Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mugabe Unity Claims Ring Hollow

Analysts unconvinced by insistence that there's no deadlock over unity government.
By Mike Nyoni
President Robert Mugabe returned from the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York on Monday, September 29, promising an inclusive government in Zimbabwe, but commentators aren’t counting on it.

A number of analysts pointed out too many areas of conflict between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, for the two to work closely together even after the formation of a unity government.

Mugabe was expected to announce a long-delayed cabinet this week and denied there was a deadlock in the negotiations over the key ministries of finance, home and foreign affairs and defence between his ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC.

The two parties, together with the smaller MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara, signed an agreement on September 15 to form a government in which Mugabe remains president, Tsvangirai is prime minister and Mutambara is one of his two deputies.

In a speech delivered at Harare International Airport on his return from New York, Mugabe talked of an inclusive government but also launched a broadside against the MDC’s key policy positions.

He said there would never be a reversal of his disastrous land reform programme and that no white commercial farmers who had left the country in the past decade would be allowed to return to farm again.

More fundamentally, he reiterated his government’s position that Britain, as the former colonial power, should pay compensation to white commercial farmers who had lost their land through expropriations starting in 2000.

In part blaming his partners in the inclusive government, Mugabe said the opposition should call for the removal of sanctions.

“We want the same noise now from them (the MDC) for the removal [of sanctions] as there was when they blew trumpets for sanctions to be imposed,” he said.

Analysts, who were reluctant to be identified considering the delicate state of the unity talks, said such reckless rhetoric was likely to sour and strain relations between the coalition partners.

They said although the power-sharing agreement called for the lifting of targeted sanctions imposed by the United States, Australia, Canada and the European Union on Mugabe and his close associates, it was in bad taste and against the spirit of the talks for Mugabe to directly attack those who wanted pressure exerted on the government at the height of political tension in the country over violence and other forms of human rights violations.

“Mugabe clearly has not changed his rhetoric and that was very clear in his speech to his supporters at the airport,” said one of the analysts.

“This was clearly a continuation of his attack on the United States and Britain in his address at the United Nations in which he called for the lifting of ‘illegal sanctions’ and said he did not want foreign interference in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.”

The US, Australia and the EU have expressed reservations about the agreement between ZANU-PF and the two MDC factions, saying that by leaving Mugabe as president it failed to respect the will of the people as expressed in the March 29 elections in which Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe.

Of the agreement, they have said they will need to study it more closely and observe its implementation before they can decide on any financial assistance to revive Zimbabwe’s stricken economy, where inflation is over 11 million per cent, formal unemployment more than 80 per cent and there are widespread shortages of basic commodities and fuel.

At the airport, Mugabe denied speculation that there were problems between himself and Tsvangirai over key ministerial portfolios, “We never said there was a deadlock, so we will be setting up government before the end of the week.”

There is also talk of Mugabe facing resistance from senior officials and ministers in his party who say he has conceded Tsvangirai too much power.

The analysts said Mugabe’s statement on land also went against the spirit of the unity agreement, in which the parties determined to carry out a land audit to stamp out multiple farm ownership. That proposal was a direct attack on security, military and other senior ZANU-PF officials, most of whom are rumoured to own up to five farms each.

“It is clear,” said one analyst, “that Mugabe will do everything in his power to protect his cronies. They will also not want to have terms dictated to them by those they still view with suspicion as agents of the West.”

Another analyst also noted as a point of difference Mugabe’s and Tsvangirai’s attitude towards the International Monetary Fund, IMF.

While Tsvangirai and the MDC have called for close cooperation with the IMF and other multilateral lenders to kick-start economic recovery, Mugabe’s focus has been on China and Russia, who recently repaid him by blocking a UN Security Council resolution by Britain and the US to impose more universal sanctions.

“That will also cause problems in terms of international relations and how Zimbabwe goes about seeking reintegration into the international community,” said the analyst. “That is why the MDC is keen to control the foreign affairs portfolio – so they can speak the language investors will understand.

“Closer to home, there will be more squabbles between the two over Mugabe’s indigenisation policies which will continue to scare away investors,” he said. “Remember the Empowerment and Indigenisation Act which seeks to expropriate foreign-owned mines is not dead yet. It is a scary piece of legislation from the point of view of investor confidence and property rights in the country.

“Then of course there is the vexed issue of ‘national healing’, which is not clearly defined in the agreement.”

Tsvangirai is going to have problems here convincing victims of violence that all is forgiven without a truth and reconciliation commission. This will certainly be seen as entrenching a culture of impunity, which has become the hallmark of Mugabe’s rule. A blanket amnesty is a hard-sell so soon after the violence which accompanied Mugabe’s sham run-off election on June 27.

Mike Nyoni is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.