Kenya and Zimbabwe: Are GNUs the Solution? Part 1

Published on 1st February 2010

Violet Gonda speaks to Dr. Blessing Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean researcher in African Politics at Oxford University. Dr. Tendi has co-authored an academic article on the Kenyan and Zimbabwean unity governments. Is a unity government really the way to solve problems, or just a way of shelving them? Can it even be called a 'power sharing government' if one party still controls the state machinery? Tendi talks about similarities, differences and future prospects. He also gives us his views on the implications of statements made by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that the European Union will be 'guided by the MDC' on whether or not to remove targeted sanctions.


VIOLET GONDA: My guest is Dr Blessing Miles Tendi a Zimbabwean researcher in African Politics at Oxford University. Miles is the author of the forthcoming book entitled: Making History in Mugabe's Zimbabwe - Politics, Intellectuals and the Media. He has also co-authored an academic article on the Kenyan and Zimbabwean Unity governments. Miles will give us his findings on the similarities, differences and future prospects.


GONDA: Power sharing in Kenya and Zimbabwe - are they one and the same?


TENDI: There are some similarities on small issues. On fundamental matters, these are two different countries with two different dynamics playing out.


GONDA: What are the similarities and differences between the two countries?


TENDI: Kenyans held their elections in December 2007. The Zimbabwean elections followed in March 2008. Zimbabwe was portrayed as having gone down the path of Kenya. Certainly there were similarities: an incumbent loses an election and refuses to give up power.  After this, strong violence follows. External mediation is required to resolve the electoral conflict. Power sharing is brokered as a solution. The losing incumbent retains power through power sharing, retains the presidency which is more powerful as the Opposition figure secures a Prime Minister post – which is much weaker. Those are the similarities between both countries.


GONDA: And the differences?


TENDI: The most fundamental difference is that whereas in Kenya the military  did not orchestrate the violence, Zimbabwean military was heavily involved in national politics and orchestrated much of the violence that occurred between March 2008 and June 2008 in Zimbabwe.


Whereas the violence in Kenya was waged by both Kibaki and Odinga supporters, a range of ethnic groups, local militia and a few State actors were involved. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and a coalition of ethnic groups shared a common belief that 'it was their turn to eat', so to speak, after prolonged monopolization of political power, land and the economy by Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group. Kibaki responded to the violence by ordering a campaign of State repression which resulted in many casualties in ODM strongholds.


In contrast in Zimbabwe - Violence was extremely centralised and overwhelmingly one way. It was organised by Zanu-PF and the military to crush MDC support before the June run-off. Unlike in Kenya where there was an interplay of historical differences based on patterns of ethnic inclusion and exclusion, in Zimbabwe, ideology was the key driver. Zanu-PF propaganda since 1999 sought to portray the MDC as a British controlled political party. To support Tsvangirai in the election was treated as tantamount to losing Zimbabwe's sovereignty to Britain.


The ideological differences and involvement of the military made it so much harder for Thabo Mbeki to broker a deal in Zimbabwe than it was, say, for Kofi Annan to do in Kenya. Since violence in Kenya was on both sides, both sides were guilty. Consequently, there was a stronger incentive so to speak for both sides to come together, work together and ensure there are no prosecutions and a new government is formed.


GONDA: Can you really call it a power sharing government if one party still controls the State machinery?


TENDI: There is no real power sharing in Zimbabwe and Kenya. In Zimbabwe, at the time of the negotiations, there was a lot of debate about how the MDC must not be swallowed by Zanu-PF like Zapu did in the Unity Accord of the '80s. The MDC was very much aware of the possibility that it might be sold an unfair deal and knew that it had to hold out for a more fair deal, which I think it did. Even though they tried, a lot of factors however seemed to have converged here - the conditions were worsening at the time, there was a cholera outbreak and there was immense pressure from SADC for the MDC to sign on.


GONDA: You said that in Kenya, a number of leaders and supporters from both parties were implicated in post election human rights abuses and so it was in their mutual interest that past abuses are not investigated. Can you have a successful coalition government without serious human rights abuses being investigated or talked about?


