabe & Morgan Tsvangirai)

Can it even be called a power sharing government if one party still controls the state machinery? Tendi talks about similarities, differences and future prospects. He also gives us his views on the implications of statements made by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that the European Union will be guided by the MDC on whether or not to remove targeted sanctions.

VIOLET GONDA: My guest on the programme Hot Seat is Dr Blessing Miles Tendi a Zimbabwean researcher in African Politics at Oxford University. Miles is the author of the forthcoming book entitled: Making History in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe – Politics, Intellectuals and the Media. He has also co-authored an academic article on the Kenyan and Zimbabwean Unity governments. On the programme Hot Seat Miles will give us his findings on the similarities, differences and future prospects. Welcome on the programme Miles.

MILES TENDI: Thank you for having me.

GONDA: Power sharing in Kenya and Zimbabwe are they one and the same?

TENDI: Well there are some similarities but similarities on small issues. On the fundamental matters these are very two different countries, two different dynamics playing out.

GONDA: So can you elaborate on this? What are the similarities and of course the differences between the two countries?

TENDI: The Kenyan election was in December 2007 and the Zimbabwean one followed in March 2008 and within the media there were a lot of comparisons between the two, people drawing similarities, often portrayals were that Zimbabwe had gone down the path of Kenya. Certainly there were similarities as I was saying earlier on, an incumbent loses an election and refuses to give up power. That was the scenario in Kenya or the scenario in Zimbabwe. After this, strong violence followed in both countries and again external mediation was required to resolve the electoral conflict that arose in both countries – and to resolve these electoral conflicts, power sharing was brokered as a solution and this occurred in both countries. And again we found in Kenya and Zimbabwe, the losing incumbent who was President, Kibaki in Kenya and Mugabe in Zimbabwe retained power through power sharing, retained the presidency which is more powerful and the Opposition figure, candidate Raila Odinga in Kenya secures a Prime Minister post – much weaker. In Zimbabwe Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai secures a position of Prime Minister as well – much weaker position. Those are the similarities between both countries.

GONDA: And the differences?

TENDI: The differences are where its really weighty. I think to start off I think probably the most fundamental difference between both countries is the involvement of the military. In Kenya, post election violence that occurred and during the power sharing talks there is a clear absence of military involvement – violence was not orchestrated by the military and the military has less if none at all of a political role. In Zimbabwe it is strikingly dissimilar. Zimbabwean military heavily involved in national politics; orchestrated much of the violence that occurred between March 2008 and June 2008. So thats a major difference between the two countries. But again the violence in Kenya was waged by both Kibaki and Odinga supporters, a range of ethnic groups, local militia and a few State actors were involved. Odingas ODM, thats his political party the Orange Democratic Movement and there was a coalition of ethnic groups which shared a common belief that it was their turn to eat, so to speak, after prolonged monopolisation of political power, land and the economy by Kibaki Kikuyu ethnic group. This has underpinned the decision of some ODM supporters to back the violence. Kibaki responded to the violence by ordering a campaign of State repression which resulted in many casualties in ODM strongholds but then in contrast in Zimbabwe – completely different.

Violence in Zimbabwe was extremely centralised and overwhelmingly one way. In Kenya, Kibaki supporters, Odinga supporters fighting each other where in Zimbabwe its just one way, its organised by Zanu-PF and the military as mentioned before to crush MDC support before the June run-off. So unlike in Kenya where you had a legion of historical differences based on patterns of ethnic inclusion and exclusion, in Zimbabwe, ideology was the key driver of Zanu-PF propaganda since 1999 sought to portray the MDC as a British controlled political party. To support Tsvangirai, to give Tsvangirai victory in the election was prevented as tantamount to losing Zimbabwes sovereignty to Britain. So its ethnic differences, none of them historical, underpinning the motives for violence in Kenya. In Zimbabwe the reasons, underlying are ideological, thats another key difference between both countries.

GONDA: So can you really call it a power sharing government if one party still controls the State machinery?

