Zimbabwe’s Stalled Reform Agenda


Slow and inadequate progress in implementing the compromise they reached three years ago threatens to push Zimbabwe’s contending forces into premature elections and undermine political and economic recovery.

Resistance and Denial: Zimbabwe’s Stalled Reform Agenda, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the stalemate on the 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in light of the recent effort of the regional organisation to be more active, particularly regarding deteriorating internal security.

Following the lack of significant reforms in key areas, including the electoral and security systems, communiqués from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) since late March, indicated they would take a more robust stand on GPA issues. Its recommendations, however, have yet to be acted on. Delays around deployment of SADC monitors and slow progress on a draft electoral roadmap have been compounded by further delays on a new constitution and a resurgence of political violence. ZANU-PF has largely frustrated the divided MDC movement in the “Inclusive Government” formed under the GPA and has fought to keep its security sector monopoly. There are doubts SADC’s harder line will result in tangible reforms in time for elections that must be held before June 2013.

“The primary challenge is not at the talks, where the chemistry between the negotiators is constructive, but rather with the party principals”, says Piers Pigou, Crisis Group’s Southern Africa Project Director. “The emerging pattern that apparently negotiated solutions are followed by interminable delays in execution reflects a fundamental deficit of political will to achieve real reform”.

The GPA, signed months after Mugabe’s controversial re-election in a climate of political violence that led Morgan Tsvangirai, the first round winner (and current prime minister), to withdraw, was intended to resolve Zimbabwe’s multiple political and economic crises and lay the foundations for reform that would lead to credible elections. This has not happened, and the situation is complicated by succession machinations inside ZANU-PF, the death in not fully explained circumstances of ex-Defence Force Commander Solomon Mujuru and WikiLeaks revelations that were uncomfortable for Mugabe’s party. Nevertheless, ZANU-PF is pressing for an early vote while the 87-year-old Mugabe can still be its standard bearer.

There are two major transitional challenges: development of a mature political system that enables both cooperation and responsible competition between the parties and security issues that threaten to undermine meaningful reforms. Despite flaws, the GPA still provides a coherent framework for sustainable political stability and legitimate elections. But political violence and partisanship in the security sector and attorney general’s office have to be dealt with before any vote can be free and fair.

“The contested narratives on security sector reform have prevented emergence of a constructive and inclusive dialogue between the political parties and between political and civil society entities and the security sector itself”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “This cannot be endlessly deferred. Prospects for constructive engagement are diminishing, which makes it difficult to see how even minimal conditions for free and fair elections will be secured”.

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