Zimbabwe power sharing deal: A historic moment of possibilities and challenges

Africa Action Urges International Support for Social and Economic Justice to Build on Landmark Pact

Tuesday, September 15, 2008 (Washington, DC) - The signing yesterday of a political settlement between Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara presents historic possibilities and challenges for the Southern African country. Africa Action has echoed Zimbabwean civil society by advocating a neutral transitional government with a time-delineated mandate to open up democratic space and allow for future free and fair elections. Although the settlement reached is not such a transitional arrangement, we respect the product of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)-facilitated dialogue among Zimbabwe's political leaders and welcome the potential of the newly announced Government of National Unity to dramatically improve the living conditions of ordinary Zimbabweans. We urge the U.S. government to support unity and peace and break from the West's failed history of damaging economic structural adjustment policies by promoting truly people-centered development for Zimbabwe.

The agreement between Zimbabwe's political parties presents real opportunities to bring an end to the devastating economic and political crises of the last ten years. Today, Zimbabwe is a battered nation saddled with 11 million percent inflation, over 80 percent unemployment, collapsed healthcare and education systems and acute shortages of almost all basic commodities. These hardships have driven an estimated four million Zimbabweans to leave the country in search of opportunity. We share the sense of urgency felt by millions of Zimbabweans keenly awaiting the end of these conditions and the restoration of hope in their lives.

While it is too early to fully assess Zimbabwe's trajectory, Africa Action believes that four factors are critical moving forward:

1) Unity

We believe that Zimbabwe's success depends on the ability of the parties to the deal to work together in a genuine spirit of national unity. In that regard, we urge Zimbabwe's political leaders to transcend narrow partisan interests and prioritize the wide social and economic concerns of the people of Zimbabwe. We call on the U.S. government to desist from a damaging partisan policy in Zimbabwe and take guidance from the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans.

The lack of clarity on how Zimbabwe's new government is supposed to function with its apparent twin cabinet structure raises concerns that despite the agreement, precious time, energy and resources may be lost in bureaucratic rivalries and political jockeying.

2) International Support

Zimbabwe's future depends on the quality of the international support it will receive. Zimbabwe owes over $5 billion to the African Development Bank and other international financial institutions. For Zimbabwe to escape its current economic morass, this debt noose must be broken. We urge 100% cancellation of all odious and illegitimate debts and restructuring of other debts to give Zimbabwe fiscal breathing space to attend to pressing social and economic needs such as health and education and to create employment by reviving the battered agriculture and manufacturing sectors. An audit of Zimbabwe's public debt, as called for by civil society groups such as the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), is of critical importance. New international lending will be an important part of Zimbabwe's economic recovery, but such financial flows must be based on a set of just, responsible lending principles. Rather than imposing a new structural adjustment program of the sort that contributed to the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy during the 1990s, the U.S. should work with the international community to engage Zimbabwe's government, private sector and civil society in developing creative, people-driven solutions to the current economic chaos. Fair and just international trade policies will be essential to any such revival.

3) Democratic Institutions

Robust democratic institutions and civil society organizations will play a key role in fencing in democratic progress and safeguarding against corruption and human rights abuses. Zimbabwe needs to engage in an urgent national dialogue to develop a new binding democratic constitution and immediately open up space for citizens to freely associate and participate in national political processes. Robust government and nongovernmental institutions that operate independent of political pressures should be created and empowered to address corruption and accountability in the new government.

4) Truth, Justice and Reconciliation

After a decade of gross human rights violations and the atrocities of the 1980s, Zimbabwe needs a truth, justice and reconciliation process to ensure accountability and facilitate long-lasting national healing.

Families of those who disappeared need to know what happened to their loved ones and who is responsible. The corruption, violence and political murders of the last ten years and the massacres of the early 1980s cannot simply be swept under the carpet during this transition.

Perpetrators of the worst abuses must be brought to justice, and if individuals are to be forgiven, it must be done publicly as part of a transparent truth, justice and reconciliation process.

Electoral Precedents and Just Priorities

While welcoming the opportunities presented by the political settlement, Africa Action remains concerned about the problems the Government of National Unity raises about democracy not only in Zimbabwe, but also for Africa in general. Along with Kenya's recent political crisis, Zimbabwe's experience sets a dangerous precedent whereby the incumbent regimes relied on the force of coercion to resist the will of the people as expressed through elections, forcing a negotiated settlement. Across Africa, the international community must work with civil society to promote democratic institutions and political cultures that not only allow for free and fair elections but also the unhindered transfer of power to the winners. In that regard, independent electoral commissions, professional security forces and independent judiciaries are vital.

As Zimbabwe moves to settle its political stalemate, we urge its leaders to immediately attend to the social justice issues as expressed by Zimbabwe's civil society in the Zimbabwe People's Charter. Beyond political rights, the people of Zimbabwe must be guaranteed social justice, including a living wage for workers, access to health care and education, and other basic necessities. U.S. international engagement with Zimbabwe must be driven by these priorities.

For more Africa Action resources on how the international community can support democracy and development in Zimbabwe, please visit http://www.africaaction.org/resources/issues/democracyhr.php#Zimbabwe.