TENDI: Sadly not. There is no real power sharing in Zimbabwe nor in Kenya, this is where both countries are similar. It was part of the ideological differences, the involvement of the military that made it so much harder for Thabo Mbeki to broker a deal in Zimbabwe than it was say for Kofi Annan to do so in Kenya. Because as I said earlier, violence in Kenya was on both sides so in a sense both sides were both guilty of violence that was a stronger incentive so to speak for both sides to come together, work together and show that theres no prosecutions, a new government is formed there. But going back to your question, I think in Zimbabwe at the time of the negotiations there was a lot of debate going back to the Unity Accord of the 80s between Zapu and Zanu about how the MDC must not go down the same road Zapu did and that was swallowed by Zanu-PF, the Unity Accord of the 80s. So what Im getting at here is that the MDC was very much aware of the possibility that it might be sold an unfair deal so to speak and knew that it had to hold out for a more fair deal, which I think it did. But I think a lot of factors, even though they tried, a lot of factors seemed to have converged here – the conditions were worsening at the time, there was a cholera outbreak, there was immense pressure from SADC for the MDC to sign on.

GONDA: In your research you said in Kenya a number of leaders and supporters from both parties were implicated in post election human rights abuses and so it was in their mutual interest that past abuses are not investigated.

TENDI: Indeed.

GONDA: So can you have a successful coalition government without serious human rights abuses being investigated or talked about?

TENDI: No. I think youve made the Kenyan point clearly – Zimbabwe one way, very much one way where Zanu-PF and the military have largely perpetrated violence against MDC supporters and some of their own Zanu-PF supporters. But again in Zimbabwe because the military has a strong political role, it emerged as an important political player deeply entrenched in the economy as well. So to get the powerful military to accept the power sharing arrangement, you have to take the possibility of prosecutions off the table, to get them to accept this. So in a sense in both countries theres impunity – perpetrators of violence are free today, and this is a deep seated problem because what happens is, in the case of Zimbabwe for instance, much of the violence we see around every single election has to do with this culture of impunity that has persisted since 1980. The primacy of the cause is the State and the power sharing agreement today doesnt address these fundamental issues.

GONDA: What about this Organ (National Healing) that has been created by the government to deal with such matters and even issues to do with reconciliation, how important is this and do you think it will be successful given what youve been telling us?

TENDI: Its been important in name but not practically on the ground. It doesnt have enough funding to carry out its stated goals, it doesnt command the authority from key political players within the country and theres just no political will to see its endeavours go through. So its important in name but practically little has been done towards reconciliation, healing. And this is the problem because if you dont address these theres a strong likelihood that in the next election we will see violence again. And even in the unity government period, violence against the MDC, civil society, journalists, lawyers has not stopped. Violence is continuing though at a lower level, but has not stopped. Going back to Kenya violence has stopped there but there were reports like last year, BBC investigation late last year showed that the various ethnic groups that fought against each other over the 2007 election had begun rearming, collecting weapons in preparation for the next Kenyan election. So if you dont resolve these issues, when the next election comes youre likely to see more violence and this is what we stand to see repeating itself in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

GONDA: You have said that Odingas ODM was a coalition of ethnic groups who shared a common belief that it was their turn to eat and this was after prolonged monopolisation of political power, land and economy by Kibakis Kikuyu ethnic group. You went onto say under the guise of unity government, anti-reform elements within both parties conspired to eat together blocking democratic reforms. Now in the Zimbabwe situation, do you see this happening? What are the similarities and differences here?

TENDI: Well in Kenya as you rightly describe, because both sides were guilty of violence, theres the sense in which some groups had been cut out, they didnt get the opportunity to come into government, theyve sort of banded together in what would best be called the politics of collusion. Theyve gone together decided that the elite in government will share the national cake, avoid prosecution and they collude to block reforms. In Zimbabwe its quite the opposite. Kenya has a long history going back to the 60s. There was a one party state at some point and theres a long history of relatively inclusive elite relations. In Zimbabwe youve never had that. The example of Zapu in the 1980s stands out in this regard. Zapu existed, so did Zanu-PF. Zanu-PF felt threatened by Zapu and waged the Gukurahundi to crush Zapu and in effect Zapu had to dissolve itself and become a part of Zanu. You wouldnt call that inclusive or elite relations based around co-existence.

