US law change could widen GNU divisions

morgan_obamaHARARE A proposed plan by United States (US) lawmakers to soften sanctions on Zimbabwes political leadership and back reformists in the Harare coalition government could stoke fresh tensions and widen divisions in the fragile unity government that is already battling to reach consensus on key policy issues, analysts told

Some US senators are seeking to amend the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) of 2001 the law that imposed visa and financial sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his top allies — by maintaining the punitive measures on hardliners opposed to political reform, while rewarding ministries controlled by reformers. The proposed amendments to ZIDERA allow for Zimbabwe to access funding from multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to go towards food security, health, education and infrastructure development and becoming eligible for debt relief.

Political analysts said if the changes are passed into law, most of the support would likely go to ministries headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirais Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party officials, with those led by President Robert Mugabes allies left in the lurch.

Carrot and stick

I think that is the natural thing to do, you can not reward those who are forever opposed to reforms to take this countrys forward, John Makumbe, a longtime University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer said. The Americans have realised they need to be pragmatic but at the same time use a carrot and stick approach where good behaviour is rewarded, said Makumbe. Zimbabwes unity government has failed to get the $10 billion it says it needs from foreign donors to rebuild an economy shattered by a decade of collapse due to slow political, economic and media reforms.

The West has continued to maintain sanctions on Mugabes backers and has withheld direct budgetary aid to Zimbabwe, accusing the 86-year-old leader of blocking progress in fully implementing a September 2008 political agreement. This forced Finance Minister Tendai Biti last month to warn that economic growth was likely to be slower than anticipated this year and that the country would have to rely on its resources to plug an $800 million budget deficit.

But that could change if the Zimbabwe Transition to Democracy and Economic Recovery Bill, which is being sponsored by two Senators from President Barack Obamas Democratic Party and one Republican Senator, is signed into law. The Senators argue that ZIDERA should be amended to reflect the transitional government and allow for debt forgiveness and restart multilateral financing.

Dangerous terrain

Zimbabwe has nearly $6 billion in foreign debt and has defaulted several times on its arrears. Biti says Zimbabwe is unable to meet its external obligations and would need debt relief. I think there is a realisation within the American political system that continuing with the sanctions instrument in its current form will not help achieve the desired goal of bringing democratic change to Zimbabwe, Eldred Masunungure, chairman of Mass Public Opinion said. But there is an inherent problem because Zanu (P)F will cry foul and accuse United States of indirectly funding the MDC. They need to tread carefully there, its a dangerous terrain that could easily become another point of conflict, said Masunungure.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai are locked in a dispute over power-sharing, with the MDC accusing Mugabe of illegally appointing the central bank governor and attorney general and refusing to appoint its treasurer-general as deputy agriculture minister and five MDC officials as provincial governors. Mugabe, who clung to power after losing to Tsvangirai in March 2008 and has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980, has vowed not to budge to the MDC demands, saying instead the former opposition party should vigorously campaign for the immediate removal of Western sanctions and closure of pirate radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai last week told journalists at a World Economic Forum summit in Tanzania that the travel ban should be lifted adding that it did not make sense that only members of his MDC were welcome in Western capitals while Mugabes officials were banned.

Helping MDC

The state-run Herald newspaper, for long used by Zanu (PF) as the partys mouthpiece, was last week quick to say the amendments to ZIDERA were an excuse to funnel money to the MDC, which ended Zanu (PF)s parliamentary majority in 2008. The statement from the US Congress clearly shows that they want to fund the MDC-T. It is a form of helping them campaign ahead of the elections and it is against the law, the quoted an unnamed government official as saying. The MDC says Mugabes hard line powerbase in Zanu (PF) is frustrating democratic reforms, including depoliticising state security agents and the writing of a new constitution that should lead to fresh elections next year.

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