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.
GONDA: Is a GNU really a way of solving problems or just shelving them?
TENDI: Very much shelving. 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 Kenya but there's a big elephant in the room. Had we not had power sharing in Zimbabwe and Kenya, flawed as it is I submit, what other option did we have? That's a hard question.
There was talk in the media about military intervention to end the violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe. I'm sure some policy makers around the world may have considered this but you'd have to ask - who would have conducted such a venture? After what we've seen in Iraq since 2003, I think many countries are reluctant to be sending their armies elsewhere.Moreover in Africa, sovereignty is a jealously guarded ideal or concept. It seems unthinkable to even think that African states would put together troops to say invade Zimbabwe or Kenya - so that was out. Threats and condemnation? Those don't work either and Zimbabwe is a very good example of this. The Zanu-PF regime has been threatened, condemned since 2000 but these threats and condemnations have either fallen on deaf ears or Zanu-PF has manipulated them to their advantage.
GONDA: Do sanctions really work in situations like this?
TENDI: I don't think so. The key thing to consider first of all was, this was violence in both countries. When there's a situation of violence, the State is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens. The first thing you want to do is to be able to protect the citizens who are being brutalised. Be it Kikuyu groups, supporters of Odinga or the Tsvangirai MDC supporters being beaten up and victimised, you want to protect the. That's the first port of call - protect the brutalised citizens. But sanctions can't do that. Sanctions don't give the people on the ground security. I'll be the first to say power sharing is flawed in both countries but in terms of alternatives, it's very hard to propose what else could have been done.
GONDA: Many people I've talked to have said that it will also be ridiculous for the MDC to actually pull out now. What is the way forward?
TENDI: Flawed as the arrangement in Zimbabwe might be, it is the only train in the station right now. This is what we have and we have to work with this. The MDC side is within the State. There is still much that they can do being in the State to push for democratic and economic reforms. For example, Tendai Biti's position as Finance Minister, is quite pivotal. There has to be a strong battle of wits by MDC, civil society to get certain reforms implemented. The international community as well, particularly the West, ought to work towards having the GPA agreement fully implemented.
David Miliband a few days ago in the House of Commons allegedly proclaimed support for the GNU. This was largely untrue. The West did not want to see Mugabe stay on. They were against the power sharing arrangement. It was SADC that put this together really. There was tension. SADC put together a power sharing arrangement that left Mugabe still in charge. The international community, the West more specifically, was against this arrangement because in many ways the Zimbabwe crisis had become about Mugabe - deeply personalised.
GONDA: Since you've brought in the issue of David Miliband, the British Foreign Minister, what did you make of his comments when he said that the EU would be guided by the MDC on the issue of sanctions. What are the implications of such a statement?
TENDI: Since the EU sanctions were first imposed, along with ZEDERA from the United States’ end, Zanu-PF has portrayed these targeted sanctions as having been instigated by the MDC. Now, the MDC joins the unity government along with Zanu-PF. After the Agreement is signed along with SADC, they call upon all forms of sanctions or restrictive measures against Zimbabwe to be lifted.
The United States and the EU have not done that to this day. This plays into what Mugabe has been saying all along: sanctions were never about conditions in Zimbabwe but about an imperialistic agenda. As long as these sanctions continue to exist, it undermines the position of the MDC in the unity government. Zanu –PF can continue to point that the MDC campaigned for these sanctions, it is their fault this has occurred and we will not implement our side of the GPA reforms until the MDC ask Britain or and the United States to lift these sanctions that these countries campaigned for.
For Miliband to say “We will take the cue from the MDC, we will wait for the MDC to tell us when to lift them,” this is what Mugabe has been saying all along. Britain has to conduct itself very, very carefully with regard to the Agreement in Zimbabwe particularly to sanctions.
If I may go on a bit, the Obama Administration made it very clear that it would not seek to polarize but rather seek to bring people together. Unlike Bush, Obama would talk to his enemies. He has been seen to be doing this with Korea, Iran and Sudan, with gross human rights violators. But with Zimbabwe, that direct line between the White House and State House in Zimbabwe has not been reopened. ZIDERA still exists today, so again, there is a double standard. Mugabe can then turn around and say “Oh yes! Bush had put together ZIDERA for regime change purposes and because Obama has come along and hasn't repealed ZIDERA, it means that the regime change agenda on Zimbabwe still exists.” This plays into Mugabe's construction. This is what I'm trying to get at - the West really has to rethink their foreign policy, strategy and utterances toward the goings on in Zimbabwe.
GONDA: What about the West’s demands that Zanu-PF should put its house in order first, especially the issue of implementing democratic reforms, before sanctions are removed?
TENDI: Zanu-PF may argue that sanctions were made to serve the regime change agenda. However, if you go through human rights reports by local as well as external NGOs, it is clear that since 2000, there's been a systematic, State orchestrated campaign targeting the human rights of Zimbabwean citizens. I think the MDC's message on sanctions was never as consistent and coherent as that of Zanu-PF so this has allowed Zanu-PF to argue the way it has all these years.
Due to the existence of sanctions, Zanu-PF can now argue that it is not Zanu-PF's adoption of an economic structural adjustment programme in the late '80s to the early '90s that caused Zimbabwe's economic destruction; Zanu-PF can argue that it's not the payouts to war veterans in the late '90s that caused the root of Zimbabwe's economic problems or the fact that the DRC war cost us heavily. Zanu-PF can now argue this is all about sanctions. Sanctions have caused economic disaster. I think Zimbabwe would be better off without the existence of these targeted sanctions.
GONDA: You say in your paper that power sharing in governments threatens to become the new coups. Moreover, the peace and stability delivered by power sharing governments in Kenya and Zimbabwe may simply represent the calm before the storm. Can you elaborate on this?
TENDI: In the past, if a government was unpopular, the military would stage a coup. Now, there's been a spate, a resurgence of some coups on the continent but we're also finding that when a leader unwanted by the status quo gets elected, the status quo, i.e. the
President, and if the security people in Zimbabwe, does not want the elected opposition leader to take over, they simply refuse to give up power. The result is a power sharing arrangement in which the incumbent still retains most of the power. That's worrying because it's a violation of citizens' rights to elect leaders of their own choice.
The calm before the storm goes back to the point I made earlier about how in Zimbabwe, violence continues. Although at a low level, it is clear from human rights reports that many of the military bases that waged the violence in 2008 have not been disbanded. They are still ready to spring to action. That's the calm. Come the next election we're likely to see more violence and it's still not clear that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF can win an election under free and fair conditions - they'd have to rely on violence again to be able to win. Going back to Kenya as I was saying earlier, investigations late last year by the BBC found that rival ethnic groups were already beginning to pile up weapons in preparation for the next election. So it's the calm now but come the election again, if there's no outright winner, no clear winner, we're right back to where we started.
Excerpted and abridged from Hot Seat, a SW Radio Africa Transcript.