So in Zimbabwe politics has very much been dominated by Zanu-PF. Where an opposition has arisen strong violence has been used to stamp out that opposition. So unlike Kenya the lines in Zimbabwe, theres a really deep, deep line in the ground because of that, one, and two the ideological description I gave earlier about how Zanu has consistently sought to cast the MDC as a sell-out party, theyre not indigenous to Zimbabwe, theyre a British party, they seek to cede our sovereignty to the West, such issues so theres a deep divide between Zanu-PF and the MDC. So unlike Kenya where this politics of collusion has occurred, in Zimbabwe very much Zanu-PF has sought to retain its hold on power, sought to maintain the status quo regardless of there being a power sharing arrangement. And I think it would be best to describe events today in Zimbabwe as the politics of continuity.

What do I mean by the politics of continuity? I think four things. Number one; the point youve been bringing up throughout this interview that theres been no real power sharing. The Presidency held by Mugabe remains strong, Prime Minister weak, so in a sense were still where we were before the unity government – we still have a strong Presidency occupied by Robert Mugabe. Number two; the military, police, CIO heads have come together as the Joint Operations Command – their enduring intransigence. I think since 2002, they made it very clear that they would not support any party or leader without liberation war credentials and consistently theyve waged violence on behalf of Zanu-PF, in support of Zanu-PF. And today, theres evidence to show that the JOC still does not recognise the MDC as an equal player in the unity government. They do not attend National Security Council meetings for instance, so thats the second reason for continuity. And then the third one goes back to another point I made earlier the uninterrupted use of violence by Zanu-PF, right, so nothing has changed either there, violence continues. And then fourthly; theres also evidence to show that Zanu-PF has gone out of its way to obstruct and subvert the implementation of GPA reforms. So its those four things because if the old order is maintained they have a better chance of winning in the next election.

GONDA: And so from your observations is a GNU really a way of solving problems or just shelving them?

TENDI: Very much shelving not solving at all. But another question we must ask is, its easy for you and I and many others to sit there, we can deliberate, criticise power sharing in Zimbabwe and in Kenya but theres a big elephant in the room which is the alternatives. Had we not had power sharing in Zimbabwe, had we not had power sharing in Kenya, flawed as it is I submit, Id be the first to say that in both countries the arrangements are flawed but outside of that, what other option did we have? Thats a hard question.


TENDI: Very hard, there was talk about military intervention to solve, to end the violence in Kenya, to end the violence in Zimbabwe, that was played up in the media and Im sure some policy makers around the world may have considered this but youd have to ask who would have conducted such a venture? After what weve seen in Iraq since 2003 I think many countries are reluctant to be sending their armies elsewhere. Moreover in Africa, sovereignty is a jealously guarded ideal or concept. So it seems unthinkable to even think that African states would put together troops to say invade Zimbabwe or be it Kenya – so that was out. Threats and condemnation? Those dont work either and Zimbabwe is a very good example of this. The Zanu-PF regime has been threatened, condemned since 2000 but these threats and condemnations have either fallen on deaf ears or Zanu-PF has manipulated them to their advantage.

GONDA: I was actually going to ask you about sanctions, do they really work in situations like this?

TENDI: Sanctions, well I dont think so either because the key things to consider first of all was, this was violence in both countries. When theres a situation of violence the State is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens. The first thing you want to do is to be able to protect the citizens who are being brutalised. Be it Kikuyu groups or supporters of Odingas party or the Tsvangirai MDC supporters being beaten up and victimised, you want to protect, thats the first port of call – protect the brutalised citizens. But sanctions cant do that. You apply sanctions but that doesnt give the people on the ground security. So that wouldnt have worked either right. So Ill be the first to say power sharing is flawed in both countries but in terms of alternatives its very hard to propose what else could have been done and I guess this is something everybody out there could think about, deliberate.

