For the past few weeks, the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, have been awash with talk about ongoing talks between incumbent President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) aimed at breaking the country’s political stalemate.
With neither the ballot nor the bullet being a solution to the stalemate, much hope has been staked on the talks.
The talks, which are being brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki are seen as the last trump card in halting Zimbabwe’s downward spiral.
However, the talks which are coming in the wake of a negotiated political setup in Kenya are seen as setting a precedent in Africa in which the people’s voting power plays second fiddle to political expediency in the democratic process.And with Mugabe clinging to executive powers won on the back of political mayhem, intimidation, and murder of opposition activists, there is but little headway in the talks achieving a credible solution.
Already, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which played a key role in the formation of the MDC in 1999, has dismissed the power sharing talks as inconsequential.
Although the street talk is filled with a lot of optimism that this time the talks will usher a resolution to the country’s longstanding political problems, the road to be traversed ahead is still filled with major challenges.
There is no doubt that a political resolution is the first key step to the country’s recovery for a myriad of misplaced policies pursued by Mugabe’s government for the past 7 to 10 years.
With the ballot box having failed to resolve the country’s political problems, dialogue appears to be the only way to find a peaceful and democratic solution to avert the country’s Humpty Dumpty-like fall.
Failure of the ongoing dialogue process will propel the country toward the brink of collapse, further plunging the citizens of Zimbabwe into a state of unprecedented suffering.
The gravity of the economic situation is indeed forcing the major political actors to avoid playing hardball. But within both the ZANU-PF and MDC political camps there are fears that each is compromising too much.
Whatever the case, Zimbabwe’s economy has suffered terribly over the past decade and rebuilding it will require numerous sacrifices, and the road ahead will not necessarily be a rosy one for ordinary Zimbabweans.
While political reconciliation is a key first step, there are legal, constitutional, social and land appropriation issues that have to be put on the table to give the country a firm foundation to progress into the future.
The rule of law is perhaps what has suffered the most in the past 10 years with there being no clear separation of powers between the executive, judiciary and the legislature.
Furthermore, the role of civil society in the ongoing negotiations is very obscure, which means that a significant sector of the Zimbabwean populace is already excluded from the process.
The fact of the matter is that the ongoing political problems in Zimbabwe are more than just a battle between ZANU-PF and the MDC. So once the sticky issues between the major political players are resolved, the dialogue process will need to involve a greater part of the population in the country.
In addition, a mere paper-based political deal will do little to resolve the country’s fundamental problems. Put simply, the ongoing talks are dominated more by political characters than by national interests or the common good.
By focusing only on the political characters, the talks are forestalling productive political dialogue aimed at addressing several outstanding issues responsible for the country’s current ossification, including land tenure, human rights abuses, separation of powers and constitutional reform.
To be successful, the process of political dialogue and deal making must reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people as well as receive the blessings of the international community.
There is danger that the ongoing talks will only result in a superficial deal that does little to change the destiny of Zimbabwe.
In the absence of a broad based political settlement, the nation of Zimbabwe will continue down the road of further disintegration and decline. The decline will adversely affect all sectors of society. There will be an increase in lawlessness, brain drain, corruption, poverty and disease.