With a crumbling economy, starving population and a stormy political situation in the background, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has finally agreed to talk with the political opposition, albeit in South Africa.
South Africa‘s President Thabo Mbeki is playing the role of mediator between members of the Zimbabwe’s ruling party and the opposition after he agreed to take on the task in March. Mbeki is expected to produce a progress report on the crisis talks to the SADC Heads by June 30.
Today, Zimbabwe — once referred to as the Switzerland of Africa — looks more like a paradise wrapped in a quagmire. Much of the country’s post-independence potential is heavily overshadowed by the intractability of the political situation. Like an alcoholic, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF government has pursued self destructive policies that have brought much suffering to the majority of the population.
Ranked among 10 of the world’s most unstable countries in the Failed States
Index Scores 2007, Zimbabwe needs an urgent solution.
Dialogue between the political players in Zimbabwe is therefore seen as a latch ditch effort to bring sanity to the beleaguered country.
A report issued recently by 34 international aid agencies including the United Nations, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Oxfam predicted that hyper-inflation will bring the country to a standstill within six months.
Zimbabwe‘s inflation rate is currently snowballing over the 4,000 percent mark — the highest in the world — and there’s no let-up.
“The Zimbabwean dollar is now rotten,” said Dominika Mateta, a worker in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, in an email interview, “I am thinking of going to South Africa.”
According to the reports issued by the international agencies within six months, the Zimbabwean dollar will be unusable and services will grind to a halt. As the economy shrinks many people in the country are opting for self-imposed exile.
“The memorandum is talking about a situation where there is no functioning government or a total breakdown, The Times Online quoted an agency official, who refused to be named. “It is saying it is inevitable, not just a possibility. Our head offices have to know. Not many people have experienced this kind of crisis.”
There are fears that the collapse will necessitate a state of emergency in the country.
There have been many predictions of Zimbabwe’s imminent collapse before but these have never come to pass. But the battering which the economy of the country has endured over the past seven years validate the hypothesis that the bubble is about to burst.
Not many believe that the talks will yield anything. For a long time, talks have been mooted but Mugabe has been reluctant to commit to the process. Or, he has simply expressed interest in order to gain a political foothold.
Already, the exclusion of civil society organizations from the process makes it appear as if the protracted political crisis is a product of the political players in the country.
Many civil society organizations contend that the talks will exclude issues of social justice and socio-economic issues to the detriment of ordinary Zimbabweans. As a prerequisite to the talks, civil society organizations want a cessation of violence, repeal of oppressive legislation and an all stakeholders conference that includes political parties, labour, churches, students and NGOs.
“MDC and Zanu PF have send representatives to SA for talks but everyone is wondering what will come out of the talks and whether it would help improve our economy in any way,” said Michelle Dumare, an ordinary Zimbabwean citizen, in an email interview.
More than that, the Zimbabwe political crisis is a function of failings of institutional frameworks that never reformed to suit the demands of a post-colonial dispensation.
In his 27 years as Zimbabwe’s leader, Mugabe has used the non-democratic structures of the colonial government to aggrandize his power-base. Ironically, he has managed to whip up race-related issues to posture as a liberator of the oppressed black peoples of the continent.
Until the institutional set is overhauled, Mugabe will continue to have an upperhand in determining the destiny of the country. That is, unless, there’s a military or popular revolt against his rule.
Mugabe full understands this. So far his commitment to the talks is very much in doubt, and will likely put paid Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts.
As if sending a signal, the Mugabe’s intelligence police seized the passport of opposition leader Arthur Mutambara on the eve of the talks.
In early June, Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly, which is dominated by ZANU PF, passed the Interception of Communications Bill which seeks to empower the government to spy on telephone and e-mail messages.
This Bill further infringes Zimbabwean citizens’ fundamental right to freely express themselves without any hindrance.
All these factors are putting a strain to an already tense atmosphere around the talks.
“So yes, Mugabe is not negotiating in good faith and hence it undermines the effectiveness of this process because we don’t see any sincerity in the efforts of Mugabe because of what he is doing to the opposition,” Mutambara told SW Radio Africa, an independent Zimbabwe radio station broadcasting out of London because of repressive media laws in Zimbabwe.
And until there’s fundamental change, Zimbabwe will remain a paradise wrapped in a political quagmire whose fate no one really knows.