GONDA: Im always asking this question but it seems to be a bit difficult to actually get a proper answer on this. And many people Ive talked to have said that it will also be ridiculous for the MDC to actually pull out now, so we go back to the same issue – what is the way forward?

TENDI: The way forward, I think first we can all acknowledge that the arrangement is flawed in Zimbabwe, but flawed as it is its the only train in the station right now. This is what we have and we have to work with this. If it is on the MDC side for instance then they are within the State there is still much that they can do being in the State to push for democratic reforms, economic reforms – I think particularly Tendai Bitis position as Finance Minister, thats quite pivotal. And SADC as well, keep pressing SADC to keep up the pressure on Zanu-PF to implement its side of the Agreement and to see through all the GPA reforms. I think the answer, flawed as it is, is around this power sharing government. You have to work with it, there has to be a strong battle of wits by MDC, civil society to get certain reforms implemented, a new constitution. And for the international community as well, particularly the West, to work towards having the GPA agreement fully implemented.

I think in essence though public statements that are made, I think it was David Miliband a few days ago in the House of Commons proclaiming support for the GNU I think largely these are untrue. Their mindsets are pretty much set out here in the west. They did not want to see Mugabe stay on, they were against the power sharing arrangement, and it was SADC that put this together really. So very much there was tension there, SADC putting together a power sharing arrangement that leaves Mugabe still in charge with most of his powers retained. And the international community, the west more specifically, was against this arrangement because in many ways the Zimbabwe crisis had become about Mugabe – deeply personalised.

GONDA: And since youve just brought in the issue of David Miliband, the British Foreign Minister, what did you make of his comments when he was taking questions in parliament, in the House of Commons and he said that the EU would be guided by the MDC on the issue of sanctions. What are the implications of such a statement?

TENDI: I think for a long time since the EU sanctions were first imposed, along with ZEDERA from the United States end, Zanu-PF has sought to portray the coming into being of these targeted sanctions as having been instigated by the MDC. Youve heard this consistently since 2000, that it is the MDC that went out and campaigned for the imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe. So that has been Zanu-PFs depiction of the sanctions saga since that time. Now the MDC joins the unity government along with Zanu-PF, one of the proclamations they make immediately after the Agreement is signed along with SADC, they call upon all forms of sanctions or restrictive measures against Zimbabwe to be lifted right. The United States and the EU have not done that to this day. This sort of plays into what Mugabe has been saying all along that actually sanctions were never about say conditions in Zimbabwe but about an imperialistic agenda. And as long as these sanctions continue to exist it undermines the position of the MDC in the unity government. Zanu can continue to point that the MDC campaigned for these sanctions, it is their fault this has occurred and we will not implement our side of the GPA reforms until the MDC ask Britain or and the United States to lift these sanctions that these countries campaigned for.

And then for Miliband to come out and then say we will take the cue from the MDC, we will wait for the MDC to tell us when to lift them, this is kind of what Mugabe has been saying all along. So Britain has to conduct itself very, very carefully with regard to the Agreement in Zimbabwe particularly to sanctions.

And another thing if I may go on a bit, I think the Obama Administration – we all remember when Obama campaigned before he was elected. He made it very clear that he would not seek to polarise, he would seek to bring people together, unlike Bush he would talk to his enemies, so he said if the North Koreans want to speak with him they would conduct diplomacy, with Iran there would be diplomacy, he made all these proclamations. He comes into power and has been seen to be doing this, the diplomatic relations, negotiations going on with Korea, with Iran, with Bashir in Sudan, all these leaders of these countries – gross human rights violators. But with Zimbabwe, that direct line between the White House and State House in Zimbabwe has not been reopened. ZIDERA still exists today so immediately again there is a double standard there. Mugabe can then turn around and say oh yes Bush had put together ZIDERA for regime change purposes and because Obama has come along and hasnt repealed ZIDERA either it means that the regime change agenda on Zimbabwe still exists. So again this plays into Mugabes construction and this is what Im trying to get at the West really has to rethink their foreign policy, strategy and utterances toward the goings on in Zimbabwe and particularly what Miliband had to say in the House of Commons, I think pretty disastrous.

