Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Zimbabwe: "Quiet diplomacy" fallen by the wayside

"Quiet diplomacy", the mantra used by former South African president Thabo Mbeki in his dealings with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, appears to have fallen by the wayside and been replaced with a more no-nonsense approach.

The two-day visit on 27 and 28 August by South African President Jacob Zuma to the country's troubled northern neighbour was characterized by a marked difference in style. Mbeki, appointed as mediator by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to resolve Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis, was seen by analysts as indulging Mugabe; Zuma was more direct.

After opening Zimbabwe's 99th agricultural show in the capital, Harare, Zuma dismissed statements ahead of his visit by Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, that his presence was only ceremonial. Mbeki was not part of the visit.

"I visited Zimbabwe in my capacity as President of South Africa, as well as in my capacity as Chairperson of the Southern African Development Community, both of which are guarantors of the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

The agreement was signed in September 2008 by Mugabe's ZANU-PF, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and now Prime Minister, and Arthur Mutambara, leader of an MDC faction, which facilitated the formation of a unity government in February 2009.

"I decided to use the opportunity of opening the Harare Agricultural Show to meet the esteemed leaders of political parties to ascertain progress with regards to the implementation of the Global Political Agreement," Zuma said. He held closed-door discussions with Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

The progress of the unity government has been tortured. ZANU-PF has stalled on implementing some aspects of the GPA, among them the appointment without consultation of the reserve bank governor and the attorney general, and Mugabe's refusal to swear in provincial governors, or a white former commercial farmer, Roy Bennett, as deputy minister of agriculture.

"For this [economic recovery] to happen, it is absolutely necessary that the Global Political Agreement be fully implemented without delay," Zuma said.

ZANU-PF has complained that the MDC has not done enough to convince Western countries to lift sanctions imposed mainly against the ZANU-PF elite. The US and Britain, the former colonial power, have said sanctions would be lifted once there was respect for human rights and democracy.

"We are aware that some economic development partners and donor countries have put some benchmarks to be met before they can extend assistance, and currently only offer humanitarian assistance," Zuma said in his speech at the agricultural show.

"The achievement of an effective recovery is also dependent on the removal of sanctions and other measures that hold back economic development."

A senior ZANU-PF official, who declined to be identified, told IRIN: "We are a party with a long history of negotiating and we have certainly worn down the MDC - of course, we cannot negotiate ourselves out of power."

However, a senior MDC official, who declined to be identified, told IRIN: "Zuma did get some concessions from Mugabe that certain provisions of the coalition deal would have been implemented by the time the [SADC] summit is held. Very soon there will be some developments."

SADC summit

A two-day SADC summit begins on 7 September in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. "This will provide an opportunity to review progress in the implementation of the agreement, and for the countries of Southern Africa to reaffirm their commitment to assisting Zimbabwe," Zuma said.

"At the same time, we have called on all parties inZimbabwe to work together to remove any remaining obstacles to the implementation of the agreement. The parties are agreed on the need to speed up implementation and to find lasting solutions to the current points of disagreements. The important factor is that there was commitment among all parties, which make the movement forward possible," he pointed out.

Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog, noted in a report released on 31 August, False Dawn: The Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Government's Failure to Deliver Human Rights Improvements, "There is mounting evidence that the new government is failing or unwilling to end serious human rights violations, restore the rule of law, institute fundamental rights reforms, and chart a new political direction for the country."

The report also noted that "ZANU-PF retains control of all senior ministries, including the Ministries of Defence, Justice, State Security, and Foreign Affairs; and it co-chairs Home Affairs. The party therefore wields significantly more power than the MDC in the government, and is unwilling to institute human rights and governance reforms."

Georgette Gagnon, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: "The region's leaders [at the SADC summit] need to press Zimbabwe openly and publicly for human rights reforms to prevent the country from backsliding into state-sponsored violence and chaos."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN

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