TENDI: In Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF and the military have largely perpetrated violence against MDC supporters and some of their own Zanu-PF supporters. Since the military has a strong political and economic role, to get it to accept the power sharing arrangement had to involve taking the possibility of prosecutions off the table. In a sense, there's impunity in both countries- perpetrators of violence are free today, and this is a deep seated problem. In the case of Zimbabwe for instance, much of the violence we see around every single election has to do with this culture of impunity that has persisted since 1980. The State and the power sharing agreement today doesn't address these fundamental issues.


GONDA: What about this Organ (National Healing) that has been created by the government to deal with such matters and even issues to do with reconciliation, how important is this? Do you think it will be successful?


TENDI: It's been important in name but not practically. It doesn't have enough funding to carry out its stated goals, it doesn't command the authority from key political players within the country and there's just no political will to see its endeavours go through. There’s a strong likelihood that in the next election we will see violence again. Even in the unity government period, violence against the MDC, civil society, journalists, lawyers has not stopped. In Kenya, BBC reports last year showed that the various ethnic groups that fought against each other over the 2007 election are rearming for the next Kenyan election. So if these issues are not resolved, we’re likely to see more violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe.


GONDA: You have said that Odinga's ODM was a coalition of ethnic groups who shared a common belief that it was 'their turn to eat' and this was after prolonged monopolisation of political power, land and economy by Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group. You went on to say that under the guise of unity government, anti-reform elements within both parties conspired to eat together blocking democratic reforms. Now in the Zimbabwe situation, do you see this happening? What are the similarities and differences here?


TENDI: As both sides in Kenya were guilty of violence and some groups didn't get the opportunity to come into government, they've sort of banded together in what would best be called the politics of collusion. They've decided that the elite in government will share the national cake and avoid prosecution or else they collude to block reforms. In Zimbabwe it's quite the opposite. Kenya has a long history going back to the '60s. There was a one party state at some point and a long history of relatively inclusive elite relations. In Zimbabwe you've never had that. The example of Zapu in the 1980s stands out in this regard. Zapu existed, so did Zanu-PF. Zanu-PF felt threatened by Zapu and waged the Gukurahundi to crush Zapu and in effect Zapu had to dissolve itself and become a part of Zanu. You wouldn't call that inclusive or elite relations based around co-existence.


Zimbabwe politics has been dominated by Zanu-PF. Where an opposition has arisen strong violence has been used to stamped it out. Zanu PF has consistently sought to cast the MDC as a 'sell-out party', 'they're not indigenous to Zimbabwe', 'they're a British party', 'they seek to cede our sovereignty to the West', such issues - so there's a deep divide between Zanu-PF and the MDC. So unlike Kenya where politics of collusion has occurred, in Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF has sought to retain its hold on power and maintain the status quo regardless of a power sharing arrangement. It would be best to describe events today in Zimbabwe as ‘the politics of continuity.’


What do I mean by the politics of continuity? Number one; there's been no real power sharing. The Presidency remains strong while the Prime Minister’s office is weak. We're still where we were before the unity government. Number two; the military, police, CIO heads have come together as the Joint Operations Command - their enduring intransigence. Since 2002, they made it very clear that they would not support any party or leader without liberation war credentials and consistently they've waged violence on behalf of Zanu-PF, in support of Zanu-PF. There's evidence to show that the JOC does not recognise the MDC as an equal player in the unity government. They do not attend National Security Council meetings for instance, so that's the second reason for continuity. Third, the uninterrupted use of violence by Zanu-PF. Nothing has changed. Fourth; Zanu-PF has gone out of its way to obstruct and subvert the implementation of GPA reforms. If the old order is maintained, Zanu PF stands a better chance of winning in the next election.


GONDA: Is a GNU really a way of solving problems or just shelving them?


TENDI: Very much shelving but not solving at all.  However, it's easy for you and I and many others to sit there, deliberate and criticise power sharing in Zimbabwe and in Kenya but there's a big elephant in the room: Had there been no power sharing in Zimbabwe and Kenya, flawed as it is, what other option did we have? That's a hard question.


To be continued.


Excerpted and abridged from Hot Seat, a SW Radio Africa Transcript

This article has been read 1,039 times