GONDA: Im running out of time but I wanted to ask you more on that. Do you think that they are sanctions against the country or certain individuals in the government and also what about the demands that have been made by the West that Zanu-PF should put its house in order first, especially the issue of implementing democratic reforms before sanctions can be removed? Can you give me a brief answer to this?

TENDI: I think what we have to ask is that, because Zanu-PF may argue this was a regime change agenda, this is why sanctions were implemented in the first place but if you go through human rights reports by local NGOs and those from outside it is clear that since 2000 theres been a systematic, State orchestrated campaign targeting the human rights of Zimbabwean citizens. So there was a strong human rights case against the Zimbabwe government, we have to be clear about that. But I think the danger has become that because these sanctions have existed and the way that Zanu-PF has used its rhetoric around the issue of sanctions being a regime change agenda and the MDC on the other hand, the MDCs message on sanctions was never as consistent and coherent as that of Zanu-PF so this has allowed Zanu-PF to argue the way it has all these years.

And added to that because of the existence of sanctions Zanu-PF can now argue that it is not Zanu-PFs adoption of an economic structural adjustment programme in the late 80s to the early 90s that caused Zimbabwes economic destruction; Zanu-PF can argue that its not the payouts to war veterans in the late 90s that caused the root of Zimbabwes economic problems or the fact that the DRC war cost us heavily. Zanu-PF can now argue this is all about sanctions, sanctions have caused economic disaster then they can ignore completely all the errors they made since the late 1980s that caused the economic catastrophe that Zimbabwe sees today. So the sanctions issue, very, very complicated, I know were running out of time but I think today the situation in Zimbabwe GNU and in terms of countering Zanu-PF propaganda, Zimbabwe would be better off without the existence of these targeted sanctions. They allow Zanu-PF to apportion blame for its economic fall elsewhere and then at the same time it allows them to continually cast the MDC as the campaigners for these sanctions for regime change purposes.

GONDA: Its a pity that Im running out of time because I would have wanted to find out from you how then would you put pressure on regimes that continue to brutalise their own people, but just finally Miles you say in your paper that power sharing governments threaten to become the new coups and you said that moreover the peace and stability delivered by power sharing governments in Kenya and Zimbabwe may simply represent the calm before the storm. Can you elaborate on this?

TENDI: I guess what I was trying to get at is the fact that we say, in the past if a government was unpopular the military could simply stage a coup. But now were finding that, yes theres been a spate, a resurgence of some coups on the continent but were also finding that when a leader unwanted by the status quo gets elected, the status quo, i.e. the President, and if the security people in Zimbabwe, does not want the elected opposition leader to take over they simply refuse to give up power. And the result is a power sharing arrangement in which the incumbent still retains most of the power. Thats what I was trying to get at there and thats worrying because its a violation of citizens rights to elect leaders of their own choice.

And then secondly the calm before the storm goes back to the point I made earlier about how in Zimbabwe, violence continues although at a low level, it is clear from human rights reports that many of the military bases that waged the violence in 2008 have not been disbanded, these are still ready to go so thats the calm. Come the next election were likely to see more violence and its still not clear that Mugabe can win an election under free and fair condition – theyd have to rely on violence again to be able to win. And going back to Kenya as I was saying earlier, investigations late last year by the BBC found that rival ethnic groups were already beginning to stock up, pile up weapons in preparation for the next election. So its the calm now but come the election again, if theres no outright winner, no clear winner, were right back to where we started.

GONDA: OK and Im afraid we have to end here. That was Dr Blessing Miles Tendi whos a Zimbabwean researcher in African Politics at Oxford University. Thank you very much.

TENDI: Thanks for having me.

Post published in: News
  1. connie makhubela

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *