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REALITIES OF THE ZIMBABWEAN POWER-SHARING AGREEMENT

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JOHANNESBURG, Oct 6 2008 (IPS) - Zimbabwe\’s new political pact, though a 180-degree turn from violence and deadlock to cooperation and progress, is unlikely to create sustainable change for the country, writes Kumi Naidoo, Honourary President of CIVICUS. In this article, Naidoo writes that the power-sharing agreement would leave Mugabe as president and make opposition leader Tsvangirai prime minister. The national healing that the agreement alludes to will require a realistic acknowledgement of the fact that it was the Mugabe government\’s past policies and actions that destroyed Zimbabwe\’s economy and threatened to decimate its people. A realistic assessment of that past starts with the recognition of the government\’s use of violence and intimidation. The acceptance of the past is the only viable foundation for instituting an effective system of transitional justice for the people of Zimbabwe. But this kind of realism will be difficult to attain with President Mugabe continuing to hold any amount of power.

Signed on September 15 by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union-Patriotic Front (ZAPU-PF), the party of President Robert Mugabe, the power-sharing agreement would leave Mugabe as president and make Tsvangirai prime minister and head of a council of ministers responsible for day-to-day governmental operations. The president and prime minister would share the exercise executive power.

Though the text of the agreement is steeped in the rhetoric of cohesion and unity, equality and healing, the talks seem to have transpired in a familiar air of uncertainty and tension. While the world watches hoping that this represents a genuine step toward a true handover of power, most people are not holding their breath.

The agreement recognises the need to develop mechanisms to promote national healing, but it does nothing to create them. The international community and the people of Zimbabwe have been calling not for a document but for substantial changes that will affect the politics of the country and the lives of the people. The recognition of certain values on paper in no way guarantees them in practice.

To begin with, the national healing that the agreement alludes to will require a realistic acknowledgement of the fact that it was the Mugabe government’s past policies and actions that destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy and threatened to decimate its people. A realistic assessment of that past starts with the recognition of the government’s use of violence and intimidation. The acceptance of the past is the only viable foundation for instituting an effective system of transitional justice for the people of Zimbabwe. But this kind of realism will be difficult to attain with President Mugabe still holding power.

Despite initial cynicism, however, it seems that the agreement provides some real grounds for hope, especially in its prescription for a new constitution for the country. However, the drafting of a new constitution will involve a prolonged process of collaboration by all parties working towards the same vision of peace. For an outside observer, it is difficult to know whether the ZAPU-PF and the MDC actually share a common vision, and if so, whether this vision reflects the voices of the people.

If the MDC and ZANU-PF are in fact miraculously seeing eye-to-eye for the first time – and for the sake of hope and optimism let’s assume they are – the power-sharing deal still lacks one crucial element of democracy: the input of the Zimbabwean people. The agreement remains a strict reflection of the politicians involved. Zimbabwean civil society continues to be excluded from the peacemaking and rebuilding processes of the country. History has shown that neglecting the voices of the people often leads to tremendous failures at times of transition and change.

If the government of Zimbabwe is truly turning over a new leaf, then it is time for it to encourage the participation of the people. It is more likely, however, that Zimbabwean civil society will continue to be ignored, which shamefully reveals that Zimbabwean politics -whether superficially democratic or not- is not moving towards empowerment but rather repeating a cycle that represses the voices that matter most.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether the rhetoric of the power-sharing agreement will be converted into action, whether institutions to guarantee the rights of the Zimbabwean people will be created and respected, and whether the crises that the people have endured will be properly recognised and addressed in the reconciliation and transition process.

That said, the real work starts now. The true intentions of the Zimbabwean government will be revealed only in the period to come. Power-sharing agreements are fragile at best. Without people and systems to protect them, they stand no chance against past resentment. This agreement represents a break from the past and may mark the beginning of a process of change. And if there is hope that this agreement will give rise to new attitudes and effective reform, then the international community must support the process.

But as with almost anything related to Zimbabwean politics and Mugabe, there will always a knot in the stomachs of onlookers. Though this agreement may reveal that Mugabe does in fact intend to slowly extract himself from power – and many hope he is ready to leave – the world can never be certain. Sudden actions have always resulted in little change for Zimbabwe, so the world will simply have to wait and see if the power-sharing deal is stronger than the paper it’s written on. But, to be honest, there is always the looming fear that Mugabe may have a trick or two left up his sleeve. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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